Thursday, June 30, 2005

Water Trouble

Via New York Daily News, Officials warn New Yorkers to boil their drinking water!!

It happens in Gotham too.

Secular Shouldn't Have To Mean Stupid

The Acorn correctly castigates India's secular polity for stupidly failing to do the right thing on the Imrana tragedy.

For every rare secular-right Indian, there seem to be one hundred secular-wrong politicians. We can only hang our head in shame.

World Bank Stupidity Watch

Via Financial Express, Migrating after IIT? Pay up, says WB.

The World Bank hasn't seen a tax it doesn't like, especially endearing to it: taxes on success. Someday soon, we hope, it will shape up or shut down.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Predicting Traffic

Having been victims of snarly Delhi traffic, we hope an Indian version of this emerges pronto!!

(Link courtesy: Drudge Report)

Courts Shouldn't Legislate

Amit recently commented on an intriguing US Supreme Court decision on Eminent Domain. At issue was the right of a municipality to appropriate private homes in the interest of economic development. The Court surprisingly ruled in favor of the municipality.

Libertarians are aghast. If this can happen in the US, where private property has long been considered sacrosanct, it can happen anywhere. Courts in, say India, could cite the US decision to interpret Eminent Domain likewise.

We too are disturbed by the implication of the ruling. BUT, there is a subtlety here that merits discussion. To the extent, a jurisprudence recognizes Eminent Domain (as we do both in US & India) but doesn't define its limits, the real question before a court is whether it or whether the applicable legislatures should define the limits of this principle. Frankly, it stands to reason that the people, through their elected legislatures, should make this judgment instead of unelected judges whose personal political biases will surely influence their judgments.

Seen this way, the US Supreme Court judgment is not so unreasonable. All the court did was, in effect, ask the local legislatures to set the limits for Eminent Domain as they see fit. If they overreach, they will be voted out.

Too often, there is a desire to use the courts to achieve political ends deemed "correct". It is through the courts that, for example, the US achieved racial equality which might have taken a long time through purely political means. BUT, as a counter-point, courts were also used to invent a right to abortion (as a sub-set of the right to privacy) within the US Constitution. As a direct consequence, 30 years after the famous Roe vs. Wade decision, US is still in political turmoil about its implications -- indeed, the political battle over judicial appointments has become a multi-decade campaign to overturn this decision. This is likely to happen within this decade.

Now, we happen to support racial equality and a woman's right to choose. While we agree with the outcomes of the Court rulings in these cases, we recognize that only the former has been embraced by civil society, while the latter remains an open wound. In other words, it's a gamble how society and politics will accept a court decision. If American women, for example, lose their rights to abortion in the next several years, it will be precisely because their path to securing this right went through the court, rather than through the legislature. Had pro-choice activists focused on building a political consensus rather than a majority on a court, they would not stand worried now, thirty years later. Short cuts can have long shadows.

Bottom line, courts can create favorable social outcomes by using their judicial power to -- in effect -- legislate, but it's far better to achieve the same using political means in the designated legislature. Absent that, people risk losing more politically than they gained in court.

For India, where public interest litigations are so popular and the courts are much too activist, this is something to keep in mind. Courts really shouldn't legislate.

Clinton Global Initiative

The inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative is planned for September 15-17th 2005 in New York. Per Mr. Clinton:

This event, which will bring together King Abdullah II, President Leonel Fernandez Reyna, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Secretary General Kofi Annan, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dr. Hernando de Soto, Sonia Gandhi, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Parsons, and an array of other distinguished and dedicated leaders, will coincide with and complement this fall's Millennium Summit of the U.N. General Assembly.

This nonpartisan conference will concentrate a diverse and select group of current and former heads of state, business leaders, noteworthy academicians, and key NGO representatives to identify immediate and pragmatic solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems.

It's not clear why this blogger was invited to this event (!), but if we succeed in persuading our employer to step up for (even half) the registration fees, we will attend. If so, expect live-blogging from there.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Madrassah Reform

Via Christian Science Monitor, Madrassah reform is key to terror war.

Via New York Times: The Madrassa Myth.

We agree with the Monitor.

No god But God

Since 9/11, our world has been searching for Islamic voices who ably combine their faith with modernity. These voices could then be the vanguard elite for a much-needed Islamic reformation.

The reformist voices we've heard are regrettably unable to serve this leadership role -- not because of their message which is usually sound, but because of who they are.

We have unreformed dictators talking up "enlightened moderation". Kemal Ataturk is presented as a reformist role-model, notwithstanding his profoundly damaging antipathy to his own faith. Salman Rushdie is an atheist.

Others like Dutch lawmaker Ayan Hirsi Ali are angry at their faith. Irshad Manji is the object of her faith's ire.

These voices from the edges from Islam cannot a reformation make. What Islam needs are mainstream voices proud of their faith and comfortable in their modernity. Reza Aslan fits this bill.

We caught him on TV talking about his first book No god but God. What he says is well thought out, but what struck us the most was the effect he had on the Muslims in his audience. They were visibly moved -- almost choking up -- that finally, finally Islam had a voice that has a chance to resonate with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and brilliantly articulates the very things they feel but have been unable to express.

Do check out his book.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

What If America Fails In Iraq?

We write this as firm & continuing supporters of the war to depose Saddam Hussein.

Even such Indians who dispute the logic of the war cannot but acknowledge all the strategic good this has done for India. The post-WWII global order, in which India had little say, has mercifully been shattered. The UNSC was shown toothless, Arab tyrannies (& Pakistan) are being pressured to change, the Atlantic Alliance has cracked, EU is in the midst of political implosion, and India is being courted by every one of the other great powers (especially the US).

This fortunate circumstance is hardly a consequence of Indian genius & planning -- our foreign policy mandarins opposed the Iraq war & continue to think the Security Council matters! Still, serendipitous as it may be, we have found ourselves with a chip in the great power game & hopefully will find the wisdom to turn this into power & prosperity.

Incidentally, Indians sense this intuitively, and as Nitin points out, view America (the catalyst of these terrific developments) with great favor.

There is an emerging cloud on this sunny outlook, however. America votes in November 2006. This means, if by spring of 2006 (i.e. 9 odd months from now) Iraq is not stable, Republican lawmakers will begin worrying for their prospects in the up-coming election. If so, President Bush will come under great pressure to reverse course (at least in some measure) on Iraq. There are good reasons to think this is a real possibility.

If this happens, it would be a disaster for the world, and for India.

If America retreats from Iraq, a huge implication follows. America's enemies would have confirmed that democracies can't endure long-drawn out insurgencies. They will thus take heart & revise their war doctrines -- the "trap & bleed" strategy will find renewed favor worldwide. Also, American retreat from Iraq would end the noble neo-conservative aspiration of forcing the Islamist world (including Pakistan) into political modernity.

In light of this prospect, if you were Pervez Musharraf for example, you'd be well served to be patient. You might stall by talking up a good game of reform & peace & economic engagement, all the while keeping your powder dry for the moment America retreats. That would finally be the favorable U-turn you've waited for all these post-9/11 years. Then, you'd strike hard at India -- whose gullible people have bought your peace facade, hook, line & sinker.

The "trap & bleed" strategy will return to Kashmir; only this time it'll look a lot worse -- a lot like Iraq. Car bombs everywhere & beheadings will be coin of the realm. Leonard Cohen's worst fears might come to life even in paradise:

And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder

We hope America will find the inner strength to stay the course, all the way to absolute victory that, at the moment, seems so far off. This happy outcome will avert the nightmare ably described by Mr. Cohen. But, it's also time to start worrying. And, Indians better start fortifying themselves for what'll inevitably follow -- and in some ways, has already begun.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Coming Confrontation

Stratfor has the following to say about the Maoist attacks in Bihar.

Approximately 400 Nepalese and Indian militants jointly attacked three government offices in the Indian state of Bihar on June 24, leaving 21 people dead. This joint operation between Indian and Nepalese rebels marks a substantial shift in Maoist strategy and likely results from splintering within the Nepalese Maoist rebel camp. As the Maoist militancy has now demonstrably spilled across Nepal's porous border into India, Beijing and Islamabad will becoming increasingly nervous as India finds a better excuse for direct action in Nepal aimed at containing the Maoist threat.

Should India seize the opportunity to send troops into Nepal to quell the Maoist insurgency, China and Pakistan will not remain quiet. Any bold moves by New Delhi will undoubtedly create concerns within Beijing and Islamabad, which traditionally fear India's military prowess. As things start to heat up on the subcontinent and New Delhi begins hinting at sending forces to Nepal, Islamabad and Beijing will each assert claims to defend their Nepalese neighbor as a strategy to contain India.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

We Don't Need No Education

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson suggests it may be Time to Toss the Textbooks!

No Autonomy For Kashmir -- Redux

We'd recently strongly opposed the idea of Kashmiri autonomy in the context of a Gaurav Sabnis blogpost. He has pushed the debate forward by making two powerful points:

One, any autonomy discussion is a climb-down from the maximalist idea of "azadi" on part of Pakistan & Hurriyat. Thus, as a status-quo power, India (& Indian realists) should be pleased.

Two, Kashmiri autonomy is consistent with the overarching idea of greater Indian federalism, which hopefully most sensible Indians support.

Gaurav is right in that the idea of Kashmiri azadi is dead, and India does favor status-quo. We happen to think that the azadi idea was bogus to start with, hence India owes nothing to Pakistan or Hurriyat for this worthless concession. Any discussion of autonomy would be paying our foes for nothing. Besides, autonomy is hardly the status-quo, is it?

We do support more federalism over less, but are not sold on Gaurav's notion of the Center doing just foreign policy & defense -- leaving the rest to states. In many Indian states with strategic significance, people consider themselves reluctant Indians to this day. We obviously need to do a better job selling them on India, and centrifugal autonomy is not the place to start.

Besides, if Kashmiri autonomy were being discussed in the context of broad federalist reforms, it would be one thing. Here, the context is negotiations to end a war India is winning. To concede autonomy in this context is poor negotiating; it's unnecessary and dangerous. To bring up the tangential idea of federalism here makes little sense.

Debating Via Blogs

We began our blogging experiment late last year -- after years of prodding by our co-blogger Pragmatic, a superstar in the Silicon Valley desi constellation. Needless to say, the experiment has been extremely gratifying for the ideas we've discussed and the friends we've made.

For all this good that blogging represents, it has startling weaknesses too. Take the matter of debating issues. While blog-driven debates are rich, provocative, and unafraid, the ideas they rake up get lost in a matter of days. Besides, they are buried deep in the comments section of blogs.

Pragmatic thinks the solution is to commingle (somehow) WIKIs & blogs. The theory is that the blog will enable a debate which the WIKI can structure & archive.

We welcome thoughts on this idea, especially from prolific bloggers with many of whom we debate so much!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tale Of Two Species

Via Times of India: Cops may cage Tiger for hunting

Via CNN: Lions 'free girl from kidnappers'

Politics Is Genetic

Via The New York Times, Some Politics May Be Etched in the Genes!!

Curing HIV

Perhaps the root of HIV can also be its cure.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Merit Matters

Recently, Shivam Vij reported on a fugitive Indian-origin doctor with the inviting moniker Doctor Death.

What piqued our interest was Shivam's use of this story to pour scorn over those favoring merit over reservations for education and jobs. Dilip chimed in by applauding Shivam for skewering the merit argument as it needs to be skewered. Wow!

Shivam's argument is that Dr. Death wasn't a beneficiary of reservations, yet he turned out incompetent. Hence, "merit" is a poor filter for admission to medical schools.

This argument clearly strains logic. However, we will concede that the converse -- of reservations leading to bad engineers & doctors -- is not valid either.

Reality is that most graduates from medical/engineering schools are alright, whether or not they arrived there using reservations. Furthermore, in real life, when people select a doctor, the only criterion they use is whether he/she can heal them. They couldn't care less how he/she got into a medical school. This is how a free market works, thankfully on merit.

The problem with reservations is a deeper one. It raises issues about how we organize our social order. Is entitlement our governing principle or is it competition? Which leads to success that's more gratifying?

We were thinking last night of an IIT classmate from a Rajasthani community entitled to reservations. This guy didn't need any. He ranked among the top students in a fiercely competitive class populated with very high JEE rankers. Another classmate, child of extreme & flaunted privilege, came in via reservations. He too emerged a fine engineer, but could anyone possibly consider his achievement (&, yes, merit) the same as the former's? That would be ridiculous.

Maybe we still need some reservations to ensure a level playing field. But, lets please not diminish the value of merit in life. Our Rajasthani friend understood merit well & he's the poster child for what social advancement is all about.

We're not afraid of doctors qualified via reservations, not merit. We are terrified of people who think this implies merit doesn't matter. It affirmatively does.

Update: Shivam points out that Reservations are more complex than you think (citing counseling experience at IIT Delhi of Dr. Shobna Sonpar). Two quick thoughts. One, the IIT Shobna Sonpar writes about is the time & place when this blogger was a student there -- clearly, our experiences were very different (although she likely has a privileged view given her role as counselor). Second, the issues she raises are not Dalit-centric as much as they are economic status-centric.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Mandela 'N The Hood

Jailed Burmese Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kui turns sixty today.

This Asian Mandela, schooled in Delhi, rots in India's backyard and seemingly no one cares. These days, we're more interested in pipelines, even if via anarchic Bangladesh & tyrannical Burma, than in evangelizing -- & where necessary, enforcing -- the Indian values of pluralism & freedom.

Our friends tell us that Indian values will spread on the wings of cross-border commerce & the consequent mutual prosperity. To us, a prosperity built on the chains of our neighborhood people is morally bankrupt.

Afterall, when apartheid South Africa had Nelson Mandela in chains, did India -- & the world -- clamor for cross-border trade with Pretoria, or did we isolate that evil regime? Was it not global scorn & isolation that prompted the release of Nelson Mandela? Was India's firm stance there not a shining moment for our diplomacy?

Regrettably, in modern India, we've swung much too far from morality to pragmatism. This is a tragedy.

We really need to find ways for reconciling our necessary pragmatism with our defining morality. We will likely never fully succeed in this, but if we don't even try, lest we upset, for example, our energy suppliers, we might as well run our internal combustion engines on the blood of their victims. Conversely, if we are at all successful, we would blaze a new trail with a worthy idea for fellow democracies to emulate.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Han (Korean): A lasting regret for something unfulfilled. [courtesy: Chong Hae Chung]

What marks the artist is his power to shape the material of the pain we all have. Lionel Trilling

Witness our existential han as art! Very cool!!

Opposing Autonomy For Kashmir

Via India Uncut, we read Gaurav Sabnis' generally reasonable evaluation of the recent Hurriyat visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. However we disagree sharply with his following observation:

The Hurriyat fellows also ended up supporting [Pervez] Musharraf's "Kashmir Formula of the Week", which this week happens to suggest autonomy sans independence, something India would willingly love to talk about. So we also saw the Hurriyat, for the first time, even if tacitly, letting go of the 'Azaadi' concept.

India would love to talk about Kashmiri autonomy sans independence with this enlightened moderate, would it? We sure hope not.

Ultimately, no matter how it's described, this autonomy will clearly delineate an Islamic state within a secular India. As secular Indians, we fear this as a trojan horse designed to wreck whatever secularism remains after our years of saffron assault & liberal whimpering. By conceding the notion of a privileged state -- whose privilege derives from religious differences -- India risks substituting the current uncivil cold war in Kashmir with a hot civil war in the rest of India.

This civil war is what India's enemies have long predicted. It will represent a strategic defeat worse than, for example, Japan at Hiroshima. How is it then that even sensible Indians talk so casually about this horrible miscalculation being thrust on us by our mind-numbingly myopic polity?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dual Citizenship Implies Dual Loyalty

For the record, we stand in strong opposition to the very notion of dual citizenship, now approved by the Government of India.

Being expatriate Indians ourselves, this is an odd position for us to take; afterall, we'd greatly benefit from the provisions of dual citizenship. But, we cannot understand the logic behind India accommodating the convenience of people who thought fit to abandon their Indian passports.

When expatriates (like us) who've proudly chosen to keep their Indian citizenship, notwithstanding the hassles this choice implies, cannot even vote in Indian democracy, how is it that non-Indians (by choice) are being given dual-citizenship privileges in India? Shouldn't these non-Indians be loyal to their adopted countries of citizenship, rather than pretending to be Indians when they really are not.

Bangladesh Planning To Kill Indian Woman

Via Times of India, Indian woman sentenced to death in Bangladesh.

Whatever crime she has committed, if any at all, this woman does not deserve to be hanged. We have little faith in the investigative abilities & the justice system of Bangladesh. For an Indian to be so condemned by this awful system is unacceptable. We'll accept her guilt only if an Indian court finds her responsible for the horrible crime she's been accused of.

We hope Indians worldwide, especially the Government of India, will stand by this woman in her time of trial.

As for Bangladesh, we cannot overstate our utter contempt for its polity. Someday, a future Indian leader with moral courage will, no doubt, extract a full measure of vengeance for the Bangladeshi murder of our soldiers, and now this planned murder of an Indian woman.

Update: Vulturo has more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Freedom To Smoke

Amit comments on the astonishing Indian ban on smoking in cinema.

This is surely an unconstitutional breach of India's freedom of expression. Perhaps Indian filmmakers could initiate a civil disobedience campaign by having at least one character in their movies be a smoker.

Let's find out if our censor board really has the guts to ban every single movie?

The Plot Against The World

The following is only a conspiracy theory. Because we're discussing a conspiracy here, it's sinister & chilling. Because we're presenting a theory here, it's unproven -- some even argue, debunked.

Still, as far as conspiracy theories go, this one is entirely plausible.

We stumbled onto this serendipitously, via the award-winning film The Origins of AIDS. To us, the global HIV crisis is more than a health-care issue, relevant only to narrow social groups. We consider this a national security issue for great powers, especially India.

Curiously, India has a bit role in this conspiracy theory, not -- thank heavens -- as the villain, but as a disturbing participant in an epic & noble experiment, allegedly gone wrong.

The film is based on, & extends, the work of former BBC correspondent Edward Hooper, whose 1999 book The River : A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS shook up the global scientific establishment. The roots of his thesis lie in a 1992 Rolling Stone article by Tom Curtis where he connected the HIV virus to 1950s polio vaccinations in Belgian Congo under the supervision of a medical legend, Dr. Hilary Koprowski (we've linked his defense here). The authors date the first known HIV infection to just after the vaccinations, and locate the infection precisely where the vaccines were given.

The polio vaccine was a profound gift to millions of children who might have been afflicted otherwise. But, the scientific battles for whose vaccine should prevail and how these vaccines were produced are less than noble when the curtains are lifted.

First, Dr. Jonas Salk invented the vaccine. But, his vaccine required injections. Hilary Koprowski, among others, raced to develop oral vaccines to replace Dr. Salk's injections. In all cases, the vaccines were created in live animal tissue cultures, mainly from monkeys -- bulk of them exported from India (see link about ban of export of monkeys by Indian government).

The treatment of these monkeys in vaccine manufacture is shocking, to say the least. At least this vegetarian blogger was surprised to learn that polio vaccines are anything but vegetarian! We're glad we got the vaccine, though!!

Here's the problem. When vaccine is cultivated in animal tissue, animal viruses can contaminate the vaccines. There is indeed some evidence that monkey viruses did contaminate some vaccines -- which are now allegedly linked to cancer. The greater allegation -- one at the heart of the conspiracy theory -- is that Dr. Koprowski's team in Belgian Congo cultured the vaccine in chimpanzee tissue (this allegation has been hotly disputed), and because the chimpanzee has an SIV (simian immuno-deficiency virus), the ancestor of HIV, the theory goes the virus jumped from chimp to human.

The scientific establishment believes in a different theory, called the cut hunter theory. It holds that HIV infected humans through the hunting and handling of chimpanzees, some of which harbor a closely related virus called SIVcpz. This "natural transfer" theory holds that a "cut hunter" was infected, and then urbanization, the use of dirty needles in medical campaigns, increased geographic mobility, and other effects of modernization in Africa caused the epidemic to explode.

Imagine the consequences if the vaccine theory were to be true instead. Afterall, hunting of chimps has been going on for centuries -- and surely hunters have been cut before. Why did HIV emerge in the 1950s, not before? Apart from the profoundly tragic hysteria that might break out against polio vaccines, there is the political matter of the implication that it was the West that gave the virus to Africa. Then, there are scientific reputations at stake.

So, the scientific establishment, including the Royal Society has gone out of its way to debunk this theory. The problem is that the motives of the debunkers are suspect -- afterall, their reputations are on the line. Hence, an alleged conspiracy of silence has followed.

As we said, this is only a theory -- still unproved, and likely unprovable because the data needed for proof lies with the people most at risk from such proof. And, we obviously think that the polio vaccine was a magnificent breakthrough. BUT, there are larger issues here and, hopefully, someday, the world will learn the truth about what really happened in Belgian Congo, whose impact is now possibly being faced around the world.

On History

Varnam has a terrific essay on pre-Alberuni historical writing in India. This is in response to a recent Ayaz Amir column in The Dawn, where he asks:

Is there any Indian Herodotus? Or Thucydides or Tacitus?

Varnam's response:

The answer is No. My question to him is, why does it matter? When did having a Herodotus become the standard for approval for any civilization? Do the Mayans or Sumerians or Chinese have a Herodotus ? No. Does that diminish the value of those civilizations? No. Each country does things different now and in ancient times it was no different. While Greeks have well chronicled history, early Indian history comes from coins and charters, random inscriptions, oral tradition, literary compositions and religious texts [1]. Each of these provide a version of history which can be corroborated with inputs from other sources.

Do read the whole thing.


Via New York Times, China Is Said to Consider $15 Billion Bailout of Stock Market!!!

A stock-market at 8 year lows says enough about China's economic mirage. The cracks in the system are now showing, pitting the economic expansion of the Chinese State against the political rights of the Chinese people.

Consider, via Washington Post, Armed Thugs Attack Chinese Farmers. Also see included video.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Optimistic India

Via The Economist, here are results of a survey, by NOP World, of consumers in 30 countries on whether they thought their economic situation would get better over the coming year, and whether now was a good time to spend money.

India ranks 2nd, ahead of even United States & China. As an instinctive contrarian, this blogger worries that this might indicate a (short-term) bubble -- whose bursting, whenever it comes, will likely be very painful. Why? Because optimistic young Indians have been borrowing to consume conspicuously, without the benefit of collective & inherited wisdom on managing debt effectively. In the US, a similar consumption pattern works because such wisdom exists and the personal bankruptcy process is highly streamlined -- it's not clear what might happen if, in an economic downturn, millions of young Indians cannot service their ever-rising debt burdens.

We hope we are wrong, but ...

Invite Mukhtaran Mai To The White House

The Acorn alerts us to the infuriating treatment of Mukhtaran Mai by Pervez Musharraf's tyranny -- one that claims to practice "enlightened moderation". The ostensible reason for this: the need to protect Pakistan's image.

With his very significant New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof has demolished this outrageous Pakistani "strategy". We especially endorse what he asks of President Bush:

So, Mr. Bush, how about asking Mr. Musharraf to focus on finding Osama, instead of kidnapping rape victims who speak out? And invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval Office - to show that Americans stand not only with generals who seize power, but also with ordinary people of extraordinary courage.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Baby-Faced Politicians, Beware!

Researchers have concluded that voters give thumbs-down to baby-faced politicians!!

Researchers at Princeton University in New Jersey, US, carried out studies to determine the importance of candidates’ facial appearance in determining election success.

The researchers found a strong correlation between those candidates judged “competent” and election wins. Judging on competence alone, participants correctly predicted the winners in about 70% of the congressional races.

So what exactly does a “competent” person look like? Writing a review accompanying the paper in Science, psychologist Leslie Zebrowitz from Brandeis University in Massachusetts describes the trait as being less “baby-faced”. A round face, large eyes, small nose, high forehead and small chin are baby-faced features, she says, whereas competency is associated with facial maturity.

“Although the study doesn’t tell us exactly what competence is, its traits include physical strength, social dominance and intellectual shrewdness, and baby-faced people are perceived as lacking in all these qualities, regardless of sex and ethnicity. We often conclude that baby-faced adults are naive, submissive and weak,” she says.

Wow! What, then, explains the electoral success of this baby-faced desi politician?!!

The Peace Mountain?

We're shocked, shocked, that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism continues unabated in the shadow of the so-called Peace Mountain.

Is this not a replay of the (predictably) tragic interplay between a frog and a scorpion -- alluded to in the classic The Crying Game -- where the frog dies from scorpion bite because it misunderstands game theory [Link courtesy: Jonathan Wallace] pertaining to scorpions.

Security For Women

Varna describes an astonishing anti-rape campaign by Delhi police developed on the basis of the testimony of a group of rapists and date rapists in prison interviewed on what they look for in a potential victim.

The implication: In order to survive the Capital city a woman must have short hair, wear complicated and well fitting clothes, must not use phones or carry purses (Or look through them), never go for an early morning stroll and carry an umbrella!

Why stop at telling women how they should modify their freedoms to ensure basic security in free India? We imagine the police will next suggest people consider hiding at home all day lest they be mugged or murdered on the streets. What a disgrace?

It seems it's not just Shiv Sena thats loony on this subject; our civil society itself has gone insane. For all our superficial post-modern glitz, we remain, alas, a profoundly backward social culture.

The Next Controversy

Amit suggests that we move on from arguments over Jinnah & Bose.

How 'bout Lata Mangeshkar?! Hasn't she been to Indian music that the Ambassador has been -- for the longest time -- to Indian cars? Virtual monopoly, virtually no innovation.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sound Strategy -- Update

In a recent post, Sound Strategy, we'd mirthfully suggested that US will likely soon unleash a sonorous daisy cutter -- complete with teeny bopper singing. This will surely drive Al Qaeda insane!!

Via Drudge, we learn today the US had already beaten us to the punch!! Consider this headline:


Saturday, June 11, 2005

A Shameful Display

Via Michelle Malkin, here's an image of a highly shameful protest in Calcutta. This kind of behavior dishonors India, and we hope that community leaders will apologize for this really foolish conduct.

Intimidation Is Not Investigation

As a child, this blogger would spend summer breaks in rural UP. In this social cauldron where feudalism & bigotry battled modernity & tolerance, our world-view was given early shape.

These memories are scalded deep, as deep (for context) even as the horrible memory of 9/11.

Three policemen led a heavily chained prisoner into the village. An inevitable zoo of on-lookers (including this blogger) followed the cops & robber from house to house. Apparently, the prisoner was a bicycle thief and was leading the cops to the people he claimed he had sold the stolen bikes to. He'd go to a house, point out a bicycle, then there'd be protests from the owner of the bike, and then -- THE POLICE WOULD SMASH THE ROBBER'S SHINS WITH THEIR LATHIS (in our mind, we can still hear the awful crack of the lathi striking sparse flesh and sheer bone); the howling prisoner would then confess that he had just lied, and would lead the police to another house, where the same procedure would be repeated. For all we know, the guy was a poor innocent man who somehow found himself in police clutches, then confessed for fear of getting beat up, was being forced to locate bicycles he had never stolen, consequently (and ironically), was getting brutally roughed up for having made the fearful confession in the first place.

In December last year, we re-visited rural UP, where we witnessed essentially similar police tactics being plied on a poor, illiterate soul who knew very little about the ideals of law enforcement. For all the post-modern glitz of Bangalore, we still have rural UP where nothing ever changes.

We asked a friend, a police officer, if we could be arrested likewise, without reasonable cause, and beaten up for a confession. He laughed and cited IPC to inform us that, if arrested, we had the right to remain silent and had the right to an attorney. OK, we asked, then why was this right not extended to this poor fellow just beaten up? He shrugged and said, this is how things are done in UP.

Well, not just in UP, it seems, but all over India. Today, via BBC, we read about the court-ordered release of 8 Muslims accused of a bomb blast in Ghatkopar. Of the 19 arrested, not one has been convicted. Why? Because there's a lack of evidence.

Hello? Would we be wrong to see this as one more awful example of the police using intimidation as a cheap substitute for proper investigation? And while they're out there intimidating innocent people, the real terrorists are probably sipping tea somewhere and smiling. What kind of law enforcement is this?

A few weeks back, Dilip had written about a certain Iftikhar Gilani, the journalist son-in-law of the (contemptible) hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Gilani, who was hauled into prison for allegedly possessing classified information about Indian troop formations in Kashmir. Treated as a traitor, he was allegedly mistreated by the police & by fellow prisoners. Then, in a few months, all charges were dropped and he was released for lack of meaningful evidence.

Dilip used this story to make a liberal point about patriotism. We had a different take. To us, the fact that Mr. Iftikhar Gilani was investigated was entirely reasonable. His father-in-law is a leader of forces inimical to India, and his possession of military information, which while not illegal was surely suspicious, made him a reasonable object of scrutiny. Were India not investigating people like him, we'd have been very surprised.

BUT, investigation is not the same thing as intimidation. To charge a man with very serious crimes, allow him to be roughed up by pathetic criminals in prison, then let him go because the evidence is flimsy at best, is more intimidation than valid fact finding. Why is our police wasting time intimidating people instead of building solid cases that will hold up in court?

Surely, in 2005, there are means to investigate someone without using 19th century tactics typical of tyrannies.

Global Warming

Via Opinion Journal, Why Global Warming Should Rank At The Bottom Of World Priorities.

Money quote:

Adopting the Kyoto Protocol to curb carbon dioxide emissions, for instance, might reduce warming to 6.1 degrees centigrade by the year 2300, compared with an anticipated 7.3 degree warming if nothing is done. This "achievement"--a world that is on average 1.2 degrees cooler than it otherwise would be in 300 years--comes with a price tag of about $94 trillion (in 1990 dollars).

"The benefits [of tackling climate change] are far into the future and the substantial costs are up front and immediate," notes Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North. "Given the uncertainties associated with both the projections and the consequences, climate change cannot compete with the other urgent issues we confront."

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sound Strategy

In March, BBC reported on Indian tax collectors using noisy drums to force payments from tax evaders.

Now, via Drudge Report, we read that Israelis are planning to up the ante in the innovative use of sound. They plan on using a device that emits penetrating bursts of sound that leaves targets reeling with dizziness and nausea on Jewish settlers in Gaza who resist the up-coming evacuation.

At this rate, very soon Americans will unleash a sonorous daisy cutter -- complete with teeny bopper singing. This will surely drive Al Qaeda insane!!

The Global Shake-Up

In National Review Online, influential American historian Victor David Hanson writes about the emergence of Asia (& the regression of Europe).

Choice quote:

But the real question is how both China and India, nuclear and arming, will translate their newfound economic clout and cash into a geopolitical role. If internal politics and protocols are any barometer of foreign policy, it should be an interesting show. We mostly welcome the new India — nuclear, law-abiding, and English-speaking — onto the world stage. It deserves a permanent seat on the Security Council and a close alliance with the United States.

China, however, is a very different story — a soon-to-be grasping Soviet Union-like superpower without any pretense of Marxist egalitarianism. Despite massive cash reserves and ongoing trade surpluses, it violates almost every international commercial protocol from copyright law to patents. It won’t discuss Tibet, and it uses staged domestic unrest to send warnings to Taiwan and Japan that their regional options will increasingly be limited by Beijing.

Is it just us, or are we suddenly seeing a proliferation of pro-India (& China-wary) rhetoric from right-leaning American intellectuals, policy makers, & journalists? Is this somehow orchestrated as prelude to the up-coming US visit of Manmohan Singh? Not that we are complaining!!

Kyunki ORS Is A Good Thing

Recently, Yazad Jal mocked the patronizing attitude of India's mutiple K-Serials on cable.

Christian Science Monitor takes a more constructive view. Per Scott Baldauf:

While "Kyunki" is usually a standard soap opera of family squabbles and female aspirations, the show is among a growing number that use their influence as an occasional platform to educate viewers, most of them middle-class women and housewives, about a variety of social causes, from treating diarrhea to the rights of women and the importance of donating to tsunami victims.

One Can't Make This Up

Via Hindustan Times, we learn that a certain Moorthy Muthuswamy of New York based Indian-American Intellectuals Forum has objected to Jet Airways being given a license to fly into the US.

The newspaper quotes from his letter to US Secretary of Transportation, Norm Mineta, to whom he suggests that the airline's numerous Muslim employees might constitute a potential threat to US national security?! Speaking of the proportion of Muslims at the airline, he apparently writes:

I suspect it is well over 50 per cent. (In India Muslims constitutes only 14 per cent of the population and have the highest illiteracy rates). This statistics is clear giveaway, perhaps confirming its jihadi connections.

Wow! We don't hold any brief for Jet Airways, and our contempt for jihadi terrorists is well chronicled on this blog. But for Mr. Muthuswamy to make allegations as serious as this based apparently on how many Muslims work at Jet Airways is stunning & offensive, to say the least.

Condoleezza Rice

We'd strongly praised Ms. Rice's appointment to Secretary of State last year. In an interview with Charlie Rose broadcast last night, she validated our positive view of her. Someday, perhaps she'll consider running for Presidency of the United States.

She ably represents a political-right absent bigotry which is enormously inspiring.

Here's the transcript of her must-read interview. On India she says:

So in a place like India, where you have many, many different ethnic groups and religions, they can find a place within the democratic institutions; they don't have to try and destroy it from without. That's what democracy brings. And yes, our democratic -- the fact that we share a democratic heritage and institutions with India is enormously important.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Advani Triangulation

BJP leader L K Advani is playing the old political game of triangulation. Here, the player picks a calculated quarrel with extremists of his own stripe, thus appearing moderate in contrast.

Bill Clinton was a master of this strategy. In 1992, with America frustrated with liberalism, Mr. Clinton famously put down the African-American rapper Sister Souljah for her extreme views. In one stroke, he was able to cast himself as a centrist -- the rest is history.

Mr. Advani hopes to achieve much the same by provoking India's Saffron-Right extremists. If he is successful, he will (superficially at least) move in the direction of the Secular-Right political space this blog typifies.

This is good and understandable political strategy. After all, India's Hindu voters don't seem to be much impressed by the Hindutva extremism. Even at the height of communal tensions provoked by these dark forces, India's Hindu voters (commendably) declined to give them parliamentary majorities. It's unlikely this dynamic will ever change. Mr. Advani is smart to recognize this and try to cut his losses.

Now, it's easy to dismiss extremists who act out their beliefs; it's much harder to dismiss extremists who ably pretend to be moderates. Mr. Vajpayee's success is a case in point. This is why Mr. Advani's political move to embrace the center is a cause of some worry for this Secular-Right blogger.

We are also amused by Mr. Advani's newly-discovered warmth for Pakistan. We now have the spectacle of the BJP being more courteous to Muslims abroad, than Muslims of India. Reminds us of the Hindi proverb: Ghar Mein Sher, Bahar Chooha!!

Five Year Old Policeman

Via BBC, a stunning story of a five year old boy being forced to work at a police station. And, he is not alone.

What are we doing to our children?

My Reach Exceeds His Grasp

In The Washington Post, the influential Jim Hoagland compares India favorably to China and asks Whose Asian Century?

India's reach is finally beginning to exceed China's grasp!!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Another Saudi Outrage

Via Times of India, Two Indians arrested in Saudi Arabia for the grave offense of prayer.

Another Munchian Moment

Via Drudge report: The dawn of the 'hybrid man'; macho is endangered species...! This is the latest "thinking" coming out of France.

The emergence of this new male beast who wants to look and feel good, and who will also have an impact on the role of women, presages a new potentially lucrative market for the European fashion industry.

Our comment, a Munchian scream!!

Do Maps Have Morals?

Via Technology Review, this thought-provoking essay on the startling technology and applications of modern cartography is worth a read, especially because India is a player in this field.

Six months ago, relief workers used digital maps to find their way through areas devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami. The U.S. Air Force relies on such maps in Iraq. Aerial photographs and digital mapmaking tools are allowing the governments of Uruguay and Brazil to survey and sell off vast tracts of land. "Sitting there in Arlington, Virginia, you can buy land in Brazil," says Christopher Simpson, a professor of communications at American University in Washington, DC, who's been studying current uses of remote sensing in Latin America. In theory, Brazilian peasants can buy the land they currently till. But in practice, Simpson says, the best properties will be snapped up by "those with the most resources, who are best organized, with the best overview." In other words, those with access to digital maps of millions of unclaimed acres.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Portrait Of A Monster

Via Outlook, a look at Prachanda.

[True to form, Outlook finds a way to knock America even in this story of the Nepali Marxist monster; still, the profile is worth a read.]

Blond Ambition

Via Rediff, here's a photograph of the Blond Lalu doll. (hat tip: Amit for alerting his readers to the existence of the said doll)

Our comment, a Munchian scream!!!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ten Most Harmful Books, And Seven Great Movies

Via Human Events Online (an uber-conservative publication), here are the ten most harmful books of the 19th & 20th centuries. Offered without comment.

While on lists, here are the seven best political films we've seen, and highly recommend (for seeing again & again, that is):

1. Apocalypse Now
2. The Dancer Upstairs
3. Ardha Satya
4. The Quiet American
5. The Last Emperor
6. The Killing Fields
7. The Year of Living Dangerously

Friday, June 03, 2005

It's Hard To Be Easy!

Via Opinion Journal, a brilliant, must-read, meditation on why technological advances can't free us from life's "hassle quota."

The author, Cameron Stracher, writes very perceptively:

Life, it turns out, has a certain minimum hassle quota. As in physics, matter can never be destroyed--it can just be transformed. If we speed up the time it takes to go through the toll booth, we slow down time somewhere else. If we ease access to our bank account, we complicate access to bankers. If we free the ties to the workplace, we tighten them to the home.


And don't even start about cell phones, voice mail, email, BlackBerrys and all the other modern forms of communication. Yes, they have untethered us from the office, freeing us from the boundaries that used to divide work from home. But does anyone really think that's an entirely good thing? Worse, the devices have created the expectation of constant contact, which results in interrupted vacations to check the office voice-mail and email systems. It is the brave road warrior, indeed, who can ignore the constant bleating of the cellphone/voice-mail indicator. Most of us curse the day Marconi transmitted his first wireless signal.

This last bit resonates big time with this blogger who, much to the astonishment of everyone he knows, does not own or use a mobile phone!! [He does confess to owning mobile phone stocks -- but that is capitalism!!!]

Security Council Expansion and China

On China calling the G4's proposal for UNSC expansion dangerous, Stratfor writes:

China will use its veto power to defeat a draft resolution proposed by Brazil, Germany, India and Japan to expand the U.N. Security Council should this resolution come up for a vote, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, said June 2. Wang's statement allows China room to uphold its commitment not to obstruct permanent Indian membership on the Security Council and to continue building the new Sino-Indian friendship while it uses other methods to ensure Japan does not get a seat.

We predicted precisely this scenario in this April post. We also have recommendations for what India should do once its security council push, predictably, comes to a nought!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Nectar of Life

Sandeep builds on our post The Jewel In The Cobra's Mouth lamenting the lack of serious Sanskrit scholarship in India. He attributes this to the intellectual climate of post-independence India.

See his excellent post The Nectar of Life.

242 Hindus

While this practicing Hindu blogger is displeased with Mr. Advani's visit to enemy Pakistan, he's far from insulted by Mr. Advani's expression of sadness at the Babri Mosque demolition. Better late than never.

Do we qualify for Amit's count of 242?!!

A European Lesson For Liberal India

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about how EU's failures in France & Holland are really a comment on Europe's hyper-welfare state model.

Indian liberals, take heed.

China's Peaceful Rise?

Now that Brookings has posted the transcript of Jaswant Singh's talk we blogged on yesterday, here's a very interesting excerpt, during Q&A:

QUESTION: Do you in fact believe in what China espouses as a peaceful rising, or do you see them as a threat?

MR. SINGH: I think the Peoples Republic of China is currently so engaged with the great issue that confronts them as a country that there is no free play available for that country to engage in conflict. They do want another 20 to 30 years of consistent development in which they can address what they have themselves identified as the great modernizations and as also economic development. It has always been China's strategic philosophy that if your adversary is humbled without conflict, then that's a much better way to humble. And it's the assessment of the Peoples Republic that if they're able to grow economically, as they're demonstrating today, then in the foreseeable future of just about a decade or so, it has already, I mean, my [inaudible] the achievement that the Peoples Republic has demonstrated and the acclaim that the world has accorded to it has already conferred upon it the great power status that they seek. They don't have to go to [inaudible] for that purpose.

No free play, Mr. Singh says, thus dismissing the threat from ascendant China -- and he leads supposedly the party of hawks. He is clearly inebriated with the arrack of ostriches.

This denial of Chinese threat is, alas, a widely held view among India's strategic circles. A couple years ago, a senior Indian member of parliament told a group of our friends of his visit to Beijing where he met, the then President, Jiang Zimin. Jiang told him that, for China, geo-politics is all about economics -- as it should be for India. India has apparently bought this theory hook, line, and sinker.

Then there's the reality, always ready to puncture hot air balloons.

Let's just count the number of muscular balls China presently has in the air. Then let's ponder on whether this is evidence of China's peaceful rise.

Escalating tensions between China, Japan cause for concern

China has its eye on divided Korea

Taiwan Rejects China's Revised Definition of Relations

China: UN Council Resolution Dangerous

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Khan Artist

Via Weekly Standard, a critical look at Imran Khan.

Jaswant Singh At Brookings

We caught C-Span's coverage of Jaswant Singh's speech at Brookings yesterday. Fascinating stuff.

He spoke at length about mutual mis-perceptions between US & India, and the consequent problems this creates for notions like strategic partnership or natural alliance.

Of course, it doesn't help when our most intelligent diplomats, like Mr. Singh, are also the most unintelligible. For all the knowledge of foreign policy issues this blogger has, he had to strain to understand what Mr. Singh was really implying by his complex and oblique idea construction. We can only wonder what the Americans in the audience thought.

Why do Indian diplomats speak in riddles and not in plain English?

Why Museums Matter

Via Opinion Journal, Phillippe De Montebello, Director of New York's fantastic Metropolitan Museum of Art explains why museums matter: For the study and understanding of mankind, he writes.

Last November, we'd linked to another brilliant essay on museums, in Kabul (!), that's also worth reading in this context.


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