Find Your Original Value Systems


This post is not about “individual” values and value systems that we all originally grew up with, and sometimes abandon on the way of life for whatever reason(s).

This post is more about that moral beacon of the “free” world, the U.S. and how it has been diluting its own original values and value systems over the years for convenience and monetary/business reasons. There are always plenty of reasons why a country would abandon its values, the most critical one being political and / or business expediency. Countries sacrifice their values to make money, or for national security purposes. There are thousands of reasons why such a sacrifice is always portrayed as warranted, especially to the domestic audience.

There are hundreds of instances when the U.S. preached from a high moral ground to other nations, but secretly or sometime openly, pursued national goals which were totally contrary to its founding values. I am not documenting in this single post all the very bad things that the U.S. did in South America, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. There must be plenty of academic research carried out on this topic by its own universities who do not shy away from such research even if it is damaging to the country where they are based, and that is sheer goodness.

In the current state of global affairs, time has come for the U.S. to reassess its seven decades old strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, and this is the main thrust of this post. I am not writing this post as the consequence of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder and dismemberment at a Saudi diplomatic facility, which is totally and utterly despicable. Such pre-meditated actions only demonstrate that most of the Middle East region is yet to get out of their revengeful tribal mindset and integrate with the rest of the world. There is nothing special or unique about Saudi Arabia or for that matter, the Middle East as a region. Every region of the world is the same with similar people eking out a living. The governments make the difference.

My view is that Saudi Arabia is not going to change its ways, and the U.S. is going to be forever subservient to Saudi interests, simply because of two things: access to unlimited oil wealth and as a strong counterweight to Iran. For whatever reason, the U.S. continues to hate Iran, and is not going to reconcile with Iran. And, given that Iran is also a very proud nation dating back thousands of years of civilization, it is apparent that scores will be settled one day or the other between the two countries. In such eventuality, Saudi Arabia will be a key ally for the U.S. to count upon, and will take the brunt of any potential war with people and money.

But, in the process, both countries have seriously departed from their respective founding values. Apart from the known case of Khashoggi’s murder, the brutal war on Yemen which has unnecessarily killed thousands of innocent men, women and children, is a direct result of the planned collusion between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Where is the morality? Where is the human conscience? And, where is that useless organization that we are all funding called the United Nations?

The U.S. cannot be complicit in the execution of what can easily be determined as war crimes. It should stay well above such actions, and demonstrate its moral values in any part of the world. No point in arguing against Myanmar government for murdering the Rohingya Muslims on the one hand, but assisting Saudi Arabia to bomb civilian areas of Yemen on the other hand. What kind of value system is this and why are the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the U.S. citizens, not protesting against such egregious violations of human rights?

What applies at home should apply anywhere else as well. The U.S. needs to learn that every human life that it helps to kill in the name of even a “righteous” war (which it is not in the case of Yemen) would cause irreparable and severe damage to its own value systems; and as many believe, would come back to haunt it, like what happened with Vietnam.

We cannot and should not forget our roots – where we came from, what value we were born with, what values we grew up with, what kind of moral and social systems that we have imbibed, etc., Likewise, nations cannot and should not forget their own value systems, in the name of national security or strategic alliances, etc., If those issues are causing concern, there must be ways to tackle the same with the same firm value systems, and demand that every constituent or participant adhere to some basic common values as well. If the U.S. cannot or will not demand such compliance from its strategic partners, then it has no right to demand that other nations should adhere to its values either. There will be no moral high ground from which it can preach its values while destroying the same underneath the ground for its own benefit.

In a nutshell, my concern is that values are fast disappearing from international discourse and diplomacy. Every country is becoming short sighted. Every country stands ready to dilute its values. Every country is willing to sacrifice values in the altar of expediency. And, no country can be pointed out or blamed, since the high priest itself is engaging in similar activities.

Is this wrong? Absolutely.

Is this morally correct? Absolutely not.

Can such things be done in the name of national security? Surely not. There are other ways.

So friends, judge for yourself. Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 December 2018

 

 

Crazy Rich Asians


This is the name of a recent movie which depicts a cross-cultural love story between an American (Chinese) professor, who looks rather young to be a professor, and a very rich Singaporean Chinese man, who hides his richness from the professor.

In my sincere opinion, this movie was a disappointment.

While I believe there is richness in terms of obscenely rich in every society, the manner in which Singapore is depicted in this movie shifts the needle more towards obscenity in terms of ostentatious display of wealth and arrogant positioning taken by the key characters against people of lesser means (like the professor who grew up in New York with a poor mother). The movie also demonstrates that there is utter racism even among the same ethnicity (Chinese) when it comes to haves and have-nots; and the “haves” have serious issues in accepting the have-nots who they view as people with less of royalty in their blood, of poor origins and taste, no wealth and no pedigree. We have seen such tendencies and attitudes in India as well.

The movie goes to prove that when it comes to integration between the rich and the poor, the Western societies have done a much better job. The Asian societies are still steeped in conservatism and a superiority complex which they find hard to shed. More I think about it, more it appears to be true; I may sound a bit contradictory, but that is because I am defensive on Singapore, which unlike Hong Kong as an example, avoids ostentatious display of wealth, though to be sure there are hundreds of cars which are worth USD 500K and more on the road, and condominiums range from USD 1M to USD 10M, and houses could range from USD 2M to USD 50M. However, you do not witness what you see in the movie – there are no crazy rich “Chinese” running around the city in jeeps and revving their sports car engines, and dancing away the night. If anything, Singapore is known for its hard-working people who have built an incredible society and country from what was just a marshland some six decades ago.

Coming back to the stark contrast between Asian and Western societies, it is apparent that the Western countries have “equalized” their societies in terms of acceptance of folks based on merit only (in most cases) and less emphasis placed on sheer wealth and connections. There can be no movie like “Crazy Rich Asians” which revolves around America for instance – there will be no “Crazy Rich Americans/Caucasians” kind of movie as there is no story there! A cross-cultural mix is so normal in America or even in Europe these days, but it is still a wonder in Asia. What is then so unique about two Chinese people falling in love with each other – not even one White and one Chinese mixing together? The only difference is the obscene wealth of the hero’s family and the attitudes of his family towards newcomers into their family who are not of their richness level.

While there is a story line in the movie, it is nothing outstanding. It is a story of unstoppable romance, and I knew for sure that our hero is going to pop up in the plane towards the end of the movie, which is due to depart with our heroine and her mother……..getting out of our hero’s life for good. It is so very much like a Bollywood movie – in fact, there are hundreds of such movies in Bollywood and Kollywood, when the hero and the heroine reunite after breaking their respective hearts and the viewers’ hearts, who are disappointed that they have broken up.

The movie rambles on for quite a while after the couple arrive in Singapore……..I do not see the rationale for certain sequences which are garish like at the friend’s house of the heroine. I would have preferred a simple friend who lives in a HDB (Housing Development Board) apartment with a more “common man” view of the society that we all live in here! That would have been more humane as well, and would have brought our hero into that kind of abode for a change!!

So, in essence, this is a movie which would result in a wedding ultimately between the two people in love, but would never rest the case of the ultra-wealthy family of the hero in Singapore, which is looking for their first son to take over the reins of the family business from the father, marry into another wealthy family, and run the business and make even more money. I am reminded of the Ambani family in India here. So, how can the hero’s mother be peaceful? She will try to create more problems for the couple, though they might return to New York for what they perceive to be a simple married life as a middle class couple.

This probably explains why a sequel is already being planned for this movie. Is it surprising? Not at all.

Given a better understanding, I would have avoided seeing this movie as it corrupts my view of Singapore and the Singaporean way of life. This movie would surely be a hit if it is adapted by Bollywood for an Indian version of the movie. That is not surprising at at all – they will just add more songs, and some car races, show Jaipur/Jodhpur palaces, et al.

Enjoy your weekend with other excellent movies that are available on Netflix or elsewhere!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th December 2018

The Inherent Corruptibility of the Great Human Mind


It took me quite a while to think and frame the title of this blog post, though I know well what I am going to write about. I added the word “great” after more thought, as I concluded that notwithstanding the negative aspects of the mind, it is still the greatest invention of man (till Artificial Intelligence unseats it from the throne).

The idea for this post came from the introduction chapter of the book “We are the Change we seek – The Speeches of Barack Obama” edited by E.J. Dionne Jr., and Joy-Ann Reid. My wife passed this book to me for weekend reading, asking me not to waste time and instead read something substantive and meaningful (Disclosure: She likes Barack and Michelle, but I am ambivalent on Obama and fond of Michelle). There must be some pointed intention in her to make me read the works of this famous orator of a president.

I did read the introduction fully, and then meandered around the book, read Barack Obama’s farewell speech at Chicago, and so on. But one thing in the introduction chapter held on to me like a leach – it was the quote from a speech delivered by FDR (Franklin Roosevelt) at Thomas Jefferson’s home at the historic Monticello venue on July 4, 1936.

To quote FDR, “……….our nation’s founders had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude. They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures”. Unquote – the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as FDR puts it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty, and political and religious intolerance”.

I rarely quote from books or articles or newspapers. Most of what I write germinates from a single idea, a single inspiration. I then think about the idea and bring together the thoughts from a racing mind, in order to make a meaningful blog post.

However, in this case, I felt that I am rather highly influenced by the idea of FDR, and so wanted to give full credit to him, before I leverage his idea for my add-ons!

To dissect FDR’s idea, you need courage, yes, I mean courage and boldness of vision. Mahatma Gandhi had that courage, to break away from traditions, and release the collective power of the minds of millions of Indians. I may not agree with his collaboration with the British during the Second World War, but that does not take away an inch from the greatness of his mind, which was as astute and visionary as the founders who wrote the Constitution of the United States.

We are held back from progress when our minds are not completely free from the bondage that FDR is referring to in his Monticello speech. When we discriminate people by their race, religion, or colour, it means only one thing – that we have not yet forgotten slavery and the hard lessons of ethnic cleansing. This discrimination exists everywhere, in all societies, and more so in that beacon of human freedom, the United States.

The human mind is highly influencable and highly corruptible. I would argue that the human mind distances itself from morality when it is forced to encounter difficult choices in society. It is rather easy to follow countless others and take the beaten path – why take the risk and chart a new path like what Gandhi did? And, face unknown troubles? It requires big courage, self-sacrifice and a certain moral steeliness.

The societal demand for conformism is a drag on the independence of human thought and freedom of the mind. Society corrupts each and every member who has chosen to be part of that society. If the cult leader (taking an extreme example of conformism) orders his disciple or follower to commit a crime, it is more than likely that the crime will be executed just so that membership benefits continue and there are no repercussions from the cult. You see what I am suggesting? Society controls the freedom of the human mind.

Gandhi protested against the religious traditions of the early 20th Century, and went against established traditions followed by Hinduism. He was a rebel and a reformer, who wanted to transform the Indian society and unlock its long held shackles. He wanted independence from the British rule, no doubt, but first he wanted Indians to achieve independence of their minds.

Human mind, as I stated above, is corruptible, as it is not immoral to amass wealth in whatever way possible. If the mind takes that view, then any logical argument to wean it from its corruptible state would be pointless.

So, in a nutshell, the human mind is corruptible, highly influencable in a negative way, and is not reform oriented due to the necessity to confirm to society’s conventions. Reformers come along once in a while, and try to persuade the people on the critical importance of positive reforms in an egalitarian manner. Mostly they fail, as Obama did, but sometimes they succeed as Gandhi did.

So what do you think?

Is your mind already corrupted? Are you forced to conform to societal norms and demands?

Or, are you a reformer? Do you feel that the society is unfair and unjust? Do you think marginal folks do not get a chance to play a meaningful and impactful role in society? How do you knock off corruption from society?

What should we do together?

There is always time to think, and no time is more suited for thinking than a Sunday evening with a nice drink in the hand and thoughts in that corruptible great mind of yours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 December 2018

Grandmaster


I selected a Malayalam language movie for a change this time around.

I think Malayalam and Bengali movies are the best ones that came out of India. These two states – Kerala (Malayalam) and West Bengal (Bengali) – continue to produce quality, thoughtful, and deep artistic movies which are sometimes provocative, compared to the fun (lovers running around the trees) and emotional movies from Bollywood (mostly Hindi), Kollywood (mostly Tamil) and Tollywood (mostly Telugu).

This is also the reason why national award-winning “art” movies mostly originate from these two states of India. Many a time, such movies could be boring, long-winded and totally fun-less in their dramatization, and so fail to make it to the box office, but seriously appreciated by critical audience.

As I was browsing Netflix recently, I saw that they have created a separate special section for Indian movies with some pretty good selection – I found that I have not seen most of the movies! I selected “Grandmaster” because it was a thriller and sounded like a mysterious serial killer kind of movie, and the cast of actors was also good. It took me almost 3 sittings to finish the movie during the previous week.

Grandmaster is all about a top intelligent cop trying to solve a serial murder mystery in earnest, as he discovers that the murderer is going to hit close to home – or at his own ex-wife. Mohanlal (I am using real actors’ names here) delivers an excellent performance as a senior police official who has lost his way due to separation from his wife, and who is being egged on by the Police Commissioner to do better at his new assignment, which is about stopping crimes before they happen (!). I thought the director has done a good job weaving the story around Mohanlal’s own life, sending key messages from various actors throughout the movie which Mohanlal captures due to his past experience as a cop and trained intelligence. It was very interesting to see how he single-handedly identifies what is going on in the serial killer’s mind in the old fashion police detective manner – there are no fancy tools here, not even fingerprint analysis. Mohanlal displays a thoughtful demeanour as someone who is constantly thinking through the various scenarios, and finding clues at the murder scenes which others do not seem to find. Well then this is the hero’s work and it is to his credit, right? It is funny that the police does not even attempt to trace the letters coming to Mohanlal directly from the serial killer.

The killer is shown to the audience, though he is unknown (not yet known to Mohanlal)  till the end of the movie. But the assumed killer is not the real one, and therein lies the mystery of this movie. The killer we see at the murder scene of the first victim (Alice) has the rough edges with a suspicious look, and we more or less fall for the ruse of the director. He is involved, but he is not the real killer; he is a mentally deranged person, effectively directed and used by the real killer. I am sure that if we dig around we could find some old Hollywood movies like the Grandmaster.

How this killing plot ties in with Mohanlal’s ex-wife is a big twist and relates to why they two separated in the first place. I liked the way that the director brings in Priyamani (Mohanlal’s ex-wife) to share with Mohanlal the whole story about a court case which she won against Mohanlal’s police work, and how that ties back to the murders happening now.

I have not seen even Bollywood directors thinking in this seriously convoluted fashion. Mysterious and seriously interesting! Mohanlal pieces together the puzzle on his office chessboard and solves it in his own mind, but waits for the killer to make the final move against his ex-wife, and he is ready.

Like most movies, the director is now used to throwing twist after twist at the audience, and so spins one last one on stage with the real killer making the appearance and then explaining why he did what he did and what he is going to do right at this moment. I do not understand why police and others at such a scene would allow such a dissertation by a serial killer who acknowledged he killed all the 3 women before coming for Mohanlal’s ex-wife! But this is Indian cinema and even Malayalam movies cannot escape such demonstration of what I call “unreality”.

In a nutshell, I liked the movie and the manner in which it has been directed by Unnikrishnan, and also the acting of Mohanlal. There is almost negligible violence (I am not counting the easy murders executed using a simple long duppatta cloth!), the characters are delivering what is expected of them, and the story line is pretty decent. At the end of the day, as audience we expect an interesting and engaging delivery – and Grandmaster delivers it. It is not very highly rated, but it does not bother me. I think I should start rating movies, like how I rate my wines!

I recommend seeing Grandmaster. It is a good, thoughtful movie, well acted and directed. It was clearly not a waste of my time, as the movie made me think about human beings and the extent to which they can go in life to untangle life’s mysteries – in this case, the brother of Paul Mathews (the guy who was killed by one of the women who was later murdered) traces the people involved in his brother’s murder and one by one, eliminates those people, but the audience does not know about this till the end of the movie – that is the aura of a mystery movie!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 December 2018

Money is the Religion of Choice


One of my esteemed friends mentioned this catch phrase during our get-together party today on some special occasion, and it rung a bell in me.

I have blogged about the negative influence of religions in general on humanity. Of course, there is some positive impact of religions as well, but the continuing negative aspects overwhelm anything positive. Even today, hundreds of people are getting killed or imprisoned around the world due to some religious differences between themselves and the perpetrators.

But, let us put that argument behind us for a moment.

While it is hard to generalize, it is apparent that most people would choose money over almost anything else, including religion, in an increasingly commercial world. People wish to earn, or get money, for themselves and their families, given that life has become uncertain across several key parameters. Life long employment has disappeared almost everywhere, except may be in Japan. Keeping a well-paying job has increasingly become difficult, even in the IT industry, and certainly in the Financial industry, as Robotics and Artificial Intelligence come into the mainstream in these industries. Their impact is now being felt in many industries and avenues of human endeavour. Working people are getting impacted negatively, and those over the age of 40 are questioning their sustainability.

Given such a situation is fast emerging, it is no wonder that people want to save more money to handle the challenges of their future.

On the other hand, wealthy people want to make more money as it probably caters to their adrenaline rush needs, or just to keep proving to themselves that they can indeed make more money as and when they choose to do so. What does this extra money do except to fatten their banking accounts? Nothing. They are not going to take all their money to the graveyard.

The income inequality around the world, the kind of things that wealthy people flaunt around, the many things that working class people still do not have – all this and more drives the insatiable need for securing more money.

So, what is the religion of most people?

It is none other than money.

How about we fill up a government form with “Money” against the religion column?

Money, Money and Money.

Money drives peoples’ behaviour. It alters their behaviour. It forces them to err in their judgements. It prods them to take shortcuts. It sometimes pushes them to commit crimes.

Is that different from a regular religion?

No.

It is the same if you think carefully in terms of analogies. Religion does all of the above to normal people, and more. Religion also induces passion in people.

So Money is indeed, a religion.

It may not be for many people who would hate to replace or equate religion with money.

But, for many more people, Money has become a religion, and that is driving the demand for more money. That is driving more errors in judgements. That is damaging peoples’ reputations as we are witnessing recently (I am referring here to Carlos Ghosn of Nissan – Renault).

And, Greed knows no limits. It has no limits when it is used to fulfil peoples’ egos with desires.

Man’s desires have no bounds, as we all know.

Can a regular religion obliterate those desires and errors and mistakes and potential crimes?

Don’t bet on it.

It is not surprising most people have dual lives or dual personalities, if you know what I mean.

A businessman who is extremely greedy to make more money, even at the cost of his workers, could be extremely pious and religious. We have seen that behaviour time and again.

Hence, here is the unsavoury conclusion: Money is a Religion, and it more than qualifies to be one. The regular religions should take note! But I won’t be surprised if they know this already, as most religions are, in any case, money-making machinery which is well-oiled over the years. Money is, indeed, the oil for most religions.

Are you a convert to this “Money Religion”?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th November 2018

The Unstable America


Don’t you think that the all powerful, the only super power country in the world, has slowly spiralled down into some kind of unfathomable instability over the past 21 months?

Don’t you think the world, even the friends of America, are confused, bothered, amused sometimes, but mostly devastated the way things are proceeding apace?

Don’t you think that people around the world are constantly wondering what a new day will bring in terms of unpredictable happenings that could be detrimental to world peace and stability?

Don’t you think that the world-beating technology companies from the famed Silicon Valley are right now scratching their collective heads on how to tackle the U.S. Government and the U.S. Congress?

Don’t you think that governments all over the world are trying to figure out how to get out of the crosshairs of President Trump’s infamous tweet storm on any given day?

Diplomacy, as we know it, is almost dead.

Dictators can heave a sigh of temporary relief.

Authoritarian governments are torn between positive signals emanating from the White House and negative signals spouting from bureaucrats, think tanks, and of course U.S. Congressmen.

Democracies, and allies of the U.S., are in general, bewildered that a country which taught the world the basic norms of diplomatic behaviour, multilateral negotiations, human rights, and a whole series of global moral principles for so long, could deteriorate so fast under the auspices of an unpredictable, maverick leader with absolutely no prior experience in politics or governance.

Trade is the lifeblood of civilizations for thousands of years, which has facilitated interactions amongst peoples of the world. The economic growth of the world depends on trade. President Trump has been trying vigorously to walk out of all existing (NAFTA) or new trade deals (TPP), and his ongoing spat with China on trade has worsened the global economic and investment climate, establishing the linkages between trade and growth.

Equity markets have been facing trouble on account of several factors, however the chief factor has been the trade spat between the #1 and the #2 economies of the world. It did not stop with China, however. President Trump has been warning a series of countries which do trade with the U.S. on the urgent necessity to achieve an equitable balance of trade and open up respective markets to U.S. exporters.

I believe President Trump had been opening several fronts of economic warfare simultaneoulsy, while also facing political troubles at home. The combative new House of Representatives dominated by Democrats is very likely to give serious headache on a number of matters to the President, starting with the Russian investigation handled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Not a wise thing to constantly engage in battles with powerful enemies, but the President continued his tirade at the incoming House anyway.

President Trump’s unqualified support to Saudi Arabia on the Khashoggi murder rankles the world and has significantly managed to annoy Congressmen on both sides of the aisle. The fact that the U.S. will put business ahead of morality and principles well in front of thuggery and murder, has shocked the world.

Notwithstanding all this nonsense, Donald Trump is still the President, but his very latest attack against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals is utterly deplorable. He talked about Obama judges and Trump judges, trying to politicize the Supreme Court and other courts. He called the 9th Circuit a disgrace for the country. This is surely not a wise thing to do at all. Once appointed, neither the President nor the Congress have any say on the functioning of a judge, and unwarranted and unnecessary comments on a Court’s behaviour or judgements are generally considered unacceptable by everyone (except the right wing extremist supporters of the President).

Given all that is going on in the U.S., I am afraid that the fundamental institutional framework well established for nearly a century in the U.S. could come under partisan attack and could become shaky. This will be a very sad development for the U.S., and could have negative repercussions and ramifactions far beyond American shores. Democratic nations should rally around to develop a generic framework to tackle the aftermath of such drastic changes. The European Union decision to continue supporting Iran nuclear deal is one such example – as you all know, Trump walked out of the deal, and imposed severe sanctions on Iran, going against legal logic and plea from various allies who are co-sponsors and signatories of the 2015 deal, brokered by none other than the U.S. itself (John Kerry and Obama).

So, in a nutshell, America has become unstable in thoughts, policies, diplomatic relationships, international behaviour, and execution on deals which have been agreed upon.

What can you do in such circumstances?

Will you continue to support and engage with the U.S.?

Think carefully, and impartially.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th November 2018

The Nature of Our Perilous Life


Life should be an enjoyable journey, full of challenges, accomplishments, successes, failures and joy. Of course, there will be pitfalls, sorrow, frustration and backstabbing. There will be downfalls, anger, negative feelings, and what not. Life is one long journey full of feelings, perspectives, lessons and teaching. Yes, I mean teaching the juniors who need learning and not cramming!

The best success one can have is his or her own first failure. I attended my son’s graduation ceremony yesterday at his school and the key note speaker mentioned this gem of a thought. As I think more about it, I am now convinced that my drive towards success in whatever I tried to do in my twenties and thirties was characterized by a burning ambition to make a mark for myself in my life endeavours. I did not realize that I should have learnt a lot from my mistakes and failures, rather than from my successes. For the record, I did not. Is that surprising? Should not be, as most of us are made of the same mould. There were very few brilliant minds in the community I grew up in, who would daringly commit a mistake to learn from it, as in his mind that would lead to new discoveries from which he could then build a sustainable success. Most of the people I knew back then were conformists, some of them were idealists, but hardly any entrepreneurs with a derring-do attitude.

As we grow older and spend our best years in a professional capacity, we have seen the immense growth of entrepreneurial spirit with many, many failures and few outstanding successes. If we trace the path of the daring entrepreneurs who fell into failures, invariably we see many of them succeeded at the end in a brilliant manner.

What does this derivation tells us? What do we learn from it?

Life can be and will be perilous in the challenges and dangers that it throws in our way. The idea should then not be to circumvent these impediments and hurdles, but to face these head on with our powerful brain head lights switched on. Learn to handle and overcome the hurdles. There will be suffering, there will be financial losses, friends may depart from your fold, new friends might join your venture believing in your spirit and vision, more challenges might come your way.

Do our children understand this phenomenon? We are more than happy if our children complete whatever education that they set out to do. We do not particularly challenge them, instead we only keep encouraging them to excel in education. We want them to get a good corporate job, preferably in a Western country, and then goad them to save money instead of spending their earnings. We want them to conform to our way of life that we think we have perfected over the years, in other words, we want them to become conformists in our mould. I never learnt that spending is better than saving, but it appears it is, in many ways especially during the early years of experimentation.

I am struggling with my thoughts here – I am not able to put down my thinking lucidly as I write this, because I might have missed the bus, and most of you would have missed your respective buses as well.

What I mean here is this – our children belong to the next generation, they are true citizens of the 21st Century, we are declining citizens of this century anyway. Has all our wisdom been transferred to our children? Hopefully not. Why do I say “hopefully”? Think about it. You do not wish to make your children perfect copies of yourself as total conformists. They are already fresh thinkers in a different mould, in a different phase of life. We should not be interfering, in the name of imparting value systems, religious conformance, ritualistic thinking, savings philosophy, conservative idealism when it comes to chucking your career and moving on, etc., etc., There are so many things flooding my mind, I am unable to keep pace with the old keyboard of my 6-year old Lenovo which I have refused to replace – again conformism in its utter insanity in display!

What do you folks think?

I would rather not indulge my children. I would want them to become independent thinkers in their own right. They should think for themselves, decide what to do with their life, choose their own life partner, execute their ambitions in the best way that they can without any parental interference. If they come to us for advice, of course we are going to provide advice, but not judgement. And our advice should lean on our life’s failures, not on its successes, because failures have more enduring lessons for life than do successes.

So, in conclusion, here are my two cents worth of Sunday evening advice: Life is perilous in its usual journey, it is our job to extract the best from life’s lessons while enjoying the journey all the same. Further, provide inputs from your life’s failures to your children should they ask for advice. Do not impart generic advice, as I always have done and continue to do – I am struggling to stop my blessings from my advisory podium directed to my children, as they ignore the useless components of such advisory blast. Just mouthing useless advice annoys the best friends and also your family members, and eventually they will arrive at the conclusion that you are useless in toto, which thought they are not going to reveal to you!

Hence time to change ourselves. No explicit guidance is required to be provided to our children to navigate their lives. They will figure that out for themselves. Learn to be a guide without constant interference and spirited interventions that I am trying myself to wean away from.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th November 2018

The Coffee Struggle


Starbucks is not my “standard” coffee choice.

Are you surprised? I don’t think so.

In Singapore at least, Starbucks is not the leading coffee provider.

Who is then the top coffee provider in Singapore?

Not a single name crops up, though there are a number of global/regional chains competing in the market place, such as Spinelli or Cedele or Coffee Bean, etc., My favourite coffee maker is Spinelli, but unfortunately they are not omnipresent in Singapore. Coffee Bean comes next, followed by Cedele and then finally, may be Starbucks, if there is no other option.

Why is this the status for the number #1 coffee chain in the world, which is dominant in the U.S. and China and in several other countries? I know that in China, Starbucks is opening a new outlet every 15 hours – yes, you heard it right, every 15 hours. I have been to China many times in the past couple of years, and I have witnessed the fact that the Chinese folks are friendly towards Starbucks, and it is their favourite coffee brew. We even have a new Starbucks outlet in our own office building!

What about the U.K., a close friend of the U.S. where you would normally think and expect that Starbucks would be the #1 coffee shop?

The answer is no, they are not. In fact, I saw that the Brits favour their own coffee chains such as the ever present Caffe Nero coffee chain, Costa Coffee, and of course, the famous Pret A Manger chain. In all these coffee shops, you get good food choices, whereas in Starbucks London outlets, the food choices are bad. One of my ex-colleagues working now in London in fact stated that Starbucks has been fast losing market share in London because of just one fact – they do not offer a variety of food options which the Brits love. If I may add, the Flat White Coffee at Caffe Nero or Costa is far better than the Starbucks factory produced coffee!

Let us now come back to Singapore. Starbucks did not customize its offerings for such a sophisticated market, and that is very surprising. What you get in Singapore is almost exactly the same as what you would get in the U.S. In countries like India, Starbucks learnt its lessons fast, and started offering a variety of local Indian food options along with its expensive range of coffees. But not so in Singapore. The Starbucks coffee is not “strong” enough for the Singaporean palate, which is used to the “Kopi” offered in the local Kopi Tiam coffee shops, which is a strong brew with a variety of variations such as “black without condensed milk”, “regular with condensed milk”, “regular with less sugar”, etc., Singaporeans like their coffee to be very strong – almost dark brown, and I have seen people drinking their bitter coffee which is dark brown with hardly any milk in it. It goes with a variety of foods popularized by local chains such as “Toast Box”, which is one of the most preferred breakfast and coffee places in all of Singapore. I do not like to eat or drink at the Toast Box as it is always super crowded and the coffee is a bit too strong for me! Further, I do not eat the toasted bread with peanut butter that is almost standard fare out here at the Toast Box!! As I mentioned above, I like the Spinelli coffee the most, and sometimes walk into the specialty coffee shops which dot the island, which provide interesting variations to the standard coffee offerings.

While Starbucks is betting on China as its most successful and critical markets for the future (they plan to have 6,000 outlets by 2022), the world does not end in China. There are a whole lot of other countries which are important, though not as big as China market for coffee. However, I am afraid that Starbucks is not reading market needs well, at least in Singapore. In China, I do not have much choice, so I walk into the nearest Starbucks in Beijing or Shanghai, which is probably less than 500 metres away! In Japan, I do have choices for other coffee providers, but invariably there is a Starbucks nearby. However, if you can find it, I would recommend the Blue Bottle Coffee which is amazing.

There are so many options for good coffee anywhere you go, and I am now more tuned towards craft coffee makers, and tend to avoid Starbucks as much as possible. The food options in Starbucks Singapore outlets are not great and do not meet my needs anyway.

So, in a nutshell, if you are a coffee lover, I see no reason why you would spend on a Starbucks coffee when even your own office can probably produce a nice Italian coffee! Not always, and not for every office of course!! The other dimension that you would like to keep in mind (especially during weekends) is that you would find more interesting people in more sophisticated coffee places as compared to Starbucks with people busy on their laptops even during the weekends. If you want to strike a conversation with the barista or the server, then Starbucks is not the place, you would agree with me on that!!!

I bought some excellent coffee from Kenya, Ethiopia and Honduras during my recent trip to London, and more about my experiments with such coffee in my future blog posts.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th November 2018

Authoritarianism in Democracies


It is rather strange why so many democratically elected leaders of countries feel the urge to play god or superman when it comes to ruling in a majority government.

I believe that a streak of authoritarianism exists in most strong leaders with a strong will and powerful determination to take their nations and people forward. It is not an unnatural tendency, especially when the exercise of real power is possible, and there are a number of other influential people who assume the role of sycophants and sing the praise of the leader all the time.

If the strongman leader is well-intentioned, incorruptible, and not given to the negative influences of sycophancy, then he will be able to make a positive impact on his nation. Even then, he would constantly need the counsel and services of like-minded individuals, which becomes difficult especially in a conflicted country with heavy bureaucracy and multiple priorities. If such advice is not provided or sought, it is anybody’s guess where the country will eventually land, notwithstanding the good intentions of the elected leader.

Democracy is the most challenging form of government in practice today. It is prone to excessive meddling by mostly corrupt politicians, operating in a loosely managed system which can almost be considered as “free wheeling”. Unfortunately, it is currently the best possible scheme of governance available with all its foibles and inconsistencies.

The question then arises: how come a functioning democracy allows the emergence of a strong-willed authoritarian leader, and his/her free functioning despite the oversight functions built into a democratic system of government, and even tends to allow his/her excesses beyond what is permissible under such a system? Despite all the good work and progress that can be achieved by such a leader, the question still remains on “authoritarian excesses beyond what is permissible”, or the use of government machinery and authority to bully the naysayers and the well-meaning critics of the administration, curtail the freedom of the press, instigate lawsuits against dissenters and the media, and trample on civil rights.

There are many examples I can cite in defense of my surmise, the most potent ones being that of the Philippines and the U.S. In the Philippines, an authoritarian yet democratically elected President has totally destroyed civil rights and is pursuing a lawsuit against the most vocal media entity in the country. At last count, atleast 8,000 citizens have been shot down by law enforcement for drug trafficking or drug use, without any recourse to the country’s judicial system. In the U.S., we see the daily drama of a wayward President, who does not seem to care much about the fact that he is successfully dividing the country along race, colour and gender lines. The U.S. Congress has, so far, acquiesced to the whims of the President, and has rarely challenged him. This brings us to the next question.

Why do the other organs of a parliamentary democracy, such as the Parliament / Congress and the Judiciary just watch what is going on in the country, but rarely ever take suo moto actions to stop, challenge or dissuade the strong but erring leader? What prevents these organs from exercising their powers vested in them by the Constitution?

One reason could be that the Congress or the Parliament is run by the same party of which the head of government is also the leader, and the party is worried about the political ramifications of challenging its own leader and the next elections. In democracies, parties always worry about the next election. If there are a few vocal challengers in the party who give trouble to the President, they will eventually be silenced or ignored and replaced. Most political parties have average or weak leaders, so a strong leader who executes election promises and woos the electorate and voter base is always admired by the party, which becomes subservient to the relentless whims of its leader.

The Judiciary, in general, keeps a safe distance from politics and political happenings. This is the case, unless an affected party approaches it with a credible lawsuit against the government. In some cases of extreme injustice, the Court could resort to suo moto cognisance and initiate legal action on behalf of the victim.

While democracy provides for adequate checks and balances against the commitment of excesses by the Executive branch of the government, we have, of late (and in the past), seen real evidence of breakdowns which will eventually affect the fabric of democracy and its institutions.

The situation becomes worse when the “strong” leader delivers economic results and bolsters national security. It becomes extremely difficult to argue with positive results of benefit to the overall population (though not to segments of it). It may be sheer luck, but then it can be argued that specific actions resulted in solid positive economic progress, for instance.

Also, unfortunately, the general population usually prefers strong leaders who have a unique personality and a no-nonsense approach. This is one reason why movie actors went on to become successful in some regions as political leaders, while I would not believe they can deliver in real world what they did as actors in the make-believe world of movies.

Is there a way that democracies can adopt to avoid being caught in such an indefensible situation?

One way is to curb the discretionary powers available to the Executive for arbitrary exercise in favour of some stupid idea, or against an individual / entity who is opposed to the leader or his/her government. Easier systems of appeals to the Parliament which comprises of elected representatives and to the Judiciary will halt the President’s efforts in arbitrary exercise of power. However, nothing will prevent a determined leader in carrying out his mission vigorously with total insolence towards anyone beneath him or even those who are on par with him.

So we do have a serious issue with the democratic system of government. There is no immediate solution. Reprimand or threats of impeachment will not do the job. Aggressive judicial intervention is a real possibility, but not yet tested.

Think about it! Most of us live in democracies by the way!!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th November 2018

Avoidable Deaths in Unnecessary Conflicts


I came across the following “Costs of War” website run by Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs of Brown University, U.S.

“Costs of War”

It is worthwhile spending some time on the reports published at this site, which have not been covered widely in the international media. The various analyses are revealing data that many of us do not have access to. The overall figure of deaths in the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan related war on terror conducted by the U.S. and its allies is at least over a million, considering the casualties inflicted by diseases and infrastructural deficiencies caused by war in these underdeveloped countries.

I am not delving into the statistics at this site (which I strongly encourage my readers to go through anyway), but more into the human misery caused by wars such as this war on terror. Wars are always the result of misjudgements or forced error-prone judgements by civilian officials in governments who are susceptible to pressures from the military-intelligence nexus thirsting for war anywhere they deem it necessary. We know this from the historical evidence gathered in the aftermath of the Vietnam War which was caused by false information from a U.S. warship sent to the U.S. Defence Secretary and the Iraqi War on Terror based on false data presented to the U.N. Security Council by Colin Powell. Rarely has a serious conflict been caused by real evidence of attack by an enemy from the field (except the World Wars I & II). What powerful countries look for is a justification to launch a war based on any kind of provocation or any kind of false data.

Why do they do such a thing as start an armed struggle which they know would cause unnecessary casualties on either side, or serious civilian collateral damage, even if they know they would win the war? The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, it was defeated and humiliated by the Communist North Vietnam in 1975, though it was already a super power. Did it not learn its lessons from that war? Why send finely trained soldiers into war and lose them for good? Why spend so much of taxpayer money (USD 5.6 T in the war on terror till 2017) which could have been invested within the U.S. for the benefit of the people of the U.S.?

At the end of the day, the purpose is to “teach an unforgettable lesson” to the enemies or terrorists who attacked the U.S. in 2001. Terrorism has not gone away and has not been eliminated as a result of the “war on terror”. What we know for sure is that more than USD 5 T has been spent, more than half a million people are dead for sure, more enemies have been created on the ground in the Middle East, the Syrian & Yemen conflicts are not even counted in the above war on terror, and so on and so forth. If the purpose is to teach a strong lesson to aspiring terrorists, and also to eliminate every existing terrorist, then that purpose has not been accomplished. “Mission Accomplished” by George W Bush was a falsity as the world knew even then.

Targeted elimination of specific terrorists is very challenging and may not be possible at all. While that objective has to be pursued without any doubt, the unnecessary killing of suffering civilians in these countries need to stop. Need to totally stop. Will the Western countries allow such killings in their countries if the reverse scenario had happened, or even otherwise? No, not at all.

Human life has to be respected and human misery needs to be addressed.

Imagine spending USD 5.6 T on eliminating poverty in the world. Imagine eliminating homelessness and providing a healthcare safety net with that kind of money. Imagine so many good things that could have been achieved over the past 17 years with such serious amount of funding, if not for the world, at least for the U.S. How about drastically reducing the U.S. budget deficit with that kind of money?

Well, no easy answers. The military – intelligence – government – industry nexus will continue to serve the needs of war, while providing rationale for starting wars. I would think Asian countries are more circumspect when it comes to starting wars. We have seen standoffs between China & India, China & Vietnam, China & Taiwan, China & Japan, etc., but such conflicts are managed well without ever firing a shot, as Asia understands the potential costs of war which could completely derail the “Asian Century”.

One of the biggest results of the war on terror is continuing human misery and migration (displacement of people). This continues and is proving to be a huge challenge to many Western countries. How do they integrate these migrants (who they really do not want) into their respective societies?.

Overall, the conclusion is simple: the war on terror should have been very specific and very localized to specific regions of countries, instead of establishing a country-wide war zone in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should have had specific purposes which should have been accomplished by now (after so many years of conflict). Instead, we see meetings being scheduled between the U.S. and the terrorists they shunned all this while!!!

In the meanwhile, the various war zones operate (almost all in the unlucky Middle East region) and conflicts rage as usual. The Military-Industrial complex is salivating at the potential U.S. – Iran conflict, which will generate huge business for them of the order of USD trillions again, while killing innocent people in hundred of thousands for sure.

Welcome again to the World of Ever-present Conflicts, Unnecessary Wars, and Totally Avoidable Deaths!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th November 2018