Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bribery Allegations Against MPs

An opposition Member of Parliament has alleged that he and his wife (also an MP) were made generous offers by ruling party luminaries to sit out a crucial parliamentary vote. He alleges he has tapes of these conversations.

Obviously, an uproar has broken out with demands that the tapes be made public. They will be, the MP says, after they've been translated into English from Punjabi!

Where is this scandal going on? Click to find out!! We've previously written on similar matters here.

Deep Throat's Identity Revealed

Via Drudge and Vanity Fair, Ex-FBI official says he's 'Deep Throat'; Magazine quotes him as saying he was 'doing his duty'.

This man almost single-handedly brought down the most powerful man in the world. Fascinating stuff.

On Temperance In Language

Here is Omar Khayyam on religious fanatics (see page 6):

And do you think that unto such as you;
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
God gave the secret-and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it? Believe that, too.


We imagine Nanopolitan & Dilip (see his comments on Nanopolitan's post) take strong offense to Mr. Khayyam's language! Also, that they object strongly to our characterizing Shiv Sena as neanderthals and loonies!! And, Nida Fazli's poetic assault on Advani ji must really numb their sensitive souls!!!

Or, is their ire only restricted for when offensive liberal ideas are confronted by folks like us, impossible to be dismissed as bigots or criminals?

HIV in India

Via BBC, India's first HIV marriage bureau is thriving. Cool!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Democracy in Asia

Francis Fukuyama (author of The End of History and the Last Man) credits Ronald Reagan (?!) for the now-blooming democracy in Asia:

This democratic revolution was helped along by a critical shift in American policy that occurred during the Reagan years, when the U.S. moved away from a "realist" policy of support for friendly dictators towards encouragement of democratic transition. This began in 1986, when Benigno Aquino's assassination three years earlier provoked the "people power" revolution that eventually brought Corazon Aquino to power as a democratically elected president of the Philippines. Paul Wolfowitz (who will soon become president of the World Bank and was at that time assistant secretary of state for East Asia), together with his boss George Shultz, played a key role in gently persuading President Reagan to give up on the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and take the risks of a plunge into democracy.

The following year, President Reagan quietly but firmly urged General Roh Tae-woo to support the establishment of democratic institutions when popular protests against military dictatorship in South Korea spread. This contrasts sharply with U.S. behavior seven years earlier, when Washington stood aside as General Chun Doo-hwan staged a bloody crackdown on demonstrators in Kwangju. The U.S. looked on favorably as well when Taiwan's ruler, Chiang Ching-kuo, prepared his country for a political opening in 1988 and was succeeded by the democratically elected Lee Teng-hui.


Everywhere but in Zia's Pakistan, eh?!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

War, Interrupted

To our friends puzzled by our bellicosity on Pakistan: we neither wish for war, nor -- conversely & crucially -- understand wishful thinking about war.

With Pakistan, we may presently have a war, interrupted -- but it's war all the same, an unprovoked war imposed on us by an unrepentant enemy. Many Indians -- good folks all -- wishfully interpret this present interruption as the war's end, this mere comma as a full stop. Instinctively, they now seek a win-win aftermath to war.

Yes, war is a terrible thing, however its unquenched embers are even worse; this still-smoldering coal is hardly good foundation even for castles in the air.

Let's be crystal clear about one thing: there may be win-win outcomes in love, but never in war. Here, either one prevails or one goes down.

By prevailing, we don't mean destroying cities and traumatizing the enemy's people (in Pakistan's case, its people are as much a victim of their rulers' dark hearts as Indians are); we mean defeating the enemy in his mind: savaging his assumptions, debasing his dreams, charring his resolve, and eliminating his war-waging capacity.

Only then, from this rubble of the enemy's neutered psyche, we can finally begin imagining a win-win future.

Have we learnt nothing from the ugly wars of the century just passed? After the first great European war, Versailles naively left intact defeated Germany's intent and capacity for war. A beaten, but unbroken, Germany then burned Europe to ground in less than 25 years. After the second great European war, Germany was psychologically crushed. Its post-war prosperity was then built on the foundation of Third Reich's rubble.

In 1991, Saddam Hussein was repulsed from Kuwait, but his megalomania and his war-machine wasn't smashed. He then portrayed himself as an Arab victim of American hegemony, and viciously crushed his Shia subjects. In 2003, after his globally-beamed dental exam, that game was finally over.

Let's return to Pakistan. India did not seek partition; it was imposed on us. India did not seek the subsequent wars; every one of them were imposed on us.

The Pakistani assumptions underlying this dark history, as we know well, are quite racist in nature. Most Pakistani kids are brought up on the tripe that Indians are lesser than them, a weak -- and immoral -- people, unfairly ruling a large geography that should be fragmented.

Pakistan dreams of being an equal to India in geo-political clout; some there even dream of hoisting their flag on Delhi's Red Fort.

In a supposedly conciliatory speech after December 13th, 2001, Pervez Musharraf spoke about Kashmir running in his blood. He was alluding there to his nation's -- his army's, his people's -- jihadist resolve to, one day, pry away the Himalayan territory from an inherently "weak" India. He's also repeatedly articulated his reasons for Pakistan's so-called "U-Turns" on terrorism and war: these are tactical adjustments given 9/11. Why should we assume this as a permanent change of heart?

As for Pakistan's war-making capacity, it has an economy sufficiently large to support, if necessary, a conventional war that can damage India greatly. It also has the bomb.

So, when our bellicose enemy stands proud with his racist assumptions, his covetous dreams, his jihadist resolve, and his war-machinery intact, how is it that thoughtful Indians think the war is over? Are we really sure we want to open up our greatest asset -- the ambition and enterprise of our free and heterogeneous people -- to an enemy whose uncreating and bigoted hand will burn it all down?

We pose these questions to our friends, and finally this: how can trading trinkets with evil possibly vanquish the darkness in its heart?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Paris Hilton: A Sign Of Human Progress!!!

This is Wall Street Journal editor Tunku Varadarajan's, very astute, perspective.

In backward cultures, women are overprotected and invisible; so men lose all resistance to images--and all self-restraint. In downtown Kandahar, for example, a display of female ankle is proof of flooziness most damnable.

In the West, by important contrast, men modulate their behavior when faced with seductive images. They have to. Women judge them by their ability to do so. And they are trained, at an early age, to take responsibility for their own lust.

Comprehend that with your Neanderthal brain, dear Shiv Sena!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday Musings

Over at India Uncut, Amit asks if one can make a phone call with a bar of soap? Don't know about that, but it seems like a bar of soap can trigger gender-bending!! (hat tip: Drudge Report)

While soap can weaken masculinity, Viagra can apparently blind its users!!! (via MSNBC)

Tough day to be a man!!!

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

We were flipping channels last night and settled on "The West Wing". The episode was named after the classic logical fallacy Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc [after, therefore because of it].

Earlier in the day, (via Amit) we'd read Jerry Rao's Indian Express column on English where he praises Macaulay, whose gift of English he credits for India's later genius. The self-styled Macaulay-putra (!) writes:

I, for one, am grateful to Macaulay. Without his gift to us, so many of us would be lesser individuals, not just different individuals. I use the word “lesser” quite deliberately. English is not just a medium or a means to an end; it is part of our very consciousness. The interesting thing is even while writing on completely Indian subjects, this consciousness has been a powerful force. Just consider the individuals and their writings: Vivekananda on Vedanta, Coomaraswamy on Indian Art, Aurobindo Ghose on Vedic Mysticism, Radhakrishnan on the Hindu View of Life, Krishnan on Indian Wildlife, Srinivas on Caste, Zakaria on Indian Muslims, Sircar on Indian History, Guha on Indian Cricket, Nandy on Indian Science, Kakkar on Indian Sexuality, Khushwant Singh on Indian Gossip. The list is endless.

We think quite highly of Jerry Rao, but on this he's missed the mark. It's true that English is a powerful force that's shaped modern Indian identity and ideas, but this is solely because history placed English in our context and resourceful Indians ran with it. If we'd not been touched by English, as was the case before our tumult with The British East India Company, we'd still be resourceful and Vivekanada would likely still write on Vedanta, Coomaraswamy on Indian Art, Aurobindo Ghose on Vedic Mysticism, Radhakrishnan on the Hindu View of Life, Krishnan on Indian Wildlife, Srinivas on Caste, Zakaria on Indian Muslims, Sircar on Indian History, Guha on Indian Cricket, Nandy on Indian Science, Kakkar on Indian Sexuality, Khushwant Singh on Indian Gossip. Their respective genius was surely not a consequence of English, rather it poured itself powerfully into English as a convenient expression-vessel.

Jerry Rao's argument is a "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" fallacy. It also goes against the brilliant Indic view that there are many rivers flowing to the ocean, each equally valid for our spiritual or material journeys. Elite India has traveled over English in search of great power status, but there are other rivers too we might have taken if English weren't available.

We do agree with him that India needs to get over its colonial hangover and accept history for what it is, then move on. But, lets please not swing excessively to the other side.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Great Wall of India

Via Pakistani daily The Nation, here's an eye-popping assertion by columnist M.A. Niazi:

It may be unenlightened and immoderate to mention this, but Kashmir is an emotional issue not just for Pakistanis, but other Muslims around the world. The much maligned extremists, whether militant jihadis like Al-Qaeda, or political militants like the Ikhwanul Muslimeen or the Hizbut Tahrir, are now the only foreign friends Pakistan has on the Kashmir issue. Their hostility to India is not based on some separate conflict with India, but exactly on the same basis as Pakistan's: Kashmir. These groups have done more than Pakistani diplomatic missions to keep alive the Kashmir issue on the Arab street, even as their governments curry favour with India.

Wow!! And this is a country India thinks it can do business with? Instead, maybe, we need a "great wall of India" on the frontier to keep out evil influences from this benighted nation!

Colonialism?

The nauseatingly liberal editorial page of The Hindu asks India to firm up its support to Palestine.

Among other reasons, it suggests that this be done because the Indian people know colonialism for the evil it is.

Yes, they do, BUT the matter of Palestine is hardly about colonialism. Regrettably, brought up on propaganda, too many Indians see it in precisely these invalid terms.

This Indian understanding defies the weight of history. India was member of UN's special commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) which endorsed the creation of Israel. It was Palestinians that rejected the compromise that was then on offer to them. Subsequently, on multiple occasions, Israel was attacked by Arab nations allied with Palestine. The so-called occupation of the West Bank & Gaza is a consequence of repeated Arab defeats in wars Israel did not provoke. These territories were taken not from Palestinians, but from Jordan and Egypt respectively. If Israel could be called a colonizer now, then we wonder if The Hindu would call Jordan and Egypt likewise for having ruled these territories before 1967. Our suspicion is that it won't.

Is the occupation perfect? Hardly so. But lets at least understand why it exists, before viciously jumping on Israel.

Notwithstanding the history of it being constantly attacked, Israel offered a deal at Taba which -- for all intents and purposes -- would have created a viable Palestinian state. Yasser Arafat turned the deal down in a staggering display of poor political calculation. The consequence has been five more years of bloodshed, which only his passing has begun to reverse.

Israel has repeatedly expressed interest in a deal that would create Palestine and would ensure security for Israel. This is completely reasonable and if we don't have a sovereign Palestine in existence at the moment, it's because Palestinians haven't got their house in order. Hopefully, Mr. Abbas can overcome internal challenges within Fatah and from Hamas to create the necessary conditions for peace to be secured.

One final point. Many are upset that the Taba deal offered slightly less than 100% of the West Bank & Gaza to Palestine. True. But that's what happens when a nation loses a war. Palestine has comprehensively lost it's (very dirty) war with Israel, and it needs to come to terms with this reality. That it'll still get a viable state, likely with a toehold in Jerusalem, speaks well of the victors -- for the losers to quibble with this is precious.

So, let India support Palestine strongly, but lets cut out the simultaneous barbs at Israel -- a democracy, a friend, and a strategic ally.

HIV in India

We've written previously about HIV in India . Now we read, on BBC, a curious headline: Clinton lauds India Aids campaign.

India has gone from being the world's number one worry to being the world's number one marvel, Mr. Clinton said in the Indian capital Delhi.

Why such applause? Because, per newly published data, initial estimates showed only 28,000 people became infected in 2004, compared to 520,000 in 2003. If true, this would indeed be a staggering development.

Forgive us for injecting cynicism here, but Indians would be wise to resist premature self-congratulation based on this curious data. Indeed, the new Aids figures were released by India's National Aids Control organization (Naco). But Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss said there would be an independent assessment of the estimates before a final figure could be released.

Hmmm.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On Death

With so much news of death, Mike Nichol's extraordinary 2001 film Wit comes to mind, where the protagonist (a stunning Emma Thompson) draws strength from (a Gita-esque) John Donne:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

King Fahd

Per Stratfor:

Information received from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh May 25 indicates that troop movements around Riyadh have increased "substantially" over the past 48 hours, and private flights going into Khalid International Airport have also increased. Additionally, Stratfor has noticed that the key players of the Saudi royal family, including Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, Defense Minister Prince Sultan and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal are all currently in the kingdom. A medical source close to a Saudi prince has also indicated that one of the princes in the Saudi royal family has been prohibited from leaving the palace. This could indicate that Saudi King Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz al Saud may be rapidly approaching his death.

Ismail Merchant Is No More

Death is stalking India's cultural icons today -- first, Sunil Dutt, and now Ismail Merchant.

Mr. Merchant turned Faiz into song for his directorial debut "In Custody". His passing will bring sadness to, paraphrasing Faiz, haakim-e-shehar bhi, majmaa-e-aam bhi.

What a terrible day this has turned out to be.

Sudoku

Via The Economist, here's a new game -- Sudoku -- that could, eventually, threaten even the dominance of crossword puzzles.

Sudoku—the Japanese word combines “number” and “single”—seems perfectly suited to modern times, a puzzle for an era when people are more numerate than literate. And like globalism itself, sudoku transcends borders by requiring no translation.

Cool.

IIT Update

Recently, we had lamented the proposed sissification Of IITs.

Last night, we had a chance to share our disquiet with the Director of one of the IITs. He surprised us by agreeing with us completely, adding that as long as there are hundreds of thousands competing for the few thousand seats at IIT, making the JEE simpler will do very little to reduce applicant stress.

Amen.

Sunil Dutt

We join India Uncut in mourning the death of Sunil Dutt, veteran actor and member of parliament.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Jewel In The Cobra's Mouth

McGill University's professor Eric Ormsby reviews The Clay Sanskrit Library, a compilation of masterpieces in Sanskrit poetry, drama and prose in a dual-language format. Great stuff.

For example, here's Bhartrihari translated:

Armlets do not embellish a man,
Nor necklaces bright as the moon,
Nor a bath, nor ointment, nor flowers,
Nor well-adorned hair.
Only perfectly cultivated speech
Thoroughly adorns a man.
All adornments fade away always.
Adornment of speech is the real adornment.

Why don't Indians author such translations of Sanskrit classics? Or perhaps they do -- but are not as well publicized. Any thoughts?

The Hague vs. Camp Cropper

First, some context. We consider ourselves neo-conservative, strongly support America's war on terror (including Iraq), and hail President Bush's foreign policy revolution. Also, we have little sympathy for terrorists and their so-called "root causes".

So, when we find ourselves baffled by certain aspects of the war, we wish neither to diminish the war's purpose, nor to malign its prosecution. However, if even people like us -- as hawkish as we are -- are baffled on these aspects, no wonder many worldwide simply do not understand what the US is doing. This is too bad.

For example, we're baffled about why America allies with the barbaric tyranny of Uzbekistan.

We're also baffled about the staggering difference in how the alleged war criminals from Serbia are treated at The Hague (quite well) versus how the alleged war criminals are treated in Camp Cropper in Iraq (horribly). What explains this?

How is it even possible for degrading photographs of Saddam Hussein to escape the iron-clad security of the infinitely competent US military? Why haven't we seen similar photos of Slobodan Milosevic? Why are there two standards of war-criminal prosecution?

Finally, on Charlie Rose yesterday, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff (whose story about Quran being desecrated at Guantanamo apparently set off Imran Khan provoked riots in Pakistan) said mea culpa on how his story came about, but did not really back off its contents. Now, we agree with Varnam that the rioting in Pakistan is precious coming from folks who likely wouldn't know what respecting other faiths implies, but this isn't an issue about how the pathologically violent react; rather, this is about how we -- the good guys in this war -- feel when we finally realize that there might yet be a small possibility that this awful story is true. We aren't Muslim but we're sick to our guts on this realization. We're baffled about how this became a story about Newsweek's journalism and the reaction of rabid Pakistani fundamentalists rather than the core issue at hand.

We remain as steadfast as ever in our support for the war and the brave soldiers who risk their lives each day to secure global freedom. But we're baffled about some things we see and we're not sure it's reasonable to brush these frustrations under the carpet.

Monday, May 23, 2005

One Year of Manmohan Singh

Via Christian Science Monitor, Sluggish start for India's leader.

We hope Dr. Singh will now defy his leftist coalition partners on radical economic reform. What's the worst that can happen? They'll pull his government down, but that would only place the debate on these reforms at the center of our politics.

This is a debate worth having. Why are reformers tip-toeing around big ideas as though they are committing a crime? Let's give India's people some credit and, if necessary, ask them what they think of reforms. We bet that, if directly asked, they will surprise the political left by standing with a bolder Dr. Singh.

The Anti-Secular Reservations At AMU

The proposed 50% reservations for Muslims at Aligarh Muslim University are a profound mistake by India's so-called "secular" polity with which we are increasingly dissapointed.

In America's debate over affirmative action, someone once called similar quotas for American minorities soft bigotry of lowered expectations. We think the same applies to the cynical ghettoization of minorities in India -- in the name of their "advancement".

We hope that far-sighted Indian Muslims will join their truly-secular compatriots in condemning this terrible policy.

On Punditry

We'd read this The New Criterion essay by Anthony Daniels on a shuttle to DC a few weeks back, then completely forgot where we'd read it. Our newly rested mind appears to have regained its memory, so here it is. Do read it, it's good stuff.

Choice excerpts follow:

One of the temptations of world fame (I suppose), especially when it is gained early in life, must be to treat one’s own utterances with undue reverence. Their provenance becomes the guarantee not only of their truth but also of their profundity, and even the most casual meanderings or off-scourings of the mind, once expressed in public, are invested with ineffable preciousness.

I tried again in Calcutta to cure myself of my prejudice against world-famous panjandrums. This time it was G√ľnter Grass, another Nobel Prize winner, though for literature rather than peace. He was in a panel discussion on “The Segregation of Cultures in the Contemporary World: Clash, Convergence or Co-operation?” For some reason, the very subject matter conjured up images of hot-air balloons in my mind, of which I was not able entirely to disembarrass myself.

The audience was composed of Calcutta’s concerned intellectuals: concerned, that is, with where they were to have dinner afterwards. Some of them had come with the clear intention of asking a question in public, which is to say, of making a speech.

Among the other panelists was Amitav Ghosh, billed as “the most important Indian author in English,” and Najam Sethi, a Pakistani journalist from Lahore. Ghosh spoke of an Anglophone conspiracy to dominate the world, physically, economically, and culturally, dating back at least three centuries: I half-expected him to refer to the Protocols of the Elders of Oxford. He saw the European Union—the apparatchiks’ new paradise—as the hope of the world, the one possible counterweight to the hegemony of the United States. Needless to say, as a holder of such views he lives part of his time in the United States, where there is a strong market for them, at least on university campuses, which is what counts for writers.

Grass ambled, bear-like, onto the stage, which had been arranged like the set of a comfortable living room in a well-made play, complete with sofas and bookshelves. His manner was attractively fragile, ordinary and modest, and I warm to a man who dyes his hair at the age of seventy-eight. He still cares what figure he cuts in the world, which is an all-too-human failing.

He spoke of the dangers of globalization and “economic flattening,” and of the common people as the victims of this process. He spoke of the need to resist the unique power in the world—the United States.

Grass has a special relationship with Calcutta. This was his fourth visit and he lived there for a few months in 1987 and 1988, writing a book (containing many of his pen and ink sketches) about his experiences, published in English as Show Your Tongue. The various predictions he made in that book have done nothing whatever to reduce the certainty of his current opinions and prognoses. This is the hallmark of the true panjandrum.

He tells us that all the statistics concerning India in general and Calcutta in particular point to a catastrophe or even an apocalypse (one senses that he derives an illicit pleasure from this, as highly moral and respectable masochists derive pleasure from being whipped or beaten by a dominatrix). According to Grass, the city could only get poorer and poorer and poorer until—presumably—everyone starved to death.

I have been visiting Calcutta for nearly thirty years. The reverse is actually the truth.

Grass predicted that the old and gracious buildings of Calcutta would disappear and yield to hovels as the city grew ever poorer, ever more desperate. (He also seemed to think this was a good thing, because hovels were authentic. “Once back in Germany,” he wrote, “[I] measure everything, myself included, by Calcutta.”)

Well, he was right about the disappearance of the gracious buildings, but quite wrong about the reasons for it. Increasing wealth, not poverty, now threatens to destroy the city’s architectural heritage, a process that was started by demagogic pseudo-egalitarian regulation.

The duty of intellectuals is to spell out proper distinctions as clearly and honestly as possible. The condition of being a pundit stands in the way of this, for it lends authority to a person rather than to evidence and argument.

Battling the Ocean

Midway through the journey of our life, I found myself within a dark wood, for the right way had been lost. Dante Alighieri

If you stare long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss stares also into you. Friedrich Nietzsche

We were silent the past week while on vacation; on return, we've been welcomed by amusing vitriol. More on the latter later.

But first, on Saturday, we found ourselves in sunny San Francisco, freshly washed by unseasonable rain -- where on a beach by the Golden Gate, we sat on water-softened rocks debating environmental politics with a close friend, a San Francisco liberal with keen intellect, when after a particularly biting expression of our contempt for tree-hugging (!), the "Pacific" seemingly could take it no more. A freak & vicious ocean swell doused us both head-to-toe, and with that our illiberal argument drowned in the raging saline-spit.

Our friend mirthfully argued that the ocean spitting at us was our just deserts for confronting her environmentalism, thus nature itself, forcefully. At that moment of our drenching, we could be forgiven for thinking this might just have been the case!

On Sunday, we re-connected to the world, and (courtesy our blogger friends) found this vitriol (partly) directed at us. What provoked this was our recently expressed frustration with Indian liberalism (see here and here).

As we see it, our dispute is with liberal ideas that have, paraphrasing Dante, led India into a dark wood, for the right way has been lost; our dispute is (by & large) not with individual liberals (some of whom we've called white-hats and to whom we've been respectful at a personal level.) Regrettably, some liberals still find it necessary to spew personal vitriol at us, instead of debating the merits of our arguments.

Why is this? Well, this is likely because liberals have had the run of our land much too long that they see any anti-dogma ideas as a profound threat. Also, most (not all) Indians have inherited muddled liberal ideas from their parents and/or absorbed them from our collective intellectual ether (such as it is) without much critical analysis.

Into this intellectual abyss then, if an argument is hurled that confronts not cowtows, the abysmal response is personal, seeking not to persuade, but to stare down and destroy the challenger offering new, and better, ideas.

It's like a lone man hurling ideological stones at the ocean, and the vast ocean spitting back all its venom at him.

As we retreated to our convertible from the water-softened rocks, the two of us (one liberal, other not!) walked shoes-in-hand over burning sand, confident in the knowledge that the California sun would soon burn away the ocean's spit, leaving intact the ideas that provoked the rage in the first place. The vast ocean was still there, but now smaller for its rage. As for us, with warm breeze drying out our skin as we drove over the Golden Gate towards hiking trails in brighter woods, we felt we'd battled the spiteful ocean and had come out ahead, if only for one day.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Tiananmen Square, Redux?

It's coming from a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square

Leonard Cohen's epic song about democracy rings in our ears as we read reports of the hundreds being mowed down by Uzbek troops in Andijan.

Uzbekistan, lest we forget, is a place where people are boiled to death by the government. It is also an "ally" in the civilized world's war on terror.

Because we admire America too much and strongly support the purpose and the prosecution of its war on terror (including the war in Iraq), our views here will likely surprise some readers.

We abhor regimes like Islam Karimov's in Uzbekistan. His murdering hundreds of his own people is no more acceptable than similar 1989 outrage by Chinese tyrants. As to why he is an ally -- not a pariah -- and why America "renders" terrorism suspects so his cruel regime could interrogate them (via torture) defies comprehension. [On this, our view is that torture is evil, but in extreme cases necessary (e.g., to get information about imminent mass-casualty attacks) -- in such cases, however, a moral nation has the spine to handle the evil itself, rather than pretend to be squeaky-clean, then hypocritically "rendering" men to tyrannies who'll boil them to death. See also, Reuel Marc Gerecht opposing rendition. But, we digress.]

US is urging restraint on the Uzbek government and the protesters, instead of supporting a tyranny's overthrow -- as in Ukraine & Georgia. The tyrant, Islam Karimov, is deemed "valuable" since he represents a "secular" government suppressing "Islamist" currents in his country. That may be, but are we now to sanction murder of civilians just so that presumed "Islamists" don't take power? Isn't this the same ruse that the despicable General Musharraf has used to smother democracy in Pakistan?

Frankly, this situation is so hypocritical that even neo-conservatives like this blogger, who understand the civillizational threat from Islamist terror, are repulsed.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Blog on Vacation

This blogger is off on a golf & hiking vacation out West, thus won't be blogging much (if at all) for a week or so. Hope nothing exciting happens while we're away (except on our greens & trails)!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

iPOD is Dead

Headline: Gates Says IPod Success Won't Last

Our blogpost from a month ago: iPOD Has Finally Jumped The Shark

Prescience?!

An Isolationist Re-interpretation of WWII

Isolationist-conservative Pat Buchanan (with past Nixon and Reagan administration affiliations) who, in 1992, made a stunning call to arms over a self-perceived "culture war" in America, has penned a controversial column questioning the world's understanding of WWII.

Because the war was fought to defend Eastern Europe and because Eastern Europe, subsequent to the outrage at Yalta, fell behind the odious iron-curtain, Mr. Buchanan feels the war was fought in vain.

He fails to mention the moral imperative of fighting the terrorists responsible for the holocaust. He also leaves out the fact that the West continued resisting totalitarianism for half a century after WWII (Mr. Buchanan himself being a cold warrior); consequently, the immoral Russian Revolution was turned back and the liberation of Eastern Europe was finally achieved.

Not surprisingly, his column has provoked strong controversy.

This is an important discussion for Indians to follow since there is a deep isolationist tendency among many Indians as well. Our advocates of military reticence (in the name of peace & prosperity, they say) do not see strategic value in moral imperatives. To them, India should mind its own business and befriend its neighborhood dictators, even if the latter are leading their nations (thus our neighborhood) over a socio-political cliff.

They also fear that India's muscling our neighbors into democratic modernity, notwithstanding the moral validity of such action, might provoke all sorts of terrible outcomes, some (e.g., China's ire) even worse than current nightmares. This is basically Pat Buchanan's argument over why the West should've kept out of WWII.

We reject such thinking completely, believing instead that it is India's moral duty to persuade, failing which coerce, our neighbors into political modernity. It's possible this leads to short-term costs, but there is no denying the long-term gains that will accrue. Pat Buchanan is wrong about West's role in WWII; so are Indians who'd rather not set unilateral standards for modern political conduct in our neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

UN: Out Of Our 'Hood!

Via New York Daily News, UN is planning to relocate (alas temporarily) to, gasp, Brooklyn while it renovates its monstrous existing building! An earlier harebrained scheme to build a temporary tower over a neighborhood children's playground has, mercifully, been stalled by New York politicians.

As we noted here, this blogger is a UN neighbor, and given our contempt for the UN, lives to see the day the UN moves out permanently so that we New Yorkers can build our fancy new apartments in the prime location the UN currently sullies.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Cool News From Pakistan

Via BBC comes this cool story about women cadets in Pakistani Airforce.

From a nation where fanatics assault women for running in marathons, this is truly an impressive advance. Cadet Saba Khan says:

I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, and eventually with Allah's wish and the full support of my parents, I made it this far.

Cadet Saman Ahmed says:

We don't expect compassion, we don't get compassion, and we don't want compassion.

They have the right attitude and hopefully will go far. We wish them the very best in their careers.

One caveat though. If they ever find themselves in dogfights against their Indian counterparts, we'd be forced to root for their jets to be shot down and destroyed -- without mercy. Until then, they have our maximum support for success.

Remedial Physics Lesson Needed

Via Times of India, the following is the lead paragraph in a story about cheap personal computers:

Marking a great leap in the area of computer technology, Indian scientists have come up with new mobile desktop computers which are much cheaper than the currently available products and run on batteries, thus doing away with the need for electricity.

Come again? Perhaps they should study remedial physics, or this primer: How does a battery produce electricity?!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Jerusalem

We caught Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott's latest war-epic, this weekend. A story of the crusades, New York Times describes it as An Epic Bloodletting Empowered by Faith.

It's also a spring-release which implies the movie has missed its mark.

Nevertheless, one is left to ponder the power of Jerusalem that inspires such intense covetousness among the competing armies of monotheism.

What is modern India's equivalent of Jerusalem? Is our own tryst with destiny in our colonial past, or are there still more to be had? What overarching objective will inspire our people out of their sloth and into our own promised land?

The Den Of Spies

Saturday, we discussed Nepal with a European friend with experience in Kathmandu. We put to him the question raised here: Should India take Nepal?

Why, he asked? Nepal is valuable to India as a buffer state, a junction where Asia's geo-political players swap their (frequently dangerous) wares. Why else do they all maintain outsized diplomatic posts in Kathmandu? Strategic location, pleasant weather, inexpensive real estate, easily "influenced" power-brokers, and a fatalistic populace combine to create the perfect buffer state. Nowhere else in Asia can one find this combination.

So, he argued, India's (and others') interests are served by Nepal as is. The objective must be to keep this espionage-Xanadu intact. From his recent visits to Maoist-controlled areas, he felt the Maoists had already taken Nepal; therefore, the right course is to cut a deal with them and Kathmandu's permanent bureaucracy. The King will be packed off, a toothless "democracy" will be restored, the fatalistic population will shrug its shoulders, and (a profitable) peace will return to Xanadu.

When queried as to why dealing with Maoists doesn't risk Cambodia in Nepal, he asserted that Nepal's (Hindu therefore fatalistic) people are not the same timber as the Khmer Rouge. There'll be violence but Nepal will not become a new killing field.

We disagree with him on his understanding of Hindu timber therefore the Cambodia risk, but are intrigued by his other point. If India were to take Nepal (which is what an invasion would imply), where will Asia re-convene its new den of spies? Singapore? Colombo? Bangkok?

Friday, May 06, 2005

India Dimming?

Via New York Times, Global dimming reverses; except in India.

In India, CAG blasts 'India Shining' campaign.

Coincidence?!

Pigs At The Trough

Amit alerts us to India's lamentable pandering of labor unions.

Labor unions have done much, over the decades, to advance worker rights. For this, they've secured an honorable place in history. Regrettably, they've now lapsed into a suicidal greed which discredits their noble antecedents.

It's not just in India where labor union greed is destroying value. In Europe, labor unions have created a structural low-growth, high unemployment economy. From America, read yesterday's headline: S&P Cuts GM, Ford Ratings to 'Junk' Status -- courtesy their unions.

In the past few years, multiple US airlines have gone bankrupt. Again, courtesy the unions.

Conceptually, collective bargaining is about capital and labor agreeing on the size of the value pie, then negotiating respective shares consistent with the size and market-driven prices for their contributions. This is the best way for equitably sharing an ever-increasing pie.

In practice, in some economic sectors (e.g., airlines, automobiles, public sector), unions have such a stranglehold that market-driven pricing goes out of the window. Consequently, the union gets carte-blanche, and the higher it grabs for itself, the lesser return the capital gets (in case of US automakers, this leads to lower stock prices and junk debt; in case of Indian public sector, this leads to a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to union members).

In the end, this is equivalent to racing one's car closer and closer to the cliff; sure, there is temporary thrill, but in the end, there's nothing but void.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Why Blogs Matter

This past Sunday, we had dinner with a leading Indian advocate for economic liberalism.

We brought up the recent blog-protest against Musharraf's visit. Why wasn't there even one similar protesting view expressed in our traditional media, we asked? Surely other Indians, besides the protesting bloggers, disagreed with India's outreach to the Pakistani dictator? If so, where were their voices?

We then suggested that traditional media, particularly on foreign policy issues, smothers all opinion that dissents from the Government view. Thus, our media is hardly a place for reasoned debate; rather, it's a means for the Government, and its proxies, to shape public opinion. Perhaps blogs could fill this intellectual void, we speculated.

Our guest disagreed. The commercial media caters to the market, he argued, and prints/broadcasts content that sells. His implication was that our kind of hawkishness likely has no market in today's India. As for blogs becoming a place for debate, well, they have so little readership that they don't really matter.

He's likely right. Then, should serious bloggers just give up? We think not.

We hate to quote from a movie, much less a movie we've recently dismissed as being terrible(!), but there's a nugget of good in all things. In The Interpreter's climactic scene, the vicious dictator reads, at gunpoint, the following from his autobiography (written when he was still an honorable man):

It's hard to hear among the gunfire...But even the softest whisper can be heard when it tells the truth.

We think this is a pretty important point. Blogs may not (yet) have the megaphone the traditional media has, but as long as they have integrity, their whisper will find receptive ears.

Good News From Afghanistan

Via Christian Science Monitor, Afghan girls kick down old barriers.

Not surprising from women with such indelibly determined eyes.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Indians Seeking Saudi Citizenship?

From Indian Express, Indians rush to get Saudi citizenship. This is a regime that kills innocent people and kills them viciously. Why these Indians want citizenship of this civillizational desert is beyond our comprehension?

Perhaps these myopics should read the following from Stratfor:

Rumors swept through Kuwait on Tuesday that King Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz al Saud had died. Fahd has not truly governed Saudi Arabia for several years because of his deteriorated physical condition -- Crown Prince Abdullah manages daily affairs -- and his health had been reported as declining for several weeks. The rumors were not properly denied by the people you would expect to deny them. Throughout the day, we were left with the impression that if death had not occurred, it was imminent.

The succession to the top is fairly clear. Abdullah, a half-brother to the king who also heads the National Guard, will become king upon Fahd's death. Prince Sultan, the head of the Ministry of Defense, is the King's full brother and will dominate the Sudairi clan of the Sauds. Abdullah and Sultan are personal and institutional rivals. Sultan is expected to be named crown prince after Fahd's death and Abdullah's elevation. The Sudairis must be concerned that Abdullah will weaken their power.

There is no question but that Abdullah will ascend to the throne, and Sultan is by far the most likely to become crown prince at that point. But likely is not certain: The al-Faisal branch of the royal family -- descended from King Faisal, who was assassinated in 1975 -- would like to make a comeback. The key to that is holding the position of crown prince. If the crown prince is not a Sudairi, the political balance of power in the royal family would shift dramatically. A fight for the position of crown prince, should it be intense, would be destabilizing as well.

The royal family has a vested interest in not permitting instability to break out, of course. The recent confrontation with jihadists in the kingdom, the tremendous instability in the region and the need to use high oil prices to stabilize and improve the kingdom's economy make it rational for the princes to work this out. And they might well succeed in doing that. But it should be noted that the heirs of King Fahd are themselves not young men. Most are in their 70s. That means that there is a massive generational shift coming soon, and that stability at that point likely will be much more difficult to maintain.

It must be remembered that Saudi Arabia remains the key oil supplier in the world and a key player in the Arab and Islamic world; therefore, the succession has global implications. It should also be noted that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington has just said that the United States does not, at the moment, have the resources to effectively prosecute a major war outside of Iraq, without a major buildup of forces.

Since a major buildup would require a great deal of time, what is being said is that the United States is in no position to intervene should the situation in Saudi Arabia blow apart. There is little risk of that at the moment, and Fahd's death, by itself, would not trigger instability. But down the road a bit, the Saudis will have to sort things out -- and when that happens, things will get dicey.

Instability in Saudi Arabia certainly would be of global significance, but the cop on the beat is tired.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Sissification Of IITs

First, IITs, IIMs to open doors to Pakistanis and now IIT-JEE to be made simpler. The end of days must be upon us.

Our jaw dropped at reading this:

According to sources, the first change may be to limit questions to the +2 syllabus. "The HRD ministry feels many of the IIT-JEE questions are based on topics that are not taught at the +2 stage, and are, in fact, of a far advanced standard. This forces candidates to start preparing at least three years in advance - from Class IX itself. They overload themselves and this leads to depression, which sometimes leads to suicides," IIT-Kharagpur director SK Dubey told TOI.

In the finals, candidates have to answer three papers - physics, chemistry and mathematics - through a gruelling six hours on a single day. The ministry feels it is too taxing and has asked the committee to work out a better "fatigue and rest cycle."

What in heaven's name is going on here? What are these guys smoking? If memory serves right, when we took the JEE (in the 80s), our IIT classmates had not only secured high ranks in the JEE, they were also merit rankers in the +2 exams. No sweat. And we didn't kill ourselves either (to be precise, most of us did not). BTW, we were anything but geeks. Isn't this the profile of students we want at IIT? (Or, should we now offer neck massages for IIT aspirants as they crawl out of the exam hall, de-energized from having just squared C and multiplied it with M?!)

Fatigue and rest cycles?! After only six hours of work that doesn't even involve physical effort? If only the millions of Indian farmers and laborers had such luxury. This is truly pathetic.

Please don't consider us callous. We sympathize with the struggling kids trying to make it to the big leagues. We applaud their effort and understand their stress. We think there are other ways to resolve this than emasculating the IITs. Lets open up more non-IIT engineering colleges, for example, as advocated here.

This proposed sissification of IITs is, alas, one more example of the general softening of India we've been lamenting here for some time.

General Aurora R.I.P.

1971 war hero Lt General J S Aurora dead

General Jagjit Singh Aurora led India to its single most significant post-independence victories in war.

That war of Bangladesh's liberation was unilateral, not supported by other great powers, without UN sanction, and -- in history's eyes -- entirely legitimate. India has lost the spirit of '71 somewhat in recent years; perhaps General Aurora' passing will remind us again of that year of our moral & political triumph.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Pogrom Poems

Keki Daruwala reviews Seeme Qasim's After Gujarat And Other Poems in this week's Outlook. Here, Ms. Qasim writes about her feelings over the Gujarat pogrom.

After Gujarat, I remember
the Saryu flowing
Near an ornate temple
the azaan
travels
into myself....


After Gujarat, I remember
frail Amma at her namaaz

We're reminded of a pretty cool Nida Fazli verse on the same subject we read somewhere, some time ago. Here it is (sorry, non-Urdu speakers):

Mujhe maloom hai tumharey naam sey mansoob hain tootey huey sooraj
Shikasta chand, kala aasmaan, curfew-zada rahein
Sulagtey khel ke maidan, roti cheekhti maae'n
Mujhe maaloom hai charo taraf jo ye tabahi hai
Hukumat mein siyasat ke tamashe ki gawahi hai
Tumhein Hindu ki chaahat hai na Muslim se adaavat hai
Tumhara dharm sadiyon se tijarat tha tijarat hai
Mujhe maloom hai lekin tumhe mujrim kahoon kaisey
Adaalat mein tumharey jurm ko sabit karoon kaisey
Tumhari jeib mein khanjar na haaton mein koi bum tha
Tumharey rath pe to Mariyada Purshottam ka parcham tha.

Don't Throw Stones If You're In A Glass House

In today's Dawn, Jawed Naqvi writes about Parables from an Indian Abu Ghraib.

Rather than throwing stones at India, he should've focused on Syed Saleem Shahzad's Detentions: A case against Pakistan in today's Asia Times.

Arjun He Ain't!

Check out the grimace on this Pakistani almost-archer's face (click over to picture 7 of 8)! Mukha, indeed!!

No Kidding!

Pak has not checked terror: India

The Interpreter

Caught Sydney Pollock's new movie The Interpreter, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.

Many of the film's sequences were filmed on location, inside the UN complex -- courtesy Shashi Tharoor (UN's under secretary-general for communications and public information).

Setting aside our mirth at the embattled UN needing Nicole Kidman to rescue its public image, we must note that the film itself is quite bad. Much like the UN, The Interpreter fails its high ambition. Its caricature of Africa -- her zen-like tribal wisdom, her savaged & savage children -- is trite to the extreme.

The only redeeming feature of the movie: gorgeous aeriel shots of mid-town Manhattan's skyline, including the First Avenue apartment building where this blogger lives!!!

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