Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gloom, Doom and a "Fallen Giant"

This month, Western Japan-experts have been out in full force, debating Japan's perception of itself. The debate was set off by an article in the New York Times, written by Eamonn Fingleton. Titled "The Myth of Japan's Failure", the piece refutes a widely held dim view of the country and its economy and insists that a 'number of facts and figures that don’t quite square with Japan’s image as the laughingstock of the business pages'.

What are these facts and figures? - Average life expectancy, internet infrastructure, exchange rates, unemployment rates, construction of skyscrapers, current account surpluses, and consumption patterns. Everything seems to point that, far from the gloom and doom scenario's painted by Western analysts, Japan is doing rather well. Fingleton's most interesting point, however, was that the Japanese actually benefit from the negative press because it is 'the perfect excuse in politely waving away solicitations from American universities and other needy nonprofits. Ditto for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in tempering expectations of foreign aid recipients.'

And while everybody is sympathising with the "fallen giant", Japan continues to build an ever more sophisticated industrial base. Japan's exports to China alone run more than $120 billion a year; Competence of the German's, Korean's and Taiwanese depends of machines and manufacturing tech acquired from Japan.

The article presents an interesting, contrarian view which is perhaps aimed at goading an American audience into action. An Asian audience - especially the Chinese -  may see things differently. At the end of the day, the fact remains that the iPhone and CRH bullets may have seriously dented the Japanese self-image of being top-cats in the manufacturing sector.



1. Eamonn Fingleton (2012): "The Myth of Japan's Failure", NYT 6 Jan., 2012, URL - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/opinion/sunday/the-true-story-of-japans-economic-success.html?_r=2&ref=general&src=me&pagewanted=all

2. Rejoiner by Krugman, Paul (2012): "Japan, Reconsidered" NYT 9 Jan., 2012, URL - http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/japan-reconsidered-2/

3. Rejoiner to Krugman's rejoiner :) - Eamonn Fingleton (2012): A Reply to Paul Krugman, January 19, 2012, URL - http://www.fingleton.net/a-reply-to-paul-krugman-2/#more-1465

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

'Bias for thought against action'

"Although Indians blame ideology (and sometimes democracy) for their failings, the truth is that a mundane inability to implement policy -- reflecting a bias for thought and against action -- may have been even more damaging."

This is a quote from an essay written by Gurcharan Das in Sep., 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs. Nearly six years later, just about every point in the essay continues to hold good, including this trenchant comment about our bias for thought over action.

The most recent example of this was on display at the 99th Indian Science Congress, attended by over 15,000 scientists and students. Here, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared in his inaugural address that China had beaten India in science. A comment that drew headlines the next day.

A few days later, an intrepid journalist from the Indian Express, Amitabh Sinha,  found that Mr. Singh been repeating the same platitudes for years. Sinha notes, "speeches of the Prime Ministers in the last 10 years reveal how repetitive this exercise has become reflecting either a policy stasis in the sector, lack of bold reforms or both. Each year, the PM underlines the same themes: increase in investment, de-bureaucratisation of scientific establishments, public-private partnerships. So much so that sometimes the Prime Ministers use the same quote to make the point."

For a PM widely criticised for his 'masterly inactivity', one wonders why he had to bring China into this inaugural address. Was it to goad the scientists into action (while assuming they had a short memory), or was it merely to add a dash of variety & drama to his repetitive public statements that are merely reflect our continuing bias for thought against action?



ENS (2012): China has beaten us in science: PM, Indian Express, 4 Jan., 2012, URL - http://www.indianexpress.com/news/china-has-beaten-us-in-science-pm/895449/

Sinha, Amitabh (2012): If science seems stuck, so do the Prime Ministers, 8 Jan., 2012, URL- http://www.indianexpress.com/news/if-science-seems-stuck-so-do-the-prime-ministers/897127/

Kulkarni, Sudheendra (2012): INDIA NEEDS SWADESHI S&T, IE 8 Jan12 p11

Editorial - Indian Express (9 Jan 2012): THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, URL - http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-more-things-change/897460/

Monday, January 09, 2012

Udon in India's Spaghetti Bowl

In the spaghetti bowl of international trade agreements, India's plate seems to be garnised very 'comprehensively'. We have comprehensive partnerships, comprehensive cooperation, and then those that sit on the fence between cooperation and partnership!

The word seems to be a favorite with governments. But if examined its usage a little more closely, it turns out that even though it sounds very decisive and all-encompassing they don't really mean it.

CECA involves only 'cooperation' towards tariff reduction in a phased manner on all items except those on the 'negative list' and tariff quota rate (TQR) items. On the other hand, the 'partnership' in a CEPA is extra-comprehensive, so it also covers trade in services and investment. 

Here is a summary of such trade agreements from the website of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry (MoCI) and other sources:

  • Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) - Sri Lanka (2000); Singapore (2005); Korea (2009); Japan (2011);  Negotiations on with Canada
  • Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)  - Thailand (2001), Singapore (2005), Negotiations on with Australia, Indonesia
  • Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA) negotiations - Mauritius
  • Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) - Chile (2005); Negotiations on with South African Customs Union (SACU), MERCOSUR
  • Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations - New Zealand, ASEAN, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
  • Trade Agreements - Pakistan

The most recent CEPA signed between India and Japan is perhaps a case of adding udon to the spaghetti bowl of trade agreements. The pact is expected to provide access to the $5-trillion-GDP Japanese market. It is also the first CEPA with a developed country. About 94% of the tariffs between Japan and India will be eliminated within 10 years (about 97% by Japan and about 90% by India) on a trade value basis.

Given the ongoing recession and slowdown, it is still too early to know if the agreement between both government's will actually lead to a boost in bilateral trade.


* Dhar, Biswajit (2011): All that the India-Japan CEPA Promises, FT 9 Sep 11, URL - http://www.financialexpress.com/news/all-that-the-indiajapan-cepa-promises/843865/0

* Raghavan, BK (2011): India-Japan CEPA holds great promise, BL 7 Sep 2011, URL - http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/b-s-raghavan/article2430062.ece

* India-Japan Cepa comes into force on August 1 - HUMA SIDDIQUI, FT 30 Jul 2011 URL - http://www.financialexpress.com/news/indiajapan-cepa-comes-into-force-on-august-1/824406/0

* India-Korea CEPA - http://www.aepcindia.com/files/INDIA-KOREA-CEPA-Website.pdf

* PTI (2011): Ministry team to explain FTA benefits to stakeholders, BL 21 Feb 2011, URL - http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/economy/article1477059.ece?homepage=true

* India - Trade Agreements - http://en.reingex.com/India-Free-Trade-Agreements.shtml

* http://www.gktoday.in/bankpo-question-answers/what-is-difference-between-ceca-and-cepa/
* http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-ceca-and-vs-cepa/

* Update on India's Foreign Trade - URL - http://commerce.nic.in/tradestats/Indiastrade_press.pdf
* System on Foreign Trade Performance Analysis (FTPA) - http://commerce.nic.in/ftpa/default.asp

* Dept. of Commerce, MoCI-India, URL - http://commerce.nic.in/trade/international_ta_current_details.asp

Friday, January 06, 2012

Dying Gasps on Broadband

Within days of getting a broadband connection from BSNL I find myself trying to decipher the secret language of LEDs, to understand why my internet connection keeps tripping every few minutes.

'Customer Care' at BSNL, unfortunately, continues to be an oxymoron. The helpline has a ready, pre-recorded explanation for all wobbly connections - 'technical work is in progress'. And this has been on for the past three days.

In hindsight, the broadband-guy did a smart thing by giving me some troubleshooting notes. It has already come in handy while trying to understand why the links are so erratic and unreliable. Everytime there is a break in the connection, I find myself staring at the array of LEDs on the modem. The only one which is constant is the red one for power supply. The fickle ones are the yellow for DSL and green's for internet and WiFi.

The wireless modem itself ( ADSL2+ CPE/IAD model AN-1020-21 type WT) is manufactured by Vippalamiritha Magnetic Components Ltd., Hyderabad. It comes with a manual which is anything but helpful. Its GUI interface at the default IP address,, tosses up a long list of acronyms which give company to common attributes like Dying Gasp, WhipMode and UtopiaInterface.

It is 'Dying Gasp' that first caught my attention. What a appropriate term for an instrument always on the brink of near-death experiences! Somebody out there certainly has a sense of humor.

Dying gasp is apparently a message sent by the customer premises equipment (CPE) DSL device to the digital subscriber line access multiplexer (DSLAM) when a power outage occurs. It is listed as one of the 'common attributes' of an Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Link (ADSL).

My wireless modem has been gasping, dying and going through the inevitable cycles of life & death a few hundred times everyday. Nirvana is nowhere in sight. Nor is the possibility of a reliable broadband connection. Until that happens I plod on with my karma of trying to understand more about ADSL  and broadband technology.

Here is an attempt at figuring out the answers (this is, of course, a work-in-progress):

ADSL2+: Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line
DHCP Server:
DNS: Domain Name Server
MAC spoofing: lets MyDslModem identify itself as another computer or device.
PPPOE LlcBridged Protocol:
PVC Mapping:
SSID: Service Set Identifier in wireless computer networking
UBR Category:
VPI/VCI: (0-255)/(32-65535)

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

BSNL: Telephones, Broadband and Bribes

A week ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a BSNL employee at our doorstep with a packet in hand. I had applied for a land-line + broadband connection and this 'lineman' had come for the first part: handing over the telephone instrument and activating the physical connection.

Over the past two decades the government-owned telecom company had transformed into a trend-setter when it comes to affordable connections. Spurred by the telecom privatization MTNL/BSNL has seen a huge improvement in its services.

Gone are the days when my grandfather had to write a melodramatic application letter to get a telephone connection in Thrikodithanam. He had to provide good reasons for being granted the privilege of a telephone connection, so he had written a  note about his ailing health, his advanced years and about wanting to keep in touch with  'My son who is in the army posted at Siachin glacier and my grandson serving the Air Force at the Arunachal frontier..'. A few months later a clunky, black bakelite instrument marked 'ITI' was installed with much fanfare.

The instrument I received from BSNL would have amazed my grandfather. It arrived without any special requests and was loaded with features that needed a careful scrutiny of a tiny manual and its miniscule print.

The BSNL lineman, as if to compensate for having exceeded a customer's expectations, went on to crudely pulled together some wires dangling outside the house, borrowed my screwdriver & insulation tape (he believed in travelling light) to fix the wires and, before leaving, insisted on having an "Inaam" (reward / bribe). The minimum amount he assured me, was Rs.100, because, these days, 'even a litre of petrol is so expensive!'.

The broadband guy came a couple of days later with a wireless modem. He was a lot neater and better equipped. He quickly configured the laptop and modem, wrote down detailed troubleshooting notes and left in a hurry, without bothering to even ask for an Inaam.

Obvioulsy, BSNL is an organisation with more than one face. The hoary tradition of seeking bribes is restricted to only the 'linemen' whose expertise lies in creating and maintaining a tangle of wires in every neighborhood. Only they can decipher and pull the right wires out of this tangle and  undertake the task of pulling wires across streets and installing the telephones. Also, By ensuring that the wires are fixed without insulation tapes or covers customers can be then be held on tenterhooks and regularly milked for further Inaams and baksheesh.

BSNL Broadband employees might be the new wave. They are geeks who prefer to buy their own petrol.


A report registered on Janaagraha's IPAB ("I Paid A Bribe"!) - http://ipaidabribe.com/sforms/view_reports_paid

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Year of the Dragon

Pic source: Getty Images from Daily Mail

The new year has started with an interesting headline in the Western media - "China's New Dragon Stamp Breathes Criticism". What is it about this piece of artwork that inspires such a big fuss? Why This Kolaveri Di? :-)

Designed by Chen Shaohua the postage stamp shows a fiery, beautiful dragon splayed out as if on a dissection board, staring out with its dead black eyes, mouth frozen in a grimmace.

Chinese dragons have always reminded me of the "Yali" motifs that adorn the entrances to ancient temples in Kerala. The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw Shaohua's design was, 'This is how a Yali will look if it got accidentally electrocuted!'

One positive outcome of this - completely overblown- controversy is that that it draws more attention to the wonderful creations of artists like Shaohua.


China's New Dragon Stamp Breathes Criticism, Fear - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/06/chinas-new-dragon-stamp-b_n_1188232.html