Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraq war - Apocalypse Watch

I am not very sure of what the administrations' intentions were when they started the Iraq war.  Maybe they were thinking of the domino effect - that democracy will get a kickstart and eventually diffuse in the middle east.  Thye may have thought that once Iraq establishes its own institutions, it will stand as a role-model for the rest of the region.  Valid idea - in theory.  In practice, the reality is more complicated.  The middle-east has been plagued by tensions, foreign intervention and corporate greed for years now.  Even if US succeeds in Iraq, will it be able to pull off similar success in other countries that turn renegade?  And, I have not even got to frica yet!

The problem is that now the US faces an increasingly antagonist domestic scene and the future of democracy in Iraq seems bleak without a US presence.  As many writers have written earlier, the Arabs are nomadic and democracy faces an uphill battle in the arabian region.  The house of Saud still rules one of the largest countries in the region - a country that is US' friend, solely for US strategic interests.  Ideology has to be consistent - if the west feels democracy is needed in Iraq, it should accept that the Saudis need democracy too!  What about rights of the saudis?  Ah well, they are friends, we look after them, so even if they are not democracy loving, it is fine as long as they keep pumping crude.

It is just the beginning of apocalypse.  The trouble in middle-east, the Iraq war - throw in nuclear Iran, Syria...they are all the perfect recipe for a conflict that will never end.  I wish I could have been more optimistic.

A month without a cell phone

I had a long woe-filled discussion with my wife yesterday night.  Conclusion: I am going to try a small experiment for a month.  Starting September 1st, I will roam around with a cell phone.  I realized how badly the cell phone providers suck at offering value-filled cell phone service.

I just could not find a good provider in the Chapel Hill area and although Verizon came close, they suck so bad at good phones. No cell phone company seems to be interested in selling service to basic users like me.  They are extremely interested in teens who download videos and music, and in business users who use the internet for email and other applications.  I am the guy they don't want.  I only make calls, watch out for my minutes and call friends only during off peak hours.  I guess, I am not interesting any more to any one.

What I don't understand is that although there are a lot of basic users like me, somehow the cell phone providers are intent on making us upgrade to phones with cameras and music players so that we start consuming content.  I just don't see myself doing that or even feel the need to be such a consumer.  i want  ano nonsense phone that is fast and good for making calls.  i want better signal reception and call quality not Beyonce on my screen.  After thinking about it for a while and a long crib-filled discussion with my wife, I have decided that I will try and spend a month without a cell phone once my contract with AT&T ends. If life becomes unbearable without a cell phone, I will admit defeat and sign-up for a contract and shell out money from my pocket to get a good phone.  Else, I may even start a movement.

Cheers to me!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Harry Potter - reading habits of kids

An interesting article about the magical effect of Harry Potter on kids' reading habits.

After reading the piece, I kept pondering what really shaped my own reading habits when I was a kid. I vaguely remember reading "chandamama" in telugu and english. Other monthly story books that I read included "balamitra", "balajyothi" which were both in telugu. My english stories came from Tinkle and of course, the ubiquitous Amar Chitra Katha. I am sure a generation of Indian kids will thank Uncle Pai for introducing us to the complex mythological characters from our epics and puranas in an easy to understand fashion.

Finally, I should also mention that a small pay-for-rent book store near my house called R.K Library, where R.K stands for the owner Rashid Khan for the bulk of my adolescent and adult reading habits. His collection was enormous, given that his store was a ramshackle. Asterix, Tintin and every other character you could think of was present in the store - all organized and ready to be picked up. All the noveslists were on the walls - forsyth, sheldon, archer, ludlum - everyone. I was hooked onto that store and stayed a loyal customer for more than 9 years.

Finally, the point I am trying to make is that reading is a cultured habit. You start with small stories and slowly move to big ones. It has to happen over a number of years with simple short stories to begin with and complex ones as kids grow older. For a generation of american kids who were always poor at reading, a complex series of books with convoluted evolving plots (read the Harry Potter series) is not going to change anything.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


This will be my first official post as a faculty member at UNC.  It was  wild ride from being a PhD student at PSU  to a faculty member at UNC.  A nittany lion to a tarheel!

Well anyways, as some of you might know, the US Immigration agency acted crazy over the last 2 weeks.  Without dwelling upon the details of their actions, it is suffice to say that much of what they had done was to appease the pro-legal immigration lobbyists.  However, their good intentions were seen through and the underlying political agenda came out when they failed to anticipate the scale of legal immigration.  As the prez was trying to coax the senate into passing a comprehensive immigration bill that largely was pro-illegal immigrants, the government agency tried to assuage the sensibilities of the legals by making all visa priority dates current.  The life of their decision was just a few weeks, and as soon as the immigration bill was defeated in the senate, the government had little to gain by reforming the scene for "legals" and therefore pulled back all the dates and froze the process till October 1st.

Welcome to the legal immigration!  A chaotic anarchy with no rhyme or reason.  Exploited by consultancies, scorned at by educated legal aspirants and misunderstood by everyone.

Girish Mallapragada
Assistant Professor of Marketing
Kenan-Flagler Business School
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill