Sunday, January 15, 2017

The World in 2016

The World in 2016

Donald trump was elected as the President of the United States by the people of Russia, despite failing to win the popular vote in the United States. The world was expecting it to be a Hillarious year, but  trumped-up charges against the former Secretary of State paved the way for the biggest political upset in the history. The  TV personality and a business magnate, who claimed to have caught America by the same you-know what, with which he claimed to have caught many American women, became the President-erect of the country. 

Trump got his hopes high, when he witnessed Brexit - an ejaculation of Britain from the European Union, that many said was premature. Michael Farage, who played a stellar role in encouraging Brexit, became Trump's favorite as a candidate for Britain's ambassador to the United States, but was stumped by a lack of vacancy in Washington.

Despite a more natural affiliation to Crimlin, Trump is planning to move into the White House - his only complaint being that it is for the first time in his life that he is moving into a house which does not bear his name. Though he was happy that the name at least refers to one of his most important feature.

In another referendum gone wrong, the Columbian public voted against a peace deal ending decade old armed conflict with FARC rebels, though the government managed to push in a piecemeal deal through the parliament, and peace seems to be returning to the country by bits and pieces.

In France the ultra-right wing candidate, Marine Le Pen proved that Pen is mightier than Swordkosy, as she moved to the second round of the presidential contest and Sarkosy failed to move forward.

In the island nation of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte proved than blood is thicker than water, as he won the presidency on the promise of killing criminals, which he proceeded to do after his win, in a drug fueled and bloody frenzy.

While there was little evidence of human intelligence (at least electoral intelligence) in 2016, it was a good year for artificial intelligence, as deep- learning system AlphaGo proved itself to be a real go-getter, beating a Korean (considered human, if from South Korea) player Lee Sedol, 4-1.

Apple refused FBI directive to dig into the phone of the terrorist Syed Farook by replacing iOS with GovOS, after which the government agency hired Russian hackers to retrieve the required information, a service the Russians provided free of charge, as a part of the larger contract that they had won to subvert the American elections.

Students at an elementary school in Shanghai began the spring semester by swinging golf clubs. The Experimental School of Foreign Languages Affiliated with East China Normal University is the first public elementary school in China to introduce golf as one of its compulsory courses. All first and second-grade students are required to practice golf once a week. When accused of introducing an elitist sport of the rich, the principal dismissed the allegations. "Balls," he said, "we are just trying to create a well rounded personality and ensuring that the children do not make any right wing swings when they grow up."

A South African mayor has awarded college scholarships to 16 young women for remaining virgins. The young women who applied for the scholarships will voluntarily stay virgins and agree to have regular virginity tests to keep their funding. While some activists have called for the banning of virginity testing in South Africa, describing it as sexist and invasive, advocates say it preserves tradition and has been modernized to teach girls about their reproductive health and HIV and AIDS. The scholarship triggered a kind of virgin mania in the country, with scores of women trying to regain their virginity.

China's two-child policy officially kicked off in 2016. "Too little and too late", Goldman Sachs' macro research team wrote after the announcement. "One may argue this move is too little and too late ... but a broad based relaxation is surely better late than never and some people still want to have more than one child but cannot," they said. Many older Chinese women, who became eligible to have a second child felt that the move may or may not be "too little and too late", but the real problem likely to prevent them from having a second child, in fact, is that their husbands now are mostly "too little and too early".

Paris, the romance capital of the world, locked the new lovers out, by banning the attaching of locks to city bridges, after a section of Pont des Arts on the Seine river collapsed with the weight of the love locks. The authorities said that they have to take this key measure with a heavy heart and even heavier bridges.

In India, the year is ending with a lot of queueing and froing, as Prime Minister Modi put the country on a relentless path towards a cashless society. An objective poll conducted on the Modi app, which a base for all his fans, suggested that a representative sample of  Modi  lovers are firmly behind the move.

The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, visited Pearl Harbour to try to make amends for  the damage done by the country's planes seventy five years ago, and Barack Obama visited Hiroshima. Both the leaders expressed regret for what happened, but stopped short of apologizing, reminding the world of  the lyrics of an Elton John song, " sorry seems to be the hardest word".

On the technological front, good progress was made by self-driving cars, one of them even exhibited a characteristic driver like quality by killing a human.

On the business front, Bayer, the maker of Viagra, called off its takeover bid of Allergan, the maker of Botox, sensing a conflict of interest (the interest they would have to pay on the large loan required to make the acquisition) and a realization that a mere Botox facelift will not make the company any more potent.

At the Rio Olympics, Russia again proved it macho image, as male DNA was found in the samples of Russian female athletes. Two Indian female athletes, with pure female DNA, won the only two medals for the country of 1.3 billion people, putting it at the 67th position at the Rio Olympics, tied  with Mongolia, with  a population of 4 million. India may consider disguising female athletes as males to improve its chances at the next Olympics.

"Times they are a-changing," crooned Bob Dylan fifty years ago, and another big change came in 2016, when the song writer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, George Michael, Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, all rested their instruments and vocal cords, and went "Knockin' on heaven's doors", leaving their melodies "Blowing in the wind".

Oxford English Dictionary declared "post truth" to be the word of the year, and Merriam Webster, announced the word that captured the sentiment of the year to be "surreal". They later denied that they ever made any such declarations, pronouncing the news as typical post-truth surrealism which characterised the year.

Some of what is reported above may be fake news, particularly if it appeared on Facebook.   Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social media website, remarked in a posthumous statement that he does not have any intention to rename Facebook as Fakebook.

Written by Ashok Sethi

The World in 2015

The World in 2015

The year was marked by IS flexing its muscles and driving thousands of Syrians to abandon their homes and seek refuge in Europe. Angela Merkel opened her heart and Germany brought down the Berlin wall once again, and agreed take a million asylum seekers.  The British took 166 in the last one year and said that they may admit 52 more - one for each of the territories they had colonized. "We know the hardship and loneliness that goes with staying in a country other than your own and hope that the Syrians will be able to find asylum in their own land," said the British spokesperson.  

China aborted its one-child policy by declaring that couples can now apply for a second child permit without having to pay a fine. The move, experts say, is driven by a scarcity of labor, which could lead to more productive countries like India to steal manufacturing jobs from China. India in the meanwhile launched a 'made in India' campaign, proclaiming a desire and ability to make more than just babies. The fact that Microsoft and Google appointed Indian born and made executives as their CEO’s gave some respectability to the claim of  "made in India” .

Saudi Arabia decided to allow women to contest in council elections, but is yet to allow them behind the wheel. Saudis feel that driving vehicles is a more important (it also drives their economy) and delicate task and women first need to get hands on experience in councils, before they step their foot on the pedal. So far, Saudi women only have experience in driving the Saudi men up the wall, and given the state of the men's thinking, it seems they have done this with considerable success.  

American politics took an interesting turn as Donald Trump emerged as the front runner Republican presidential candidate. Trump tried to take a lead over rival candidates through exhibiting expertise in female anatomy and immigration issues. In his view,  a fool proof way of ensuring communal and racial harmony and that everyone gets an equal chance is when everyone is white, rich and Christian. There is no need to grapple with the challenges of moving ahead, when everyone is already ahead, he said.

Guns caused a lot of blood shed in America, and Barack Obama led the cry for restricting the access to guns. However, the gun loving citizens were outraged, proclaiming a gun is not an instrument of killing, but an instrument of self-defense. The giun lobby went ballistic, and fired several defensive shots including saying, "guns don't kill, people do". Donald Trump heard it and raised a cry to ban people instead of guns, starting with Muslims.  

China banned the communist party members from playing golf and stick to ping pong, saying  that just because both are played on green surfaces is not an adequate justification to indulge in the luxury sport and that cadres will face a handicap in their further promotions if they  are found playing golf. They also said that arguments such as practicing "drive" may help  in driving the country forward or tackling ”slice" could provide coaching to aid in slicing costs are not acceptable or credible excuses for playing the game.

The Chinese yuan was included in the basket of currencies used by the International Monetary Fund to constitute SDR.  Moving from being a basket case country to becoming an important part of the IMF basket is a Great Leap Forward that Mao Zedong would perhaps have desired, but not anticipated.  

Banking continued to be in news in 2015, with Indonesia launching a floating bank, which is anchored in the sea, as an assurance against any liquidity problems. However there was a liquidity crisis in sperm banks in Chin
a, caused by premature withdrawal of stimulus.

China won its first Nobel Prize in science when Tu Youyou ( a name which caused considerable intrigue, particularly in  India ) won the award for her discovery of artemisinin, a traditional Chinese medicine that can cure malaria.   

Climate change was on everyone's mind as Global leaders gathered in Paris and used third degree measures to persuade each other to a pledge that we should not let the world to heat up by more than two degrees from pre industrial times. China's strategy to mitigate the greenhouse effect through a pollution shield which reflects back the sun's heat is being actively studied by other developing countries like India. In the meanwhile the demand for self changing last digit car number plates was surging, as Delhi was planning to launch an odd-even number car plate scheme to ease the traffic and the pollution.  

Meat eating was conclusively proven to be as harmful for consumers as for the animals it comes from, as scientists declared that red meat, particularly processed meat can cause cancer. In India the danger was more clear and present as bovinity  triumphed over sanity, and Prime Minister Modi's silence on the issue was widely considered as udderly unacceptable.

Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, took Botox maker Allergan to its bosom. Dismissing the allegations that the merger is merely a face-lift, the company representatives said that it  will allow them to offer a nicely packaged,  self-contained system of stimulus and stimulated and capture large parts of the market. In another stimulating merger AB-InBev merged with SABMiller creating the world’s largest tipple provider.

Commodity producing countries suffered as China slowed down because of misplaced policies such as insisting that construction of an airport should require that an airplane actually must fly into it and not just over it. Similarly construction of bridges now requires an actual sighting of stream of water and cannot be initiated  as a possible insurance against seasonal floods. Six Successive rate cuts in China flowed by but with little result and the year ended with the US Fed increasing the interest rate by 25 basis points as it saw that the US economy was recovering, and it was a good time to try to derail it again.  
Oxford Dictionaries declared that their word to the year was not a word at all, but an emoji - face with tears of joy - an apt metaphor for the times we live in, perpetually wondering whether to laugh or to cry.

Written by Ashok Sethi

Friday, January 30, 2015

The World in 2014

2014 was marked by elections. India had the largest election in the world. But it was China which boasted of having the largest erections in the world - 72 skyscrapers of 250 meters or more on last count, . Even the bastion of freedom and democracy and the potent superpower, the United States, can only boast of 43 erections. The Chinese President, Xi Jin Ping, intrigued at the idea of universal suffrage, visited India to have a firsthand experience of the phenomenon, but complained that he only saw universal suffering. Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, is planning a visit to China to investigate whether the Viagra the Chinese use to produce so many majestic erections, can also be used to treat the India electile dysfunction.

While China towered over the world from its erections, the issue of elections also haunted it in Hong Kong. The citizens of the territory took umbrage at the concept of universal suffrage with Chinese characteristics, which matches the idea of one person-one vote with one seat-one person, as only candidates nominated and approved by Beijing can stand for the election.

US also had Senate and House elections, giving landslide wins to the Republicans who now control both the houses, and vociferously air their grouses against the Democrats and President Obama.

Economics in general played a stellar role in the year, starting with Abenomics in Japan. Named after, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, Abenomics consists of three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and a series of structural reforms. In India Manmohan economics or Manomics was relaced by Modinomics, which comprises many more arrows than Abenomics but so far lacks a strong bow to shoot them. France was in news for Economics this year, producing the Nobel Prize winner and Thomas Picketty, who in his  tome titled  'Capital in the Twenty-First Century', clearly established that the key to future prosperity is current prosperity, which in turn is determined by past prosperity. Such clarity of thinking and analysis is indeed rare among economists and was widely applauded among the practitioners of the "dismal science".

2014 was a good year for space exploration. While China landed a probe on the moon, India shot a rocket at Mars, at the same cost it takes to send its Prime Minister to Mauritius. Explaining the achievement, the head of the Indian Space Research Organization said, "It was our intention to reach for the moon. But with a fortuitous mix up of the literal with the figurative, and a scarcity of funds to provide adequate speed dampeners on the device, it overshot the destination by some distance and landed in an orbit around the Mars." The Chinese on the other hand hit the target and landed a rover on the moon. Typical in the fashion of the Chinese tourists, the vehicle furiously shot some pictures on arrival,  but disappointed at the lack of shopping opportunities, shut itself down and went off to sleep.

It was a good year for financial markets too. The somnolent Shanghai stock market revived after it was decided to connect the Shanghai and Hong Kong markets and allow a certain amount of easy mutual investment. China also demonstrated how to raise money through pulling off the largest ever IPO in the world, when Alibaba, a local e-commerce firm debuted on the New York Stock exchange, making its founder Jack Ma, the richest man in Asia. Alibaba's innovations include converting all religious holidays into shopping holidays, including creating totally new shopping excuses such as the Single's day on November 11 of every year, on which day the sales in 2014 topped US$ 9.2 billion, as singles sought solace in retail therapy.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg came under strong Chinese influence, learnt Chinese and bought profitless WhatsApp for $ 16 billion (which he could have "downloaded for free", as the critics chastised). Zuckerberg himself described it as a "Face saving move".  New ground was broken in valuation of start-ups, as Snapchat, a free mobile app with no profit and no revenues, was valued at more than $10 billion. It has been a common practice in the market to look rather disdainfully at profit, but this was perhaps the first multi-billion dollar valuation which dismissed the idea of revenue itself. This ground breaking paradigm shift unshackles corporations from slavery to revenue and profit, paving a way for a new vibrant, P&L free corporate model.

China put up an extraordinary example of long term planning by declaring that the country will have blue skies by 2030. The goal was temporarily achieved in 2014 during the meeting of APEC leaders in Beijing, when all factories around the city were shut down, government employees given a week off and all residents asked to abstain from exhaling, resulting in a brilliant albeit transitory "APEC Blue". The phrase "APEC Blue" has begun to stand for any transitory phenomenon and skeptical Chinese women are now asking their boy friends whether their ardent love for them will just turn out to be an "APEC Blue".

Korea, despite its relatively modest size, found itself in the news again in 2014, when the North Korean supremo - Kim Jong -Un's portrayal in the movie 'The Interview' from Sony Pictures led to the hacking of the studio's website. Pyongyang said while it did it, it was not responsible. South Korea was not to be left out of the news, when the daughter of Korea Airlines' Chairman, flew into a "nut rage", as the macadamia nuts served to her in the First Class cabin of the airline came in a bag and not on a plate. The lady, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, with the help of which she merrily scooped from the world served to her on a plate, was singularly ill-equipped to extract the nuts from their sturdy packaging and ordered the plane back to the gate to ground the offending flight attendant who served her.

The prize for the piece of scientific research of 2014 which can potentially have the greatest impact on the quality of life, perhaps needs to go to the investigation which proved that beer can reduce the carcinogenic effects of barbecued meat. Currently the evidence suggests that it is the meat which has to imbibe the beer (or to describe it more accurately, be marinated in it) and not the humans who feast on it.  But it is a good start and I will raise my glass to it and wish for a happy new year for all!

Written by Ashok Sethi