Friday, October 28, 2005

Currently Reading: State of Fear

State of FearWell, I was actually reading "Naked Economics" and I'm not yet done with it. So why the change you ask? Here is the story in short.

A couple of weeks ago, I had read this article in BBC magazine about "State of Fear", Michael Crichton's latest novel. This one ran into some sort of a controversy. Crichton apparently argues in the novel that "climate change" is just another hoax perpetrated by few overzealous scientist and environmental extremists. Crichton believes in his theory so much that he has added footnotes citing actual studies in the novel and has added a 32 page "appendix" where he explicates his views on "pseudo-science" behind the climate change. Opponents of climate change have been quick to recruit Crichton to their camp. He was also invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about his views on climate change (yup! That's what it has come to... a fiction author testifying about climate change).

It sounded crazy enough to give it a try. So I went to my local library to check out the book. Turns out ALL copies were taken and I was put on a waiting list. Well... a couple of days ago my turn came and I have 3 weeks to read the whole thing. So my economics lesson is on the hold for a while and "State of Fear" is "ON" Tags: ,

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Quake Day: Shake the Blogosphere

Blog Quake DayDesipundit has announced a new blogosphere initiative to help raise funds for the victims of recent earthquake in Pakistan and India. There are many organizations which are providing relief to the victims. You can find a list on this post on Desipundit. PLEASE spread the word by posting about this effort on your blog, on your emails lists and donate to one of these organizations.

Here is a partial list of links:
I work as a volunteer with A.I.D (Association for India's Development). AID-India is also actively involved in earthquake relief efforts. AID-Delhi chapter is participating in the relief work by teaming up with local organizations and NGOs such as Goonj, Sadbhavana Trust, Asha Ashram to send relief supplies, tents, medicines etc. to J&K. AID has already sent $ 15000 for immediate relief supplies.

We are also raising funds for long term relief and rehabilitation efforts. AID-India has substantial experience in disaster relief and has supported many relief and rehabilitation projects in Gujarat after the Bhuj earthquake and after the Tsunami.

Do visit AID website to learn more about our relief efforts.

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Starbucks Challenge Update

Starbucks ChallengeThe Starbucks challenge started by Green LA Girl and CityHippy is in its final week. I am really impressed by the efforts put in by Siel (green LA girl) and CityHippy into organizing and coordinating this. It inspired me to read and educate myself a bit more about fair trade movement.

The way the challenge unfolded has been amazing. Here is how it turned out:
October 4, 05: Starbucks challenge announced by green LA girl and CityHippy

October 6, 05: "No fair trade for you". I challenge the local Starbucks without luck. Meanwhile many other bloggers all over US and UK join the challenge and visit their local Starbucks to get a cup of Fair Trade coffee.

October 7, 05: Cindy from Starbucks' corporate social responsibility department contacts Siel

October 7, 05: I challenge the local Starbucks again. This time I specifically ask for a French pressed cup. Success! I get my fair trade coffee but have to pay the venti price (by default) when I specifically asked for a tall small cup.

October 9, 05: Lot of bloggers are joining the challenge (tracked by feed here) and reporting similar patterns in the response from baristas.

October 10, 05: Starbucks press release says that the week (Mon 10/10 - Sun 10/16) is Fair Trade week. Cafe Estima (Starbucks' only fair trade certified blend) will be brewed the whole week. True to their word I did get fair trade certified coffee in the local Starbucks that week.

October 10, 05: Siel has her first chat with Cindy from Starbucks.

October 15, 05: In a communication with Siel, Starbucks admits a breakdown in customer service regarding serving fair trade coffee.

October 24, 05: Starbucks challenge enters its final week. 69 bloggers have joined and posted their experiences about 89 challenges. ( feed here)

October 25, 05: Starbucks sends email communication to all its US stores reminding them about the "coffee press on request" policy. (Siel's post). I am really impressed with the local Starbucks. I went there on the 24th and asked for fair trade again. This time there was no problem, the barista promptly told me to wait for a few minutes and I was able to get my cup of fair trade coffee without any problems. I didn't have to pay the "venti" price by default.

October 26, 05: Today! The last I checked the feed was tracking 178 links.
So there you go! A simple initiative shows how blogs can be used effectively as a medium for collective action. It shows how such action can be well coordinated (kudos to Green LA girl and CityHippy) and effective. So if you haven't challenged your local Starbucks already, challenge on!

If you were not aware about fair trade coffee and related issues, here's your chance to educate yourself about it. Find out if any of your local coffee shops serve fair trade coffee. In State College e.g. Webster's bookstore and cafe serves "shade grown, organic, fair trade certified" coffee year round. That's the ONLY coffee they serve (and at a price far more affordable that Starbucks I would add).

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Flying Spaghetti Monster is Coming!

It's amazing the crazy stuff you may find while browsing the wikipedia...

image credit:

Pastafarians believe that the universe was created by the supremely intelligent Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is the oldest known depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [FSM] creating the world as we know, starting with mountains, trees and midgits. Bobby Henderson, a Physics graduate from Oregon is the prophet of Pastafarianism and has taken it upon himself to spread the message of the Noodly Lord.

Henderson claims that there are 10 million believers of his faith. He also wants his version of creation to be introduced in school as an "alternative view" along with intelligent design. In an open letter sent to the Kansas School Board Henderson says:
If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.
Pirates hold a very important place in the history of Pastafarianism. Henderson shows that the rising global temperatures can be correlated directly with the dropping number of pirates. He demands that their beliefs be taught in "full Pirate regalia", citing that the Monster gets really angry if we won't.

Pastafarianism is slowly becoming quite popular. Pastafarians have sent letters to school boards of many other districts requesting them to include their creation theory in the curricula. Other elements of the faith are not yet very clear and would probably become clear soon, once the transmission for the Noodly Lord is received. Pastafarians strongly believe that the Monster continues to guide humanity with His Noodly Appendage. Prayers to the FSM are typically ended by a rousing "Ramen" instead of the traditional "Amen". True believers cite many reasons to join their ranks including these:
  • Flimsy moral standards.
  • Every Friday is a religious holiday. If your work/school objects to that, demand your religious beliefs be respected and threaten to call the ACLU.
  • Our heaven is WAY better. We've got a Stripper Factory AND a Beer Volcano.
After I stumbled upon this stuff my first reaction was, "Who is this nuthead?" Actually Henderson has found a clever way to oppose the introduction of "intelligent design" in school curricula. His idea is, "If you can't beat 'em join 'em."

Do check out the website!



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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Half Bad Job at Covering the IIPM Story

I am not a pessimist. I like to say that the glass is half full, but in this case it simply was not meant to be. So lets look at the "half full" part first. The coverage of the story in the mainstream media [MSM] so far has been really bad. Today Outlook-India covered the IIPM story today in an article by T. R. Vivek.

This is the most detailed portrayal of the IIPM affair in the MSM so far. The bloggers who uncovered key facts about IIPM founder, M.K. Chaudhuri's background and about IIPM's sister concerns [1, 2] are also mentioned, including a screenshot of Gawker's blog.

Then, halfway through, the article takes a curious turn and focuses on the bloggers. Mr. Vivek offers a lot of insight into the mindset of the Indian bloggers. He says:
The Indian blogging community (or blogosphere, as it likes to call itself) is essentially a bitchy, self-indulgent and an almost incestuous network comprising journalists, wannabe-writers and a massive army of geeks who give vent to their creative ambitions on the internet. Given that the average blogger-age is 25 years, it's clear bloggers love to indulge in hearty name-calling and taking college-style potshots at others. This is probably why some of them get into trouble.
To me this sounds like an utterly baseless generalization, made without taking a serious look at the "Indian blogosphere". Mr. Vivek is however entitled to his own opinions. He should also check the facts though, especially when he uses them to support his claim. He uses two examples, the first one is that of the Swiftboat veterans for truth thing. The other is the CBS - Dan Rather - incident, about which Mr. Vivek says:
In another instance, bloggers questioned CBS News' credibility over the memos purportedly alleging preferential treatment towards President Bush during the Vietnam war launching a flurry of discussions across the country.Dan Rather, the blogger, had to soon apologise for the story.
I guess he forgot to check if Dan Rather was "the blogger" or CBS news anchor. Actually, didn't the bloggers expose that the memos were fake? "Google skills" crash course Mr. Vivek?

Here are some observations:
  1. None of the journalists in the MSM have actually tried to investigate IIPMs claims in the advertisements so far.
  2. All the reporting covering IIPM story has raised questions about the role of blogs, whether they come under the IT act, etc.
Though concerns about role of bloggers are legitimate, it seems that the media is trying the make bloggers the focus of the story for a reason. That way, while taking the credit for covering a sensational story, it doesn't have to go after IIPM and verify the claims made in the advertisements. The media want to have it both ways and that is simply tragic.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Astrologer defies death, kills his business instead.

Ok! So I had read this story about an astrologer in India predicting his own death, in the Reuters' "Oddly Enough" section. Today I read in the same section that the said astrologer actually did not die. This astrologer, Kunjilal Malviya, is apparently very good at his work. Testifying to the accuracy of his predictions, his son was quoted saying:
"My father had predicted the death of my grandfather 15 years ago and it came true exactly like he calculated."
Police were posted to prevent this man from killing himself. Hundreds of people had gathered to to see if his prediction would come true. Now, who are these sick idiots who flock to see if a man really dies or not? Although some of them were there to pray for his life, others probably gathered to bolster their belief in astrology. Kunjilal's family later said that he defied death because of the prayers offered by people.

While the astrologer managed to evade death he definitely killed his own business once and for all, when his prediction did not come true. Although I am happy for the man and his family, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the outcome. Don't get me wrong... I am not wishing ill for the man in any way, but if indeed he had died it would have been the first time I actually witnessed an astrologer's prediction coming true. So far it has always been, "yabbut... my friend's friend did actually fracture his leg as predicted by the jyotishi."

Astrology has a very strong hold on people in India. Having ranted about astrology before on this blog, I will simply say this, "I hate astrology". I don't mind people who have "faith" in astrology or other assorted pieces doo-doo. A man can have "faith" in any damn thing he wants and believe me there's all kinds of crap going around the world. There are people who believe humans were planted on earth by aliens and all the stories about Gods and demons in various mythologies are actually about the alien overlords. There is this Time Cube guy, Gene Ray, who believes that there are 4 simultaneous days in one single earth rotation. He has even offered $10000 to anyone who disproves him! These things are simply impossible to prove or disprove. So the only basis to believe in them can be faith.

What irks me about people who believe in astrology is that they are always trying to prove how it is a real science. IT IS NOT A SCIENCE. If only it was so easy to settle the debate about this by simply blogging it. Inspite of the actions of organizations like the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (committee for eradication of superstition) [ANS] in India, this scourge is not going to go away any soon.

BTW, Amit Varma of India Uncut has a post on the same subject. Also check out his other posts on astrology that he has linked from his post today.

Oh! and the article says at the end:
But in the past, crowds have beaten up astrologers when their predicted demise failed to occur.
Apparently these people believed in astrology so passionately, that they took it upon themselves to bring the predictions into reality. Mera Bharat Mahan!

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bloggers or Journalists?

India Together has an article today by Darryl D'Monte about the role of bloggers. "Are bloggers parked, or driving media in new directions?", asks Mr. D'Monte. Blogs are popular in the west but in India their popularity is limited. A very small percentage of population has regular access to the internet and only few of those write or read blogs regularly. Among those who have simply heard about blogs, there is a perception that blogs are simply an online "journal" or a "diary" where people talk about mundane stuff and occasional "dear diary" moments. The reporters and journalists are slightly more aware and some of them are bloggers themselves.

In India too however, bloggers are doing things which mainstream media[MSM] generally doesn't. Mr. D'Monte in his article talks about Dina Mehta (blog), a blogger from Mumbai, who through a blog she helped create, was able to help the victims of Tsunami in Asia and more recently the victims of hurricane Katrina. She used her blog to help put those who wanted to provide aid, in touch with those who needed it. Outlining the importance of the blogs in the article, Mehta says:
"It's technology with a heart. We don't actually give help - we provide information and communication. We're not even an NGO, in that sense. We offer Communication, Coordination, Collaboration and Community."
Mr. D'Monte acknowledges the growing importance of the blogs in his article. He say:
" is true that with the mainstream media dumbing down with a vengeance and looking to their bottom line rather than people who live at the bottom, bloggers are very much in business. They are telling it like it is, rather than what media barons decide is politically or commercially more convenient."
He also talks about the recent IIPM incident and the blog war that followed to highlight the growing importance of blogs. It is true that bloggers are doing things that investigative journalists are supposed to do. During the IIPM incident bloggers unearthed important facts about IIPM's international claims, its sister concerns(1, 2) and about the background of its founder. Why didn't the journalists do it? I have a theory about it. Here goes...

My newly acquired (and half baked) understanding of economics says "incentives matter". A journalist has to weigh the costs of doing a story (time and efforts invested) against the returns (increased readership). The cost of doing a full fledged investigation is large and so are the returns. However the journalist can keep turning out stories which do not require as much investment of time and efforts as a full fledge investigation and still get a reasonable readership. That way the journalist can also cover a lot more stories (because each story takes less time and effort). Full fledge investigation may also carry hidden costs like defending yourself against claims of slander and possible threats to burn down stuff. The returns on a full fledge investigation may be high but maybe not so high as to provide a good incentive to the journalist to pursue it.

Bloggers on the other hand are not journalists (i.e. we have day jobs to pay for food etc.) But once in a while they can and do act like journalists and go out and hunt down facts. They have a big incentive to do the investigative stuff. It increases the traffic to their blogs manyfold. Also bloggers do investigative things when they believe in a story and are motivated to support a cause.

At least in India the mainstream media has a chance to use this in their favor. Their greatest advantage is their reach. TV, Radio and newspapers reach far more people than blogs do in India. So keeping track of the blogosphere and picking up stories like the recent IIPM story can work to MSM's advantage. The media till now however has not realized this I guess. The reporting of the IIPM story was just plain bland in Indian media. They tried to play it safe I guess and didn't go and actually check the claims made by IIPM in their ads. Some did not even mention the article by JAM, which was the cause of the whole thing.

I don't think MSM is going to go away because of blogs. It is definitely going to change a lot, in many ways which I can't even imagine. So to answer your question Mr. D'Monte:
Bloggers aren't parked. I don't think each individual blogger is blogging to drive anything anywhere, but collectively we are surely going to drive a lot of things (?)... including driving many people nuts.
BTW, this just in through Gawker's post today: Here's what InstaPundit and DNAIndia have to say about this stuff. Also check out The Hoot's take on it.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Truth is ONE

I read an article about Dr. David Suzuki in the NYT today. Being a novice to a lot of things related to the environmental movement ("a tender green" if you will...), I had never come across his name or work. It's amazingly inspiring! Another accompanying article, [may require free registration to NYT] about 10 steps recommended by Dr. Suzuki for reducing our ecological footprint is also good. My curiosity was aroused enough to go and check out the website of ::David Suzuki Foundation. It is a nice website with a lot of information. One thing I found particularly interesting is "::The declaration of interdependence".

I read a lot of Zen philosophy in the last couple of months. I noticed that the declaration of interdependence has a lot of similarities with zen teachings, especially those of ::Thich Nhat Hanh. The ::5 mindfulness trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh summarize the zen ethics derived from the principle of interdependence or 'inter-being' as Nhat Hanh puts it.

The declaration is also very similar to the ethics of ::deep ecology. I am not sure if Dr. Suzuki based it on the ::principles of deep ecology, but deep ecology has very strong connections with the environmental movement. So there may be some relation there.

It also reminded me of the following quote attributed to Chief Seattle:
This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.
I came across this quote while reading the book "The Web of Life" by Fritjof Capra. This quote also talks about the same basic idea: the deep interdependence of all things living and non-living.

Isn't it wonderful how different people: a biologist, a Buddhist monk and a native American leader, all basically talking about the same idea, basically discovering the same "platonic truth". A Sanskrit hymn goes:
एकम् सत्।
विप्रा बहुदा वदन्ती॥
which translates roughly as, "The truth is one. The wise address it with different names". These different statements about "interdependence" are a glaring proof.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Currently Reading: Naked Economics

Naked EconomicsNaked Economics by Charles Wheelan lives up to its pitch: "Undressing the dismal science".

I studied a subject called "Economics and Industrial Psychology" in my undergraduate study in India. It was a really really boring. The textbook was amazingly dull and could have worked very effectively as a sleep aid for an insomniac. The lectures used to be... well I don't know how they were... coz I don't remember attending them ;-). The only thing I do remember is barely scraping through the exams.

Anyway, so economics somehow never registered as an interesting topic in my memory. But my interest was aroused by some of my latest readings on the fair trade movement. I realized that many of the terms thrown around didn't ring any bells. Terms like "market based solution" and "inefficiencies in the market" and "market barriers" only symbolized indecipherable financial lingo used by well dressed "analysts" on TV. So I went to my local library and hunted down a book that will explain "economics in plain English". So far this book has done just that in a very very readable, entertaining style. Still reading the book, but will point a couple of interesting things here.

:: The author, Charles Wheelan, is the Midwest correspondent for The Economist. So checked out the website for The Economist. Now this is a weekly magazine which you can subscribe to. So you need to be a subscriber to access the premium content online. But the website gives you an option to view an online advertisement and get a free one day pass to the premium content online. You can do this pretty much every day. This, according to my recently acquired knowledge of economics, is aligning the incentives of the advertisers to those of the readers. I had to click through three pages of the ad to reach the homepage. This amply ensured that the stuff being advertised (CISCO products) registered in my brain. In return I got to read all the premium content. I wish NYT would follow a similar model instead of the 50 bucks a year "Times Select"

:: My second observation: The author, in the third chapter, tries to explain "externalities" associated with economic decisions (in this case, his purchase of a SUV). He says:
"...Nor do I have to compensate asthamatic children who will be made worse off by the exhaust I generate as I cruise around the city getting nine miles to the gallon. And I have never mailed a check to the people of New Orleans who may someday find their houses underwater because my CO2 emissions are melting the polar ice caps. Yet these are the real costs associated with driving a less fuel-efficient car."
This book was published in 2002. I wonder what kind of shock he must have felt when he saw the horrible aftermath of hurricane Katrina this September. It must have been terrible to see ones own written word come true so literally. I still haven't read the whole book, but Charles Wheelan does appear to be sensitive to many of the environmental issues of the day.

So far, an all round good read about economics. Suggestions about similar books on the topic would be welcome.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Carnival Comes to Bloggersville

Carnival of the CreenCity Hippy and TriplePundit bring to us ::The Carnival of the Green. A carnival is an event that takes place periodically among blogs with shared subject matter. You can read more about the details about this carnival here and here.

My experience with Starbucks challenge and the recent IIPM matter on Indian blogs is that collaborative efforts on the blogosphere can draw attention to a particular issue. Many times people who do not know anything about an issue will stumble across it when a large number of blogs are posting about the issue. There is strength in numbers indeed.

Such collaborative efforts all help to increase knowledge about the issue. My own experience with Starbucks challenge helped me learn more about fair trade movement. I will be following this carnival of the green closely and hopefully host it on this blog someday.

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All Shades of Green

A random walk through the green blogosphere.

It would be a shame if your aren't familiar with the term blogger by now! The term Green needs a bit of an explanation here. I have no special attraction to that color (or any other color for that matter). I am in no way affiliated to political parties named after this color or religious groups symbolized by the color. It just so happens that vegetation (meaning trees, shrubs, bushes and such) which is (and hopefully will be) widely prevalent on this here earth, comes mainly in motley shades of green. It turns out that such vegetation is a VERY important link in the web maintaining all the other life forms.

Therefore Green is the epithet applied to all things (even remotely) associated with the protection/preservation of the natural environment. Ergo the following hodge podge definition:
Green blogger (noun adjective combo!) Homo sapien privileged enough to access the world wide web, using their spare time to write about environmental issues, sustainability, green lifestyle, environmental activism, sustainable energy etc.
Not surprisingly, I found out that the crop of bloggers writing about all things related to the natural environment also come in all shades of green.

I am just starting out as a blogger and wanted to find out other blogs related to topics of interest to me. In my search for green bloggers, I first came across GreenThinkers [GT]. I liked their idea that their blog is a place or forum to think is discuss "all things green". Next I came across Sustainablog, by Jeff. It is a nice blog that has links to many other green bloggers. While posts on GT tend to be small interesting bits pointing out to green events happening around the world or in the green blogosphere, Jeff's post on Sustainablog are more involved and detailed. Jeff posts on many aspects of the environmental movement. For a while I was just following the posts on these two blogs.

Then one day, I came across a post on Sustainablog about the Starbucks challenge, presented jointly by greenLA girl[GLG] and city hippy. So I visited these blogs to find out more. GLG's blog is mostly about fair trade & organic movement and ethical consumerism. City Hippy describes his blog as "The diary of our struggle to live a green and fair life." I found these blogs to be really interesting. Inspired by them I took the Starbucks challenge myself. I found that collaborative efforts like the challenge, promoted through blogs to be really effective. The Starbucks challenge generated a substantial response from bloggers all over. Eventually Starbucks also took notice of it. You can read the details on GLG's blog post.

Ethical consumerism is a new term that I encountered on these blogs. Some blogs post regularly on "ethical consumerism" basically about 'how you can make choices as a consumer which will be consistent with the objective of preserving the natural environment'. City Hippy's posts are many times related to this. Another blog TreeHugger that I now follow fairly regularly also posts on this. LazyEnvironmentalist is a blog that is dedicated solely to ethical consumerism.

There are many more green blogs out there focused specifically on specific issues. Like the alternative energy blog or the Greenpeace blog (which has really amazing posts from their ongoing campaigns). I plan to follow some of them (depending on how much time I can spend).

But overall, I think my first foray in the green blogosphere has been really productive. I have learned a lot and found out that the world "live" web has a lot more to offer than simply hot air from a bunch of people working their keyboards.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Media Picks Up the IIPM story

The mainstream media has picked up the IIPM story. They have been very slow and they have done a really bad job of covering the story.

Here is the Indian Express story. They didn't even get the complete picture and don't mention the JAM article at all. Same goes for the Delhi Pioneer article (accessed through Google cache). The Hindustan Times article does a better job. Incidentally, Delhi Pioneer and Hindustan Times seem to have contacted the same lawyer to weigh in on the issue. NDTV story does mention JAM article fleetingly. NDTV also featured the story on its TV channel.

All this is good but these stories are appearing in city editions and obscure places where very few people will read them. Further none of them actually try to check veracity of IIPM's claims in the print ads, which is what mainstream media is actually supposed to do - unravel the truth. Instead they are simply narrating a bunch of events.

All the blog posts (including this one) are fine. All these posts will ensure that anyone searching for any information online about IIPM will come across this story. What will really change things though, is some mainstream newspaper or TV channel verifying the claims made by IIPM in their ads. Irrespective of the outcome of such a fact-finding enterprise, it will take this story to its logical end by bringing the facts out in the open. Sadly Indian media doesn't seem to be ready for such a thing yet!

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Web of Deception?

Gawker continues to explore new aspects of the IIPM story today and has a post about a string of schools in Europe associated with International Management Institute [IMI], which IIPM calls its partner. Gawker noticed some curious similarities in the websites of IMI and its partner organizations namely; Barcelona Business School [BBS] and European Business & Management School [EBMS]. In fact these websites were so similar that Gawker had to conclude:
"Eerie? Hell yeah! I don't know about you, but I sure think this daisychain of interconnected institutes, each existing ambiguously on the internet with no information other than the fact that they claim to churn out a large number of high quality MBA graduates seems extremely suspicious to say the least."
The degrees offered at IIPM are actually conferred by IMI and do not come under the purview of AICTE, UGC or other state acts, a fact brought to you by the JAM article.

All this sounded really fishy, as aptly put by Gawker. So I decided to scrutiny the websites of these three institutes (IMI, BBS, and EBMS) further. Gawker had already pointed out similarities in faculty pages for IMI, BBS and EBMS. In fact they are the same word for word, except the names of the schools. None of them list any faculty with names and contact information. Here are some more facts I found:

The "Studying at IMI", "Campus" page at BBS and "Students" page at EBMS; all have exactly same content.

The teaching philosophy pages are also the same for the three schools. Check it out for: IMI, BBS, EBMS

The program descriptions are also similar (word for word). E.g. check out the description of the BBA program at the these schools: IMI, BBS, EBMS

The courses for the BBA program are also the same. The names of courses... everything is same: IMI, BBS, EBMS

Well, these schools are partners so they must be sharing the same course materials, same programs and same teaching philosophies etc. There is no big problem with that right? I guess so.

But hold on... IMI and EBMS both have same contact address, phone numbers and both have campuses in Antwerp and Brussels, as we can see from their contact pages (IMI, EBMS). So, could it be that there is just one school with two websites and two different names? Why? I don't understand this.

Now you will say, "So what? What about BBS? It is physically at a different place (Barcelona) and has a different name too." Very well. I presume it must be having different students too. I think it is highly improbable that these schools located at different places can have the same students. But guess what... different students studying at different schools have surprisingly come up with "exactly the same" testimonials [IMI, BBS, EBMS] singing the glory of these schools. Or was it that "BA graduate from Russia" simply attended all of these schools and found that they are really the same. Curiously none of these students seem to have any names or addresses.

So what? Maybe students didn't come up with good testimonials. So these schools decided to come up with their own and share. What's a little sharing among partners?

Actually I am pretty much convinced that IMI and EBMS are actually one and the same... two names, two websites... one school. Their students look awfully similar to each other as ascertained by links to the same student party pictures from both websites (here and here). Same for their Egypt tour 2004 pictures. But what about BBS then? Do they have similar looking students? Well I dunno about that, but their Turkey 2005 trip seems to have gone on exactly the same route, with exactly the same people as IMI's Turkey trip.

Now either these schools are taking the meaning of "partners" to a whole new level by sharing student photos, testimonials and all the other stuff on their websites OR they are up to some sort of a scheme here. I don't know how IIPM chose IMI as its "partner" but they surely seem to have one similar quality. Both of them are using some really suspicious information (in their advertisements - for IIPM and on their website - for IMI) to catch students and rake money.

IMI, BBS, EBMS, IIPM: all partners in a web of deception? I leave that for you to judge.

My posts on media coverage of the IIPM story: [1] [2] [3] [4]
IIPM in the media: [I.E.] [Pioneer] [H.T.] [NDTV] [IndiaTogether] [Outlook] [Business Standard] [CNBC-TV18 online news: 1, 2] [New York Times]

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Management-gate: What can we do?

I have expressed my feelings about the unfolding management-gate episode in my previous post ( 1, 2 ). I think all the bloggers supporting Rashmi and Gaurav (and Varna now), must think about what actions they can take? What they can do regarding this issue?

What needs to be done is that the facts must be hung high up there, out in the open for everyone to look at them and make up their mind. One way to do this is through this medium...blogs and the internet. Anyone looking for IIPM must come across the facts pertaining to this story. This will help people (probably future students, parents of students, people applying for jobs at IIPM) to make informed decision and judge the quality of the institution. Ravikiran has come up with a way to do just that! Here is his post which explains the steps to be taken.

Apart from posting the information on the web and making it highly visible there are a few more things bloggers can do. We can send this story to the "media" (if it hasn't already picked it up). The story must be well written, balanced and based on easily verifiable facts. I would also prefer if IIPM's side of the story can be heard (unless they want to continue their "under the radar" slander campaign). I think it is very important that mainstream media pick this story. The fact that they have not done anything so far may be due to their fear of losing ad revenues.

Then there is a matter of the legal notices sent via notarized email (whatever that is) to some bloggers by IIPM. I am not even sure if there is such a thing as notarized email or an emailed legal notice! I am not sure whether IIPM is serious about these notices. It may all be just another arm twisting tactic on their part. Check out TechMag's take on the notices. Would someone who has adequate knowledge of law throw some more light on this?

This whole issue is not about of IIPM's rankings, or quality of their program, or credentials of Arindam Chaudhuri, or about IIPM students. This is about the freedom of expression. I urge everyone to take action now...

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Management-gate: What went wrong?

I continue to be amazed by the unfolding saga that is management-gate. Desipundit has picked up the cause and is posting regular updates on the latest things happening across the blogosphere. A lot of bloggers are expressing their support to Rashmi (the editor of the JAM article in question) and Gaurav (just another blogger who linked to the article and in the course of events decided to resign his job at IBM). The whole blogosphere has rallied behind the cause. IIPM is now ranked #1 search item on Technorati (as of 3.17 PM, EST today) and another blogger Varna now has received an email legal notice (!) from IIPM, similar to one that was sent to Gaurav.

The question in my mind though is what next? What exactly is the cause here? What are we supporting? What needs to be done? If there is nothing to "act" then all this is mere words floating on the internet.

So what went wrong? Was IIPM at fault by having misleading or hyped up information in their advertisements? After all they can state whatever it wants as long as they pay for them, can't they? I guess the answer is yes and no! A company can hype up a product all it wants. It is up to the consumer then to demand integrity from the company, either by demanding to meet up to the description in the advertisements or by toning down the ads. I guess that's where things are going wrong.

IIPM can get away with all these hyped up advertisements because it gets students. There are literally thousands of students who would line up for admission (irrespective of what IIPM says in its advertisements). There is such a huge demand for these degrees that IIPM will get away with anything it says. It might as well promise paid trips to Mars. The problem is at some point the IIPM staff and students started believing in their own advertisements.

Now, when JAM published a fact finding article about these advertisements, it was not doing something wrong. It is not a crime to point out facts. In fact, it is a sign of vigilant democratic action. The way IIPM reacted to this is what is most outrageous about all this. The way it SHOULD HAVE reacted is by refuting the facts mentioned in the article point by point, on their website and through press releases. Appropriate legal action taken by IIPM against what it perceives as libel is also acceptable.

What is wrong is that IIPM chose to go under the radar and create fake blogs to slander Rashmi. It went ahead and pressured Gaurav by threatening his employer IBM with protests and demonstrations. This malicious response is totally against the freedom of speech. What I understand (and correct me if I am wrong) by freedom of speech is:
The freedom to express my opinion freely without the fear of physical and psychological harm against myself or my family or well-wishers.
From this perspective I say that IIPM engaged in almost criminal behavior in its response to a simple article in a small magazine. It points out how fragile they feel their reputation is and how important it is to save their "sales pitch". It almost seems like those are the only things they have ... a fragile reputation and a sales pitch... no modern campuses, not quality education... just a sales pitch.

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Monday, October 10, 2005


There is a huge crop of self declared "gurus" in India. Many in the religious-spiritual regime, others in down-to-earth things like higher education. Education gurus start "institutes" and "universities" for higher education in engineering, management or medicine. Higher education and all its ancillary industries are cash cows. There is no lack of students eager to get that B.E or B.Tech or MBA and get into the IT industry or land some lucrative management job. Students and their parents are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a degree and often fail to check the quality of the institutes or programs they sign up for.

Then there is the ancillary business of coaching classes. The IITs (Indian institutes of Technology) and IIMs (Indian institutes of Management) are government funded institutes which are ranked highest in their respective fields. To get into one of them you have to take very competitive entrance exams. So there are coaching classes to help you prepare for these exams. The other institutes either have their own entrance exams or use the scores for the entrance exams for IIT and IIM, as a basis for admission. So there are more coaching classes to prepare you for all sorts of other entrance exams.

Naturally there is a lot of competition among the institutes to bag students. So the institutes tend to spend a lot of money on advertisements. With a huge advertisement budget and other significant chunk probably going into the pockets of these education gurus (who are the founders of these institutes), there isn't much left to improve the quality of the programs themselves. So some of these institutes tend to boast a little in these ads, hype about their campus, their program, use faulty rankings here and there. Indian media since it is so occupied with important things like Hollywood, Bollywood, cricket etc., does not bother to check the veracity of these advertisements appearing in their papers.

But what happens when someone calls the bluff? What happens when a small magazine publishes a fact checking article about the claims of a management institute in India? The drama unfolding this weekend gave us the answer and the answer is yet to unfold completely.

How? When? Where?... Check out the details on this post by Amit Verma. It all started when JAM published an article exposing the false claims made by IIPM, a management institute with campuses in many cities in India, in the full page ads that appeared in newspapers. Another blogger Gaurav linked the article in his blog post. The institute (and it is not clear whether it is the current students, the management or alumni) launched a hideous assault with fake blogs created only a few days ago to discredit the article. Instead of responding to the alarming facts raised in the article, they choose to attack the editor of the article, Rashmi, by posting lewd comments on her blog. They also pressured Gaurav by bullying him to remove his posts from his blog, sending him stupid legal notices (via email!) and threatening demonstrations in front of IBM (Gaurav's employer). Gaurav has since resigned his job at IBM (see related post on his blog).

The "management-gate" scandal is still unfolding. Lots of bloggers have voiced their support for Rashmi and Gaurav by posting comments and posting about the story on their blogs. IIPM so far has not responded to any of the specific facts mentioned in the JAM article. The kind of responses the fake bloggers posted on Rashmi's blog and the way IIPM bullied Gaurav is really disgusting. It is hard to understand why they would do such things which would only result in damaging their reputation further.

For these institutes, the degrees are simply products to be marketed by advertisement. The "pitch" is all that matters. The quality is irrelevant. Anything that undermines the "pitch" then is a big threat and must be crushed by all means. Unfortunately so far, their game plan seems to be working.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Starbucks challenge: Sweet success second time

This is an update on my first post about the Starbucks challenge.

I tried it again this time and it was sweet bitter success. This time too the barista told me that they were not brewing the fair trade. But I asked if they could French press a cup for me and he instantly agreed. I had to wait for a while to get my coffee though, since they couldn't find it at first. But after a couple of minutes I had a huge cup of nice hot (and strong) fair trade coffee in my hands! I have to say that no matter how small a thing this is... it really felt good to drink that coffee. I don't know whether it is because I made them do something they don't typically do (They had to go back and get a new pack of "cafe estima" for me!) or whether it is the joy of supporting something good. Whatever it is it feels good! It was a bit expensive though and I am not sure if I can afford it all the time. But the local Webster's cafe and bookstore offer fair trade coffee for a lot less than snobby Starbucks.

I got a comment for my previous post about how much fair trade coffee Starbucks actually sells. I grabbed a brochure about 'social responsibility' from Starbucks yesterday. It says that in 2004 "fair trade certified" coffee accounted for only 1.6% of their coffee purchase. That's not really a big chunk. I didn't know what the deal was with other coffee chains about selling fair trade coffee though. So I went to Seattle's Best website and found out that it is owned by Starbucks since July 2003! Call me a coffee dummy... but I didn't know that. Seattle's best has 2 blends that are certified fair trade.

In the end taking the Starbucks challenge turned out to be a great learning experience. Thanks CityHippy and green LA girl.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Taking the Starbucks Challenge

October it turns out is Fair Trade month. Thanks to a post on Green Thinkers I found out about the Starbucks challenge started by green LA girl and CityHippy. The aim:
According to its own policy (PDF), Starbucks will make fair trade coffee for you, any day of the week, in the 23 countries it is licensed to including: Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.K. and the U.S.

But just how easy is it to get a fair trade coffee in a Starbucks in one of those countries?

We aim to find out.
I think it is a great idea. I tried it out at the Starbucks here in downtown State College yesterday. Here is how it turned out...

me: Can I have a tall small fair trade coffee please?
barista: Tall coffee? ( gets a small cup and goes to the coffee machine...pauses and returns) What kind of coffee did you want sir?
me: Fair trade coffee please.
barista: (Takes a look at the tags on the coffee machines) We don't have any fair trade brewing right now sir. Would you like a regular one?
me: I was looking for the fair trade. Do you brew it a particular time everyday?
barista: Let me check the schedule. (Goes and checks bunch of papers at the back of the counter). We used to have a monthly schedule but I don't see it here.
me: (Relenting to looks from bunch of people behind me in the line) um... OK, can I have the regular one then?

I am going to try it again when its not so crowded and just to see if a different person behind the counter would react differently.

If you want to read more about fair trade products this site would be a good start. Also this wikipedia page has good information about the fair trade movement.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Miniature Earth

Thanks to Steve for this link.

Miniature earth tries to answer the question "What would the world look like if the human population were to be turned into a small community of 100 people?". The online presentation created by Allyson Lucca is very thought provoking.

Those more interested should also take a look at the text transcript of the CD version of the presentation. It has a little bit more information that the online version. Went ahead and checked out Allyson Lucca's website

We Were Humans is another great presenation compiled by her.

Really creative work and especially powerful when put online because of the huge audience it can get.

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We first heard about the elephant nursery run by David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the NPR radio show, Living on Earth. The trust is based in Tsavo National Park, Kenya. These animals are orphans and often the victims of poaching, ivory trade and other human interferences in their habitat. We both love elephants. Baby elephants are simply adorable. The trust which runs this orphanage is a great organization fostering the cause of conservation and protection of wildlife in Tsavo. I visited their website and wanted to help. As a gift to my wife on her birthday, we fostered a small baby elephant - Lualeni. Here is a picture of Lualeni with her keeper.
Yesterday we got the sad news of the death of Narripi, another little elephant in the nursery. I had read about Narripi on the trust's website. Narripi was a brave little elephant. He was rescued from a hole in which he was trapped after he got separated from his mother and his herd. A Maasai discovered him and contacted the trust. Narripi was in a bad shape when he arrived. His trunk had been ravage by hyenas and had to be operated on. Narripi (which means "male guide" in the Maa dialect) was recovering pretty well. He passed away fighting a serious bout of pneumonia. You can read the full story here. Here is a picture of Narripi
In a world where there is so much suffering, both for humans and other sentient beings, I applaud the great job the trust is doing for these animals. There are many such organizations worldwide trying to reduce the plight of humans and animals. I feel that it is our duty to support such causes by contributing our time, money or other resources possible. I also feel that it is very important for the whole human society to undergo a major overhaul in terms of its lifestyle. We need to imagine and strive for a world where ALL humans can enjoy a lifestyle which is comfortable and amply fulfills our basic needs AND which allows harmonious existence for other sentient beings in this world. The words sound lofty and the concept sounds too "ideal" to be possible. But I feel it is the only thing worth striving for.

As for Narripi, I wish you a happy journey little fella. You gave us great joy. We will try to help your friends as much as we can.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Non-science and Nonsense

I came across this post on the digital divide on Atanu Dey's blog the other day. It has an interesting bit about the south sea cargo cult. I had heard this phrase "cargo cult science" before somewhere, but never bothered to investigate I guess. Turns out it is about things that seems like science (because they go through the motions of scientific inquiry) but actually are not!

This reminded me of the website publicizing the dangers of DHMO (Dihydrogen Monoxide), that I had come across few months ago. It is a really great and amusing website. DHMO can be extremely harmful, even kill people in many cases. The website clearly warns us about the ill effects on this page:
The dangers, uses and potential threats posed by this chemical, Dihydrogen Monoxide, are widespread, and some feel, terrifying. Here is just a small taste of what Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is:
* Some call Dihydrogen Monoxide the 'Invisible Killer'
* Others think dihydrogen monoxide should be Banned
* Dihydrogen Monoxide is linked to gun violence
* Dihydrogen monoxide was found at every recent school shooting
* Athletes use DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE, or DHMO, to enhance performance
* Dihydrogen Monoxide has been found in our rivers, lakes, oceans and streams
* Dihydrogen Monoxide is a major component of acid rain
* Thousands die each year after inhaling dihydrogen monoxide
* Dihydrogen Monoxide can be deadly
* Find out the truth about Dihydrogen Monoxide
DHMO is ofcourse not really harmful. After all about 60% of human body is "contaminated" with it. If you haven't guessed it by now, DHMO or dihydrogen monoxide (H2O) is just a clever way to say "water". The website was started in 1997 by Dr. Tom Way, a research scientist in Newark, Delaware. The motivation behind creating it in his own words:
"The original purpose of the site was as a sort of writer's therapy to blow off steam about all the devious (and sometimes just ignorant) ways the truth is bent to prove a point by some in the media, politics, sales, environmental activism, organized religion, web site authoring, etc."
The website then took a life of its own. The city councilors in Aliso Viejo, CA went so far ahead as to vote on a ban on styrofoam cups because DHMO was used in their manufacture (Check out this article in Scientific American). When they were made aware of the truth (probably while some of them were consuming some DHMO themselves), they blamed the fiasco on some paralegal doing bad research. You can read more interesting stuff about dangers of DHMO on the website itself and about the Aliso Viejo incident on this page.

We are being bombarded with all sorts of poll results all the time. Columnists and TV anchors quote results from "latest studies" every day. This DHMO website is a great example of how people can be fooled by seemingly scientific sounding information. It also bring out the importance of ascertaining the facts. That ofcourse takes time and effort which most of us are unwilling to spend. Perception is everything. In India there are all sorts of advertisements where people wearing white lab coats show the effectiveness of a product (like a soap or toothpaste). The ads are full of pretty looking graphs and animations showing the germs being killed. All these things in the media have a huge effect on shaping the public opinion. I guess there is no real way to judge how much of the information we are presented makes sense and how much is pure BS (bad stuff!).

The importance of ascertaining the facts behind everything is obvious. That of course takes time and effort which most of us are unwilling to spend. So who is looking out for me? Is every man to himself when it comes to finding the truth behind the stuff we get from media? I hope not! Blogs are doing a good job at keeping checks. There are some good websites too. Phil Plait's bad astronomy website and others like Fact Check are some examples. I am more and more convinced that participatory internet (through blogs, podcasts and what not) and the mechanics of competition may be robust enough to keep things in order!

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Acting Locally

Nabina Das laments the lack of community news coverage in Indian media. India Together: Making it to page one:
"My experiences with the news coverage in places like Assam or Delhi highlighted nothing that could be put in the category of community news coverage. Community mattered when political leaders visited a ward or a municipality for a specific reason or when it was time to woo voters. Even then, assignment editors would not want the stories to be woven around the tribal farmer with his subsistence pig farm or the poor Muslim pith crafter community (whose craft is nearly vanishing)."
I feel that the local language newspapers in India (e.g. Sakal in Maharashtra) do a much better job at reporting local stories. Although I do agree that most of those stories too fall into well defined categories. There is a strong need for alternative media in India. There is still a long way to a place where the community members themselves from all corners of India will participate in reporting and publishing stories about their community. As the use of internet in India grows, community blogs in my opinion will play a really great role in closing the gap.

The news media can start community blogs, where their local reporters may post stories which typically won't go into the print edition. These blogs accessible from the newspapers' websites, would give the readers more access to local reporting. Another solution could be websites (for profit or non-profit) dedicated to community reporting where community members themselves contribute stories via the internet. Websites such as Good news India and India Together have already begun the process a little bit.

There can be many innovative solutions to this problem. I believe that internet and communication technology has vastly improved the number of possible solutions. I am simply thrilled by the possibilites that a participative internet provides for this particular problem.

Looking forward to blogs from Sangli and Kirloskarwadi...

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