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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gender and suicide

"In the developed Western countries the number of men committing suicide is three times more than that of women. However, women are more likely to attempt suicide than men (Kaplan and Sadock, 2003). This is not a recent phenomenon, as in the nineteenth century Durkheim (1897) pointed out a similar gap in suicide mortality among men and women; but the difference became more apparent in the last decades of the twentieth century. There are many ways to explain why completed suicides are more prevalent in men; however, they do not explain the relatively low female suicide rates all over the world. Two approaches arise about gender differences in suicide: 'why suicide rates are so high among males?' or 'why they are significantly lower in females?' The answer to these questions lies within the multi-dimensional quality of suicidal behaviour, namely that completed and attempted suicides are not different phenomena, and many times often the reasons, the mechanisms and the methods are the same in both cases, only the outcome differs…"
"The main hypotheses – aimed to explain the higher suicide mortality in men – are the following: the higher lethality of male suicide methods; the reluctance of men to seek help, the higher rate of substance (especially alcohol) abuse; and some socio-cultural differences. There has been a significant rise in the number of suicide rates among young males and a decline in rates among – especially elderly – females in numerous Western countries in recent years (Hawton, 1998)."
('Suicidal Behaviour: Assessment of people-at-risk' Ed: Updesh Kumar and Manas K. Mandal, p. 136 Sage)

Working with communities

"What is a community? A geographically defined locality or a larger functional group where members are bound by common concerns, lifestyles and socio-cultural orientations, which guide or organise their lives and collective norms of functioning."
"What types of communities can we work with in the context of their geographical location? Urban slums, rural communities, and tribal communities."
"At the first year level, the direct work area would most likely be urban slum communities although through visits and camps, there could be opportunities for some exposure to rural and tribal communities. It is important for a trainee social worker (TSW) to understand that each type of community has its characteristic features and specific needs."
"Working with communities is one of the practice methods in social work. It involves a process whereby communities are organised to work towards their development. In this process of development, a professional change agent enables a community action system (comprising individuals, groups and organisations) to engage in planned, collective action in order to deal with commonly felt problems. This process is initiated within a democratic framework, which lays emphasis on collaborative efforts, consensus building and building one's potentials and capacities through participation. Beginning with a process of relationship building, community work seeks to identify and prioritise needs, focusing on discontent and the desire for change. Community sections are encouraged and enabled to come together to seek alternatives and get mobilised for action. Through this process the community develops attitudes and practices of collaboration and solidarity."
"The approach in community work ranges from a welfare approach (where 'target' populations are beneficiaries of services) to a developmental orientation (which seeks to enhance community capacities to work towards change) or social action and advocacy which is oriented towards mobilisation to bring about systemic changes, including changes in power relations."
('Skill Training for Social Workers: A manual' Ed: Sudha Datar, Ruma Bawikar, Geeta Rao, Nagmani Rao, and Ujwala Masdekar of Karve Institute of Social Service, Pune, p. 226 Sage)

Food price crisis

"Food price inflation is highly regressive. Food expenditure as a proportion of total household expenditure of the poor is as high as 75 per cent in Afghanistan and India and 63 per cent in Sri Lanka. In Bangladesh, rice comprises 71 per cent of the calorie intake per person in rural areas and 60 per cent in urban areas. Higher food prices led poor people to limit their food consumption and shift to less balanced diets, causing nutritional deprivation in Bangladesh. (SARD 2008, 2)."
"Although the sharp rise in food prices severely affects those who are already living below the poverty line, the fact that a large share of households in South Asia are concentrated at an income level only slightly above the poverty line, with as many as 1 billion South Asians living on less than $2 per day, means that many households have been pushed back into poverty by the food and energy price crisis. For example, 'a 10 per cent increase in food prices is estimated to increase the urban poor in India by 8 million. Other countries experiencing an increase in urban poverty of a million or more due to the impact of higher food prices include Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.' (ADB 2008d, 41). A simulation study carried out by the ADB using household data and national poverty lines suggest a '10 per cent increase in food prices pushes an addition 7.05 million people into poverty in Pakistan, while a 20 per cent rise doubles that figure.' (ADB 2008c, 15)."
"The erosion in the poor's purchasing power not only increases the severity of food deprivation and malnutrition but also squeezes out other expenditures, such as for clothing, schooling, and health care. The combined impact of the food and energy crisis thus put at risk the chances of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015."
('Promoting Economic Cooperation in South Asia: Beyond SAFTA' Ed: Sadiq Ahmed, Saman Kelegama, and Ejaz Ghani, p. 214 Sage)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Women in the legal profession

"Although on the face of it, women working in law have made real progress and some perceived glass ceilings are being shattered, there are a number of areas which give cause for concern. … Women tend to remain clustered at the lower levels of the legal profession. Britain is not alone here. In their overview of 19 countries, Malleson and Russell (2006) demonstrate that achieving diversity within the judiciary has become a key concern of legal systems across the world."
"Women working as solicitors and barristers continue to experience deeply entrenched cultural and practical barriers to career progression with large numbers of them leaving the profession (Fawcett Society, 2006). Examining the selection procedure of an organisation tells us much about the gendered patterning of jobs, tasks and hierarchies. In this section we focus on the considerable criticism that has been directed at the way in which judges are appointed."
"Until recently, there were no advertisements for judicial office. Applications were subject to being invited to the post. Selection processes lacked any clearly defined selection criteria. Rather, the selection process for judges in the High Court involved the Department for Constitutional Affairs gathering information about potential candidates over a period of time by making informal inquiries, seeking personal opinions (known as 'secret soundings') from leading barristers and judges. It is the role of these 'secret soundings' that has proved consistently controversial among legal commentators for their discriminatory impact on women and other under-represented groups wishing to join the ranks of the judiciary…"
"Essentially, the process of secret consultations has meant that being 'well qualified' is not necessarily enough to secure selection for senior rank. Rather, the candidate needs to be 'well known' among the group of judges and senior members of the profession whose personal opinions are sought. Those lawyers outside the so-called 'magic circle' of elite chambers are disadvantaged by the process as are many lawyers from minority backgrounds, and many women lawyers (particularly those with family responsibilities), given their under-representation at the senior bar…"
"In this way the secretive and discriminatory nature of the selection process ensures that women are unlikely to have equal access to the promotions process…"
(Marisa Silvestri and Chris Crowther-Dowey in 'Gender & Crime: Key approaches to criminology,' p. 182 Sage)

Gender equality

"No country has come close to achieving gender equality, but even those that have achieved relative equality still experience violence against women. In the country reports of both Norway and Luxembourg to CEDAW in 2003, for example, governments described their extensive programs for gender equality along with persisting wage differentials and patterns of violence against women. The transition to a modern, industrialised society with somewhat greater gender equality can exacerbate rather than diminish violence, as it has with the rapid modernisation of China, according to a report from Human Rights in China (1995). As Jane Collier argues on the basis of her long-term research in Spain, the transition to a modern family system does not necessarily produce greater autonomy and power for women (1997). In the modern system, marriage is less secure: wives are viewed as spending family resources and must maintain their attractiveness in order to preserve the marriage. In the earlier system their status as wives was guaranteed by the church and by their productive role in the family. Consequently, the impact of modernity has been to make women more rather than less vulnerable to violence."
(Sally Engle Merry in 'Human Rights & Gender Violence: Translating international law into local justice,' p. 77 OUP)

Confirmation biases

"As it turns out, we have biases that support our biases! If we're partial to one option – perhaps because it's more memorable, or framed to minimise loss, or seemingly consistent with a promising pattern – we tend to search for information that will justify choosing that option. On the one hand, it's sensible to make choices that we can defend with data and a list of reasons. On the other hand, if we're not careful, we're likely to conduct an imbalanced analysis, falling prey to a cluster of errors collectively known as 'confirmation biases.'"
"For example, nearly all companies include classic 'tell me about yourself' job interviews as part of the hiring process, and many rely on these interviews alone to evaluate applicants. But it turns out that traditional interviews are actually one of the least useful tools for predicting an employee's future success. This is because interviewers often subconsciously make up their minds about interviewees based on their first few moments of interaction – say, reacting more positively to people who are similar in personality type or interests – and spend the rest of the interview cherry-picking evidence and phrasing their questions to confirm that initial impression: 'I see here you left a good position at your previous job. You must be pretty ambitious, right?' versus 'You must not have been very committed, huh?' This means that interviewers can be prone to overlooking significant information that would clearly indicate whether this candidate was actually the best person to hire. More structured approaches, like obtaining samples of a candidate's work or asking how he would respond to difficult hypothetical situations, are dramatically better at assessing future success, with a nearly threefold advantage over traditional interviews."
(Sheena Iyengar in 'The Art of Choosing,' p. 124 Hachette)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Transformation in education

"Distance education and ICT-enhanced lifelong learning are powerful transformative forces, and they are only in their infancy. We certainly anticipate that education will look strikingly different by 2060 than it does today. Yet for the foreseeable future, quite probably for most or all of our forecast horizon, a significantly traditional formal education structure will likely remain in place, augmented by the rapidly advancing fruits of ICT rather than replaced by them. The strong need to support the quality and capabilities of teachers and formal education structures will remain and even grow. The availability of technologically enhanced education will certainly give ammunition for governments that seek to reduce spending on education and divert it to older p populations or other purposes, rather than taking full advantage of technology's development. Those supporting education will need to press for experimentation and innovation."
"Another related and powerful transformative force is the general advance of globalisation. Higher education is becoming increasingly internationalised in a variety of ways, many of which have positive potential, such as more emphasis on developing intercultural and global competencies; the creation of new international networks and consortia; the cross-border delivery of collaborative academic programmes; and the international movement of students, professors, and researchers (Knight 2008). However, as Knight further noted, there is also widespread concern about risks associated with these endeavours, depending on the motives of those participating in them, the manner in which they are implemented, and the standards to which they adhere."
('Advancing Global Education: Patterns of Potential Human Progress,' Vol 2 Ed: Janet R. Dickson, Barry B. Hughes, and Mohammod T. Irfan, p. 167 OUP)

Human development

"Human development has two sides: (1) the formation of human capabilities, such as improved health, knowledge and skills, and (2) the use people are willing, able and permitted to make of these capabilities: for leisure, productive purposes, or participation in cultural, social and political activities. The rapid expansion of these capabilities – including those associated with education, health, social security, credit, gender equality, land rights, and local democracy – depends crucially on public action that is neglected by many developing countries. On the other hand, by removing itself from excessive regulation and bureaucratic interventions in production and trade, the government can also contribute to expanding social opportunities."
"The use of these capabilities can be frustrated if the opportunities for their exercise do not exist or if people are deprived of these opportunities as a result of discrimination, obstacles or inhibitions; if there is no demand for their productive contributions so that people are unemployed, or if there are legal or social or conventional restrictions on their employment, or if they do not have enough leisure, or if political oppression or deprivation of human rights prevents them from full participation in the life of their communities. There can be 'jobless' growth, there can be 'voiceless' growth, there can be 'rootless' growth, and there can be jobless, voiceless and rootless non-growth. Different countries illustrate each of these cases."
"Getting income is one of the options people would like to exercise. It is important, but not an all-important option. Human development includes the expansion of income and wealth, but it includes many other valued and valuable things as well."
"For example, in investigating the priorities of poor people, one discovers that what matters most to them often differs from what outsiders assume. More income is only one of the things desired by poor people. Adequate nutrition, safe water at hand, better medical services, more and better schooling for their children, cheap transport, adequate shelter, continuing employment and secure livelihoods, and productive, remunerative, satisfying jobs do not show up in higher income per head, at least not for some time."
('Handbook of Human Development: Concepts, measures, and policies' Ed: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and A. K. Shiva Kumar, p. 101 OUP)

Care

"What drives the communication ethics of health care is the word 'care.' Health care communication ethics seeks to protect and promote care – care is the communicative action or practice that links to the good of responsiveness to the Other. Health care communication ethics does not pivot upon the question of information; it stands firmly on the question, 'How do we provide communication that cares for another?' Health care communication ethics points to an active, caring responsiveness to all stages of life, offering meaning through the doing of human assistance. Health care communication ethics protects and promotes care, human caring of one for another, in a professional context and in all contexts where decisions affect the quality of life and, all too often, life itself."
"The importance of responsiveness points to a particular view of caring, one that calls forth our engagement with the human condition, requiring something of us – care. Simply put, health care communication ethics begins with a basic assumption about the human condition: We fall ill and lose, temporarily – and, someday, forever – our sense of robust health. Rejecting health as physical alone, health care communication ethics works with our final freedom, whether in practice or in the final moments of a life, keeping before us the importance of our response. This focus on responsiveness in practice and in the final freedom of humanness defines 'care' as understood by health care communication ethics – care becomes the protection, the promotion, and the facilitation of human responsiveness as the defining characteristic of the good of health care communication ethics."
"The temptation we seek to bypass is the question, 'Why do others not care, and why is caring so difficult a response in health care?' There are a million answers to this sad question and one unfortunate reality: Too much focus on this question moves us away from our own responsibility to respond and back to demand and consumption of what we deem as good. Our responsibility to care begins with a responsive first principle, forgoing the impulse to blame those who do not meet our standards of care. In essence, the emphasis upon responsiveness opens the conversation about what it means to be a doer of care, not a consumer of care."
('Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and difference' by Ronald C. Arnett, Janie M. Harden Fritz, and Leeanne M. Bell, p. 199 Sage)

Political shifts

"An analysis of Murli Manohar Joshi's speech to the Patels shows that his discursive strategy was to invoke the caste identity of the Patels by linking it with a hero of their caste, Sardar Patel. The BJP picked up the symbol of Sardar Patel, who actually belonged to Gujarat, to get the vote of the Patels, and in the process it also projected Sardar Patel's idea of one nation. His authoritarian behaviour of assimilating the princely Muslim states of Hyderabad and Kashmir into India was interpreted by him as a step towards the consolidation of the Hindutva agenda. His speech to the Muslims on the same day, however, did not contain any mention of Sardar Patel who had adopted a hard attitude towards Muslims during the Kashmir dispute. An analysis of his two speeches delivered on the same day at the same village shows that while mobilising the Patels he glorified Sardar Patel, a hero of the Patel caste but who was known for his unsympathetic stand towards the Muslims. At the same time, in order to appease the Muslims and appropriate them into the BJP fold, he promised to raise their standard of living without mentioning Sardar Patel at all."
(Badri Narayan in 'Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron politics and Dalit mobilisation,' p. 111 Sage)

‘Bad’ education ideas

"Listed below are some instructional practices that were implemented in public schools in the not-too-distant past that we now know don't work:
•    Early in the 20th century, seats and desks were bolted to the floor of classrooms. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, school designers experimented with open designs in which classrooms were separated by movable walls or even partitions. We now know that neither of these designs worked all that well.
•    When we thought that learning disabilities were caused by deficits in sensory integration, many schools hired occupational and physical therapists to conduct sensory integration therapy. Students receiving this treatment were spun around on swings, walked on balance beams, and rolled around on therapy balls. We now know that sensory integration therapy doesn't have much effect on the academic performance of students with learning disabilities.
•    The standard practice in reading classrooms has been, for years, ability-organised reading groups, where one student reads and the rest of the students in the group follow along and listen. We now know that students learn best when instruction actively engages them and they receive effective feedback. Passively following along does little to improve the performance in reading.
•    When computers were first introduced into schools, they were perceived as specialised equipment that needed to be located in computer labs, and computer skills were taught in isolation, separate from the rest of curriculum. These computer labs often remained empty for large parts of the school day and so the computers went unused. As the price of computers has steadily dropped, and as we have learned more about how to integrate computers into teaching and learning, we now know that it is better to distribute computers throughout the school building and use them as part of a specific curriculum.
•    Age- and grade-equivalent scores are reported by most major test publishers and continue to be used widely to describe student performance. However, age- and grade-equivalent scores are based on the false assumption that learning progresses in a linear fashion from year to year. We all know that children learn in fits and starts, with big gains in some years and small gains in others. These scores have been widely discredited by all major educational and psychological professional organisations.
•    Organising high schools into ability tracks was an accepted practice for most of the 20th century. We now know that ability tracking benefits only the students in the very top tracks and works to the disadvantage of virtually everyone else in the school."
(Margaret J. McLaughlin in 'What Every Principal Needs to Know About Special Education' 2e, p. 57 Sage)

Target group

"A hunter has two possible approaches to locating his target animal. One way is to follow its trail or footprints (not an easy task) to its lair or home, thus reaching a single specific animal. The other, possibly more effective method, is to use an understanding of the characteristics and habits of your target animal to locate it and many more like it. What are the habits that can help you find that animal? For example, what does your target eat? Where is such food found? Is there a particular time when your target eats? When does it drink water, and where? What kind of terrain does it prefer? What type of shelter does it use? This method involves reasoning out how and where the hunter can encounter not just a single animal but a large population of the targeted species."
(Francis Alapatt in 'The Science of Selling,' p. 48 PQP)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Setting priorities

"One day, as he stood before his philosophy class, Prof Tony Cantu picked up a large, empty pickle jar and began filling it with golf balls. 'Is the jar full?' he asked. The class said, 'Yes.'"
"Next, he picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. Again, he asked, 'Is the jar full?' The class said, 'Yes.'"
"Then, he picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled up everything else, 'Is the jar full?' The class replied, 'Yes.'"
"The wise professor said, 'This jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things in your life – your family, your health, your friends. If you lost everything else and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, and your car. The sand's everything else – what I call the small stuff."
"Dr Cantu went on to say, 'If you put the sand into the jar first, there's no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you'll never have room for the things that are important to you. So, pay attention to the things that are crucial to your happiness. Spend time with your parents and kids. Get regular medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the leaky faucet. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter to you. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
(Donald W. Hendon in '365 Powerful Ways to Influence,' p. 55 Magna)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Systematic bullying

"Some organisations deliberately encourage enmities and other so-called macho behaviours. An extreme example of this was a boss I knew who used to select one of 'his troops' for a 'sustained campaign of attrition' (these phrases are how he used to boast) to 'see what they're really made of under fire' and to make them 'bigger and stronger' when they 'got through it.' He caused, not surprisingly, countless cases of stress, illness and relationship breakdowns, without an inkling of remorse. And when, eventually, someone told him how his 'victim' was suffering, he'd ride in on his white horse and rescue the poor person and give them a raise or promotion, as if he'd never taken any 'enemy' action in the first place. Everyone knew this was going on (except the poor victims at the time) and did their best to provide support. But it was part of the so-called culture there. And, if ever people tried to change this, they were told that 'this is how we do things around here' and 'if you don't like it here, you know what to do.' And, eventually, that's what we all did. The organisation no longer exists. (And, incidentally, the boss had his own series of magnificent breakdowns and then reinvented himself as a pillar of society.)
(Mike Leibling in 'Working with the Enemy,' p. 42 Viva)

Friday, May 7, 2010

E-memorials

"Humans have a natural propensity for recording life. Just look at all the people walking around with cameras and video cams. You'd be hard-pressed to find a home without photo albums, home movies, scrapbooks, and mementos. The one thing many people would be sure to rescue from the flames of a burning home would be their photo albums. We love to reminisce, and if you think of all the photos and home movies taken, if seems we enjoy enhanced reminiscence: not just remembering but also hearing and seeing recordings or artefacts from the past. A few of us go beyond just confining ourselves to recordings and objects, and actually edit movies, or create scrapbooks with captions and artistic layout. Some even take classes from companies like Creative Memories to learn to do it better. The rest of us envy them the time and talent to produce such compelling stories."
"Your e-memories will prepare you for the digital afterlife. Already, for a fee, Web sites like www.legacy.com and www.frevernetwork.com offer to store letters, essays, photos, videos, and stories to pass on to future generations. Famento.com helps people share family stories, building e-memorials to loved ones. Those sites are the digital equivalents of cemeteries and libraries."
(Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell in 'Total Recall,' p. 155 Landmark)

Open your toolbox

"Television is no longer the single, dominant form of entertainment in America. Americans under the age of thirty spend more time on their phones and online than they do watching TV or listening to radio. You've got to dip into a vast toolbox of new marketing vehicles to reach consumers in their active lifestyles, as opposed to the media with which you're most comfortable."
"The marketing toolbox has never been so varied. In fact, one of our partners refers to it as a toy box, not toolbox, because of the range of fun choices he now has available to him. Once upon a time, marketing was pretty much bound by the simplicity of what we now call TRaP – Television, Radio, and Print. Going to market was a costly proposition and the impediment to market was often the enterprise of the big boys: major marketers with deep pockets."
"Today, in the digital age, any Tom, Dick, or Harry (or Bill, Steve, or Sergey) can put a digital shingle out there and be in business. Pretty exciting. And if the buzz of your brand content, Web site, YouTube video, blog, or Twitter following catches enough of a cool breeze, you might not only be in business, you may be in the money on your way to a megahit brand."
"So what's the toolbox? It's every way, any way, and the integrated way you go to market. What tools will you use to reach your customers, to deliver your product or service, to drive your customer relationship management (CRM)? The tools are changing and expanding every day. Here's a glimpse of what you can reach for today:
Medium: Print, Radio, Direct mail, Outdoor, Television, Point of purchase, Promotion, Direct response, Infomercials, Podcasting, Vcasting, Blogs, Mobile messaging, Interactive kiosks, New out-of-home, Electronic signage, Community sites, Social networking, Banner ads, Product placement, Affinity marketing, Branded content, Video sites, Webisodes, Meta tags, AdWords, Buzz marketing, Guerrilla marketing, Advergaming, Virtual Words, Microblogging."
"Can you do them all? As Paul likes to say, 'Just because you can doesn't mean you should.' As of this writing, advertisers are rushing off to get involved with blogging and community sites. At the same time, we're seeing blog burnout and community site constipation: More and more young people are less and less interested in having three thousand 'friends' in multiple places clogging their lives with meaningless trivia."
"So what do you do if you haven't got the money or means to be in all those media? In fact, no one does – not even the deepest pocket megamarketers. Let your Big Idea dictate the points of engagement. The medium and its method are always in the service of the message – the idea. It has to be simple, elegant, and compelling. The media will follow. Once you know what you want to say and to whom you want to say it, then where you say it will become much more obvious."
(Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance in 'The Little Blue Book of Marketing,' p. 182 Landmark)

Advocacy

"It's disgraceful that the media allows is such routine distortions in complex system debates like climate change, as if a fact is somehow an 'opinion' and all opinions should be aired. If the opinion were that the writer doesn't think the net melting is important enough to build policies to hedge against it – fine, that is an opinion and belongs to the op-ed space. But to allow falsehoods or misframings of science is not an opinion, just an error or worse. That should in my view be distinguished from real opinions – value judgments on what we should do about it, for example – and a newspaper has a right to demand that such demonstrable factual errors be removed. If a political writer claimed blacks were better off in the Jim Crow South than now, would that be an 'opinion' they would publish in their newspaper? Or that smoking doesn't cause cancer? You get the point."
"The question isn't whether reporters, politicians, lawyers, and others or their methods are wrong or that 'impartial' scientists are morally superior – but whether the techniques of advocacy-as-usual are suited for a subject like climate change in the public arena…"
"Scientists think that advocacy based on a 'win for the client' mentality that deliberately selects facts out of context is highly unethical. Unaware of how the advocacy game is played outside the culture of scientific peer review, scientists can stumble into the pitfall of being labelled as advocates lobbying for a special interest, even if they had no such intention."
(Stephen H. Schneider in 'Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the battle to save earth's climate,' p. 207 Landmark)

Mathematical markdowns

"Mathematically-based price optimisation is not new. Airlines and hotels have relied on it for decades. When a flight starts to fill or a hotel runs short of rooms, yield management ensures that prices go up. Likewise, when rooms or seats aren't filling fast enough, prices go down. This phenomenon is not reliably linear; many of us have had the experience of booking a flight or hotel room and watching it become cheaper over time. Yield management requires anticipating trends before they happen and discounting or raising prices well ahead of the actual events."
"Like hotel rooms and seats on an airplane, many consumer goods and services are in demand for a limited time period, so the timing of discounts is crucial. Too early, and money is left on the table. Too late, and the goods or services don't move. The technology to manage markdowns mathematically has been available since at least the mid-1980s, but was priced out of reach of most retailers. The computer power required to analyse the data collected from hundreds of stores on hundreds of thousands of products involved in millions of transactions was huge and prohibitively expensive. But when the cost of computer power plummeted in the mid-1990s, many retailers were poised to take advantage…"
(Ellen Ruppel Shell in 'Cheap: The high cost of discount culture,' 116 Landmark)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rating rigging

"The big Wall Street firms – Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and others – had the same goal as any manufacturing business: to pay as little as possible for raw material (home loans) and charge as much as possible for their end product (mortgage bonds). The price of the end product was driven by the ratings assigned to it by the models used by Moody's and S&P. The inner workings of the models were, officially, a secret: Moody's and S&P claimed they were impossible to game. But everyone on Wall Street knew that the people who ran the models were ripe for exploitation. 'Guys who can't get a job on Wall Street get a job at Moody's,' as one Goldman Sachs trader-turned-hedge fund manager put it. Inside the rating agency there was another hierarchy, even less flattering to the subprime mortgage bond raters. 'At the rating agencies the corporate credit people are the least bad,' says a quant who engineered mortgage bonds for Morgan Stanley. 'Next are the prime mortgage people. Then you have the asset-backed people, who are basically like brain-dead.' Wall Street bond trading desks, staffed by people making seven figures a year, set out to coax from the brain-dead guys making high five figures the highest possible ratings for the worst possible loans. They performed the task with Ivy League thoroughness and efficiency. They quickly figured out, for instance, that the people at Moody's and S&P didn't actually evaluate the individual home loans, or so much as look at them. All they and their models saw, and evaluated, were the general characteristics of loan pools."
(Michael Lewis in 'The Big Short,' p. 98 Landmark)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Community

"A corporation needs friends wherever it can find them. One of the greatest protections a company can provide for itself is to embed its employees – from the CEO down – in the community. This is equally important in its home market and abroad. Some companies make involvement in community organisations a component of each employee's performance review. Most sizeable firms have community investment programmes, and those who take this facet of corporate life seriously know how to target their contributions for greatest value."
"Some focus contributions in institutions, such as hospitals, at sufficient levels to merit a seat on the board. If the company makes the right choice of an employee to occupy that seat, it's quite likely that, over time, he or she will become its chairman. Through its financial contributions and the personal involvement of its employees, the company will have made itself part of the solution to the hospital's needs."
"The internal corporate argument about return on investment for society-based initiatives should always retain clarity on the fact that they have nothing to do with altruism. They pertain to business. All the better if external observers, commentators, and constituents see the company as one that cares. But, to be authentic, the company shouldn't say too much about its good works. Let others discover them. Taking care of the society that supports the corporation is simply the new business-as-usual."
(Peter Firestein in 'Crisis of Character,' p. 146 Landmark)

Enthusiasm

"Enthusiasm and drive can certainly compensate for experience, I've discovered. At least, they can fill some of the gaps that come with inexperience. Look at the most successful people in any field. The most famous CEOs. The most talked-about entrepreneurs. The biggest, boldest visionaries. They're the ones who seem to be operating in overdrive, the ones overflowing with enthusiasm. They tend not to be the type of people who move on the strength of their pure genius alone or who lock themselves in their offices and crunch numbers all day. For the most part, successful people manage to graft their intellectual gifts on their personal strengths in such a way that their ability to connect with others is what takes them to the top. Their ability to network and maximise their relationships and use them to advantage – that's key."
(Ivanka Trump in 'The Trump Card,' p. 91 Landmark)

Doing business in China

"For China, that sense that things are done only through connections permeates much of the advice about doing business in the country. Foreigners are urged to focus on guanxi, which refers to that tight web of personal connections that must be cultivated in order to get anything done. Throw out the old rule book, discard the familiar way of doing things, and plunge into the mysterious world of formal meetings with little substance, followed by banquets, ritual toasts, and weeks spent cultivating contacts. Then and only then will deals be concluded and a working relationship be established."
"Certainly there are ways of doing things in China that are particular to China. But that isn't really saying anything. Every society has ways of doing things that are specific and not written down or codified in law. Americans and citizens of Western European countries may pride themselves on transparency and the rule of law, but try getting a land deal or a real estate development done in southern Florida or Las Vegas or California's Inland Empire without knowing who sits on the country's planning council or other relevant committees. They may grant you a licence after months of wading through the regulations, or they might raise various zoning issues that would make the project impossible or impossibly expensive. Try selling a piece of property, renting an office, or opening a business in France. The blizzard of regulations, transparent but paralysing, can bury even the most competent foreign business. Knowing the right people who can help you navigate the system is always essential everywhere."
(Zachary Karabell in 'Superfusion,' p. 197 Landmark)

Price of money

"Interest rates on financial services for the poor can be very high. In South Africa, most moneylender rates run at about 30 per cent per month. Even the Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF), a microfinance institution in South Africa with a long-term commitment to serving the rural poor in Limpopo Province, charges an effective interest rate of about 75 per cent per year on its loans, but barely covers its costs after paying its staff and accounting for its own capital costs. Interest rates this high sound usurious, perhaps, but borrowers report that local moneylenders, who charge much more, will only lend them much smaller amounts of money. If it were forced to charge much less, SEF would have to rely on donors to a greater extent, and it is far from clear whether donors would be willing to support SEF's operation indefinitely."
(Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven in 'Portfolios of the Poor,' p. 133 Landmark)

Warren Buffett vs George Soros

"Roger Lowenstein, in his own fine biography of Buffett – which Buffett did not cooperate in – pushes at the question of why Buffett keeps paying homage to Graham when he so frequently deviates from Graham's principles. He suggests that Buffett is a Graham disciple less in technique than in temperament and attitude, which may be more important. I think that's right. The real essence of Graham, as filtered by Buffett, isn't the detailed rules. It's just a no-flapdoodle approach to investing. Forget the theories, keep it real, keep it simple. Leaving aside the atmospherics of Buffett's acquisitions, his principles were pretty consistent – look at value, find businesses that should work over the long term, and where the economic model is clean and straightforward."
"That is a mindset that doesn't translate well to regulatory questions. Regulation is a shadow game of if-we-do-this-then-they-will, etc. Buffett's world is one where he follows his own course and doesn't give a fig what everyone else does."
"Contrast this with George Soros, who is a master of shadow worlds – what else was the pound coup? – and who is very interested in regulation. Throughout the crisis, in a stream of statements and columns, he has produced a number of ingenious, and usually practical, proposals. It's just one more axis of the Soros-Buffett contrast. The two most successful investors in history, approaching their trade from completely different directions, and each of them thinking about government and regulation in exactly the same way he thinks about everything else."
(Charles R. Morris in 'The Sages,' p. 113 Landmark)

No escape

"If you've been to Mauritius you'll know there is nothing to explore. It's all lovely, long beaches and vast, green sugar-beet plantations. We sat on steamed-up coaches, day after day, along with several honeymooning couples, who, due to the colossal disappointment of the bad weather, were already at each other hammer and tongs."
"We were on a sightseeing trip but couldn't see any of the sights. The windows were steamed up with disappointment and the breath of angry words; the rain was coming down through the mist outside. It was like travelling round the island inside a party balloon. I thought things had reached their lowest ebb when we got out at the café which was billed as the island's highest point – 'with breathtaking views' – and were unable to see further than the wet metal chair leg in front of us."
"That, however, was before we got to the town of Curepipe – a disappointing place, full of ugliness and oil and shops that had neither charm nor swank. It was a bit like the indoor market in Accrington. And then, to make things even worse, in a corner of a covered arcade was a shop devoted to football. To English football. And to Manchester United. In Mauritius. In the middle of the Indian Ocean. In the middle of my dream holiday. So far from home and so near to home. I couldn't believe it. Man United shirts, scarves, posters, pennants and flags. Even here, the spectre of football, British football, red in shirt and claw, was staring at me in the face. It was like seeing the poor dead little girl in Don't Look Now – a flash of an old, sad, red reality from another world, another time. Had we really seen it? Yes. There it was – squat and ugly and English. I wanted to cry; Alistair wanted a picture. There was no escape from it."
(Ronni Ancona and Alistair McGowan in 'A Matter of Life and Death: Or how to wean a man off football,' p. 211 Landmark)

No longer the boss

"After almost a century, the United States no longer has the money. It is gone, and it is not likely to return in the foreseeable future. The American standard of living will decline relative to the rest of the industrialised and industrialising world: For the past ten years, America has been consuming more than it produces and living beyond its means by borrowing. For American households, borrowing will no longer be an easy option."
"The United States will lose power and influence. Its government will no longer be able to act the role of the unique, multidimensional superpower that pays attention to other governments only when it wishes. Whether this should be rued or applauded by Americans and by other peoples is an open question. Money is a key fact of power. When a great nation becomes a massive debtor, it loses considerable freedom of action, and that is a fact with consequence. The United States will remain a world power and, perhaps, the leading nation; it just will no longer be able to be the boss."
(Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong in 'The End of Influence,' p. 143 Landmark)

Feedback

"The hard part about feedback is hearing it in the first place. Once you get it, believe it, and accept that that's how at least some people see you, that information will work for you automatically. The whole idea is that the more clearly you see yourself, the better equipped you are to go from where you are to where you want to be."
"If there are people or situations you're avoiding because you know there's some unpleasant feedback coming – just think how much mental energy it takes, and how bad it feels, to keep that crisis at arm's length rather than dealing with it. Not only do you have yet another fear, anther piece of life to avoid, another undone – but you also miss out on potentially valuable information that could help you improve the quality of your life. Get that feedback as soon as possible!"
"One excuse people use to justify not asking for feedback is that they already know what the feedback is going to be. They don't have to ask – they've read the other person's mind. What a great trick! But remember, the most valuable feedback you get is going to be the kind that surprises you: it's the time when you just know what the other person is thinking, and it turns out to be something else entirely."
"It's well worth the initial few minutes of discomfort to hear an important piece of feedback that you don't yet believe. Feedback provides the key to solving many of the frustrating, imponderable problems in life. Anytime you feel like you're doing your best but you're just not getting the results you want – maybe you see other people getting better results, and you just don't see why that should be – a little bit of feedback can be the clue you need to get the results you want. It may not even take extra work – in fact, many times I've received feedback that led to my doing less work and getting better results. The important thing is to understand, and accept, the way others see you."
(Richard Brodie in 'Getting Past OK,' p. 126 Landmark)

Middle class

"A new expression among Chinese social science researchers is 'Zhong Chan,' meaning 'middle class' or 'middle property' in Chinese. For now, it is a term used by statisticians and sociologists, rather than the general populace. For Western and Chinese companies, the middle class signifies a large and still growing market of those with enough disposable income to make discretionary purchases, ranging from brand name shampoo to a luxury purchase of a new Lexus sedan to a widescreen television. For investors, the middle class signifies those Chinese with their own capital to invest – a phenomenon that is heating stock markets around the world…"
"According to the Pew survey, the middle class is also far more likely than the poor to expect a better life in future. These findings qualify the common view that economic growth unleashes myriad discontents. The middle class varies a good deal from place to place. The gap in attitudes between the global middle class and the poor seems greater in most of eastern Europe and Spanish-speaking Latin America than in, say, Egypt, India and Brazil."
"The middle class supports democracy. Middle income people are more likely than the poor to say they want competitive elections with at least two parties; more likely to demand fair treatment under the law; and more disposed to back freedom of speech and the Press."
"The global middle class is also more likely to emphasise the importance of the fundamental rights, free speech, a free Press, and freedom of religion. The middle class is also different when it comes to the role of freedom in their own lives. When asked to choose which is most important to them personally, free speech, freedom of religion, freedom from hunger and poverty, or freedom from crime and violence – essentially, Franklin Roosevelt's 'four freedoms' – the global middle class was more likely than others to prioritise being able to speak freely in public…"
"People in the global middle class are less likely to consider religion central to their own lives. Pew Global Attitudes research has shown a clear link between wealth and religiosity at the country level – as a country's overall wealth increases, its level of religiosity generally declines. The global middle class is also less likely to believe faith is essential for morality. It is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values."
(Anil Kumar Gupta in 'Is the World Becoming 'Spherical'?' p. 168 Landmark)

Gambling

"When we are focused on the present, we tend to make different choices from those we make when we are focused on the future. No industry is better at exploiting this fact than the gambling industry. From the moment you enter a Las Vegas casino, you enter a timeless world of present hedonism in which the future does not exist. The temperature, lighting, and noise level remain constant twenty-four hours a day. There are no clocks and no last calls by bartenders. Flashing lights, lively music, and the partial nudity of the hostesses encourage men to immerse themselves in a world of pleasure. None of this occurs by chance. The gaming industry is one of the world's largest employers of statisticians. They compute the odds of your winning at any game with the cost of the free drinks you will consume and the amount of money you are likely to lose so that no one ever beats the house over time (unless you run some scam, which, when detected, will leave you without kneecaps)."
"Free drinks serve at least two purposes. First, they allow you to stay firmly planted in place, with your time perspective myopically constricted to the present. You are more likely to lose money while you are gambling than while you are waiting in line for a drink. The longer you gamble, the more the odds favour the house. Second, the alcohol in the drinks causes you to become further present-oriented, which decreases the likelihood that you will carefully consider the consequences of betting your mortgage money. The casinos would serve mescaline instead of alcohol if it helped the bottom line. Also, when you accept drink gratis, you become a guest who feels obliged to your host to hang around for an anticipated dessert."
"The statisticians also calculate how the physical layout of a casino affects profits. If they are not making enough money, they change the décor and measure the results. If profit goes up, they keep the change. If it goes down, they try something else. After years of constant experimentation, the standard guidelines are relatively well known – such as the 'no clocks' rule – so that all casinos today look pretty much the same on the inside."
(Philip Zimbardo in 'The Time Paradox,' p. 208 Landmark)

Vision of civics

"What is most striking about the Eklavya civics textbooks is that they have expanded the meaning and the scope of what is ordinarily understood in the name of civics. The shift away from merely teaching how the state and political institutions function into a much wider social arena has been appreciated by several reviewers. Traditional disciplinary boundaries have been dissolved and their inter-linkages developed…"
"While the state continues to have a significant presence (as is seen in the discussion of topics such as the government, judiciary and the panchayat), economic relations too emerge as another major axis in Eklavya's vision of civics. The Class VI text begins with the idea of interdependence through an economic example and not as is conventionally done, through the idea of social life being necessary for human existence. The socio-economic context of the life of young readers of this text is explored through focused chapters on agrarian relations, industrial and non-industrial production and the forms of the market. Much of Class VII is devoted to narratives of visits to a variety of places where economic production and distribution takes place. This approach draws readers to contrast the lives of people at the different nodes of industrialisation in India."
"In Class VII, students begin with an example of an independent artisan – the kasera – who makes brass pots and utensils. They learn about their conditions of work and their lives, especially the difficulties faced by groups like these in modern day times. The next chapter discusses a situation where work is now being put out by contractors to workers who are paid a job rate. The concrete example of this is through bidi-making workers, with a comprehensive portrayal of the challenges and dilemmas of their lives. From there the textbook moves on to a small factory which tans hides into leather. This is contrasted with the way the same work gets done in a large leather tannery, throwing into relief all the differences that emerge with the growth of big industries: the changed forms of organisation, the new financial dynamics that come into play and the way everyday life experiences change for all the different kinds of people who work there."
"A major role of schooling is always that of expanding the vision and practice of children from their familiar roles of kinship and the domestic realm. It tries to introduce them to wider, more universal and more secular relationships. Eklavya's wider and deeper understanding of civics as a subject of engagement broadens the domain of what constitutes the public from just the state into the sphere of economic relations as well. This represents a significant shift in the worldview offered to the students."
('Social Science Learning in Schools: Perspective and challenges' Ed: Poonam Batra, p. 109 Sage)

Respect

"Respect is a recurring theme in the Nhunggabarra law stories. When Aborigines use the word 'respect,' it does not carry the conventional meaning of today – that is, to convey a feeling of admiration of someone or obedience towards a higher authority. 'Respect' in the Aboriginal sense is an action verb. It means that you allow people to see you in 'your true form'; authentic, as you are. You show your authentic self only to people you respect, people you think worth the effort, and who you consider as having the capacity to understand what you mean and who you are. Showing your authentic self to another person is, as such, a sign of respect. Tex Skuthorpe sometimes thanks a group of listeners for 'the respect'. He is not thanking them, as most of them probably believe, for listening to him, but he is thanking them for allowing him to see them as they truly are."
('Managing in Changing Times: A guide for the perplexed manager' Ed: Sid Lowe, p. 292 Sage)

Bangalore climate

"The climate of Bangalore is a combination of the tropical and the temperate. It has the sun of India, with the airs of southern Europe. The thermometer seldom exceeds 88 degrees in the shade, and in the cool season I have known it at 64 degrees at noon-day. During a great part of the year, the sky is covered with clouds, which gently shade you from the burning sun – a term really significant in India. At those seasons the gales are cool and bracing; so that those who come from Madras almost fancy that they recognise English breezes. The situation of the country secures it a share in both the south-west and the north-east monsoons, which shed down copious, but not inundating rains. The soil yields, with cheerful profusion, the various fruits of India and very many of Europe. The orange and the potato, the yam and the apple, the strawberry and the cocoa-nut, the mangoe and peach, with gooseberries and guavas, grapes and pineapples, are among the productions of this charming climate." (1847)
('Bengaluru, Bangalore, Bengaluru: Imaginations and their times' Ed: Narendar Pani, Sindhu Radhakrishna, and Kishor G. Bhat, p. 88 Sage)

Surf story

"Surf pioneered the detergent powder market when it hit the market in 1959. This brand introduced the concept of bucket wash in India. Prior to Surf washing was done by using laundry bars. So powerful has been the category dominance by Surf that it came close to become generic for detergent powder…"
"Surf has constantly renewed its product in order to effectively cater to the changing washing needs of Indian consumers. The brand's evolution can be deciphered from the tag line or signoffs that it used from time to time:"
•    1950s – From bar wash to bucket wash
  o    Significant saving in elbow efforts.
  o    Surf washes whitest.
•    1970s – Competition from economy detergents
  o    'Aadha kilo Surf ek kilo sadharan powder ke barabar hai' (Half a kilo of Surf is equivalent to a kilo of ordinary washing powder. Value consciousness, sensible value-for-money buy).
  o    'Surf ki kharidari me hi samjhdari hai' (There is wisdom only in the purchase of Surf).
•    1980s – Performance era
  o    Whiteness and stain removal.
  o    'Daag dhoondte reh jaoge' (You will keep searching for stains).
•    1990s – Surf Easy Wash (low-lather variant) and Surf with wash boosters to provide best clean even in hard waters.
•    2000s – Surf Excel Quick Wash
  o    Eco-friendly detergent that needed considerably less water.
  o    'Surf Excel hai na!' (Don't worry Surf Excel is there!)."
(Harsh V. Verma in 'Branding Demystified: Plans to payoffs,' p. 115 Response)

Ecosan toilet

"Eco-sanitation, a new concept, has been tried in limited pockets in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The technology operates on urine and excreta separation and retrieving the nutrients of urine and excreta for recycling in the agriculture and kitchen gardens. This has been found effective in the coastal areas of Cauveri River in Trichy district of Tamil Nadu where an NGO 'SCOPE' has demonstrated that eco-sanitation is possible in India. Ecosan toilets are most ideal for areas where water is scarce or water table is high such as flood plains or coastal areas and densely populated areas where risks of ground water pollution from pits to drinking water sources is assessed high. However, proper operation needs full understanding of the concept, and extra motivation of the people using this method."
"The eco-sanitation model consists of two watertight chambers (vaults) to collect faeces. Urine is collected separately as the contents of the vault have to be kept relatively dry. Initially, a layer of absorbent organic material is put in the vault and after each use, the faeces is covered with ash (or saw-dust, shredded leaves or vegetable matter) to deodorise the faeces, soak-up excessive moisture and improve carbon/ nitrogen ratio, which ensures that sufficient nitrogen is retained to make a good fertiliser. When the first vault is three quarters full, it is completely filled with dry powdered earth and sealed so that components can decompose anaerobically. The second vault is used until it is also three quarters full and the first vault is emptied by hand, the contents are used as a fertiliser. The vaults have to be large enough to keep faeces for at least a year in order to become pathogen free. The superstructure is built over both the vaults with a squat-hole over each vault which can be sealed off. The latrine can be built anywhere as there is no pollution coming from the watertight chambers to pollute the surroundings."
(Kumar Alok in 'Squatting with Dignity: Lessons from India,' p. 176 Sage)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Market location

"One area where the monitoring of in-game behaviour can be especially useful is the problem of market locations: the geographical question of where in a city, country or continent the optimum place to locate a trading hub lies. Trying to find such a spot is an extremely hard problem to solve mathematically; in scenarios approaching anything like real-world complexity in terms of landscape, people and paths, it's near-impossible. Yet modelling the same scenario within a game environment is both simple and largely faithful to real-life motivational and behavioural patterns: in each case, players will seek to minimise their effort and maximise their convenience. Thus, explains Castronova, 'there have been video games where the designers didn't specify where the player-to-player market would be, and its location has emerged according to very intuitive patterns; across different versions of the game it will tend to be in one of, say, three open, accessible, safe meeting places. It's all very intuitive and understandable in real world terms.'"
(Tom Chatfield in 'Fun Inc.,' p. 171 Landmark)

Cross-cultural organisations

"Very few multinationals are genuinely cross-cultural organisations. One of the rare examples is ABB, a Swiss-Swedish corporation which consists of 1,300 separate companies. ABB may well be more truly cross-cultural than any other corporation: in this it may be unique. Nearly all multinationals express and embody a single parent national culture. This is true especially of American firms."
"It is fashionable to see multinational corporations as constituting a kind of invisible government supplanting many of the functions of nation-states. In reality they are often weak and amorphous organisations. They display the loss of authority and the erosion of common values that afflicts practically all late modern social institutions. The global market is not spawning corporations which assume the past functions of sovereign states. Rather, it has weakened and hollowed out both institutions."
(John Gray in 'False Dawn,' p. 63 Landmark)

Glory hounds and toads

"Should you already have started a company with more than a dozen members of staff on the books, I can virtually guarantee that one of them is either a glory hound or a toad. That person needs firing; and they need firing now."
"Like all forms of politics, office politics can be fun, but to many people they are upsetting and seriously interfere with productivity. Worse still, if a glory hound or a toad is in a position of authority, they may well cause talented personnel to up sticks and leave. Indeed, such miscreants want more talented individuals to leave: their own feeble light will then appear to burn a little brighter."
"It is easy during the frantic urgency of a start-up to ignore such foibles. Easy, and wrong. By setting an example early on that you will not countenance any form of bullying, sneering or bossiness, you will create an atmosphere (a culture if you like) of loyalty, efficiency and camaraderie. An atmosphere poisonous to toads."
"Experienced leaders will tell you of the importance of morale. It is important. Good morale cannot compensate for sloppy work or an ill-conceived business plan, but a pervasive feeling of 'us against the world' in a start-up company, combined with the promise of promotion based on achievement – this can move mountains. And can just as easily be destroyed in a few weeks by glory hounds (who seek to steal praise for the efforts of others) and toads (who sneer at any junior person's honest error)."
"Glory hounds and toads often interview well. They have to; it's just about their only talent. Be vigilant. If someone whose work you valued resigns or threatens to resign suddenly, be sure to question them in private. You may be surprised by what you learn."
(Felix Dennis in '88-The Narrow Road,' p. 110 Landmark)

To Google or not to Google

"I suppose that the most romantic option is to abstain from researching someone beforehand if you really like him, to give him a chance to prove himself to you in person rather than through a series of compromising photos that an unkind friend has posted on Facebook. Even if the information that you find is appealing, there is also a danger that your imagination can run away with you. The more you string the clues together in your head before actually getting to know someone, the more you run the risk of being disappointed simply because he or she will surely fail to match up to the perfect specimen you've imagined."
"But, of course, resisting the opportunity to avail yourself of the information that is out there for public consumption is also not the most efficient option, since without doing that online background check, it might take rather longer in the course of your budding relationship to discover that the man you are dating has served time in prison for stealing money from his grandmother, or the woman you're falling for is already married to someone else. And by then you might be dangerously in love. I suppose it all rather depends on how much of a hopeless romantic you are, and the degree to which you are willing to throw caution to the wind when it comes to matters of the heart. But since we are now so used to having information at our fingertips about absolutely everything else, it is not surprising that we are not as eager to crash blindly into romance as we were before the advent of digital broadband."
(Jean Hannah Edelstein in 'Himglish & Femalese,' p. 45 Landmark)

Master coaches

"Great teaching is a skill like any other. It only looks like magic; in fact, it is a combination of skills – a set of myelinated circuits built through deep practice. Ron Gallimore, who is now a distinguished professor emeritus at UCLA, has a good way of describing the skill. 'Great teachers focus on what the student is saying or doing,' he says, 'and are able, by being so focused and by their deep knowledge of the subject matter, to see and recognise the inarticulate stumbling, fumbling effort of the student who's reaching toward mastery, and then connect to them with a targeted message.'"
"…Skill is insulation that wraps neural circuits and grows according to certain signals. In the most literal sense, master coaches are the human delivery system for the signals that fuel and direct the growth of a given skill circuit, telling it with great clarity to fire here and not here. Coaching is a long, intimate conversation, a series of signals and responses that move toward a shared goal. A coach's true skill consists not in some universally applicable wisdom that he can communicate to all, but rather in the supple ability to locate the sweet spot on the edge of each individual student's ability, and to send the right signals to help the student reach toward the right goal, over and over…"
(Daniel Coyle in 'The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born, it's grown,' p. 178 Landmark)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Accounting for drugs

"Five or six children, barely ten or twelve years old, were on the floor with their hands in heaps of white powder that had been placed on a rubber mat. They were taking powder from one pile and mixing it in with an identical looking powder in another pile."
"'Friends, this is Buddha,' said Marco, who was standing near the window, a rifle slung over each shoulder. The children looked up in acknowledgment and went back to mixing the powder."
"'Mixing cocaine with talcum powder,' Marco said matter-of-factly. 'Important for the accountant to know – we get it at five hundred dollars a kilo, we add another kilo of talcum powder and sell it for a thousand dollars a kilo. What is our net profit, men?'"
"'Three hundred per cent, assuming the talcum powder costs nothing,' I said automatically."
"Marco looked at Alex triumphantly. 'Didn't I tell you? You would have taken a year to give me that answer. It took me a month to figure it out myself. We have a genius here, men.'"
"'You deal in drugs?' I asked quietly."
"Why was I surprised? Did I expect a Brazilian slumlord to deal in mutual funds, treasury bonds and credit derivatives? But dealing in drugs and arms was the lowest of sins in Buddhist teaching, was I really going to fall so low? I didn't say anything but my disapproval must have been obvious."
"'We use this money to fund everything in the favelas – water, electricity, schools, roads, community projects,' said Alex defensively. 'In Brazil, the government doesn't care about slums. Poverty is a disease here; if you are infected by it, you are shunned like a leper. It's only because of the work we do that people in the community can live like humans.'"
(Karan Bajaj in 'Johnny Gone Down,' p. 133 Harper)