Friday, October 28, 2011

Financial Sense from a Greek Tragedy

In Ancient Greek Mythology, Tyche was the Goddess of Chance who ruled over people's degree of Life and Luck.

It is to this Goddess Tyche that the Greeks must be singing praises now; for saving them, and Europe, from an ignominious and impending doom.

At last, after months of discussions and debates, a deal is finally made between Europe’s leaders and the Greek debtors, on Thursday morning, which may not entirely solve the European crisis. But, at least, it won’t cause the pillars of the earth to shake, like they shook, in the recent past.

There now seems to be some hope of a solution for Europe’s financial crisis that looked, thus far, like a huge financial Hiroshima just waiting to explode as it gets ignited by a default by Greece on its sovereign debt.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And for private investors to take a desperate 50 per cent cut in the face value of their Greek bonds is not an easy choice. How can they be willing to take such a deep ‘haircut’? They cannot.

But when one is sinking into a quagmire, grabbing quickly, and desperately, at whatever is in hand’s reach can help. And that’s just what the private bankers have done. And the bigwigs at Brussels tried hard to plan a rope out strategy for the bankers in long term, and tried hard to keep the ‘Euro’ on higher ground.

Bloomberg’s website also reported that European leaders had boosted their rescue fund’s capacity to 1 trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) in a crisis-fighting package that is intended to shield the euro area.

As the deal also includes a new €130bn bail-out of Greece by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, it, quite obviously, digs into the coffers of Europe’s funds. And the promises by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy that they will increase the size of the funds ‘four or five times’ can only send shivers up my spine, if I were a European tax-payer.

Where are they going to get the money from? From my pocket? How will they fund these funds? Well, for the moment, I don’t care.

The world was waiting with bated breath, for some decision from the European leaders. And this Thursday-morning decision is being hailed across the cyber space and satellite channels as a sensible one.

How did the markets react to this momentous deal? Very upbeat.

The Toronto Star’s website reports that by Thursday afternoon, “Britain’s FTSE climbed 2.1 per cent to 5,670.12. Germany’s DAX jumped 3.7 per cent to 6,243 and France’s CAC-40 gained 3.9 per cent to 3,297. Wall Street also headed toward gains, with Dow Jones industrial futures rising 1.6 per cent and S&P 500 futures gaining 1.8 per cent.”

Bloomberg’s website says, that by Thursday afternoon in Europe, when it was still 8.34 am in New York, “the MSCI All-Country World Index gained 2.2 percent”. The benchmark gauges in France and Italy jumped more than 4 percent to the highest levels in almost three months. It also said, “The euro appreciated above $1.40 for the first time since Sept. 8, and the cost of insuring European debt fell to a seven-week low. The 10-year Treasury yield gained nine basis points. Copper rose 4.9 percent, while gold dropped.”

So, the repercussions of this deal are far-reaching and, proverbially put, earth-shaking.

On its website, The Financial Times reports (FT, 27 Oct) that this 50% cut is expected to reduce Greek debt levels to 120 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of the decade. End of the decade?

This is just year 2011. The end of the decade is nine years away. And, in this period, let us all optimistically hope that the winds of change will not remain turbulent and cause bigger upheavals.

The goddess I believe that the Greeks must now pray to, as they stand back on their feet, is Goddess Athena, the Goddess of wisdom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walter Issacson on Steve Jobs

Listen to Walter Issacson who wrote the biography of Steve Jobs. I found this  two minute, forty second video on Huffington Post. Worth watching.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shalom or Salaam. Don't they both mean, Peace?

Released prisoner welcomed by family
There are two sides to every story they say. But the two most difficult sides to argue for-or-against today could well be the Israel and Palestinian sides.

Monday’s (Oct 18, 2011) prisoners-swap deal between the two countries saw a great furore across the Middle East and the world.

The release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestine, in exchange for 477 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel is a very significant development in the long ongoing bitter struggle for land by the two warring peoples.

Israel’s promise through an accord – brokered by the Egyptian government - to release 1,027 prisoners in exchange for the French-Israeli national Gilad Shalit has begun with this first batch of 477 prisoners. And the other 550 are likely to be released soon.

Some would argue that there is an imbalance. Why are so many Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for one Israeli man? Is it a fair deal?

While we do not know about all the negotiations that must have gone on between the two - through Egypt’s mediation - what we do know is that some 5,000 Palestinians are still held by Israel.

And, if Gilad Shalit has been held for 5 years, then some of the 477 released who were held for as long as 20 years to 30 years.

And, even if some of these Palestinian prisoners were caught by Israel on suspicion, or on grounds that they had infiltrated into Israel to perpetrate terror crimes, it must be noted that many were held without proper trials. And the very detention of these people for such long periods is tantamount to their experiencing a long jail sentence. So, it is high time they were released.

Some Israelis are, somewhat justifiably, arguing that their government has been lenient. That it is just not right for Israel to release some of those Palestinian prisoners who had shown no remorse on being caught with incriminating evidence of terror, and who had actually vowed to attack again.

Some Palestinians are jubilant at the release of their compatriots and are chanting that they need to catch more ‘Gilads’ so that many more Palestinians, languishing in Israeli jails, could be freed.

So, with the release, will there be a renewal of terror? Or will there be a resumption of talks? I hope it’s not the former but the latter.

On one hand, the Palestinians are seeking UN recognition of Palestinian Statehood, and are refusing to talk unless the Jewish settlements are stopped, and unless they are given the pre-1967 borders. On the other hand, Israelis are refusing outside interference, even from UN, in what they say is a bilateral issue, and are asking Palestinians to renegotiate on borders and assure them security.

Whichever way it goes, the prisoner-swap deal is certainly an historical event. And we can safely infer that it has the markings of Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy and softening at the same time.

Shalom or Salaam. The meaning is the same. Peace. And if it is not for ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to men’ what is worth striving for?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Indian Air Force and MiG 21 fighter jets

At the Air Force Day celebrations in New Delhi on Saturday, 8 Oct, India’s Air Chief Marshal MAK Browne admitted that the old warhorse, Russian fighter plane, MiG-21 was difficult to fly, particularly for young pilots, which is why he says, “experienced aviators are being put into the cockpit”.

But, logically speaking, should the focus not be on training the young pilots instead of putting the older ones at risk?

Even though the Air Chief Marshal mentions that all MiG 21s will be phased out by 2017, should the young aviators be completely exempted from flying these aircraft?

I think it is this very lack of focus in developing Indian fighter pilots that had cost the country a lot.

Out of the six air crashes involving IAF planes this year alone, four belonged to the MiG-21 series.

Of the total 976 MiG-21s inducted in the service since 1960s, over half of them have been lost in air-crashes. And a total of 170 pilots were killed in them in the last 50 years or so.

So, while I agree that the MiG 21s are old planes, I think it is not the jets alone, but the lack of appropriate training to the young, that has caused irreparable loss to India.

The planes are good. For those wishing to know more, let me explain that MiG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, first designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau of the erstwhile Soviet Union, and is arguably of the largest selling fighter jet series.

Some 50 countries over four continents have flown the MiG-21, and it still serves many nations a half-century after its maiden flight. The fighter plane made aviation records.

At least by name, it is the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history and the most-produced combat aircraft since the Korean War, and it had the longest production run of a combat aircraft (1959 to 1985 over all variants).

So, now, even if third and fourth generation fighter aircraft are being made available, the knowledge and skill of flying these amazing fighter planes should not be allowed to fade away easily.

What's the Road Ahead for Bahrain's Traffic?

Having lived in Bahrain for a little over 10 years, I cannot but appreciate the government's proactive approach towards easing traffic at very important junctions. But there are still some concerns.

Many would remember the horrible traffic congestions that used to frustrate drivers at Seef, Sitra, Tubli and Isa Town junctions. But they were very effectively tackled by the building of flyovers (two of them with underpasses or tunnels). And the concerned authorities must therefore be complimented on this achievement.

The construction of two underpasses in Hamad Town too, within the last two years, have ensured that vehicles can move smoothly without encountering even a single traffic-light all the way from Manama-BFH to University of Bahrain in Sakhir, if we go over Seef, Budaiya, and Hamad Town flyovers and through these two underpasses.

But your readers would all agree, I am sure, that our troubles are far from being over.

The Mina Salman traffic junction has now become a huge nightmare - 'bottle neck' is too mild a word - in the evenings if you are approaching it from sitra flyover. And so is the Manama Bahrain Financial Harbour one. Even if the Diplomatic Area Flyover which is under construction comes up fast(and I hope it does) I do not think the traffic flow at these two junctions would be eased much.

So, I really wonder what the government is doing about Mina Salman and Manama BFH Traffic Junctions; and if there is any hope of smoother drives, in the near future.

The most horrible one - the mother of all roundabouts that could lead to frustration, especially, if you are approaching it from Sanad - is the big Alba Roundabout near Askar between Nuwaidrat Roundabout and Riffa Traffic lights. The sooner the planned flyover here is built, the better it is for the country.

A related problem within Manama city is the density of vehicles, that move two-ways within two arterial routes, particularly during the Rush hour every evening, from Salmania junction diverging in two directions : (1) towards Andalus Garden and Gudaibiya (via Sana), and (2) towards American Hospital and Sheraton Complex (via Police Fort of Ministry of Interior). We can go on these roads between 6pm to 10pm, only at our own peril. On weekend nights, these roads get completely clogged. And with no by-passes around, the frustration can lead to some real-life cardiac arrests.

Opening of the GCC Roundabout could be a first step at solving some of the traffic congestion in Manama city. But with the rapidly growing number of vehicles, if the government does not keep in pace with its projects to ease traffic, we could be left standing still at many junctions.

Is it possible that DT can publish a list of flyovers, and other traffic related projects, by interacting with the concerned Ministry? We residents would be interested to know what is the road ahead, for all of us.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Meredith's Murder. Who cares?

She must have liked this picture
of hers. This was on her
facebook profile when she died.
The murder of the 21-year old British girl Meredith Kercher, was one of most shocking true-life stories I read, first in the newspapers in November 2007, and then again a few months ago in LIFE’s The Most Notorious Crimes in American History, a book I possess.

This week I read again the revival of Meredith’s murder in the media. I saw the proceedings of the trial on TV which were telecast intermittently from Perugia in Italy. The courtroom drama finally ended with the acquittal and release of two people - the 24-year old American, Amanda Knox, who was 20 at the time of the crime, and her Italian boy friend, the 27-year old Raffaele Sollecito, then 23, both of whom had been sentenced, for the murder, for 26 and 25 years respectively.

They had, till this week, served 4 years in jail. After having appealed their verdict, they have now been acquitted.

The acquittal of Knox and Sollecito means that the only person now left in jail for this murder is Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast-born drugs peddler. He had admitted he was in the house which Meredith shared with Amanda, on the night Meredith died, but denied he killed her. Guede is still serving a 16-year sentence and has opted for a fast-track trial. But we don’t know where it will eventually lead to.

If these two just-acquitted people cannot tell the whole story, Rudy should be the one knowing what happened that night.

Whatever the adult games these people were allegedly involved in - or had not been involved in - what remains certain is this: a beautiful young girl, brimming with life, barely 21, was found dead, with a brutally slashed throat and with heavy stab-wounds.

The alibi that Amanda and Raffaele were actually at Raffaele’s flat watching a movie was never proved conclusively. And the DNA evidence of blood on clothes being contaminated during the investigation at the crime scene and while retrieving the samples, makes the entire case, an epitome of ‘unprofessionalism.’ The case as on date remains an ‘unsolved mystery’.

Now, American media (CBS News, MSNBC, 4 Oct) says freedom to Amanda came at a huge cost, because her family has run into deep debts of almost $1mn hiring and paying the lawyers. However, the British media (The Guardian, 4 Oct) says Amanda Knox can still make as much as £10m from her story, with a potential for a string of lucrative TV and newspaper interviews followed by a movie and book deals. So, Amanda’s parents are relieved. But, who cares about Meredith’s?

Like for me, for several others around the world, many questions still remain unanswered.

  1. How can the forensic experts bungle up, by mishandling culpable evidence such as DNA samples and computer log-records? 
  2. Where is the knife that actually killed Meredith, which was never found? 
  3. Why is there not more information coming from Rudy Geude? 
  4. Did US pressure groups intimidate the Italian courts to free Amanda and Raffaele by staging protests outside the court? And most importantly 
  5. Where is justice to the parents of Meredith who are still waiting to know who caused the horrible death of their beautiful daughter?