Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mobile Use as Bad as Drunk Driving

So says a 2003 study a copy of which was released in the New York Times today. The report which can be read here estimated that multitasking behind the wheel was responsible for about 1,000 deaths and 240,000 accidents in 2002 in America. Or if you prefer, taking a call while driving will make you 4 times more likely to crash compared to ignoring it. So will texting messages. And no, that little thing you wear on your ear doesn't make the roads any safer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great Little Country is Still Alive

And kicking. Funny what happened today. I had an interesting conversation with a friend in the afternoon about the Afro-Mauritians. You know the script: with the advent of independence in 1968 and the successful campaign to instill fear about an impending Hindu hegemony many of them emigrated. His interesting point was that most who left* were the elite of that community so that those who were staying back were probably deprived of role models for a long time. In the process Mauritius lost a lot of her most talented teachers and civil servants. The other interesting comment he made was that two of the people who had the greatest influence in changing the course of his life were a Creole teacher and a Muslim neighbour (he happens to be a Hindu). That must probably ring true to a lot of us.

And then a little while after that conversation I checked Gilbert Ahnee's editorial only to find out, somewhat amused, that he was echoing a similar feeling after recovering his E61 thanks to one Vikash who went out of his way to find the rightful owner of that Blackberry beater.

All of this got me to recall a car accident I had a few years back. I was stunned but less than half a minute later I heard a voice (hmm, so God speaks kreol after all?) asking me to get out because enough gas was dripping in the wrong places and he feared the worst. I was too clumsy to do that by myself and that skinny guy immediately sensed that and pulled me out as if I was a feather. His name was Akbar.

*emigration amounted to 15,881 from 1968 to 1974 according to official figures.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Charming Natasha St-Pier on Mauritius

MK's Attitude is Grotesque

They want Rs300,000 from Awadh Balluck, a representative of our airline's small shareholders' association, to include his common sense motions on the agenda of the July 22 meeting. These motions include that the CEO's salary be brought to Rs1,000 per month until MK returns to profitability, a reduction in the number of board members to seven with one from the small shareholders' group, directors getting 2 free tickets per year only while serving the company, that a hedging specialist be hired and that a commission of inquiry be instituted to find out about the hedging scandal. These are very reasonable motions consistent with basic notions of corporate governance.

The funny thing is that a couple of years ago he didn't have to pay anything for similar motions. Hmm, what's exactly is going on here? Here's one way out of this. Get the NPF to pay the Rs300k for corporate governance's sake - a bit like what CalPers has been doing for ages. The Prime Minister, of course, has to share some responsibility in this given that he pulled the CEO out of his hat.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

13 Short Works of Uber Physics Teacher

That's what you get from the delightful The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. It starts off with a transcript of the interview he did for BBC's Horizon (that's available on youtube) where he highlights the importance of using meaningful analogies when teaching, takes a swipe at silo mentality and reminds us that the reward for doing great work is getting the opportunity of doing it (his so-called kick in the discovery) and not whatever prize or benefit you may get for it. Then there are the must-read chapters on nanotechnology, the role of science in society and the inquiry into the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

If I had to use two words to summarise this book I'd go for doubt and discussion. Which are to TINAwallahs what garlic is to Dracula.

P.S: TINA=There Is No Alternative

Are You More a Right Brainer or a Left Brainer?

Take the test to figure out. Ideally, it would be having a subtle blend of both. At the end of the day, what matters I guess is to live to your full potential while seeking to complement others towards a common goal.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What the IMF Does

It's a one-product institution according to Sebastian Mallaby: help countries having balance of payments (BOP) problems. Well at least in theory. Mauritius for example had to go knock on their doors in 1979 for a structural adjustment programme when economic hell broke loose on our mostly monocrop island.

The MMM, Berenger and Sithanen have used this episode as an indication of apparently typical Labour mismanagement. And an important section of the press has successfully drilled that in the heads of many of our fellow citizens over a couple of decades. They have also tried, this time rather unsuccessfully, to broadcast the lie that external factors are unfavourable only when Paul and Rama are in government. We've called this bluff recently.

It is interesting to note that when the Mauritian flag was raised for the first time sugar represented about 95% of our export earnings. While that was reduced by 20% over the next 7 years as the economic diversification program got underway our economy was still pretty much vulnerable when Gervaise visited us a week before Valentine's day in 1975 wiping out 30% of that industry's output (sugar represented 24% of our GDP in 1975 and 65% of export earnings in 1979).

Neither do we ever hear the fact that the UK was, as per Krugman, forced to accept loans and advice from the IMF -- a humiliation usually reserved for Third World nations. And they took that bitter pill in 1976, that is three years before Mauritius.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to Ecrire en Kreol Jaldi Jaldi

Simp terib sa. U plim nek ena ekut ou zorey.

One of the main reasons people don't write in kreol is that they say it's complicated in the sense that some words can be spelled in more ways than one. Hey, this is something that all languages had to deal with. Was it a piece of cake to learn where to put all these terrifyingly complicated accents in French? We just need some rules as to how to write things in there. The good news is this has already been done with the grafi-larmoni.

Another reason is that kreol is apparently a vulgar language. Are these people saying that one cannot be vulgar in French or in English?

The fun thing about creole is that you can probably contribute new words to its dictionary given that it's a relatively new language. For instance sometime back I suggested that 'political animal' could be translated into politichiens. I guess politisat is acceptable too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Offbeat Therapy

I have recently been invited to visit Truthdig and I can say that the contributors do indeed strive to live up to their motto "Drilling Beneath the Headlines".

The message couldn't be clearer: sharpen your critical mind before digesting whatever you read.

Here's an excerpt from The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff that would probably send you to reassess what you thought was obvious:

Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think

Go for it and think!

Are You Outraged?

On the way to the office this morning I was taken aback by the tag-line on a billboard aiming at selling unrefined sugar. "Unrefined for the refined" sounds catchy enough but is a woman with Western features that critical to the marketing of the product? I thought Mauritians were increasingly emancipated from the ethnic determinism rooted by colonialism. Maybe I am wrong. The advertising agency may be smarter and certainly more cynical. Isn't it supposed to sell a dream in the first place? Do you have reservations in terms of product identification and commercial appeal? Anyway, the process of Mauritius-building looks very tedious.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ler SSR Ti Donn Ledikasyon Gratis

I have stopped counting how many times the PM has repeated this along with the increasingly boring accounts of the varying impact that one Andre Masson article had on him. He seems to find it very convenient to use SSR as a catch-all category to obliterate the hard work of others. In this case the implementation of free education by one Kher Jagatsingh.

Hah, you might say. Implementation is nothing, vision is everything. Not really. Did you know that about 90% of organisations were unable to execute their strategies in the 1990s? You can also take a look at Navin's track record. Didn't he say he wanted to make us all millionaires? That was one of his visions. Interesting. Wow. Awesome. But things didn't quite play out according to script: thanks to the bean-counter, he presided over a very brutal creation of inequality in Mauritius. Do I need to expand on his Maurice Ile Durable (MID) project?

Returning to free education, here is SVR's take on what really happened as reported in Le Mauricien of September 13, 1986: ... qu'au moment ou lui meme, feu SSR et aussi sir Kher preparaient le manifeste du Parti Travailliste pour les elections de 1976, Sir Kher etait venu avec l'idee de l'education gratuite.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Deindustrialisation Doctrine

In the wake of Wall Street's debacle, Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive of the General Electric Company, exhorts policymakers and business leaders to "drive competitiveness" by "improving the manufacturing structure" and to "draw on 230 years of ingenuity to renew the country’s dedication to innovation, new technologies and productivity".

In short, he is merely suggesting that countries do not dance to the tune of trendy sirens forever. John Rose, chief executive of Rolls-Royce, made a similar call previously in England. Unlike, say Luxembourg's foundation, Singapore's foundation does not look shaky because, in typical fashion, it has sought to review its economic structure permanently while unleashing vibrant SMEs and benefiting from international and regional integration.

Mauritius will be wise to follow suit instead of relying on the same toxic voices.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How Malawi Ended Extreme Poverty

Simply by ignoring the World Bank's decades-long advice about not subsidising fertilizers. The Bretton Woods institution according to a New York Times article had over 20 years "pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely... its theory was that Malawi's farmers should shift to growing cash crops for exports and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food...". You don't get any crappier than this!

Similarly prices of vegetables in Mauritius could go down if government subsidised fertilizers according to Kreepalloo Sunghoon, Secretary of the Small Planters Association. Having basic market intelligence flow to these planters would also stabilise the cost and supply of vegetables to your kitchen. And improving seed quality will not hurt variety.

By the way, don't you want to know how much of the billion-rupee Food Security Fund announced in last year's budget has actually been spent? And how it has been spent?

Dutch Disease Turns 50

Here's what happened in 1959. When Holland exported the gas it had discovered in its waters, that increased the value of its currency and made other industries less competitive. In the process thousands of jobs were lost. The term was coined by The Economist in 1977 to remind us that what was supposed to be a blessing turned out to be a curse.

Now, getting record amounts of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) like we did starting 2006 should have had a similar effect. Our currency should have appreciated and made us all feel richer. And we could have allowed it to appreciate painlessly so that the non-greedy section of our manufacturing sector had had time to adjust.

But as you will recall, that's not exactly what happened. We had Sithanen on TV informing us that a fatwa had to be issued on our rupee in the second half of 2006 on the basis that it had not depreciated for a few years! And that was done in a year of agriflation and after the finance minister had removed subsidies on rice and flour and introduced an inequality-creating flat-tax.

And just to dissipate any remaining doubts that we might have had that this was coming straight from Kafka, a 'Person of the year' award was even attributed to Dr. Sithanen in the same year.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Takes Only One Laptop

To run Mauritius infinitely better than how it has been done for the past couple of decades. With memories that are 4-8,000 times larger and hard disks that are 25,000 times bigger than what they were in 1989 there are only a few problems that matter to all of us that cannot be solved on that one piece of equipment.

You're saying nah, we don't even need a laptop, a blog will do. Hmm, you may have a point there.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Making it Free is Not Enough

Public Transportation that is. Buses, which are likely to be around for a while, need to be sufficiently comfortable, accessible to handicapped people, run at reasonable frequency and till late everyday and incorporate video surveillance equipment. Otherwise people here will not leave their cars at home.

And government should immediately copy what people in Santiago, Chile did more than 20 years ago: fit fume-emitting buses with catalytic converters for free and save on health costs. Our lungs won't mind.

Did You Say Greenwash?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How to Measure Underemployment

Well you could start with the unemployment rate and add discouraged workers. You could then refine your analysis by adopting the suggestion from The Social Costs of Underemployment: Inadequate Employment as Disguised Unemployment by Doley and Prause and include involuntary part-time work and poverty-level pay.

Wait a second. Let me check. Ah, you're lucky. This book too is available from Amazon which means you can get it in your hands before you know who by clicking on the image below. By the way, what is our national bean-counter's estimate for underemployment?

The Social Costs of Underemployment: Inadequate Employment as Disguised Unemployment

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Smartest Man JFK Ever Met Died Today

At age 93 in DC. Robert McNamara was JFK's Secretary of Defence, President of the Ford Motor Company and President of the World Bank for 13 years. Read about him here.

How Useful Are Polls?

It depends how accurate they are. And to find that out we need to check their predictions with the actual numbers. Polls just like anything else (term structure of interest, management skill, forecasting ability, etc) can be rated for their informational content. Here's therefore something that the Mauritius Research Council should finance. The latter study could be inspired by ZEROM (of Le Defi+):

Why Data Droppers* are Self-deluded

In addition to Sanjay's pick Peddling Prosperity, readers should also relish The Science of Economic Bubbles and Busts published in Scientific American where Gary Stix wittily exposes the tunnel vision of the market-knows-all crowd.

* Those who shelter obsessively behind twisted figures to undergo an ego massage.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Don't Do Like Ramgoolam, Buy From Amazon

Meet another fine pick I read a few months ago. It's by Krugman and it should be compulsory reading for anyone who has anything to do with policy-making or who participates in the increasingly interesting debates going on in our country.

Here's a quote from the preface of the 1994 bestseller: "And I was angry over the way that bad economics and spurious claims of success were being used to justify a program that helped the rich and hurt the poor while doing nothing positive for the economy". Doesn't that ring a bell?

The 10-chapter book contains down-to-earth sections on income distribution, growth and budget deficit. Enough said. I don't want to steal Krugman's thunder. Just click on the following pic and be different from Navin.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

More Space Will Make Us Better Than Singapore

So said Ramgoolam last week. While it's a fact that Mauritius is 2.86 times bigger than Singapore (2,030 square kilometres vs. 710.2 square kilometres for the Asian Tiger) they use their space infinitely better than we do. For example, let's consider the number of tourists in 2008: we welcomed 930,456 of them while they got 10.12 million. Hmm, that works out to about 458 tourists per square kilometre for us and a staggering 14,243 for them. That is they had 31 times more visitors per square kilometre than us.

He also doesn't want us to believe that nepotism is the only route to a job in Mauritius. Can he then tell us how many routes are there to become Chief Executives of Air Mauritius and Mauritius Telecom and Financial Secretary?