Archive for September, 2011

Out on the Prairie with Pick

September 15, 2011

On Facebook recently — again — some old friends have been reminiscing about the town where we grew up. “You know you grew up in Rockville if you remember … blah blah blah.”

This time, the theme was a childrens TV show featuring a cowboy. This kind of thing was popular all across the country, since in the 1950’s there was an explosion of movies and TV shows about cowboys; it was only natural that versions for kids popped up. Plus, it was good for advertisers like food producers and distributors, since kids could then channel their desires through their moms, who did the grocery shopping.

I don’t know about you, but even now, if while working my thumb on the remote a black & white cowboy movie appears, that’s what my attention gloms onto. I get the irresistable urge to open a can of beans.

In the DC area back then was such a TV show for kids, featuring a cowboy named Pick Temple. Every little boy in the Maryland/DC/Virginia region wanted to be just like him, since clearly cowboys with their own TV shows were pretty successful. Pick Temple wore really cool cowboy clothes, like a white cowboy hat, and a fancy shirt with a string tie. He even had a guitar with his name on it and a dog named Lady. Yeah, the life of a TV cowboy was pretty nice, and they were too busy in the TV studio to get dirty with all that ropin’ and ridin’ and sleepin’ on the ground.

My little brother Dave and I were on the show, but I can’t remember how we got in. We may have sent in cereal boxtops, or my Uncle Luigi may have threatened the producers, or maybe it was just dumb luck because we had shown up. We must have been about 8 and 4 years old.

There were various activities and contests, and of course the Douglass Boys — like the Crane Boys from “Frasier” — were outstanding. Dave took part in one activity that involved popping balloons fixed to a wall. Evidently the kids busted the balloons by ‘shooting’ at them. Brother Dave, however, pointed out the sophisticated hoax, on camera of course, that in reality someone behind the wall must be sticking them with needles, which caused them to pop, instead of the kids shooting at them with toy guns. My brother was always a trouble maker.

I was in an exciting game of ‘Pass the Spinach’. A bunch of us sat on the floor in a circle, and we passed around an empty box of what I believe had been a container of frozen spinach. (The TV show had a sponsor, which if memory serves was a local grocery store, since many prizes were groceries, and at the end we all got to take home a bag of groceries.) Music played, and during the music we passed the box of spinach from person to person. When the music stopped, the person left holding it was out of the game. Then the music started up again and the game continued until there was only one kid left.

Evidently this game was based on a popular cowboy entertainment called “Pass the Scorpion”. This helped the cowboys to pass those long, lonely nights when TV reception was poor. Only in this version, the person left holding the scorpion died. This may explain why there aren’t very many cowboys left today.

At one particularly riveting part, we got down to two players: some beady-eyed kid whose parents were clearly Communists, and yours truly. We played for a while, the tension ratcheting up like James Bond trying to disable a bomb with only moments left. And then, with the box of spinach in motion, the music stopped. The other kid had lofted it towards me, and just as the music stopped — I like to think it was Beethoven — I threw my arms up and the box landed in my lap. The judges decided that since I did not touch the spinach, and that since the other kid had touched it last, I was the winner.

The crowd went wild. OK, it was maybe nine or ten mothers sitting off-stage, but I’m sure there was cheering and applause. Can’t remember if some gorgeous movie star kissed me or not, but there was definitely cheering. I think the prize was a plastic toy scorpion.

So Dave, Mom and I gathered up the loaf of bread, the canned goods and whatnot that was our take-home loot, and headed back to the suburbs, now that our brief moments of fame were over. I would have thought that this extraordinary performance would have attracted the attention of TV and movie producers and directors, and launched my silver screen career of wealth and fame, but for reasons unknown that never happened.

Too Many Left Feet

September 14, 2011

Here we see an undated News of the World photograph of The Republican Party in a top-level “Strategy Dance” in preparation of the 2012 election. After the most recent Republican presidential debates, the Grand Old Party had come under withering criticism from the Democratic Party, political consultants, Quakers, Seattle baristas, Switzerland, Morris dancers, Libyan rebels, the Viennese Boys Choir, and two little girls operating a lemonade stand in DC’s Lafayette Square.

Republican insiders suggest that the party leaders had been floundering clumsily, and were willing to try anything to help them get organized. A dance metaphor seemed as good an idea as anything else they had tried to unite their energies into a cohesive team effort.

Sarah Palin, second from the left of those facing away from the camera, is inexplicably going the wrong way — walking backwards — in this shot of the “Strategy Dance” and is about to step into a badger hole. Gov Rick Perry, looking up at the heavens for clues instead of watching where he is going, wound up tripping over Ms Palin, and suffered minor reindeer antler stab wounds. Newt Gingrich decided to do his own dance and crashed into everyone, popping most of the festive balloons provided and blown up by Dick Cheney. Michele Bachmann, third from the left of those facing away from the camera, and also going the wrong way, is about to execute a sweep kick against the advancing Ron Paul, who merely jumped over her and continued his dance routine, stepping, however, into some bull moose poop.

If you zoom in on the left side of the image, you can make out Orrin Hatch in the back row riding the hobby horse given to him by George Bush Sr. George Jr is out of view behind the other strategic dancers, and was sulking, as he “wanted to ride the horsie again.”

Political dance coorespondent Mikhail Baryshnikov said that the performance indicates that their strategic choreography still needs work.

On the far right John Boehner is seen attempting to “blow his own horn” by huffing and puffing on his set of reindeer horns, as if they were a set of bagpipes. Earwitnesses admitted that the sound was abject scrannel, a combination of the infernal screeching of AC/DC blended indifferently with the atonal maunderings of Bartok. Once while waiting to tee off at his club, Boehner was observed trying a Pied Piper motif with a five-iron to lure the off-duty caddies into becoming Republicans. I don’t know if this is relevant, but it seemed worth mentioning and broke up the monotony.

An observer on the sideline noted that if you can’t dance, then you shouldn’t be in statecraft. I would say something, but I don’t want to step on any toes.

Death of a Shelf, Man

September 12, 2011

The bookshelf is the noblest of all furniture. For it is upon those polished, wooden shelves of erudition that the repository of all written knowledge and literary endeavor rests. Books are much more than paper pages bound together. When Robert Hutchins, the President of the University of Chicago, in 1952 announced the completion of the Great Books project, he said, “This is more than a set of books, and more than a liberal education. Great Books of the Western World is an act of piety. Here are the sources of our being. Here is our heritage … This is its meaning for mankind.”

The maple, pine or particle board shelves that support these books are nearly as significant, and now they are passing into oblivion. There is no future for the furniture of the furniture of the mind.

Sure, there are other important kinds of furniture that populate our homes. Here in the sophisticated West, we sit on chairs, rather than the floor or on oppressed citizens. If there are no tray tables handy we eat off of dining room tables. The couch is crucially important, since without couches we might never learn about sex and the joys of being horizontal with girls. In front of those couches are oddly shaped contrivances where we place our coffee cups and large bowls of the universe’s most mysterious substance, potpourri.

In one of my old homes I had not one but two credenzas. These long and low structures were perfect for stereo systems, and conveyed an old-fashioned sense of prestige. Hard to believe that many of my friends had never seen a credenza, or even knew what they were. Odd furniture seems to run in the family; in our living room, when I was a schoolboy, my mother once had a commode, which caused no end of vulgar jokes. Such pieces of formal furniture are as rare nowadays as marriage chests.

In the bedroom, along with the bed, naturally, will be an armoire or a dresser  of some kind, and the kitchen would not be a kitchen if there were no cabinets in which to store cups and plates and other eating utensils, along with cooking tools and equipment of every description.

But the bookshelf has stood alone in its noble purpose: it stored, displayed and protected books, and it has fulfilled this elevated mission for thousands of years. However, some feel that it is soon to be extinct. History shows that species die out when they no longer fit in, and can’t defend themselves from the changes that occur around them. On the credenza behind me, as I sit at my desk here in my office, a treasured copy of Darwin sits on top of my old 8-track tape player, as a kind of evolutionary joke.

In Darwin’s devastatingly important work of 1859, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, he tells us that to survive, a species must change with the times and adapt. I believe that the dodo died out, not because the flightless bird was easy to catch and then eaten in vast quantities by hungry sailors, but because it couldn’t go along with the designated hitter rule of 1973.

Recent articles suggest that the bookshelf will follow this unswerving path to obsolescence. But why?

People don’t read anymore. If you attempt to start a conversation with the classic gambit, “What are you reading lately?” a blank expression will come over the person’s face. If you ask someone if they have read a particular book, they will tell you, ”No, but I have seen the movie” or “Did they turn it into a movie?” or “Why on earth would I want to read that?”

When a friend of my wife’s planned a trip to the UK, and announced her intention to visit London, I handed her my 1152-page copy of Edward Rutherfurd’s wonderful historical novel, London.  Rather than thank me, she frowned and turned it over and over again in her hands, more focused on the thickness of the book and the challenge it represented, rather than the delights that awaited within.

To prepare for this story, I designed a scientific survey about reading habits, and queried 11,032 people while at the coffee shop yesterday afternoon. I have summarized the results thus:

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Q: Do you like to read?  A: Nah. It’s too hard, and it takes too long.

Q: What do you read the most often?  A: My grocery list.

Q: Do your kids read?  A: I think they have to read books in school, but I’m not sure.

Q: Do you own any special old books that your parents or grandparents owned?  A: I have my dad’s old Playboys.

Q: Do you read anything? Anything at all?  A: Billboards if there’s a hunky guy in his underwear.

**********

Among the people who answered my questionnaire were a few from New England, who revealed that they do not read speed limit signs. Lots of people evidently don’t read No Smoking signs, or Don’t Park Here signs. There are quite a lot of citizens out there — who vote and procreate — who simply don’t want to read at all.

What’s wrong with these people?  Don’t they know that reading is fun? It’s stimulating, it’s rewarding, and it gives you lots of pleasure units.

America prefers to look at pretty pictures.  Europeans still read; why not Americans? Do we have shorter attention spans? Do we need more stimuli and need pleasure fulfillment quicker? Are we lazy and dumb? Have our eyeballs radically changed from eons of watching TV?

Of those few dinosaurs remaining who do still read for pleasure, the vast majority has purchased a Kindle or a similar device for reading e-books. If you don’t read actual books, and you don’t own books, why would anybody need a bookshelf?

According to the Economist, IKEA sees the future, and it does not include books. As everybody knows, IKEA is a multibillion dollar business started by a Swedish boy with big ideas. (Presumably, Ingvar Kamprad likes to read.) Nearly everyone in the United States either has IKEA furniture in their homes or knows someone who does. The bread and butter of IKEA’s bookshelf line is called the BILLY, which is a masculine Swedish name. The BILLY bookshelf is in approximately 58.2% of all American homes. (I just made up that statistic, but it feels right.) Within a radius of a couple miles from a college campus, the proportion is even higher. The BILLY comes in a variety of sizes and color finishes, and is popular because it is inexpensive and represents good value. The Swedish product planners are constantly looking for new products, and are sensitive to changing tastes.

IKEA’s designers are revamping the specifications of the ubiquitous BILLY. The shelf part itself will be deeper and is intended to hold decorative bric-a-brac and curios like little statues, glass figurines, grandma’s collection of porcelain cats, football trophies and so forth. IKEA’s marketing materials are pushing glass doors as an important add-on to the BILLY system. This is to enhance the idea that, when tricked out with fancy glass doors, the new BILLY would be perfect for consumers to display their stuff. This reinforces the idea that consumers want a place for their possessions to be seen, rather than used. The new revised shelf, which is already appearing in IKEA catalogs, is being called the “stuffshelf,” to reflect the fact that it will never hold books.

The new stuffshelf even comes with an unusual document, which new owners must sign: if you buy one of the new shelves, you must promise to never use them to store books.

Thoroughly dejected, on the way home from the coffee shop, I asked one last random passerby what was the last thing he read. He told me it was the assembly instructions for his new BILLY stuffshelf.

Beware of Peanut Butter Boy

September 10, 2011

As you know from a previous post, I can be experimentative in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s because I get bored, but sometimes it’s to keep costs down. If I don’t have a full complement of costly ingredients, or can’t afford them, I make do with the cheap stuff already in stock. One inexpensive and necessary ingredient in my kitchen is peanut butter, which has often played a key rôle in my cooking, but it is not the only character actor in this theatre.

The other day I brought home some nice cod. At least, I thought it was nice; I have no idea what its mother thought. I wanted to cook it in a different style from the last time, but I hadn’t yet decided how. The previous hunk of fish that landed in the pan got treated to the classic theme of olive oil, garlic and lemon, with a frisson of white wine.  I don’t know if frissons are legal in Washington State, but so far not a single police officer has been to my door. A plan of attack had not yet formed in my culinary cranium, so I looked around. (My wife thinks that when in the kitchen, I should never be allowed to look around.) There was the leftover jar of peanut butter. Hmm, that’s a start.

There was also a fat nectarine sitting in the fruit bowl, minding its own business. And some balsamic vinegar sat on a shelf, looking forlorn. So I whipped out the sauté pan and started cooking the cod very gently. Then I took a big scoop of peanut butter and added it to the pan, where it slowly turned into a melty goo; it looked like Mississippi mud, but it smelled like Mom’s peanut butter cookies in the oven.

While the peanut butter was changing shape, I drizzled a tiny amount of balsamic vinegar into the mud, and sniffed: it was the olfactory equivalent of cellos and French horns; some harmony as well as some contrast. Not too bad so far. Overtones of Thai food were swirling overhead, but I didn’t have any hot chili peppers or limes. I did however have a nectarine and Tabasco, so the first item I sliced up thin and threw in, along with a few drops of the second, stirring in an anti-clockwise direction. A sharper editor might have insisted I stick with the music metaphor, but that wasn’t working, so I dropped my baton like a hot potato, and instead grabbed a fork…

No, dear reader, I did not die – didn’t even suffer food poisoning.  It was pretty good, actually.

You know how when you’re a kid, and you try doing something on the edge of naughtiness and you get away with it, how you want to try it again? That’s what I did.

After I returned from the grocery store the next day, my kitchen’s  food ingredient manifest boasted some new items: ground beef and ground pork. The question was, what to do with them?

In the old days, on Monday nights, a bunch of us used to get together at a friend’s house, and we’d barbecue. It was the classic intersection of men, meat and fire. This old friend has a big, beautiful house in the trees with an enormous deck, an ideal place for a carnivorous gathering, and every Monday felt special. On some of those nights we would all bring our own main course, so the top of the capacious grill might play host to a meaty mélange of burgers, steak, salmon, chicken, pork chops or who knows what. On these occasions our benefactor would provide side dishes and maybe a dessert, and the rest of us would bring beer, wine, or copious cocktail ingredients. Other times, one guy would volunteer to assume the rôle of head chef, and cook the main course for the whole assembly, which meant that the rest of us would then bring side dishes, salad, dessert, bread, and of course lots of wine. We were men who didn’t like to suffer thirst.

Once in a while my old friend Doug would assume the responsibility, and bring a special entrée with him, concocted from a herd of cows and a pride of pigs. He called his offering Uncle Fred Burgers, and they were a sight to behold.  They were a mix of ground beef, ground pork, Italian sausage, hamster, badger, and god knows what else. Each one was two fingers thick and bigger than a catcher’s mitt, bigger than the biggest dinner plate, so we learned to use garbage can lids for plates.

They were great. You always wanted to eat two, but … well, it just wasn’t possible. Except for Big Chuck, and that’s another story.

So, on this occasion in my modest Seattle kitchen, Doug’s Uncle Fred burgers were an inspiration. I rolled up my sleeves and mixed the ground beef and ground pork, adding fistfuls of garlic, and allowing a few drops of sweat to substitute for herbs and spices. But I wasn’t in the mood for a burger; no, I felt like a pasta dish.

So I put on a pot of water to boil, stared at the pan with the browning meat, and, you guessed, looked around the kitchen. There was that trusty jar of peanut butter.  But wait, I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

In the fridge was a leftover half of a large Walla Walla sweet onion, so I started to chop. Now, a sensible person should try to avoid getting into a lengthy discussion about Walla Walla sweet onions. Or, for that matter, the cellist Yo Yo Ma, or the former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The repetition will drive your listeners crazy. The repetition will drive your listeners crazy. There are some species, commonly found in Massachusetts, for whom repetition is in their DNA.  They will say the same thing six times in a span of 25 minutes.  This kills brain cells, but repeaters don’t seem to notice.

Anyway, the other day I overhead two people talking about Walla Walla sweet onions. In the duration of the conversation, they each said “Walla” 1,024 times, an even number, of course. Naturally, this had me looking for a weapon, which I never found. Why did it never occur to them to use a nickname, an acronym, a substitute, or anything besides saying “Walla Walla” over and over?  They could have said – once – “Walla”. Or they could have mutually agreed to say “onion” or even “Ralph” or some other word. But no, they each continued to say “Walla Walla” again and again, shortening my life span by accelerating my blood pressure.

OK, I’ve had a Manhattan, and I feel much better now. So where were we? Oh right, we were chopping Ralph.

After I had drained the browned beef and pork, I set the meat aside and sautéed the onions, coaxing them into that wonderful, translucent golden color when they are sweet and delicious. Finally, into one big pan I combined the pasta, browned meat, onions, peanut butter goo and garlic, and watched as it all seemed to coalesce together into something quite different from horrible. Again, I did not die; and I did not suffer any tummy-badness symptoms from food poisoning. Indeed, I did not even suffer from that nauseating condition when one assumes that some things simply shouldn’t be mixed with certain other things.

At this point, my wife would probably say, “Don’t applaud.  Don’t even smile. Please don’t encourage him.”

Tonight, I feel like pasta, and I will pair it with my old friend, canned mushroom soup. Oh, and I think there’s some peanut butter left.

Tune in next time, when we discuss the mathematics of determining precisely how much cheese should go on a cracker or piece of crusty bread.

Testing the Envelope

September 3, 2011

International business provides one of the most interesting arenas to observe humankind at its best, and its worst. For thousands of years, traders have bought and sold over-priced goods and rendered shoddy services in the great market towns and port cities of the world. Vast numbers of stinky people would congregate and speak dozens, if not hundreds, of impenetrable languages while navigating myriad cultural differences with the dual purposes of making money and improving one’s situation.

Often, however, there would be someone else who wanted to make money and improve their situation, and that person could get in your way. This conflict, my friends, is called competition. Trust me when I say that business competition today looks the same on a stock exchange floor as it did when gladiators fought back in Rome’s Colloseum, only today they wear ties.

Fighting implies a winner and a loser, and when the need to win is high, some contestants cheat.

Market towns and ports also provided unique circumstances for learning, whether about new products and services to sell, or finding cool new ways to sell old products and services. Traders who imitated successful business practitioners and acquired new knowledge stayed ahead of the pack, giving themselves new opportunities to succeed. Success and wealth meant that they could buy Ferraris and then die while still young and beautiful. And if they couldn’t succeed honestly, they could learn new ways to cheat.

So just like children imitate their parents, businesses can imitate, or even try to copy, other businesses which they admire. And even at a more macro level, some countries may try to imitate other countries. India, it turns out, wants to be more like China; the land of Buddha wants to imitate the land of the dragon.

According to a recent article, in which many politicians and business owners in India were interviewed, Indians are envious of much of what China has accomplished in recent years: high if not stellar growth rates; herculean infrastructure improvement projects such as dams, bridges, railroads and airports; and – a shocker – its system of government. It is a “widely held view” that China is outperforming India because it is more “disciplined.” Indians feel that this is due to the fact that China’s Communist Party runs things unilaterally, while India has one of those typically sloppy, multiparty democracies that appears to be about as manageable as a herd of cats.

But do they really want to be like China? It is a “widely held view” that Dragonland is a hotbed of bribery and corruption. In 2006, Wal-Mart conducted a series of audits of companies in China making many of the zillions of low-cost items the world’s largest retailer sells. The auditors found that only a very tiny minority of Chinese businesses manufacturing products for Wal-Mart adhered to contractual agreements such as paying the legal minimum wage, paying for overtime work, not employing underage workers, and providing the equipment, training and working environment considered proper and safe when handling toxic or otherwise dangerous materials.

What popped my eyes out was that there are consulting firms in China that will help your company to cheat, by such means as: generating bogus employee time-sheets; coaching you on what to say to auditors and how to answer questions they are likely to ask; and providing helpful tips such as throwing blankets over the heads of the cheeky employees, the ones who are likely to tell auditors the inconvenient truth, and hustling them out of the factory when the audit teams arrive.  Unbelievable.

This year China has been mired in food industry scandals, as described on these pages, with such things as infant milk powder tainted with melamine. In your kitchen are probably spatulas and other items made of melamine, but do you wish to ingest them? Evidently, by judiciously adding amounts of finely ground melamine to the infant milk formula, testing instruments are fooled into thinking that the levels of nutrients are higher than they really are. So Chinese dairy managers figured they could cheat by adding ground up spatulas and feed the results to babies, and that would be OK, as long as they made lots more money.

The Three Gorges Dam, a huge, late-1990’s project of which the Chinese are really proud, already shows signs of cracks and leaking, and scientists are worried that no number of little Dutch boys will be able to fix it. During an inspection of dykes that suffered more than expected damage after floods along the Yangtze River in 1998, then premier Zhu Rongji discovered that some had melted away “like bean curd” due to corrupt and shoddy compliance with best engineering practices. Cutting corners and bribing inspectors, no matter if public safety is involved, is the Chinese way.

The recent bullet train catastrophe has caught the world’s attention, and two of the key railway ministers reportedly pocketed billions of dollars. The railway minister and the boss of the high-speed train system, is Liu Zhijun. He was fired back in February, and it is estimated that he received approximately $320 million in bribes. His second in command, Zhang Shuguang, deputy general engineer of the railway ministry and director of its transportation department, was found back in March to have been the recipient of many fat envelopes too. Reportedly he has $2.8 billion squirreled away in Swiss and foreign bank accounts, this on a purported $1220/month salary.

Officials from the Chinese telecomm industry have just joined the party. Zhang Chunjiang, at one time the vice chairman (ha ha, “vice” chairman) of China Mobile, the largest mobile phone service provider in the world (if measured by number of subscribers), has been a bad boy. In July, he was charged with accepting somewhere in the vicinity of $1.15 million in bribes. (He should have worked for the railroads.) He was sentenced to death, which was reduced for good behavior, which in China means that he has to share his ill-gotten gains with the Central Committee.

Last week, Li Hua, the former chairman and general manager of the Sichuan branch of China Mobile, was convicted of accepting more than $2.5 million in bribes. Like Zhang, Li was sentenced to death, but will also receive a commuted sentence — I understand that the poor bastard will be forced to watch videos of Jo Calderone for the rest of his days.

As everybody knows, India has been very successful at out-sourcing, which has been made possible by a well-educated workforce. These highly trained Indians  are paid less than their American counterparts, which helps to keep costs down. One area in which they excel is the medical industry. For example, Indian doctors, many of whom trained in the US, analyze x-rays which have been sent by American doctors. At the end of an American’s workday, a radiologist can send an x-ray over the Internet to a doctor in India. This doctor, due to time differences, then receives the x-ray and examines it while the American sleeps. Then when he or she is done, the doctor in India, at lower cost than is possible in the States, sends the report back to the US doctor, who sees the results first thing the next morning.

Similarly, workers in the Indian software industry can receive umpteen lines of code from an American software engineer, assess the work, provide revisions and corrections as necessary, and then send it back for use in the US. Again, costs for such work in India are lower than in the US.

Call centers, as many Americans know, have been in the forefront of Indian out-sourcing. Many of us are familiar with the movie (2006) and TV show (2010) of the same name, “Outsourced.” We are also aware that when we call a large company to order something, or if we try to get some tech support, instead of speaking to an American operator, we are likely to get connected to someone in India. This is pretty easy to tell, since the person in the monster cubicle field, perhaps in Mumbai, has that unmistakable accent, as in “Thankyouverymuchplease.”

By bribing people from Beijing to Bangalore – which was horrible – this intrepid reporter has discovered that India and China are about to sign an unusual agreement. We know that bribes flow through China like blood through an Olympic gymnast. But lately, there is growing fear of getting caught and then severely punished.

(The Chinese don’t worry about bribery and corruption as being morally wrong; almost like little children they are just frightened that they might get caught and spanked.)

While China knows that India has a competitive advantage in out-sourcing, and can provide many services at prices far below those charged in other countries, India wants to be more like China and learn more about Chinese business practices.

Here’s what I found: Chinese companies have signed contracts with Indian out-sourcing firms to perform off-shore bribery services.

These pioneering Chinese firms hope to save money and still enjoy the many benefits of offering and accepting bribes, while reducing the risk of being caught; Indian businesspeople will get their wish and learn how to be more like the Chinese.

Using nude photos of celebrities downloaded from the Internet — no, sorry, there isn’t a link — I bribed officials on both sides of the arrangement, and uncovered the new schedule of bribe transaction fees that will be used. It looks like India will be able to dominate this new sector by providing high-quality, out-sourced bribery services at cut-rate prices.

Formerly, to gain approval of a contract to obtain, say 1,000 tons of yttrium, it would cost the foreign firm $500,000 in bribes to a Chinese official or manager.  But by out-sourcing to India, and taking advantage of exchange rate fluctuations, a firm might spend only $350,000 and still enjoy the same relative benefit (“bribe power equivalency” or BPE).  In the old days, in order to bribe railway or construction inspectors in China for a large-scale project, a firm would have to spend around $1.25 million to pass a routine inspection.  But as an out-sourced bribery, India can perform the same service for only $700,000.

In order to gain expertise in this “theatre of dissimulation” the less knowledgeable Indian firms have been gathering works on the subject and have been schooling themselves on the finer points of what the Chinese call “guanxi.” The Indian companies have also purchased a large quantity of an excellent publication by The Economist, a detailed report on global bribery. These companies feel that this primer on the protocols and etiquette of bribery will give them a leg up on this age-old way of doing business.

Bribery economists at the University of Massachusetts, where William M. Bulger used to be president, estimate that India could become the world’s leader in out-sourced bribery within 5 years.

To run the new Indian bribery call center in Mumbai, rumors have spread that Li Hua, the former telecomm executive has been hired. Evidently, those wishing to offer or accept a bribe will be given a discount on processing fees, if they call using their China Mobile account.

There is no word on whether spanking will ever be out-sourced.