Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Elections In Bangladesh:

The Awami League has returned to power after two-years of military-backed rule, winning the election. The results were resounding for the Awami League-led alliance, which won over 260-seats, while the hapless BNP-led alliance won only 30 seats, with their chief ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, winning a paltry two seats.

I have two thoughts on this watershed election.

It is worth noting, however, how poorly Jaamat faired in the election. Many feared Jamaat’s growing political prowess as they won more seats with each subsequent election, a clear-cut sign of Islamization of Bangadesh society, but in reality Jamaat was nothing more than a house of cards. For all their public piety, for all their purported virtue, for all they do for the poor and the downtrodden, Jamaat have proven themselves to be sleazy and dishonest. For one thing, they supported terrorist outfits. They openly denied their involvement in suppressing the independence movement. When confronted with the facts, they changed their tune, suddenly claiming they were on the side of history-- on the wrong side. Such blatant dishonesty was paid back in spades at the polling station. Let us hope they are marginalized for some time to come.

Finally, are we witnessing a new era in Bangladeshi politics, or reverting to the same old, same old? One of the hallmarks of military rule is the perception that things were better: law-and order was better, less corruption, more stability, etc. Can the Awami League sustain what the military has started? It’s possible given the overwhelming majority they currently hold, but, often, such overwhelming majority can also lead to tyranny and autocracy and their evil step-child, corruption.

Let's hope that Bangladesh is on a positive track.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Left Front Frets Over Meaningless Matters

The left parties in India are well-known for their theatrics and to make mountains out of mold hills. This statement was issued by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which I produce in full below:

The Manmohan Singh government has introduced a Bill in the Rajya Sabha to increase the FDI cap in insurance sector from 26 to 49 per cent. This is a shameless move to facilitate greater control of the insurance sector by foreign insurance companies. It is shocking that the Congress-led government is taking this step at a time when the financial crisis in the United States has exposed the pernicious practices of the insurance and financial companies of the West.

The CPI(M) denounces this move by the Manmohan Singh government which will harm the financial sector and import the crisis into our system. This confirms the fact that this government is more interested in favouring international financial capital at the expense of the country’s interests. The CPI(M) extends its full support to the strike on December 23 by the insurance employees against this Bill.
It still means that 51 percent of the insurance sector will still remain in Indian (and/or government) hands, enough to block any nefarious attempts by greedy capitalists to upend India's solid insurance sector and protect its employees from any competition whatsoever.

But just in case - and why waste a juicy political moment - insurance employees, almost all of whom belong to Left party-controlled unions, will go on strike, inconveniencing yet again the people who matter the most: their customers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thoughts On Las Vegas

I returned from Las Vegas on Saturday, my fifth trip in six years. I've traveled to Las Vegas more times than any other place on this planet, except for Bangladesh or India, which I visit more for family than for vacation.

Why do I go to Las Vegas so often? I keeping asking myself this question all the time, and the answer is always different. I know it’s not the gambling. I can gamble in any of the Indian casinos within driving distance, or online. So what’s the reason?

Las Vegas does have its allure, that’s for sure. The hotels and casinos that sit astride the Strip (officially knows as Las Vegas Boulevard) are monuments, both physically and the feelings they evoke when you look at them. They are massive edifices where dreams can come true and die – sometimes at the same time.

It’s a city designed to cater every known vice to man (both legal and illegal). It’s a place where people can practice hedonism to the nth degree: drinking is allowed in the streets, and raucous behavior that it springs from. People change when they come to Las Vegas, only if it’s for a few days.

I observe these changes like a sociologist. The city fascinates me because it is so different and unique. This is what draws me to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terrorists Had Better Tools

I haven't had time to post this until now:

When the attackers arrived on the shores of Mumbai last month, they had studied satellite images of the city, were carrying handheld GPS sets and were communicating with their handlers via the Internet and satellite phone.

Many of the Indian police they encountered did not even have walkie-talkies.

The Mumbai gunmen not only overwhelmed security forces with their weaponry and willingness to die, but also with their sophisticated use of technology, security experts said.

"These (terrorists) are well aware of the technology available and also know that the police are several steps behind. And a lot of this technology is extremely easy to use and to learn," said Pavan Duggal, a technology expert and New Delhi-based lawyer.
Several thoughts come to mind.

First, the Indian police are woefully underfunded, ill-equipped and poorly trained to handle such situations.

Second, the terrorists may be sophisticated in their tactics but not in technology. Many of the equipment they used were the off-the-shelf variety, that can be had cheaply and quickly. The Indian police could avail themselves of the same technologies but the bureaucracy is so mired in the dark ages that their is an institutional aversion to anything beyond the oscillating fans (which were only introduced after great handringing and clenching of teeth).

And third, the United States, for all its failure at HUMINT, has a first rate ELINT capabiliy. If the terrorists were communicating via the internet and satellite phones, there is a good chance several United States intelligence agencies (specifically the NSA) has it on file somewhere.

It's possible, I suppose, tht the United States had an inkling something big was in the works. The question is: did the United States know it, and if they did, did they notify India? And if India did receive such intelligence, why did they fail to act on it?

Reading List For Las Vegas

I have finalized my reading list for my forthcoming trip to Las Vegas. I decided to use the long, captive moments to finally finish several books that are in different states of completion.

In fact, I'm only adding one new book, which isn't actually new but a reread, and since it deals with sports gambling, which I'm planning to pursue during my, I thought it would be apporpriate. Thus my reading list is as follows:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What To Read For Trip To Las Vegas

I have decided to take Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson to read on my long plane ride to Las Vegas this Wednesday. I thought it to be a spirited choice. Anybody else have any suggestions? I'm also taking a couple of books about gambling, plus a collection of columns by writer Nick Hornby as well.

UPDATE: On second thought, I have decided against taking Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with me, instead I will focus on the two gambling books and finishing up Body of Lies, which is simply superb.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Plans While Looking For A Job

My tentative - in the loosest sense of the word - plans while I'm looking for employment are as follows:

  • Finish reading all the books that I have yet to complete and, in the process, up the total of books read to 15 for 2008.
  • Watch a lot of movies, documentaries, and television shows.
  • Do some technical training, hone some skills, and maybe pick up some new ones.
  • Lose more weight by exercising more.
  • Concentrate more on my health without having to worry about work. Always nice to have.
  • Learn about investing and explore the possibilities of being a day trader (crazy, I know).
  • Hopefully, blog more (my lowest priority, sorry).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Indians To Play Baseball?

You might be seeing some desis playing major league baseball:

The Pittsburgh Pirates hope Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel really do have million-dollar arms.

The two 20-year-old pitchers, neither of whom had picked up a baseball until earlier this year, signed free-agent contracts Monday with the Pirates. They are believed to be the first athletes from India to sign professional baseball contracts outside their country.

Singh and Patel came to the United States six months ago after being the top finishers in an Indian reality TV show called the "Million Dollar Arm" that drew about 30,000 contestants. The show sought to find athletes who could throw strikes at 85 miles per hour or faster.
It's gimmicky, to be sure, but it would a nice thing, indeed, to see desis play professional sports in a country where there is a paucity of brown professional athletes.

I'm Getting The Pantech Matrix

My next phone:



I'm always two generations behind far as cell phone technology is concerned. I'm just not willing to pay for instant gratification many people are so compelled to pay for because of some fetish they have (think iPhone), or trying to keep up with the Joneses.

The Pantech Matrix seems like nice compromise wise both in terms of it's price point and functionality.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Listen To Duffy

I haven’t written much about music on this blog. The fact is, I haven’t been really listening anything worthwhile to spend time writing about it. But I’m really digging British (actually Welsh) chanteuse Duffy. She is one in a long line of soulful British imports, including Amy Wimehouse, Joss Stone, and Lilly Allen (who is more poppy but interesting, nevertheless. There is nothing in the United States that is close tocomparable, at the moment.

My favorite song, of course, is “Mercy”, which is getting heavy rotation on my music player. A song so classy, so silky, you could swear it came from the 1960s. Check out the official video, and its U.S. version, on YouTube.

India Comes To The Rescue

India finally flexed some of its military muscle by defending sea lanes that traverse the Gulf of Aden:

An Indian naval vessel sank a suspected pirate "mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden and chased two attack boats into the night, officials said Wednesday, yet more violence in the lawless seas where brigands are becoming bolder and more violent.
This move by the Indian Navy has significant implications for India: it has raised the country's profile among the comity of nations. India should take a more active role in policing the trade routes from the Straits of Hormuz and the east coast of Africa to the Straits of Malacca. As we have seen, there is no need for over-the-top fire power, but a small naval flotilla, with accompanying helicopter support, is all that is needed.

The Indian government should come out with a comprehensive strategy to keep trade routes safe, and take the lead in creating a multi-national coalition to fight piracy in all its forms.

A "Like, Duh" Moment

I know I’m coming to this realization a bit late (shoot me for being slow), but it would have been better if John McCain picked either Mitt Romney - his devout Mormonism aside - or Bobby Jindal as his running mate. Unlike Palin, neither of them are dummies.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who To Blame?

Did Palin cost McCain the election? According to FOX News, it sure looks like it:



I cut McCain a lot of slack for choosing Palin, but he should have at least talked to her and asked a few simple questions - like whether Africa is a continent or not. I know most American can't find their own country on a map, but even a third-grader knows that Africa is a continent.

(via hit & run)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

...The Day After

Congratulations to Barack Obama for winning the presidency. His victory was not a complete surprise given the mood of the voters, but the margin of victory was wide, to say the least. I, for one, expected a much narrower race.

Nevertheless, it is a historic moment in U.S. history: a black man has attained the highest position in the land. Historic in that the Civil Rights Movement is not even 50 years old, but in a space of three generations the United States has made headway in race relations, epitomized by the election of Barack Obama.

Good luck, President Barack Obama!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why Obama Has A Chance

This is a watershed moment in American politics: we have a realistic chance of seeing our first black president. Possible because Obama transcends race, class and, even at times, ideology.

Why is Obama so appealing, even among white Americans? Americans have given the presidency to white, Anglo-Saxon males (with the exception of John F. Kennedy, America's first Catholic president) since the founding of the republic. It took the imbecility of George H. W. Bush to shatter this myth. Never mind that Bush was rich, educated at both Yale and Harvard, and comes from an aristocratic political family - all the ingredients necessary to be a leader - he proved to be incompetent.

Can Obama do any worse?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Better Team Won

The Red Sox season is over, beaten in the ALCS by an obviously superior team, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are superior in that they had better pitching and batting then the Red Sox, both of which were lacking, especially during games three and four in Boston.

Could things have been better? I believe game two was winnable if Francona didn't leave Beckett in as long as he did, but Red Sox's woes can hardly be reduced to one game. The offense, at times, was anemic, and the pitching was simply awful; yet the Red Sox took the series to seven games, a testament to their toughness and experience. They just didn't have enough to win it all, making this series quite disappointing if not exciting.

But if we are to give praise at all, it should be given to the Rays, who many doubted would survive the season let alone make it to the World Series. But they have prospered. And given the Rays are a young team, and regardless what happens in the World Series, they will be around for some time to come. I take my hat off to them for a great season and a dramatic ALCS.

Finally, I'll be rooting for them in the World Series (sorry, Phillies).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Interesting Aviation Video

This is what an airplane landing on a windy day looks like:


Demand Media Video -- powered by demandmedia.com

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is India In A Malaise?

What ails India? In the space of several weeks, we have witnessed bombings, natural disasters, communal violence, temple stampedes, etc. Can anyone explain why? Because I'm at a loss for words.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Review: Dexter, Season One

Just finished watching Dexter: Season One on DVD. I never saw a series where a serial killer, of all people, and the main character to boot, can be so likable and charming. Dexter is essentially about Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter expert who works for the Miami police. Dexter also moonlights as a serial killer. The thing is Dexter is not your ordinary serial killer, but someone who has a conscious, of sorts. He follows a code: he doesn’t harm the innocent, only the wicked, who are walking freed, often unpunished: rapists, child molesters, murderers are all high on Dexter’s list.

There series is more a mini-series than episodic television. The story arc’s is spread over 12 tightly-knit episodes, and you really have to watch from the beginning to follow the rather twisted storyline. Not surprisingly, Dexter is based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay. Trust me, it’s well worth it. It’s a well-written show and contains some fine performances. Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter, has – no offence - the face of a serial killer: the vacant, serene eyes, the serious demeanor.

No one knows Dexter is a serial killer, but Dexter emits a vibe,which is readily picked up by Sgt. Drakes, a tough detective. Doakes doesn’t like Dexter, and thinks there is something creepy about Dexter and the way he carries himself. Doakes doesn’t know how right he is. Doakes suspicions are piqued with the arrival of the Ice Truck Killer, a serial killer who dismembers prostitutes and uses their body parts to create morbid sculptures. The Ice Truck Killer is doing this for a reason: he wants to impress Dexter, who the Ice Truck Killer knows is someone like him. A natural born killer. The Ice Truck killer is doing it all for him. And suffice it to say, Dexter is quite impressed by the Ice Truck Killer’s intricate handiwork, a type of envy seen only in fellow professionals. The answer why is revealed later in the series. You’ll all just have to watch it to find out.

Though Dexter is a crime series, its central theme lies in the relationship of its characters. And relationship is dangerous ground for Dexter who cannot feel sadness, love, and sympathy. Dexter, as he admits, is an empty shell. Yet Dexter pursues them by pretending, knowing full well that they keep his homicidal tendencies in check. Dexter comes from a loving home, where his father, who realized his adoptive son’s true nature, taught Dexter how to deal with his nature by teaching him a code; it’s the only way Dexter feels human. Because of his aloofness, Dexter has a rocky relationship with his sister and his girlfriend. The reason for Dexter’s trouble is simple: he just doesn’t open up to them. They don’t realize is that Dexter can’t open up to them because Dexter is afraid they will find nothing there, and if they do fine something, they won’t like what they see. Dexter walks an emotional tightrope, but he has to lest he wants to survive. As Dexter reminds us, almost all serial killers get caught.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eid Greetings

To all Muslim around the world, a happy and safe Eid-ul-Fitr...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Review: Michael Clayton

I finally saw a DVD for the first time in months. I chose Michael Clayton, a film I wanted to see since it was released in mid-2007. It stars George Clooney, one of my favorite actors, who plays Michael Clayton. It's a film with great promise, and contains some wonderful performances, but it never reaches its potential. As a thriller the movie fails horribly because it relies on the audience to make a superhuman leap in logic.

Clayton is a lawyer by trade, but he’s mostly a fixer, or janitor, cleaning up messes created by clients of a super humongous law firm Clayton works for. A lawyer with great promise, Clayton is a recovering gambler, divorced, penniless, and in debt after a restaurant that was to be his salvation goes belly-up. Clayton wants out but he has no choice but continue to be the firm's fixer. A job he does very well a senior partner, played by the late Sydney Pollack, often reminds him.

Clayton's latest headache is when the firm's top litigator, Arthur Edens, played wonderfully by British actor Tom Wilkinson, decides to strip naked during a deposition and then run into the parking a lot. The client, a major agro-business, who is being sued for poisoning small farmers with its fertilizer, is not very happy about the turn of events. Clayton is sent to defuse the situation and bring Arthur in from the cold, so to speak. Clayton realizes Arthur, a manic-depressive, is not only off his medication, but is happily working for the plaintiffs, making their case. The corporation’s chief counsel, an ambitious lawyer named Karen Crowder, played by a rather underutilized Tilda Swinton, takes matters into her own hands. She employs a couple of thugs to murder the litigator and make it look like a suicide. Clayton is deeply disturbed by the litigator's sudden death, and finds out that he was murdered. Crowder decides it would be better to get rid of Clayton as well.

I guess we are suppose to hate Karen Crowder for the power hungry corporate tool that she is, but she comes off more pathetic than evil – lame rather than diabolical.

Clayton manages to survive a car bomb, but how he manages to make the connection to Karen Crowder is never bothered to be explored, leaving me, and the probably the audience, scratching their heads. It's a movie that clocks in around two hours, but the directors try to explain it all in the last five, failing miserably at it and leaving me with a bad taste.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Gun Culture In Pakistan

From an editorial in The Pakistan Observer:

A BAG full of sophisticated weapons was found from a lawn of the Punjab University on Sunday. According to police, the bag containing five Klashnikovs, 12 hand grenades and 1100 rounds, was spotted by one of the gardeners of the university.
Only in the writer's deluded mind can Klashnikovs, which are made virtually everywhere, including Pakistan, be considered "sophisticated" weapons. But, then again, the whole editorial, the editorial board and the newspapers jingoistic owners are all deluded to begin with. Here'are some more delusions:
One of the main causes of the lawlessness and rising rate of crimes in the country is easy and free availability of weapons of all sorts. It is known to every body that almost every house in the tribal area is a gun-manufacturing unit and weapons produced there proliferate in each and every part of the country.
It's just not in tribal areas where guns proliferate. Like the editorial states, the gun culture dominates almost every corner of Pakistan. But this isn't some new phenomenon, but something that predates Pakistan itself. No where is the gun culture more revered, and rife, than in the NWFP, specifically the city of Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan.

The city is filled with bazaars selling all types of weapons conceivable, from homemade shotguns to cheap copies of Klashnikovs, like those found on the grounds of Punjab University. No one gives them any mind, of course. Here any terrorist group, domestic or foreign, can buy what they need without gaining any attention whatsoever. My guess is the culprits are somewhere there, if Pakistan can find them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why Help AIG?

Anyone who unflinchingly says the United States practices free market capitalism should get their head examined after taxpayers will have to pay $85 billion to bail out a company that made some bad business decisions. At $85 billion, there is nothing free about it, nor does it have to do anything with markets. I'm so pissed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Review: Who Do The Hell Is Pansy O'Hara?

Who the Hell Is Pansy O'Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books is filled with interesting factoids about some of the most beloved books - both fiction and nonfiction - in the English language. The list is eclectic and, mercifully, limited only to 50 books. It's a canon, of sorts, I suppose. Everybody seems to be writing these kinds of books: about music, movies and, of course, books. This mania to create lists is mostly a male pathos, but women seems to be joining them in droves. Those familiar with literature will find this book a bore, but there are some interesting tidbits that have been underreported.

For example, did you know that the Guiness Book of World Records started out as a promotional item given out by the Guiness Brewery Company to pubs all over Britain to settle arguments on what and/or who is the fastest, tallest, mostest, and every other piece of trivia that are asked in a drunken stupor? It became so popular it was later reprinted and sold to the public. As of today, it is only second-best selling book in the world, behind the Bible.

And what's the deal with the title? Well, according to this news item, Pansy O'Hara was a precursor to Scarlet O'Hara, the heroine of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.

Friday, September 12, 2008

J.D Salinger: Fomer Short Story Writer

Did you know that J.D. Salinger, before he wrote The Catcher in the Rye, was a prolific short story writer for a number of prominent magazines? And that these stories stories have yet to be collected in a book form? With the writer being such a recluse, it's no real surprise

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Typical Obama Supporter

Took this while driving: a Prius driver who supports Obama. Yeah, sounds about right.

Multimedia message on TwitPic

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Smooth As Expected

I've been reading editorials about the recently-concluded Beijing Olympic games all day, and I'm surprised to read that many are surprised China did so well, both off and on the field. I'm not. When you spend $40 billion, not including billions spent on a state-supported athlete factories, and the ruthless ability to control every aspect of the games with little or no dissent, things should go smoothly. It would be a shock if things didn't go smoothly as planned.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Funny Clip

Still on hiatus, but I thought I share this funny clip from 30 Rock, one of the funniest shows on television:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On Hiatus...No, I'm Not Writing A Book!

I'm taking all of August off. Too busy to write anyway. Busy on a project at work, a lot of paperwork to do, errands to run, and completing items that have been on my 'to-do' list forever. No time for play except a few rounds of video games.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Doha Round Collapses: Everybody Loses

The Doha Round of trade talks have officially collapsed. These negotiations, which have been going on for what feels like forever, would have reduced or eliminated odious agriculture subsidies and tariffs and make trading of agricultural products simpler and cheaper. Who to blame for this failure? Depends on whom you ask. Here's an editorial from the The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper, who is blaming the developed world, specifically the United States and the European Union:

The final impasse was the demand from the G-33 which wanted special safeguard mechanisms to protect farmers in the developing world against temporary surges in cut-price imports of cotton and rice. When one considers that these safeguards would be the only thing standing between hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers and penury, to say nothing of the stability of billions throughout the developing world, it is hard to fathom the opposition.

What is really outrageous about opposition to this from the West is that it insist not only on its own tariffs but also on massive agricultural subsidies that protect its handful of farmers and massively distort the international price of goods, causing further hardship to farmers in the developing world.
But the developed world, in turn, and led by the West, is blaming the developing world for trying to have its cake and eat it too; all at the expense of their farmers. The Washington Post is leading the charge on this score:
Still, as last-ditch talks moved into last weekend, the United States and European Union had made some concessions on farm supports, and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy had submitted a compromise plan that seemed to draw at least tentative approval from most participants. It was at that point that India and China essentially torpedoed the talks, asserting a broad right to raise tariffs to protect their poor farmers from "import surges," price drops and other vicissitudes of the world market. China, which had been relatively quiet throughout most of the talks, was particularly vituperative, blasting U.S. arguments as "absurd," even though Brazil and several other developing countries agreed with Washington.

China's role in the demise of the Doha Round is particularly dismaying, considering China has reaped huge benefits from global trade in the seven years since it joined the organization -- with strong U.S. support. Chinese exports have quadrupled from $300 billion in 2002 to $1.2 trillion in 2007, thanks in large part to free access to the U.S. market. U.S. supporters of Chinese inclusion in the WTO argued that drawing China into a system of multilateral give-and-take would mute its nationalistic tendencies. Evidently, the Chinese see the matter differently. They, and the world, will be poorer because of it.
It's safe to say that obstinacy on both sides led to the demise of the Doha Round. The developed world insists on paying subsidies to farmers, which in this era of high food prices is absurd. The developed world then demands open access to the developing world markets for their "cheap" food, giving local farmers an economic disadvantage. I believe the developing world has the right to protect its farmers as the developed world protect theirs.

At the same time, the developing world, led by China and India, insist on keeping mechanisms protecting its farmers against the onslaught on "cheap" food, even if the developed world ends its subsidies and tariffs. This will give developed world an advantage while penalizing western farmers for being more efficient and productive. This is a non-starter as well.

But ultimate loser in this fiasco are the consumers in both the developing and developed world, who will continue to pay high prices for agricultural products. It is also a defeat for free-trade, and a disturbing win for protectionism, which will only punish the entire world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ignoring Terrorism While Celebrating Nuclear Deal

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is busy basking in the glow of winning the confidence vote in Congress and getting the US-Indo nuclear deal approved. After all, this nuclear deal will be the showpiece of his legacy.

It's a dubious proposition given the fact the government seems to be spinning its wheels regarding the recent terrorist attacks in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. Indians care little for the nuclear deal because it does not impact them directly, but the risk of being blown up while walking through town has become a frightening reality. How the government will allay this fear will be Manmohan Singh's lasting legacy, in my opinion.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Humor: Chris Matthews And Obama

Great strip about Chris Mathews' infatuation, or man-crush, for Barack Obama:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

India's Government Survives

The UPA government has survived a confidence votes, which I suspect Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knew ahead of time. For a cold technocrat, Prime Minister Singh has proven to be a wily political operator, outmaneuvering the Left Front out of power, and out of mind, without needing to call elections.

The Left Front, naturally, is shocked by the result. The CPI-M website and its mouthpiece People's Democracy, for example, are replete with baseless accusations against Manmohan Singh, even offering 'proof' that some MPs were bribed. The Left Front bitterness is obvious: they never had it so good and, hopefully, they never will again.

Indo-Pakistan Relations Cooling

Ever since a new civilian government has come to power, Indo-Pakistan relations have been heading south.

Pakistan and India struggled to hide their exasperation with each other at the start of a fifth round of ‘composite dialogue’ between their foreign secretaries here on Monday.

New Delhi warned that the recent attack on its embassy in Kabul had put the talks under stress. Islamabad said given its enormous sacrifices it could not be put on probation in the war on terror.

A source close to the talks between Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Shivshankar Menon described the atmosphere at the Hyderabad House as unexpectedly muddied. Mr Menon is believed to have told Mr Bashir that not only had the dialogue been put under stress but the talks were also at risk following the devastating attack in Kabul on July 7.

After the round of the dialogue on peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir and other confidence-building measures (CBMs), Mr Menon told reporters that the talks were happening at a “difficult time of our relationship with Pakistan”.
This is not a new phenomenon, but a regular occurrence. Relations were bad when both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were in power as well. Like then, Kashmir became a restive place with frequent cross-border artillery barrages and increase in militant activity. Pakistani intelligence and military is responsible for some of this - they always tend to operate independently of the civilian government - but I would not be surprised one bit if the civilian government sanctioned it this time around. With Pakistan beset with economic and political problems, including militancy on its border with Afghanistan, trying to blame India for its ills is usually a win-win strategy, with little or no political cost.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Darfur Is Real, Not Fake...

I know. I know. Fisking a Pakistan Observer editorial is like shooting fish in a barrel and a total waste of time, but this editorial is so wrong on almost every count, it deserves a response. Since the editorial is brief, confirming the childish thought process of its writer, I present it in full below

IN an ominous development, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor has filed genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The charges filed Monday include masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation.

The Western powers, led by the United States, have been raising pressure against Sudan in the context of Darfur region, where a conflict is raging for the control of local resources. Situation in Darfur has been exaggerated to a great extent to portray the Christian population as the most oppressed section of the society with a view to building a case for foreign intervention and creation of a separate homeland for them. It is because of this that tons of propaganda material is being churned out daily against ‘oppressive’ policies of the Sudanese Government and activities of the Janjawid militia. There are also reasons to believe that another factor behind the Western interests in Sudan and this particular region is reports about huge oil and gas deposits in the country and the United States and its coteries have their eyes on this natural wealth of the poor country.
The first paragraph is probably the only correct item in the whole editorial. The rest I dismiss as a product of intellectual laziness.
  • Though there are Christians in Darfur, the majority of the population is Muslim. The Pakistan Observer is trying to spin this affair strictly as a Christian-Muslim conflict - a clash of civilizations, so to speak - when in reality it is an African-Arab conflict; and if you are a Marxist, even a class conflict.

  • The residents of Darfur do not want a separate homeland. This is a lie set forth by the Sudan government to sanction their actions in Darfur. What the residents of Darfur want is to share in the prosperity of Sudan and its oil wealth. If there is oil in Darfur, Sudan wants it all for itself.

  • And is the testimony of thousands of refugees mired in camps in neighboring Chad propaganda? The thousands of images broadcast all over the world of dying refugees propaganda? Even the United Nations, not the quickest of actors, condemned the actions of the Sudanese government? If what I'm hearing and seeing is propaganda, I want to know what the truth is.

  • Naturally, the West is behind all this because they want to exploit Darfur's natural resources. This is typical post-colonial analysis used by critics from the developing world to frame all actions and policies taken by the West against oppressive regimes. It plays well enough, I suppose, but in the end it rings hollow. Darfur is already being exploited, not by the West but by Sudan, the Arab world and China, who are shamelessly supported Sudan to the hilt because it needs Sudan's vast energy reserves to fuel its booming economy. But even China cannot ignore public opinion, so it has voted with the U.N. Security Council to let the ICC prosecute Sudan for war crimes. Does this still sound like a Western conspiracy? Anyone familiar with functioning of the ICC, which The Pakistan Observer clearly does not, knows that the process is a lengthy and tedious one, with checks and balances to ensure that prosecutions are not politically motivated or capricious.
For The Pakistan Observer, whose standards are already low, to publish this tripe as an editorial is just outright irresponsible.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Humor: Weapons Are Cheaper Than A Bag Of Rice

How many in the developing world are coping with high food prices:

Friday, July 11, 2008

3G iPhone Out Today: Will It Be A Success

Starting today you can buy the new 3G iPhone from AT&T (T); and Apple (APPL) has also launched an apps store, where you can download third-party applications for your iPhone. Personally, I find the whole experience underwhelming and a bit overrated. Regardless, I found this ad on Apple's site to a bit amusing:



The phone may be half-price, but your cell phone will almost double because you will have to subscribe to a data plan and pay extra for SMS and other features. Is it worth it? Not to me. But this won't stop the crazies from buying one.

Why not just get a Wi-Fi equipped phone - like a Blackberry? Want e-mail? There are plenty of free e-mail services that provide POP access, like GMail. Why pay extra when you don't have to?

Will the 3G iPhone succeed? Initially, yes; but the cost of ownership is still prohibitive for many people, including myself. Plus, it's a closed, proprietary system. I much prefer open source applications written in Java.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Letting Things Go....

The Left Front has issued the following statement:

The Minister for External Affairs, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, announced on July 8, 2008 at a press conference that the government would send India’s safeguards agreement to the International Atomic Energy Agency Board for approval only if it won the trust vote in parliament. “I cannot bind the government if we lose our majority”, he said.

He also stated that he had consulted the Prime Minister who was in Japan, in this regard.

Coming hours after the announcement that the Left parties had decided to withdraw support to the government, this was a solemn commitment to the country that the government would not proceed to the Board of Governors of the IAEA till the government proved its majority in parliament.

It is shocking that less than twenty four hours of such a statement, the IAEA has announced that at the request of the Government of India, the text has been submitted to the Board for its consideration. (Annexure – press release of the IAEA).
It's like a bad marriage that mercifully comes to an end and one of the partners is having a hard time letting go. Congress has already moved on; but the Left Front has not: coming to the bitter realization that it has no where to go, that it never had it so good as it did with Congress.

This saga has all the ingredients of a bad Indian soap opera or Bollywood film, replete with formulaic happy endings except, in this case, the ending is a sad one. The Left Front was hoping - rather foolishly - that Congress would, like many times before, beg them to come back because Congress needs the Left Front than the Left Front needs it. But Congress, tired of the political blackmail and the whining and complaining, doesn't need or want the Left Front anymore, but has taken a new lover, the Samajwadi Party.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Calling The Kettle Black

Members of the editorial board of The Pakistan Observer are such blockheads that they often answer their own questions without realizing it. This editorial on the homicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul is typical:

It is regrettable that instead of getting to the roots of the problem, some circles and forces prefer to indulge in blame game. As for the Kabul blast, it seems to be the work of those who are weary of growing Indian interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. There is a strong perception that more than a dozen Indian consulates, many more companies including dummy ones, NGOs and above all military personnel are engaged in activities that are seen by majority of Afghans as direct interference in their domestic affairs. Indians are hands in glove with the Northern Alliance in undermining and suppressing the freedom movement of Afghan people. Its agencies are also using Afghanistan as a staging post for launching acts of sabotage in neighbouring countries especially Pakistan. It has been stated on more than one occasion by Pakistani authorities which publicly complained that Indians were deeply involved in exploiting the law and order situation in FATA and Balochistan. Apart from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Indians are also interfering in the internal affairs of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives. We hope that Indian leaders would review their policy and would not allow their agencies to sponsor acts of terrorism or sabotage in other countries. That would contribute towards maintenance of peace and security in the region.
Emphasis is mine, of course. The only people who are complaining about India and Afghanistan is Pakistan, who considers Afghanistan to be in its sphere of influence. Afghans seem happy with India's efforts to rebuild their country; which is more than Pakistan has ever done. India builds roads. Pakistan? The Taliban. The reason FATA and Balochistan are restive because of Pakistan's stepmotherly treatment.

I can go on, of course, but what would be the point?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Left Front To Withdraw Support

The Left Front has decided to withdraw its support for the UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Will the government collapse? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is busy schmoozing with G-8 leaders in Japan, seems nonchalant about it:

Asked if the withdrawal of Communist support would affect his government, the prime minister, while coming out of a meeting of the five Outreach nations (China, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico besides India) remarked: "I don't think it will affect the stability of the government."

Asked when the government will go to the IAEA, a point on which the Left has pulled out parliamentary support, he said: "As soon as possible."

These seem to have been minor distractions for the resolute prime minister who, according to Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, made no change in his programme due to the political crisis back home that kept the media here agog.
Actually no one in Congress seems all that concerned about the Left Front withdrawing its support, which indicates one of two things: Congress is either stupid; or they have lined up support from other parties in Parliament. Personally, I think it's the latter since Congress is insisting on a confidence vote before going to the IAEA.

Whatever the result, the Left Front's brinkmanship will blow up in their faces. They have proved again their anti-Indian ethos. Nitin is right when he says:
It should now remain for the Indian voter to give the Communists the drubbing they deserve. Somewhere, one of history’s dustbins is waiting for them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Homicide Bomb Attack On Indian Embassy In Kabul

Enjoyed a long-weekend doing almost absolutely nothing only to return to this:

A suicide bomber has rammed a car full of explosives into the gates of the Indian embassy in the Afghan capital, killing 41 people and injuring 141.

Five embassy personnel were killed - India's defence attache, a senior diplomat and two security guards - as well as an Afghan man.

Five Afghans died at Indonesia's embassy nearby.
I heard the news report on BBC while driving to work. The anchor interviewed Afghan, Indian and Pakistani officials, quizzing them on the details. The Afghans and Indians claimed the attack was made by 'enemies of Afghan-Indian friendship' - this is code for Pakistan. BBC anchors are a pushy lot, and this one was no exception. He repeatedly tried to bait these officials into admitting it was Pakistan. Pakistan, whose Foreign Minister was interviewed, condemned the attack while vehemently denying it had anything to do with it. This is standard operating procedure practiced by diplomats: accusations and counter-accusations will be left to surrogates.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why Is India Silent On Zimbabwe

Perhaps I've been living in a fog, or just may have missed reports in the media, but what is India's official position on the current situation in Zimbabwe?

Everyone except Robert Mugabe knows full well that recent elections were a sham. The United States and Europe (and even the United Nations) have rightly denounced the elections as illegitimate since the atmosphere was poisoned with fear and violence. Yet India and many non-Western countries have been eerily quiet.

I can only guess why. For all his dictatorial tendencies and his calamitous economic policies, Mugabe is still a popular figure and continues to draw respect from many countries, especially those who were themselves under colonial rule. To them Mugabe is a legend, whose reputation as an independence leader is beyond reproach. And Mugabe is banking on this sympathy to help him weather the storm. This also explains the bellicose statements made by Mugabe's spokesman during an African Union summit in Egypt. To quote:

Charamba had harsh words for Western pressure: "They can go hang. They can go and hang a thousand times."
The African Union, under whose auspices its leaders are trying to convince Mugabe the error of his ways, will be ineffective given the fact that most of its members are worse than Mugabe. So don't expect anything to happen on that front.

Instead countries like India should take the lead in condemning Mugabe for what he is and resist the temptation to engage in knee-jerk anti-Western histrionics. A condemnation from non-Western countries like India carry a heavier weight than those by the west, whose legacy of imperialism and colonialism taint their calls for Mugabe's ouster.

The question is: will India rise to the occasion, or say nothing, thus affirming Mugabe's actions?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Presenting Sanjay Gere...

Canadians have such a great sense of humor. Below is a sketch from a Canadian television show mocking Bollywood.



Simply priceless...

Sam Manekshaw: The Passing Of A Great Soldier

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw is no more. He has died at the ripe old age of 94; at a military hospital in Tamil Nadu. It was he who led Indian forces into Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971: vanquishing the Pakistani army, resulting in the creation of independent Bangladesh. It's safe to say that many Bangladeshis from that era still hold him in high esteem. He retired soon after, capping a four-decade career. Manekshaw was a soldier to his last day, always donning the uniform when making public appearances.

NDTV has a nice news tribute:



He considered himself to be a soldier's soldier. Nevertheless, he was a rather charming and witty fellow, subduing superiors, colleagues and, on occasion, enemies alike with his trademark British mannerisms. India has lost a great soldier. He will be missed but not forgotten.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why Reliance FRESH Is Good For India

I don't know what this Frontline article is suppose to accomplish, but if it is to discredit food chain stores like Reliance FRESH, it fails miserably. On the contrary, it has made the case for them. The article presumes farmers are just being exploited by greedy corporations, but farmers seem all to happy selling their produce to Reliance FRESH. Here's why:

Selvamani, a farmer whose family owns 30 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) and has been selling both to Reliance and in the auction market at Kozhinjampara, told Frontline: “On an average, we get at least Rs.2 a kg more for every commodity if we give it to Reliance rather than at the wholesale market. At the local market, as elsewhere, we have to pay a 10 per cent commission to agents in addition to the loading and unloading charges. Their weighing machines are almost always inaccurate. This is why a lot of farmers here prefer to sell to Reliance.”
Higher prices! Much more than what the government's Public Distribution System (PDS) will give farmers. Reliance FRESH also offers:
...electronic weighing, on-the-spot cash payment, extension services and, importantly, an assured market for their produce.
What does the government offer? Indifference and lamentation about high food prices; and blaming neo-liberalism as the main culprit seems to be the official preoccupation.

As I see it, the only way to reduce the cost of food, for the short-term, is to keep the cost of production and transportation low. And only efficient, mechanized organizations, combined with economies of scale, can accomplish this: they are mostly agro-businesses and retail chains like Reliance FRESH. And given the soaring cost of food, the Left (as they are the key players in this 'anti-Walt-Martian' drama) seems keen on keeping them high. I guess they hate the poor.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Life Of A Consultant: Sitting On The Bench

After a three-month assignment that ended prematurely, I'm back on the bench. This is the life of a consultant - feast and famine. Hope to get a new assignment soon, but given the weakness of IT spending by companies, I might be on the bench for awhile.

I hate sitting on the bench. For me it's a sign of weakness; a personal failure. I need to work all the time, otherwise I feel useless. In the meantime I'm taking some training to sharpen my skills. But what good will it do me if I can't apply it right away? It's like learning a language, I suppose: use it or lose it.

My malaise is also affecting my blog: I was posting almost every day while on assignment - evidence of my busy brain - but I have since dropped to few posts a week; and on the verge of giving up altogether.

Hope to get back in motion soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A View From Mars #1

Earth and the moon as seen from Mars:



A jarring perspective I never really thought about: how the Earth looks from other planets?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hinduism Will Survive The Love Guru

Hindu groups in the United States are demanding cuts from Mike Myer's The Love Guru, a film that purportedly insults Hinduism and its followers. The Hindu Janjagruti Samiti has written to anyone who will listen. This quote, however, made me scratch my head.

"Poking fun is one thing, but if it creates a sense of belittling one's faith, then it is wrong," it said in a statement.
Where does one draw the line? Where does poking fun end and belittling begin? It's like beauty: it's in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, I doubt Hinduism will fall because of one sophomoric comedy. I think the movie is, in reality, mocking the multi-billion dollar self-help industry which combines Hinduism with a New Age ethos: it's mumbo-jumbo monetized. Personally, the industry deserves a good ribbing.

Another interesting statement:
It said if the trailer was an indicator of its content, millions of Hindus worldwide who hold the guru-disciple relationship as sacred will be offended.
Again another gross overreaction. The guru-disciple relationship was undermined long ago when the word guru entered the English lexicon. Today it is a euphemism for genius, used liberally by anyone to describe anyone with the slightest hint of above average intelligence. No, I am afraid, the word guru went to the dogs long ago.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Irish Say NO!

Theodore Dalrymple is one of my favorite writers, and is a contributor to City Journal, a publication from the Manhattan Institute, where Dalrymple is also a fellow. In this article, Dalrymple talks about Europe’s political elites repeated – and rather forceful – attempts to create a new European super state, often over the wishes of its constituents. Recently, the Irish had rejected a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, which were inimical to Irish interests. Why? Dalrymple writes

Another explanation for the Irish “no” vote was that Irish citizens had been frightened by the proposal of the French finance minister to equalize tax rates throughout Europe, thus destroying unfair competition (all competition is unfair, unless the French win). No prizes for guessing whether the high tax rates of France or the low rates of Ireland would become the new standard. Ireland’s golden goose would find itself well and truly slaughtered in the process.
The Irish know that both France and Germany, by the virtue of their size, would dominate the European Union both economically and politically; and smaller (and richer) states like Ireland would be at their mercy. To make it more equitable, in my view, the European Union, instead of having a unitary system like a single parliament, should adopt a system used by the United States to check the power of its most populous states – bicameralism.

But such a balanced approach is an anathema to Europe’s political elite, who don’t take criticism too well. Bred to rule, they think they are doing God’s work - secularly speaking, of course. Much of the European media parrot what their political leaders say, rarely questioning the wisdom of their decisions or, for that matter, what the common people think.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Random Quote #4

I think I posted this on another blog long ago, which no longer exists, but it describes many second-generation, hyphenated Indians like myself:

India is for me a difficult country. It isn't my home and cannot be my home; and yet I cannot reject it or be indifferent to it; I cannot travel only for the sights. I am at once too close and too far.

--V.S. Naipaul, from his book India: A Wounded Civilization.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Naipaul's Impressions Of India

Currently reading V.S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness: A Discovery of India, a travelogue of the author’s first trip to India. Even though I have only read the prelude and first chapter, it is a book that is strongly resonating with me: trying to connect with a country that, for a long time, existed only in my imagination.

For any traveler, first impressions are important. In the prelude, Naipaul reounts his maddening ordeal trying to reclaim two bottles of spirits that were confiscated by custom officers on his arrival in Bombay. Naipaul was sent on a wild goose chase through the serpentine Indian bureaucracy: having to obtain this permit and that permit, to talk to this fellow or to that fellow, never getting a straight answer. And he never reclaimed his bottles. Naturally, for Naipaul, it left a bad impression.

As a young child and teenager, I remember the trips I took to India with my family vividly, if not always fondly. Our arrival coincided with my first impressions of India: the stifling humidity, the ramshackle terminal building, surly immigration officers, greedy custom officers; the usual malaise and apathy that afflict third-world, socialist dysfunctions like India. The custom officers, especially, took perverse pleasure in torturing fellow Indians, fleecing them for bribes, threatening them if they did not pay them.

This whole experience tainted my later observations of India, and I think it tainted Naipaul as well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bring Your Own Toilet Paper

Cost cutting are reaching ridiculous levels at IT companies in India:

BANGALORE: Tough times ahead for techies in India. Pretty soon, they may have to carry tissue paper to office, for the US recession seems to have entered even the toilets of Indian software firms.

After slashing salary increments and travel budgets, many domestic firms and MNCs are now cutting on routine items like stationery, canteen snacks, even tissue paper. The once abundant stock of toilet paper, sanitary disposal bags and bottles of handwash are drying up now.

"Tissue paper rolls have disappeared from most gents toilets. Women colleagues say their toilets still have them, although the quality has dropped," said a tech professional working for an MNC.

Another professional, Meera Sridhar, said, "Tissue paper is found only in a couple of toilets out of the nine we have. The face tissues completely vanished a fortnight ago."

"Earlier, I would send a security guard to fetch a pen or writing pad from admin. A few days ago, the security man said I must go and get them personally. I went, only to be told the company has put a stop on stationery to cut costs," said Akhil D, a senior professional in an IT MNC.

The recession has entered canteens too. "We used to get free snacks, biscuits, popcorn with coffee or tea or badam milk. That has stopped now, although there's no official word yet," said Rajani Pravin, a young BPO executive. The cuts are being implemented very subtly. "Everybody wants to avoid panic and bad publicity," pointed out Lata Mahoharan, manager (admin), with a leading domestic tech firm.

"We heard that an American airline has cut a celery leaf from every burger it serves on board. Are companies being penny wise and pound foolish, or will they actually save?" wondered a senior manager of a BPO firm.
American airlines giving out food on flights! Where has this guy been? Kidding aside. How much are companies going to save skimping on toilet paper, notepads and pens? Small things, added together, have big impacts. If my company denied us toilet paper - which is just disgusting - notepads and pens, I would not only be demoralized but question my confidence in management and, at the same time, plot my exit strategy.

The 3G iPhone: Not As Cheap As You Think

The new 8 GB 3G iPhone is going to sell for $199. Sweet! I was going to buy one for my wife - who never had a decent phone in her life - when our contract with AT&T expires in November...until I read the fine print that is:

Everywhere you look, a new iPhone price hike turns up. At $199, the phones themselves may be cheaper — but Apple and AT&T, the phone's exclusive carrier in the U.S., are charging users by other means. The iPhone data plan by itself is going up $10 to $30/mo. In a GigaOm interview, AT&T wireless chief Ralph de la Vega reveals that the 200 text messages previously included will cost iPhone users an extra $5/mo. ($20/mo. for unlimited messages, which seem practically obligatory.) And then there's Apple's MobileMe subscription, without which the iPhone's new synching features won't work, at $99 a year, or just over $8 a month. Add it up, and iPhone users will be paying about $43 a month, or $1,038 over the two-year course of the AT&T contract they signed up for — all to get an iPhone at $199.
So to fully maximize the iPhone you have to pay $1,038 for the data plan, text messaging, and synching software; plus $199 for the phone itself. This doesn't include voice, taxes and other assorted fees. That's a pretty hefty phone bill to pay each month.

Slew Of Books On Sub-Prime Mortgages

As is my habit, I browse Amazon.com for the latest in books, DVDs, and music. Books about the sub-prime meltdown are already starting to come out.



Nothing sells books like misery.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Apple Releases 3G iPhone..Like, Whatever

Wow. Apple announces the 3G iPhone. Arguably one of the worst kept secrets in history.

Pakistan Begs For Cheap Oil

It has become tradition for any new leader of Pakistan, elected or unelected, to visit two countries as soon as possible: China and Saudi Arabia. And they often bring a begging bowl with them. Currently, both Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari are in Saudi Arabia to ask the Saudis for cheap oil and, while they are there, to perform umrah.

According to this article, they got it. Saudi will give them cheap oil, to a point. What they extracted from Pakistan in return is anybody’s guess – a good chance it was both Gilani's and Zardari's soul. After they return to Pakistan, Gilani and Zardari will make there way to China, who will lend Pakistan even more money. Since China already owns Pakistan, there is nothing Pakistan can give aside from being China lapdog.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Left Front Suffers In West Bengal Polls

Known to be in bed with the Left Front, Frontline offers a sobering assessment of the Left Front's rather underwhelming performance in recent panchayat elections in West Bengal. Choice quotes:

What possibly stung the Left Front and the CPI(M) the most is the defeats in Nandigram in East Medinipur district and in Singur in Hooghly district. All eyes had been on these two regions, considering the trouble the State government faced both from the opposition and within the Left Front over land acquisition in both places, in Singur for Tata Motors’ small-car project and in Nandigram for a proposed chemical hub.

...The party also realises that it was time for some introspection. Admitting that after 30 years of governance an element of “arrogance” might have crept into the party, Bose told Frontline: “Unfortunately, sometimes our activists, even myself, feel we know best. This has been a good alarm call for all of us – right from Left Front leaders to the cadre – that we cannot afford to be arrogant. There is still much to learn from the people. We have to understand the mood of the masses.”
Arrogance is right. The Left Front was reminded that West Bengal is not China: they cannot just shove industrialization down the throats of people by government fiat alone. Even though the Left controls the government, democratic principles still matter. The rule of law still matter.

If there's one thing that has been abundantly made clear about this election is that the Left Front is vulnerable to organized opposition. The opposition - BJP, Congress, Trinamool Congress - combined their resources at the panchayat level to defeat the Left Front.

Friday, June 6, 2008

V.S. Naipaul: A Literary Monster Part 2

More evidence of V.S. Naipaul's unalloyed monstrosity on display:

Naturally, as Naipaul grew older, the bad behaviour grew to crescendos. But there is often a lordliness about it which some, such as I, may find redeems it. Two examples, one minor and one major: the minor – when he was first introduced to Auberon Waugh and was asked, “May I call you Vidia?”. His reply, worthy of Evelyn Waugh himself was: “No, as we’ve just met, I would rather you called me Mr Naipaul”; the second, which would win a prize for bad behaviour, but is also hugely comic, was his inability to inform Margaret, his mistress of long standing, that he had decided to remarry when Pat died of cancer. He sent his tall, mysterious literary agent, “Gillon Aitken to sort out the mess, taking the concept of agency to new lengths”.
I wrote about V.S. Naipaul here. The article condones Naipaul because a writer's life is a hard one. May be so, but this does not mean he has the right to treat people cruelly as he has. I will continue to read him even though I despise him as a human being.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama Wins Nomination.

Not surprisingly, Obama has won the Democratic nomination for president - unofficially. Clinton has yet to concede, but knowing her modus operandi, she's probably angling for VP.

I'm disappointed it has come to this. I consider politics to be a blood sport, the political equivalent of the MMA. So to see the event end so early has cheated me of the enjoyment I so desperately needed: to see Clinton and Obama beat each other into a bloody pulp by convention time. Alas, it is not to be.

On the upside, it's good to know who the contenders are. For me, both McCain and Obama are bitter disappointments. McCain, with his maverick persona long worn off, represents a party that desperately needs to renew itself ideologically. Obama is the feel good candidate, whose lack of experience (and ideas) seems secondary to his natural gift as an orator and schmoozer. For people who are voting with their hearts instead of their brains, Obama is their man. I'm much too cynical to fall for Obama's charisma.

I'm not saying I'm not voting in November. I am. Just not for McCain or Obama.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

need a one-day vacation for me

I haven't watched a DVD - from beginning to end - in so long. Too busy at work, helping the wife around the house, weekend events with friends and family (birthdays, graduations, etc.), and other things that take too much of my time.

I need a day just to myself so I can do what I want to do: watch a DVD, read without being interrupted, write a substantial blog post or two, even an article of publishable quality, or even play some video games.

For me a day off would be the perfect gift.

Monday, June 2, 2008

No Luv For Celtics from ESPN

The Celtics are being disrespected by practically all of ESPN's NBA analysts:



I sure hope these guys are proven wrong. I'll be bleeding Green starting Thursday

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pakistanis And The Bomb: Why They Don't Care

The jingoistic Pakistan Observer is dismayed by Pakistan's lack of fervor in celebrating Youm-e-Takbeer, a day set aside to observe Pakistan’s arrival as a nuclear power, when it tested its first nuclear device deep within the mountains of Balochistan.

Why the lack of fervor? The reasons are manifold, I suppose, the chief being that it has gained Pakistan little while costing it much. For many who thought having nuclear weapons would confer respect and prosperity on Pakistan are deeply disappointed. Pakistan continues to be poor, its economy anemic, where society is marred by crime and poverty, and government is hopeless, useless, and corrupt. The only difference today is that Pakistan now has the bomb, which makes Pakistan scarier, not respected.

And where is the peace dividend? Pakistan is swamped with militancy on its border with Afghanistan. Something called the Pakistan Taliban has controls a good chunk of the NWFP, while terrorists kill innocent Muslims with suicide bomb attacks at mosques all over the country. How are nuclear weapons going to stop this? Everyone knows that the sole reason Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons is India, and only India. Even with a first-strike capability, and multiple second-strike capabilities, Pakistan insists on keeping conventional military levels the same, commanding a lion's share of the federal budget.

Not to mention the idea of celebrating such a day as some sort of happy moment is the type of militarism that is not even seen in the United States, the only nation to use atomic weapons. Only idiots at the Pakistan Observer and the political elites are enamored enough to celebrate.

It was Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who got the ball rolling on Pakistan's nuclear program. He didn't care what it took, or what it cost. He said: "We will eat grass" but Pakistan must have nuclear weapons. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, but it is still eating grass.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Pakistanis Seek Greener Pastures

Interesting letter in Dawn that I have produced in full below:

THIS is apropos of Dr Imran Qureshi’s letter (May 17) in which he states that he has applied for Canadian immigration because he feels the Pakistani passport brings disgrace to him. It is unfortunate he used the pretext of security checks at airports being the reason for his action.

Moreover, he says: “I cannot change the system because I am nobody.” It is this attitude which contributes to the downfall of nations. Each individual in a nation has a role to play in its development no matter how small it is.

Instead of feeling ‘disgraced’ at being asked to remove our shoes and belts at airports, we need to understand why this is happening and how we can stop it. Besides, in today’s prevalent security situation, he would face the same security checks as long as he has a Muslim name.

So, probably, his next step would be to change his name to an English/Christian name, which might lead him to change his religion as well in a bid to improve the treatment he gets at airports.

One day when Pakistan would be prospering and the green passport will command respect, your head will be hung in shame for having ditched your motherland when it needed you the most.

SAAD DURAIZ
United Kingdom
Perhaps the writer is right. A day will come when a Pakistani passport - the little green book - will be treated with respect. Just don't expect that day to be anytime soon.

There are many factors at play, of course, that need to go Pakistan's way before things improve. For one thing, stop producing passports that are easily forged. Much of the world is reverting to machine-readable passports and, in some cases, include various biometeric data. Pakistan still insists on issuing hand-written passports like the good old days, so it's not uncommon for criminals and terrorists to travel on Pakistani passports. Countless news items fill newspapers every year recounting harrowing tales of Pakistanis trying to enter countries, mostly for employment purposes, on bogus passports. This only makes it harder for legitmate vistors, who must pay the price for increased scrutiny at airports and denial of visas. Even Islamic countries like Malaysia are suspicious of Pakistanis.

And it doesn't help that Pakistan has been slow to respond, which only leaves many people frustrated and yearning for a passport of another color.

Monday, May 26, 2008

CSI: Guess Who's Coming Back

What the hell!

CSI boss Carol Mendelsohn wasn't pulling my leg when she told me last October that we haven't seen the last of Sara Sidle. Sources confirm that Jorja Fox has inked a deal to return for the show's ninth-season premiere next fall.

Specifics of her comeback are being kept under lock and key, but my CSI mole assures me that she "won't be appearing in a flashback." The likely scenario has Sara returning to Vegas to shag Grissom mourn ex-colleague Warrick, who was shot (and presumably) killed in last week's finale. I say "presumably" because in the current issue of TV Guide, Mendelsohn says Gary Dourdan will be back in the fall — and "not just in flashbacks."
This is so stupid! Jorja Fox leaves, ostensibly because she's tired of playing Sara Sidle, only to agree to return. The same with Gary Dourdan. They must have realized they have the acting ability of yams?

It is also sign a series that is in trouble. After eight years, CSI has reached the bottom of the barrel. Time to end it. Make the ninth-season its last.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Random Quote #3

The opening paragraph from one my favorite novels of all time, Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne:

Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814. He was one of the most noticeable members of the Reform Club, though he seemed always to avoid attracting attention; an enigmatical personage, about whom little was known, except that he was a polished man of the world. People said that he resembled Byron--at least that his head was Byronic; but he was a bearded, tranquil Byron, who might live on a thousand years without growing old.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What Appeasement Really Looks Like

From MEMRI:

On May 11, 2008, the secular government in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) finalized a deal with the Taliban groups for the implementation of shari'a in the province's seven districts. The Pashtun nationalist government in the NWFP, which came to power last month, had vowed to talk to the Taliban in order to establish peace in the region. The talks were held between the government, Pakistani Taliban and the outlawed Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e -Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Shari'a).
If the NWFP government thinks it's going to get peace, they haven't given the devil his due. The Pakistan Taliban, like their Afghan brethren, are a wiley lot: you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. The Pakistani Taliban will never be content and will always demand more: today Shari'a in seven districts, tomorrow all of NWFP. Appeasment, as it's being practiced by the NWFP goverment, is the sure path to slavery.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why Government Is Useless In South Asia

Khilado shares his impression of a typical government office in Pakistan:

You walk inside in the valley of the shadow of askew shelves groaning with files, all askew, stuttering fans stirring up yellowing pages under the light of flickering tube lights. People sit around listless, waiting for the next cup of tea and sms message, disturbed now and than by a visitor who mistakenly wanders in trying to get some work done, and sometimes by a peon shuffling around bulging files, in a endless cycle from desk to desk, sometimes only making the journey to the person sharing the same desk, other times all the way outside the room into an adjoining office.
Replicate this across every office, every ministry, at every level of government, from district to federal, and that's a lot of people sitting around pushing papers from one side of their desk to the other. It's a disease that afflicts every country in South Asia.

I happened to visit one government office in Bangladesh and I was horrified by what I saw: cheap, ramshackle desks, with decrepit plastic phones, no computers whatsoever and the closest thing to modern technology was a single manual typewriter. Files all over the place, and what they contained didn't matter since many haven't been touched in years. And then they were the people: listless, counting the seconds to lunch, then to tea time, and finally to go home.
The whole system would be so much more efficient if they just fired the bureaucracy and let the people who do the work anyways do it. The amazing part is that the system is so broken yet somehow the country still shambles on.
Alas, if it were only that simple. Khalido is right, though, the country shambles on because bulk of the work is done by a few key people. Khalido is also correct that bureaucracies are completely unnecessary. But people must be employed: so, through a system of political patronage, the government gives them meaningless jobs in return for passivity.

Left Front Loses Key Vote

The people have spoken:

In a jolt to the CPI(M)-led Left Front, Trinamool Congress defeated its candidates in trouble-torn Nandigram in the three-tier panchayat elections in West Bengal.

The Front also faced rout in three zilla parishad seats in Singur to Trinamool Congress candidates.

The polls are seen as a litmus test for the Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee government's farmland acquisition policy for industries.
The Left Front have consistently denied any wrongdoing or engaging in strong-arm tactics, blaming, as always, the opposition for its troubles. This is a typical tactic used by the Left Front to demonize its opponents and deflect responsibility. Alas, the citizens of Nandigram, ground zero, so to speak, didn't believe the Left Front and their lies and proved it by voting against them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bangladesh's Al Capone

When you want to take down a big-time criminal in a round about way, you convict him on a lesser charge. This is how Al Capone was taken down and this, hopefully, how Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's largest Islamic political party, will be taken down as well.

Nizami is a war criminal, pure and simple. During 1971, Nizami sided with Pakistan in suppressing forces dedicated to Bengali independence. He formed a shadowy para-military group called Al-Badr, which targeted minorities (mostly Hindus), intellectuals, professionals, secularists, almost anyone with a pro-independence bent. Al-Badr was not above committing rapes, torture, or outright murder in order to smother a popular independence movement.

Al Capone was arrested, indicted and convicted for tax evasion. Nizami has been indicted for corruption. Hopefully, he will be convicted and spend his twilight years in a jail. It's not the exactly the justice his victims deserve, but it will have to do.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What Has Happened To A.Q. Khan?

I'm currently reading Atomic Bazaar by William Langewiesche, which contains his two-part article about A.Q. Khan originally published in The Atlantic. The article concludes with the fact that A.Q. Khan, after he delivered the bomb, has ceased to be relevant to the Pakistani establishment, who placed him under house arrest after being caught red-handed selling nuclear technology to anybody who wanted it.

No one has heard from him since. A.Q. Khan is a proud man, and is probably wondering why he's being treated like a criminal when the common man considers him a folk hero for endowing Pakistan with the august status of a nuclear power. Who knows what threats the government has made against him, but I'm very sure A.Q. Khan resents it and is willing to spill the beans, so to speak, that the government knew of his activities and even actively encouraged them.

Red Sox On Top While Yankees....

Here are the standing for American League East as of this morning:



Hank Stienbrenner must be having fits of rage right about now, knowing that his all-star team is dead last.

Vinod Explains The Food Crisis

Vinod aptly explains what I've been wanting to say but didn't have the time or the eloquence to say it: blaming the West for the food crisis is nothing more than a red herring.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Circuit: Very Funny

Deepak Ananthapadmanabha-- yes that's his name-- hosts this funny and irreverent web-only series about technology.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

High Food Oil Prices: Who To Blame? Everbody

The developed world is accusing the developing world for higher food and oil prices; and the developing world is accusing the developed world for the same. The truth is not that clearcut, or simple. There is enough blame to go around, but no one responsible enough to accept it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Too Good To Be True

The only thing the PML(N) and PPP had in common, besides despising each other, was their mutual hatred of President Pervez Musharraf, which seems to be fleeting. So when these parties announced that they were forming a coalition government, everybody knew it wouldn't last long. Parties driven by cult of personality politics like the PML(N) and PPP don't like to share the limelight.

For now, the PML(N) is only withdrawing from the cabinet, but will continue to support the coalition government. But this is just a pretense. Another excuse will be manufactured to exit the government altogether. This will either mean new elections, or another intervention by the military. Either way, President Pervez Musharraf will be pleased as punch

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's Not Worth The Paper Its Printed On

Zimbabwe has the world's worthless currency. In fact, inflation is so bad that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has issued the following banknote: