Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Review: Come Hell Or High Water

Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster is an ineloquent survey of the government’s response—or lack of it—to the hurricane that devastated the mostly poor residents of New Orleans. Dyson’s book examines the disaster at the intersection of class and race and how government neglect made a bad situation worse.

Nothing Dyson has written is new. New Orleans, a predominately black city, is one of the poorest, crime-ridden cities in the nation. Years of benign neglect by federal, state and local government have taken its toll. What Katrina did was to bring it to the fore. It was attention grabber when thousands of Orleanites, mostly black and mostly poor, were stranded waiting for anyone to help them.

Dyson places most of the blame on the federal government for not doing much before, during or after the hurricane. I would have to agree with Dyson that the federal government’s response—or lack of it—bordered on the criminal. But it’s unfair to place the whole blame on the federal government, in my opinion, when both the state and local government were equally sluggish in their respnse to Katrina.

And Dyson does not see the response to Katrina as an isolated incident, but as a problem with the system itself. Now this is where Dyson goes off the rails. He cites government cutbacks on welfare, housing and other social programs, starting in the 1980’s, after the election of Reagan, as the culprit. If this were so, then all blacks, regardless of geography would be worse off, right? But all social indicators say that blacks have made substantial advancements in many areas, leading many to enter not only the middle-class, but upper classes as well. Something other than institutionalized racism ails New Orleans.

I don’t think Come Hell or High Water is the best book on Katrina. For one thing, it’s badly written, which I found to be exasperating and tedious. Dyson is an academic and writes like one: though the book is straightforward, Dyson often veers toward the pedantic, and often gets caught in the thicket of acadamese. There is nothing intimate about the book; it’s all facts and figures, like a college textbook or delivering a paper at some symposium. You don’t hear the voices of Katrina victims aside from brief testimonials at the beginning of each chapter.

Cuba Accuses US Of Killing Fleeing Citizens

Cuba accuses the United States for the death of its citizens who try to flee the island. From Granma:
CUBA condemned Thursday the policies of the United States that incite illegal emigration by residents of the island to that country, with resulting human fatalities, as occurred this past December 22.

According to a communication from the Ministry of the Interior, read out yesterday on the Cuban “Roundtable” TV program, two Cubans perished on Saturday, December 22 after the speedboat in which they were attempting to leave the country capsized one kilometer off the northern coast of Havana province.

…At the same time, the communication concludes, investigations are continuing into this unfortunate accident whose root cause is the murderous U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, which incites illegal emigration and the lucrative activities of the Cuban American mafia in South Florida.
Naturally, a mouthpiece like Granma, is not going to ask the first question that pops in one’s head when these incidents happen: why are people risking life and limb, including arrest, to flee to the United States, a bastion of capitalist exploitation, from a worker’s paradise like Cuba, where education and healthcare is free, and everybody is happy?

If you read the whole article, human trafficking seems to be the main motivating factor. Cuba is rationalizing that the “Cuban mafia” in Miami is somehow forcing people to flee, for the purposes of slave labor. If human trafficking is indeed the goal, it is half-ass way of going about it. In fact, it’s cheaper to bring people over the Mexican border than it is from Cuba.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Keeping It In The Family

In a previous post, I wrote that it was doubtful that any of Benazir Bhutto's children would take their mother's place since they are a tad young, spent their formative years overseas, and are only half-Bhuttos. I was wrong. Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zaradari, has been appointed to lead one of Pakistan's major political parties. He has no political experience other than being his mother's son. Below is a video of a press conference announcing his appointment.

It seems like Bilawal's father, Asif Zaradari, a character in his own right, does most of the talking. Bilawal, when he does talk, speaks in a clipped, anglicized English, betraying his expensive private school education. He belongs on the polo field, not the bloodsport that is Pakistani politics.

The appointment of Bilawal proves that dynastic politics run deep in South Asia, which is a tragedy since it also proves that the PPP is a cult of personality, not a political party.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Capitalizing On Bhutto's Death

Bhutto’s body has barely been put to rest and it's already grist for America’s political mill:
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton on Friday accused the camp of rival Sen. Barack Obama of politicizing the death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Sen. Hillary Clinton says she regrets that Sen. Barrack Obama's camp "would be politicizing this tragedy."

"I just regret that [Obama and his chief strategist] would be politicizing this tragedy, and especially at a time when we do need to figure out a way forward," Clinton said Friday in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Politics is such a brutish business.

Death Of An Icon

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is tragic but hardly surprising. The Bhuttos are streaked with fatalism. Their history reads like a Greek tragedy. Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by President Zia ul-Haq on bogus charges, purportedly to get rid of a potential rival. Both of Benazir’s brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, are dead: the former in a police altercation, and the latter on the French Riviera, under mysterious circumstance, presumably through poisoning. The only Bhutto remaining is a younger sister, Sanam, but there is little information about her except that she’s married and has two children. Will she carry the torch for the PPP, a party founded by her father?

Many critics are saying that this will be a blow for democracy in Pakistan. Really? I don’t think so. The democracy practiced in Pakistan has been a half-hearted affair, at best. Democratic institutions were never allowed to mature beyond what their power hungry leaders—and the military—wanted. Benazir Bhutto was equally guilty of this, and she was Prime Minister not once, but twice. In fact, Bhutto was no more democratic than her rival, Nawaz Sharif. To say that democracy in Pakistan is in danger is utter foolishness when democracy was never there to begin with.

The only thing that an assassin’s bullets and bombs accomplished was to splinter the PPP, which was essentially a cult of personality for the Bhutto clan. Who will lead them now? Party workers are already on the prowl, looking for the next Bhutto to lead them to the promise land. Benazir’s children, perhaps? Doubtful. Since they’re not only young but are half-Bhuttos, and their father, a likely candidate, is not only unremarkable, but a grafting charlatan to boot.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Book Review: We Are All Suspects Now

There is a lot to like about Tram Nguyen’s book, We Are All Suspects Now: Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11, and there is plenty not to like. Nguyen writes an intimate book about the plight of immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, in post-9/11 America. The maltreatment of illegal immigrants at the hands of the U.S. government is revealed in painful personal testimonies and vivid profiles.

Nguyen covers a lot of ground in her svelte volume: arrest and disappearance of illegal immigrants, harassment of asylum seekers, special registration for young Muslim men, racial profiling, the militarization of the border, and those fleeing the United States for safer pastures.

Naturally, most of the victims are Muslims. They have borne the brunt of the government’s war on terrorism given the fact that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Muslims in the name Islam, even though most Muslims had nothing to do with it. Hysteria ruled the day. And it still does. Nguyen treats this and other issues well with her straightforward writing.

Nevertheless, while reading the book, I sensed an undercurrent of contempt for the sovereignty of the United States. The problem with Nguyen is that she’s a bleeding heart; and what goes unsaid is that she is also a supporter of open borders. She treats those who oppose this as, well, hicks. Take, for example, her treatment of Chris Simcox, whose only concern is to defend America’s borders from illegal immigrants and criminal gangs who smuggle drugs. Not a violent fellow at all, but Nguyen treats Simcox like a racist and a right-wing kook, even though a majority of Americans support his opinion.

Another thing I dislike about Nguyen’s book is that she conflates both illegal immigration and terrorism into one issue, when, in many cases, they are mutually exclusive. In her mind if an illegal immigrant (or, in her parlance, “undocumented’) is cleared of any links to terrorism, they should be simply released. This is wrongheaded and muddled thinking. Just because an illegal immigrant doesn’t have a connection to terrorism he or she does not cease to be illegal!

Illegal immigrants may not be violent criminals like murderers and rapists, but they are lawbreakers; people who skirted the law to get to this country illegally. Nguyen shamelessly treats them as victims. This is a slap to the face of all those legal immigrants who followed the law and patiently waited their turn. Of course, they are nowhere to be found in her book.

This being said, I don’t want to thought of as some cold-hearted idealists. I’m a realist and pragmatic. I do believe that the United States needs a sensible policy on immigration, but opening the borders is not the answer.

India: No One Writes Letters Anymore

Excellent article in The New York Times about the dying industry of professional letter writing in India. The article profiles one G.P. Sawant, who claims he hasn’t written a letter in three years! The culprit? Globalization, internet, and high mobile phone penetration.

I remember when my mother use to write letters to Bangladesh and India on those familiar blue air mail paper slips, and receive them in turn. Those days are long gone, of course: now calling costs pennies a minute, IM and e-mail are equally intimate—as a result, no one writes letters anymore. Hence there is no need for professional letter writers like Mr. Sawant, who, long retired, idyllically passes his time away at his stand, just in case that one person might need a letter written.

[via kottke]

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Watching Football Is Not A Human Right

I didn’t know that watching a football game was a human right the way some politicians are bleating about it. So what if many New England Patriots fans will be unable to watch their team make history simply because of geography. The answer is simple: get cable, or a satellite dish, and subscribe to the NFL Network, who is broadcasting the game; or better yet, go to someone’s house who already has the NFL Network, bring some beer and/or food as compensation; or, finally, just visit your neighborhood tavern, who will undoubtedly be broadcasting the game in order to drum up business. There is no paucity of choices, just the will to seek them out.

In the meantime, we have politicians threatening the NFL with fire and brimstone if it doesn’t put the game on “free television”, threatening to eliminate the NFL’s anti-trust exemption. Yeah, like the NFL still needs anti-trust exemption these days. I believe Congress should just butt out and let the NFL (a private business), NFL Network (a cable network owned by the NFL), and the fans (a private group) sort it out.

[via alarming news]

Book Review: Reporting By David Remnick

A writer of immense talent, I’d much prefer David Remnick write for The New Yorker rather than wasting away editing it. In the meantime, I’ll be very content rereading his collection of articles, Reporting: Writings From The New Yorker. Most article and essay collections are tedious bores, assembled as vanity pieces, often as fillers between publications of new books.

Not this book. Each article is a joy. Written in a simple, elegant and personal style that is Remnick’s hallmark: intelligent without being pedantic; sophisticated without being pretentious; serious without being taken too seriously—the comparisons are almost endless.

The volume is divided over five sections—politics, writers, Russia, Israel, and boxing. An eclectic mix of subjects, to be sure, but in the fine hands of David Remnick there is a rare chance he won’t dazzle you with his witty journalism and keen insights. His profiles on Philip Roth and Don Delillo, both iconoclastic American novelists, provide a glimpse of these very private people yet reminds us of their aloofness. Remnick’s articles on boxing are a remarkable commentary on the sports fading glory while describing its moral degeneracy personified by the rather loathsome, though talented, Mike Tyson.

The articles contained in this collection are to be savored and enjoyed, not consumed like fast food. Read them (and reread them) at your leisure, and for your pleasure. They demand it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Modi, Media And Lies

Dawn is arguably Pakistan’s most sensible newspaper, so I was dismayed when they wrote this editorial about upcoming elections in Gujarat. An excerpt:
THE Indian state of Gujarat is back in the international news. Five years ago in 2002 Gujarat had received a lot of media publicity — of course of a negative kind — for a horrific carnage which saw over 2,000 Muslims brutally murdered. The same party, the BJP, which was then in the government has once again swept the state polls much to the horror of many who stand for secularism, non-violence and inter-communal harmony. Whatever implications this may have for Indian politics, the BJP’s win is certainly disturbing. With the general elections in India due in 2009 — they could be held sooner if the Congress-Left coalition at the centre fails to hold — Mr Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s BJP chief, could make a leadership bid in Delhi. That would certainly have a profound impact on India’s foreign policy, especially when Mr Modi’s brand of politics and ideology is not of the same kind as that of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee who had led the BJP to power in New Delhi for the first time.
This is utter nonsense. Dawn is implying that if Modi somehow becomes prime minister (which is a big question mark, at the moment) India will descend into a communal hell, ending with the wholesale slaughter of Muslins and other non-minorities (genocide, I think they call it). Yet Congress-led government have less than a stellar record in communal harmony, including the mass killings of Sikhs after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Of course, not even the Indian media would dredge this up so I don’t expect much from the Pakistani media.

At the same time, it was Vajpayee who sued for peace with Pakistan (visiting Lahore), while its armies were occupying Kargil. It was Vajpayee who invited Musharraf to Agra for a summit. All the while, the media was branding Vajpayee as a chauvinist, bigot and communalist.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A List Of Unheralded Films For 2007

FirstShowing.Net has a list of 17 movies that were ignored and deserve a second look. Do what I did: add them to your Netflix queue.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Name Is Smith, Just Smith

Some recruiter simply named Smith left a message on my cell phone about a job I might be interested in Connecticutt. He didn't leave his first name, or even called himself Mr. Smith, just Smith. Weird. And the man sounded like a desi, not some random native American. It was a deeply-accented English too, the kind spoken by Indian code jockeys that come to the United States, don't communicate much (except with each other), and pretty much keep to themselves, so their language skills, to say the least, are a bit stilted.

I decided against returning his call because I wasn't interested in going to Connecticut at all. Nevertheless, as is the practice, the recruiter followed up on his voice mail with an e-mail, which was asimply signed 'Smith'. I kept asking myself: is that really his name? Or is it an attempt by the recruiter to ingratiate himself to candidates without scaring them away with an ethnic-sounding name? But why rest with just one name.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Book On A.Q. Khan

Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan is becoming a popular subject these days as there is another biography about him called The Nuclear Jihadist: The True Story of the Man Who Sold the World's Most Dangerous Secrets...And How We Could Have Stopped Him. Here’s an excerpt of a review from The San Francisco Chronicle:
Upon hearing mention of people who have caused death and destruction in our world, such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, most decent people will react negatively. While Dr. Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan may not elicit the same reaction, it's high time to include him on that list.

Khan played a major role in constructing Pakistan's nuclear program, bringing atomic bombs to the Islamic world and to various rogue states. He's regarded as a hero by some in his native country, and a national disgrace by others. Time magazine dubbed him the "Merchant of Menace" in February 2005. And his controversial actions mark him as a real threat to liberty, freedom and democracy.

Two prominent reporters, the husband-and-wife team of Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, spent four years examining Khan's life, views and possible reasons for selling nuclear secrets. Their efforts have yielded "The Nuclear Jihadist," which details Khan's rise in terror circles and points fingers at various sources, including U.S. government officials, for not stopping him earlier.
A.Q. Khan in the same league as Hitler and Stalin! Even I think that’s a bit much. If A.Q. Khan wasn’t selling nuclear technology, someone else would. I doubt it was Khan’s intention to kill anybody, he just wanted to be famous: a flamboyant and vain man who enjoyed the role of playing a hero, who not only delivered the goods, but was (and still) worshiped for it.

And why exclusively blame A.Q. Khan? Why isn’t Pakistan being raked over the coals for its involvement? Each subsequent government not only indulged him but condoned his activities and, at times, actively participated in them. Nuclear technology was not being sent via Pakistan International Airlines but on air force transport aircraft planes. At the same time, that Pakistan would deny any knowledge of A.Q. Khan’s activities was laughable. I’m sure A.Q. Khan is not happy in his place in life: made to admit on television his crimes, banished into exile, forced to keep his mouth shut, and to live out his life with the indignity of being thrown under a bus by a country that greatly benefited from his work.

I’m sure A.Q. Khan, conceited and vain as he is, is almost chomping at the bit to say something, anything to clear his name. Now that’s a book I would like to read.

What's More Dangerous: Iran Or A Dirty Bomb

What’s more scarier: a nuclear-armed Iran, or this?
An underreported attack on a South African nuclear facility last month demonstrates the high risk of theft of nuclear materials by terrorists or criminals. Such a crime could have grave national security implications for the United States or any of the dozens of countries where nuclear materials are held in various states of security.

Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, four armed men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility 18 miles west of Pretoria, a site where hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium are stored. According to the South African Nuclear Energy Corp., the state-owned entity that runs the Pelindaba facility, these four "technically sophisticated criminals" deactivated several layers of security, including a 10,000-volt electrical fence, suggesting insider knowledge of the system. Though their images were captured on closed-circuit television, they were not detected by security officers because nobody was monitoring the cameras at the time.
I think the world community should focus its attention and energies on these kinds of incidents rather than attack Iran. I’m not defending Iran or its odious regime, of course, but the right of a sovereign nation to defend itself by any means necessary, including nuclear weapons. I have a hard time accepting the argument proffered by the United States and its allies that Iran has no right to possess nuclear weapons while the P-5 (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States) are allowed by virtue of the fact they had it before everyone else.

The world should be more concerned about low-yield nuclear weapons like “dirty bombs”. As the attempted theft has proven, a “dirty bomb’ going off is a more viable possibility than, say, Iran blowing Israel off the map. Iran will never do such a thing because they realize Israel—and the United States—would retaliate ten-fold, it’s mutually assured destruction for the new millennium.

I believe Iran getting nuclear weapons is a fait accompli. Pakistan not only has nuclear weapons, but sold the technology to whoever wanted it, including, ironically, Iran! In my opinion, Pakistan is more dangerous than Iran, yet there are no plans to defang Pakistan of its nuclear weapons (and the subsequent punishment were laughable); in fact, the United States is giving Pakistan billions in aid. Iran knows it’s just a waiting game.

Knowing this, isn’t it better to enlist the Iranians in securing existing supplies and hunt down and arrest would-be thieves? After all, Iran could just as easily be a target of a “dirty bomb” as the United States.

[via connecting the dots]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Corruption At United Nations

More evidence from James Kirchick, over at Contentions, that the United Nations is nothing more then a den of thieves:
In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.
It’s must be noted that a majority of members of the United Nations are venally corrupt: when they’re not stealing from their own people, they steal from others, and the United Nations, with its loose controls and open pots of gold, seems like a good a place as any for an ambitious grafter on the make.

But corruption in the upper echelons is only the tip of the iceberg for the United Nations. It extends all the way to the peacekeepers themselves, many of whom engage in various illicit activities like smuggling and gun running; and many of them pray on refugees themselves through rapes, intimidation and outright extortion.

Is it any wonder why many donor countries, especially the United States, are so reluctant to fund peacekeeping missions?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bangladesh Independence Day

December 16th is Victory Day in Bangladesh and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about it, busy as I am. This day is celebrated with great fervor by almost everyone in Bangladesh. For them, the creation of Bangladesh is the fruit of a long struggle, whose seed was planted long ago by a bigoted West Pakistan government. But there’s one group that regrets the creation of Bangladesh, and they’re members of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Collectively, the independence of Bangladesh was a calamity for Jamaat and other Islamists. They tried to keep Pakistan whole, and even invoked Islam to do it—but to no avail. The thirst for independence could not be slaked by religion alone, so Jamaat and their minions resorted to violence instead. Thousands were killed, of course, and most of the killers got off scot-free.

Today, Jamaat has been rehabilitated into a major political force, courted by both major parties for their discipline and ability to bring out the vote. However, this does not mean the past has been forgotten, or forgiven. After all, Jamaat has history to answer to. This is why several Jamaat members and it supporters made some well-publicized gaffes about the independence movement and Jamaat’s role in it. They called it a civil war when it was no such thing. They said Jamaat had a positive role to play when, in reality, it tried to suffocate the movement, including murdering intellectuals, raping of women, and supporting marauding Pakistani troops.

In essence, it was an exercise to whitewash history. Fortunately, reaction from many quarters came swiftly and strongly. I was glad to read editorials, articles, and listen to public utterances denouncing Jamaat for the liars they are.

And what does Pakistan have to say about this day? They played the biggest role in Bangladesh’s independence. Very little from what I’ve been reading. This day is like a bad memory, better to be forgotten then remembered. But I believe this Pakistan Observer editorial says it best, as it’s the voice of the establishment:
WE are glad that barring the crisis generated by the infighting of two Begums that brought political and economic instability in Bangladesh, the brotherly country was otherwise doing well in all spheres of life. BD is progressing well and is considered a respectable member of the comity of nations. This is a source of satisfaction and encouragement for people of Pakistan, who have best of relations with Bangladesh.

However, as far as people of Pakistan are concerned December 16 is day of recollection as the then united Pakistan met with a great tragedy on this day in 1971. Regrettably, barring a few statements and insignificant events taking places here and there was no worthwhile function to remember the day when the country was dismembered due to internal and external factors. No one – neither political leaders nor governmental personalities or media took any significant notice of the most tragic and shameful incident of surrender at the Paltan Maidan in Dhaka where commander of the Pakistani forces was insulted publicly. We have also forgotten contemptuous remarks of the then Indian Prime Minister that her country has taken revenge of 1,000 years of Muslim rule in the Sub-Continent. It is very important for the Government and the political parties to realize that what led to the addition of one of the blackest chapters in the Muslim history. Of course, India too played a crucial and decisive role in the fall of Dhaka by abetting feelings of people of the then East Pakistan and by imparting training and providing funds for destabilization in that part of Pakistan. However, it is also important to remember that the perception of injustices and trampling of the mandate of the people were the other major factors that culminated into dismemberment of Pakistan. We must not forget this lesson.
It sounds like it was written by some Foreign Office PR flack. Nevertheless, it has been the official view of every government since 1971, following the same script. First, it plays up the supposed “brotherly” relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan when no such relation exists. Relations are cordial, but hardly brotherly. In fact, it can be argued, that Bangladesh has more “brotherly” relations with India.

Second, that the independence movement was a vast conspiracy, engineered by India, instead of an indigenous movement. This is a total fabrication. The Pakistan Movement began in what was then East Pakistan and ended there, as well.

If Pakistan wants to have better relations with Bangladesh, it must do two things: first, take full responsibility for its actions that let to Bangladesh’s bloody independence; and second, take back the thousands of Bihari refugees who are currently stranded in Bangladesh, which has created a humanitarian crisis that is Pakistan’s making.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Review: Fabric 01 By Craig Richards

210zrrfbv5l_aa_sl160_.jpgCraig Richards is a British tech house DJ that I never heard of before listening to this CD, I'm sorry to say; but he kicks off this new series by Fabric, a famed dance club in London, England. Unfortunately, I came to this series a bit late (Fabric has well over 30 releases to date, and an equal number of their other series, Fabriclive). Like many of my musical choices, I accidentally stumbled up on it. How, I don't remember, nor does it matter.

Fabric 01 is a progressive mix of richly-layered, dubbed and filtered techno and house, with minimal vocals, seamlessly blended together. Filled with deep atmospherics, it puts you in the mood to dance the night away. It's also well-suited as a sort of after party aperitif-listening to it while going home, or lounging around with your friends, waiting for the sun to rise. Since I don't go to clubs anymore, or lounge around with friends, I listened to the entire CD in my car while driving to and from work. It's very relaxing and a great way to get rid of the stress. I often find myself gently bobbing my head back and forth.

The selection of tracks on this CD is, for the most part, a mix bag; but my favorite tracks are Dubby Disco by Antonelli Electr. and Wavescape by Silicon Jazz. They are most danceable tunes of the set, with complex layers and a driving beat that just seems to get faster and faster with every passing second. It may be an illusion on may part, and it may not, but it's all bliss.

  1. Gemini - At That Café
  2. Cpen - Pirate's Life
  3. Antonelli Electr. - Dubby Disco
  4. Dub-Tech Soundsystem - Sugar Rush
  5. Jamie Anderson - Montage
  6. SCSI-9 - Cozmoport
  7. SCSI-9 - Cologne
  8. Lo-Kee - Sinners
  9. Ernst Viebeg - Nightlife
  10. Bushwacka! - Bluntski
  11. Swag - Drum Hydraulics
  12. Roman IV - (14x7x4)
  13. Wavescape - Silicon Jazz
  14. Terry Francis - Took From Me
  15. Helmet - Early Riser
  16. Schatrax - Mispent Years

New Music From Portishead

Here’s a video of Portishead performing new songs at a concert.

It’s definitely harder and edgier than what they did with Dummy and Portishead, both classics, in my opinion, as is their live album, Live: Roseland NYC.

Portishead are a bunch of creative recluses, living in the English countryside, producing an album every now and then - a definite sign of genius, madness, or both. Hopefully, these songs are an indication that a new album is in the works.

Their sound can only be described as a combination of downtempo, trip-hop, acid jazz, and psychadelic pop. Similar artists include Massive Attack, Tricky, Cocteau Twins, etc. Dreamy - somtimes nightmarish- soundscapes pervade the senses. It's the type of music I listen to while lying in my bed, unable to sleep. It's one hell of an experience: it's like a narcotic, but doesn't inolve going to rehab.

Check out this site to download more MP3s from the concert.

[via rock & roll daily]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Return Of The Wachowskis

Here’s the movie trailer for Speed Racer, the new movie by the Wachowski brothers.

I don’t really care about Speed Racer, or the Japanese anime it's based on, but I’m interested in the Wachowski brothers, who, in my mind, are geniuses. I know the word ‘genius’ is handed out like candy these days, but I really do mean it. Their movies are visual masterpieces (another overused word!). Unlike many directors, the Wachowskis know movies are a visual medium. I consider them more as painters then filmmakers. Another director in the same vein, whom I equally admire, is Ridley Scott.

What’s interesting about Speed Racer is that fact it’s the first movie by the Wachowskis since the Matrix trilogy. I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine a while back that the Wachowskis were through with the film business, and were focusing their energies on the brave new world of game development.

It’s nice to see them back doing films. I hope they do more. In the meantime, I eagerly await the release of Speed Racer.

Embargo Against Cuba Is Stupid

I agree with Matthew Cooper that the Cuban embargo is not only outdated but totally asinine; and time has come for it to go. He gives two good reasons why:
It's time to end the embargo—unilaterally and completely. The policy has been useless as a tool for cudgeling Castro, and it is hindering opportunities for American industries from travel to banking to agriculture, which is why there's no shortage of U.S. business groups lobbying to ease it. Far from hurting the deplorable Communist regime, the embargo has only given Castro an excuse to rail against Uncle Sam, both to his own people and to the world. Every year, Cuba asks the United Nations for a vote lifting the embargo. What happens? We usually end up with a couple of superpowers like Palau and the Marshall Islands standing with us. Last year, the vote was 183 to 4. The embargo makes us look like an arrogant bully.
Then there's the sheer intellectual dishonesty of the embargo. We trade with the tyrants of Beijing and Damascus, so why not Havana? This question has lingered at least since 1964, when then-secretary of state Dean Rusk was asked why we were selling to the Soviets and not to the Cubans: The Soviet Union was permanent, Rusk said, while Cuba was "temporary." Oops.
If the United States is willing to trade with human right reprobates like China and Syria, why not Cuba? The animus towards Cuba is purely personal, driven by a vocal Cuban minority in southern Florida with strong political connections. In turn, Cuba has turned the embargo into a political weapon, using it not only to bludgeon the United State in world arenas like the United Nations, who see the embargo as a Cold War anachronism, but to consolidate the power of Fidel Castro, the self-appointed messiah of the Cuban people.

The only befitting way to neuter Fidel Castros is to lift the embargo. Take way the only weapon he has; it will prove one thing: the emperor has no cloths. Fidel has always identified himself vis-à-vis the United States—the yanqui imperialists who wants to invade and conquer Cuba. How will Cuba villify the United States now?

Naturally, there are short-term trade-offs. Human rights will take a backseat, of course, but human rights always takes a backseat when trade is concerned. China jails dissidents all the time, but the United States continues to trade with him, hoping, wishfully, that trade will bring democracy, and democracy will bring human rights (the jury is still out on this line of thought). So why not with Cuba?

The embargo is what it is: a monumental failure and should done away it. Yes, Cuba will declare victory, of sorts, but I say let them, it will be short-lived. People will soon see that Cuba is far from being a worker’s paradise—no matter how good their education and healthcare systems may be—but in, in fact, an economic basketbase, reliant on hand-outs by the likes of Hugo Chavez. Finally, human rights will garner more media attention now that the bogeyman—the United States—has become a trading partner..

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reading Update: What I've Done, Couldn't Finish, And Plan To Do

The end of the year approaches—too quickly, I’m afraid—and time to offer my accomplishments, my failures, and my plans for the upcoming year in the what I like to call my reading life.

I have read 34 books so far, and am currently reading four more (with plans to finish them by the end of the year), for a total of 38 when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

This is well below my goal of fifty books a year I set for myself every year, but almost always fail to achieve it. I know now why: first, fifty books years is a wee bit on the ambitious side to begin; I was setting up myself for failure at the start. Second, in the past year, I have read books that are just too long to finish in a week.

So my goals for 2008 are as following: I will read fifty books, but this time I’ll make sure whatever book I read will be 300-pages or less. I have plenty of those. I will skew toward more fiction, which are often quicker reads then, say, non-fiction. Looks like a lot of hard-boiled, noirish detective novels in my future—Furst, Chandler, Ambler, Hammett, etc.

I was planning to read Foucault's Pendulum and Khruschev's Cold War, but they will have to wait since they are both 600-plus pages each.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bush's Attack On Liberties, A Timeline

An interesting link-filled post detailing the Bush Administration's assault on the Bill of Rights. A lot of people assume that the Bush Administration began curtailing civil liberties soon after 9/11, as a some sort of a knee-jerk response to the attacks. On the contrary, it started well before that, right after President Bush was sworn in, in fact.

(via hit & run)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why Sudan Sucks

The whole teddy bear fiasco, for me, puts into focus why Sudan should be a charter member of the ‘Axis of Evil’. This country, and the Islamic regime that rules it, is a blot on humanity, decency, and just plain common sense.

Its crimes are numerous: slavery, war against Christians in the South, the pillaging and rape of Darfur and the resulting refugee crisis, and, finally—the cherry on top, so to speak—the arrest and jailing of a poor British schoolteacher, whose only crime is letting her elementary school-aged children to call a class teddy bear ‘Muhammad.’

These charges of blasphemy are used in the most capricious ways. In Pakistan, for example, blasphemy laws are often applied to settle scores, or appropriate property from non-Muslims. In the case of Sudan, it’s used to make an example out of a non-Muslim (and a Westerner), as a warning that Islamic law applies to them too—that all non-Muslims are, in essence, dhimmis.

Chavez Loses Key Referendum

Though the vote was close, and the results may still be disputed, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lost an important referendum that would’ve given him sweeping powers to transform Venezuela into the Bolivarian socialist republic he desperately wants, including infinite terms as President.

So far, Chavez has been magnanimous by conceding defeat and accepting the results. Since his term doesn’t expire until 2012, and all levers of power are firmly in his hand, anything can happen until then. There could well be another referendum, changes forced through parliament, or an outright coup. Chavez, like all megalomaniacs, is reluctant to cede power that he thinks is divinely his. He will find a way to stick around, even after he’s worn out his welcome. I’ll be wary of Chavez till then.

On the upside, most Venezuelans, including many Chavez supporters, have decided that the concentration of power in the hands of one man is a sure path to tyranny.

Friday, November 30, 2007

PIA Is A Good Airline. Really, It Is

The Maliks, proprietors and editors of the rather dreadful Pakistan Observer, are, I presume, angling for free tickets from Pakistan International Airlines, the moribund state-owned airline, with this rather fawning editorial—aptly titled “PIA On Path to Glory”—which I produce in full below:
THE European Commission on Wednesday lifted all restrictions on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flying in the 27-nation bloc. In March this year, the Commission banned almost two-thirds of the PIA fleet amid safety fears concerning the aging airplanes.

The lifting of the ban within eight months of its imposition is clear manifestation of the fact that PIA was on its course to regain the lost glory. There is no denying the fact that the restriction not only was one of the major source of losses but also damaged PIA’s reputation among travellers. It is, therefore, gratifying that the national airliner moved quickly to address the EU concerns and refurbished and upgraded its fleet of Boeing 747s and Airbus A-310s as a result of which it is now able to fly its aircraft to some of the lucrative routes. The credit for this goes to the PIA top management that carried out necessary upgradation on the one hand and held intensive negotiations with the quarters concerned on the other hand. We believe that phasing out of the older aircraft, improvement and renovation of the existing ones and induction of the latest versions should have been a regular feature. This is one of the minimum requirements for remaining competitive in the market. However, this is not the end and we hope that the leadership of the PIA would embark upon a comprehensive programme to increase efficiency of the airliner to the satisfaction of its customers. There is need to improve quality of the service, switching over to corporate culture and to pursue a dynamic marketing strategy to make PIA a profitable organization.
This editorial is filled with half-truths, distortions, fantasies, and inanities. This is par for the course for The Pakistan Observer, whose editorial board, it seems, consists of star struck teenagers, whose writing talent—or the lack thereof—wouldn’t even get them published in a fourth-rate high school newspaper. Their editorials are, to put it mildly, that putrid.

First, the European Commission fear wasn’t about aging airplanes, but PIA’s shoddy maintenance of said planes. Even PIA’s top-of-the-line 777s was plagued with problems.

Second, PIA’s reputation among travelers was lost well before the European Commission’s decision to ban the airline. Read the complaints that are published on a regular basis in English-language dailies, describing, in excruciating detail, this and that ordeal about flying PIA, whether it be domestically or internationally. Most Pakistanis, if they can, readily choose to fly with high-quality international airlines like Emirates rather than PIA. Those who, like hapless government bureaucrats, stay with PIA only do so because they have no choice.

Lastly, the only right thing (a rarity, I know) this editorial has said is that PIA needs to switch to a more corporate clime, which can only be achieved two ways: privatization, or a professional management structure. Both options require the government to be completely hands-off. Given the government inclination to interfere, I doubt we will be seeing this anytime soon.

In the meantime, foreign airlines are making a killing in Pakistan, while PIA flounders.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sequel To Abhimaan On The Way?

This is a bad idea:
The buzz has been around for long. Amitabh Bachchan has been toying with the idea of a sequel to Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Abhimaan.

Now it is learnt that Pawan Kumar Jain will be making Abhimaan 2 with the Bachchan clan. The sequel reportedly will have Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan playing parents to Abhishek Bachchan. Aishwarya Bachchan will be the bahu.
Bollywood has definitely become Hollywood when it, too, starts pirating its successes and transforming them into mediocre sequels. I know I should give the sequel the benefit of the doubt, but the history of sequels is quite clear: they rarely meet, let alone exceed, expectations.

There was suppose to be a sequel to Sholay—arguably, the best Indian movie ever made—but, thankfully, it never made it off the ground. Let’s hope Abhimann 2 meets the same fate.

Nawaz Sharif: The Mediocrity Returns

In Dawn, The United States has commented publicly, and in very strong language, their dislike for Nawaz Sharif, who returned to Pakistan last week to stand for general elections in January 2008.
US President George W. Bush has gone public with his administration’s reservations about Nawaz Sharif’s commitment to the war on terror, saying the former prime minister’s relations with religious parties raised doubts about his ability to do so.

“I don’t know him well enough,” Mr Bush said in an interview to American news agency AP when asked to comment on Mr Sharif’s return. He, however, noted that Mr Sharif had good relations with Pakistan’s religious parties, which raised doubts about his commitment to battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

“I would be very concerned if there is any leader in Pakistan that didn’t understand the nature of the world in which we live today,” Mr Bush said. The comments prompted the US media, which had already been expressing similar doubts about Mr Sharif since his return to Pakistan, to look back at the Sharif era with suspicion and doubt.

Several mainstream US newspapers – Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Herald Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle – quoted senior US officials as saying that they worry Mr Sharif’s potential role in any new Pakistani government could undermine efforts to hunt down Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, as well as hinder broader initiatives to modernise Pakistan’s economy and society.

They cite Mr Sharif’s political alliance with Islamist parties and his past weaknesses in coordinating counterterrorism actions with the US when he served as prime minister in the late 1990s.
From what I’ve read about him, Sharif does not possess the sharpest of minds, and is easily bullied by his handlers. He’s also widely perceived to be Saudi Arabia’s boy. The Saudis, after all, offered him and his family sanctuary and luxurious accommodations in Jeddah. And when he returned to Pakistan it was on a private Saudi plane. Plus, Saudi Arabia has promised him resources for his election campaign, including the use of a helicopter. So it would be no surpris that Nawaz will do their bidding.

I can see why the United States is concerned; Nawaz Sharif would sue for peace with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and bring calm to the frontier. Sharif is also more willing to give religious parties what they want. In fact, before Sharif was overthrown, he made the decision to impose Sharia in Pakistan.

And let us not forget that Sharif attempted murder when he denied a PIA plane, which carried then Gen. Pervez Musharraf and 200 other passengers, from landing in Pakistan. The plane almost crashed for lack of fuel.

The man is simply bad news. I don’t know who’s worse: Bhutto or Sharif.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Verizon Wireless Opening Up Its Network

Some good news on the technical front: Verizon Wireless has decided to open up its network to non-Verizon devices and applications, granted they meet Verizon’s technical standards, whatever they may be. Yahoo! Tech has a good overview that is worth checking out.

Will other networks do the same? For example, I use AT&T, which uses a GSM-based network, unlike Verizon’s CDMA. And GSM offers more flexibility in what mobile phone I can use since it’s a simple matter of swapping out a SIMM card (which makes it easier to use the phone overseas, unlike CDMA). CDMA software, on the other hand, is embedded in the phone. As a result, there is a paucity of unlocked CDMA phones in the marketplace. Hopefully, with this announcement, we’ll see more CDMA phones in the marketplace. So AT&T might not jump on board right away by opening up its network, but it must be thinking about it at least.

On of the benefits we might see with Verizon Wireless opening up its network is the expansion—even explosion—of third-party mobile phone applications. Instead of buying an expensive data package through Verizon, a user can build a custom package specifically designed to his or hers specifications, whether it’s ad-supported (like Google) or fee-based.

Whatever happens, it’s a watershed moment for the mobile phone industry, which has been a slow growth industry for a while now.

What Does Your Bookshelf Tell About You

What does your bookshelf tell people about you? A lot, according to Nikki Tranter, at her blog, Re: Print, part of PopMatters galaxy of blogs. Nikki in turn links to an article published in The Age, one of Australia's leading newspapers, by Kate Holden. Holden has deliberately reorganized her library to impress. Holden writes:
I want visitors to think I am smart. Or indeed, to prove that I am smart. Tasteful. Erudite and eclectic. All this manifested in the concrete evidence of the books I’ve read: the range of subjects; the impressive editions, the glorious colourful bindings. I had a moment of enthusiasm a few months ago when I was procrastinating from writing a, well, a newspaper column, and collected all my orange Penguins into a beautiful if ochreous slab of mid-20th century cleverness. It was not unknown, I went on to mutter, that I had deliberately placed certain books in more visible cases — or even on eye-level shelves — in order to best array the quality of my collection.
Nikki, on the other hand, says she organizes her bookshelf mostly for herself, to prove that's she not only has exceptional taste but is smart.
The more I pondered, the more I realized that while there’s an element of the show-off in my arrangements, such conceit is really just for me. The smart books are at eye-level in the center of the living room to remind me what I’ve read, and what I’ve learned. Does it make me look smart to visitors? Possibly, but, to be honest, I find most visitors are more into my partner’s DVD collection than my books. He’s the coolest guy in the world because of his Fly special edition and his Star Wars prints; I’m hardly Mrs Awesome because I’ve dog-earned the works of David M. Rorvik.
I have one room allotted to me in my parent's house as my library-- shelves after shelves filled with books of a rather eclectic variety. Most of it is unread, of course, since I buy more books than I have time to read them.

Nevertheless, I never given thought to organizing them in any meaningful way: history lumped with literature, economics with art, etc. I always promised myself that I would organize them, but, alas, don't have the time or the inclination to do so (I'm very lazy). And like Nikki, I never thought people would judge me through my book collection, I just did it for myself.

Kazakhstan: Who The Hell Is Shah Rukh Khan?

It seems Mithun Chakraborty's Disco Dancer, originally released in 1982, is still rocking Kazakhstan, as are other Indian classics.
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, aaja, aaja, the song from Mithun Chakraborty's 1982 blockbuster Disco Dancer is a favourite with Marina Maximova and many others from her country, Kazakhstan. But current heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan is unknown there.

Marina, editor-in-chief of Almaty TV, cannot understand Hindi but loves Mithun's films as well as those of Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor.

"The films are so sensitively made, so beautiful," Maximova said in Russian, which was translated by her colleague Irina Kunanbayeva.

"Indian films are very popular in our country. We have film clubs where the films are shown," Maximova told IANS here.
That Shah Rukh Khan is relatively unknown in Kazakhstan (and probably true for other former Soviet states, including Russia) is quite telling. Some will say Kazakhs lack the sophistication necessary to watch the style of cinema actors like Shah Rukh Khan inhabits. Other people, including me, say that Bollywood has degraded creatively while becoming technically superior.

I've given up watching Bollywood films on a regular basis somewhere during the early 1990s when Bollywood took a turn for the worse with a slate of unwatchable, overly saccharine, song-filled, marriage-oriented films. Since then I have been watching Bollywood films on-and-off, and only on the recommendation by friends and family.

I grew up watching Bollywood films with my parents, who use to rent two or three movies a week from the local Indian store. Most were current releases, but my father would often rent films he saw in his youth. Raj Kapoor was a standard-bearer, and Amitabh Bachchan films of the 1970s and 1980s-before he foolishly entered politics-made me a fan for life. Like the Kazakhs, it is these films that I remember and often pine for.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Interesting Profile Of Prakash Karat

Newsweek has a profile of Prakash Karat, head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the influence he wields over the current UPA government. Newsweek doesn’t mince words when they call him and the CPI-M Stalinist.
From his fortress-like red sandstone headquarters near New Delhi's Connaught Place—a bustling commercial hub lined with McDonald's, foreign banks and boutiques—Prakash Karat, India's reigning communist ideologue, is fighting to kill his country's economic- and political-reform process. If Karat gets his way, India will turn its back on its recent much-touted modernization—which, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has led to 9 percent growth for four years now. Karat also hopes to undermine Singh's recent pro-Western foreign-policy overhaul—embodied in the pending U.S.-India nuclear deal—in favor of old, blinkered, nonaligned politics. These are precisely the kinds of positions that kept India a poor and marginal backwater for many years. Yet to the amazement and dismay of many Indians, they may soon become its policy once more.
The article also mentions that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is so frustrated that he often wished his government fell. And this well may happen even though there is still two years left till new elections.

Best Books Of 2007

As we approach the end of the year, time has come to catalog the best of 2007: The New York Times starts it off by offering a list of 100 Notable Books of 2007.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lets Go To The US To Shop

The dollar is so weak that people are flying to the United States just to shop. The price differences are big enough to justify the expensive air fare and hotel:
By 4 a.m. yesterday, Kinsella had rung up nearly $2,000 in Christmas presents and winter clothes, including a $79 black leather jacket at Guess that she estimated would cost more than $250 in Ireland.
This not as uncommon as peope think: Dubai is also a shopping haven, as is Hong Kong. There are vacation packages that are specifically geared towards shoppers. This bodes well for the U.S. economy. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if retailers reported higher than usual sales, as a result of this 'shopping tourism.'

Unfortunately, the results won't have impact on trade figures since the Department of Commerce doesn't consider 'shopping tourism' as foreign trade. Oh well, these trade figures-- the trade deficit one being the most popular-- are flawed to begin with.

(via International Economic Law and Policy Blog)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Free Stuff On The Web

Tis the Chrismas shopping season, where people plan to go into serious debt by buying presents for people they often don't like or don't know. Why? Must keep up appearances. So its nice to know there are some worthwhile things out there that are absolutely free

BusinessWeek has a nice slide show illustrating 101 Best Web Freebies. A lot of interesting stuff I didn't know about. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Deporting Immigrants Who Commit Crimes

Scott over at Powerline has written the following:
This past summer Somali immigrant Rage Ibrahim was charged with the horrifying rape of a Somali woman in an apartment hallway while as many as ten bystanders (mostly or entirely Somali, if I am not mistaken) looked on. Until yesterday Rage has been conditionally released from jail pending trial. Ramsey County Judge Michael Fetsch has now reinstated bail of $50,000 as the result of Rage's violation of a no-contact order in which he sought to secure the silence of his victim for $1,000.
I’m not surprised Rage would try to buy the victim’s silence (and for a paltry $1,000). Rape is considered a felony, and if convicted, Rage (a name straight out of central casting, no?), after serving his sentence, would be deported back to Somalia. No doubt he’s desperate to avoid that.

What's shocking, though, is that ten people were idly standing there and didn't lift a finger to help the woman, or report it to the police. Now this is shameful behavior.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NRIs Demand Answers on Nandigram

While much of India’s media has decided to avoid Nandigram like the plague, NRIs are demanding answers.
The Nandigram issue isn’t just holding up the business in the Parliament. It has also caused ripples among Indians in the US. Asserting their right to know under the Right to Information Act, dozens of non-resident Indians (NRIs) have asked why did the police fail to defend the lives and rights of the people of Nandigram?

The motley group that includes academics, students, lawyers, IT professionals and management consultants has also sought to know the total number of those dead and injured in Nandigram violence that erupted earlier this month as well as earlier, in February. Attempting to get an official response to the alleged torture and human rights violations in the violence, the NRIs have also sought to know the role of the police in the incidents. “Why were the human rights activists who attempted to enter the affected area on November 7 were not protected or escorted by the police?” the application seeks to know, among other details.
NRI’s request for information may come to naught, but kudos for asking at least.

Resident Iditot: Yes, The Truth Hurts

Praful Bidwai, the Resident Idiot, utters:
The campaign of armed violence unleashed by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) cadres in Nandigram in West Bengal marks one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Indian Left.

The campaign involved meticulous planning, state complicity, brutality and sexual assault. It has tarnished the Left's image as the most principled component of India's political spectrum, which represents the poor and upholds constitutionalism, public decency, and peaceful conflict resolution.

The March firing, which killed 14, showed that the CPM can unleash, for entirely sectarian reasons, violence against working people -- from whom it derives its very rationale.
Communists are violent by nature: it is both their ethos and pathos. Just read what Lenin had to say about using violence, specifically how to use it against your enemies. The CPI-M has been engaging in thuggery, gangsterism and outright murder in West Bengal for a long time now. Nandigram is just the latest manifestation.

It’s nice that Mr. Bidwai has finally come to this realization, but it’s shameful it took this long.

How Musharraf and Zia Are Alike

President Musharraf channeling President Zia-ul-Haq:
President Pervez Musharraf reiterated his stance on Sunday that the country was more important than the Constitution and democracy and that he was doing the important job of saving the country.

He said the Constitution and democracy were for the country, and not the vice versa.
President Zia-ul-Haq once said that the Constitution was nothing more than a piece of paper. This is history repeating itself. What a sad state of affairs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Loins Of Punjab Presents

Here's the official trailer for Loins of Punjab Presents. It looks like a hoot.

Official film web site here.

Capitalism Without Property Rights Is Not Capitalism

Amit Varma has a good column, as usual, about Nandigram, describing the horrors there as acts of gangsterism by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its cronies, who have twisted the meaning of free-markets and capitalism to meet their own ends by trampling on the rights of property holders. Key graph:
It is shocking that defenders of such theft try to justify it by invoking free markets and capitalism. True free markets depend on the sanctity of property rights. What Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government has been up to is cronyism of the worst kind, colluding with big companies at the expense of the common man. Ignorant journalists describe him as free-market-friendly, which is ludicrous. His disregard for property rights makes him as totalitarian as the orthodox Communists who criticize him for moving away from their faith.
Remember, communists do not believe in the sanctity of private property. It doesn’t exist in their reality: everything is owned by the state, to do with it what it pleases. The CPI-M crows about giving land to the landless—after all, in their book, it is there most significant achievement in over thirty years of rule—but what they don’t tell the recently landed is that they can become landless just as quickly, simply by government fiat. Whatever this is, it’s not capitalism.

Deception: NPR Interview With Authors

On NPR’s Fresh Air there is a great interview with Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, authors of Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, that’s a must listen. I haven’t read the book yet (I’m waiting for the paperback release), but what the authors reveal is bone chilling. They implicate Benazir Bhutto, who, as Prime Minister, allegedly bought the blueprints for North Korea’s missile technology from Kim Jong-Il himself, and brought them back to Pakistan, literally, in her handbag.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hillary Clinton Flip-Flop Yet Again

What does Sen. Clinton have to say about New York abandoning its plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday came out against granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, after weeks of pressure in the presidential race to take a position on a now-failed ID plan from her home state governor.

Clinton has faced criticism from candidates in both parties for her noncommittal answers on New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's attempt to allow illegal immigrants in his state to receive driver's licenses. Spitzer abandoned the effort Wednesday.

"I support Governor Spitzer's decision today to withdraw his proposal," Clinton said in a statement. "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration including border security and fixing our broken system."
This is classic Clinton—Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton always put his finger in the wind to see which way it was blowing before taking a position, now Hillary is doing the same. If Hillary becomes President, it will be a redux of the Clinton years, where moral relativism ruled.

My Picks For The Primary

I haven’t been paying much attention to the presidential race because I find it to be a bore—tedious speeches, countless debates, the pouting and preening of the various candidates, etc. But if I had to vote today, I would probably vote Libertarian, like I did in 2004. Nevertheless, I have picked my favorite Democrat and Republican candidates that I would vote for in the primary—if I were a registered Democrat or Republican.

In the Democratic primary, I would vote for Barack Obama, then either Joe Biden or Bill Richardson. Barack Obama, even with his lack of experience, is charismatic, smart, eloquent, everything you want in a politician. I like Biden for his foreign policy experience, the same for Bill Richardson, who also gets extra points with me for being governor of New Mexico, which gives him the administrative experience that is sorely missing from the rest of the pack. Hillary Clinton is too much of a slippery eel, and I find her untrustworthy. The rest of candidates are not worth spending time on.

And in the Republican primary, I would vote for Mitt Romney. He’s a successful businessman, and a former governor of Massachusetts, one of the bluest states in the union. As governor, Romney was socially moderate, fiscally conservative in a state that likes to tax everything that moves. I know he’s kissing the religious right’s ass, at the moment, but that will pass if he wins the primary; then watch him run back to the center. It always happens. I also like John McCain, a war hero, and bit of a maverick (and has pissed off conservatives, in the process), but I doubt he has the legs to make it to the end. Giuliani is a good choice, too, but his views on foreign policy are worse then Bush’s, with several advisors advocating the invasion of Iran. I like Ron Paul for his staunch libertarianism, but he seems isolationist on foreign policy, and his comments on 9/11, where he faulted the United State, pissed me off. The rest are hacks, poseurs and wingnuts. Thompson should stick to acting because they are failing him on the campaign trail. Huckabee is a religious kook who is fooling everyone with his awshucks-demeanor. The man is more dangerous than George Bush.

New York: No Driver's Licenses For Illegals

New York has decided to abandon its plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has abandoned a plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

The governor was meeting Wednesday with the state's congressional delegation, many of whom openly oppose the program. His spokeswoman, Christine Anderson, confirmed that the governor was dropping the plan.
It was a stupid, nonsensical plan to begin with; trotted out by an overly ambitious governor looking to run for President in the next election cycle. The goal of the plan, supposedly, was to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses so they can legally drive, thereby reducing liability (and increasing revenue for insurance companies). It was treated as a public safety issue, but given the fact that driver’s licenses are de facto national ID cards, and given the big holes in verifying who is who, it could lead to further problems down the road.

Second, no illegal immigrant in his right mind would participate in such a hair-brained scheme. First, it’s insulting. They’re looking to legalize their status, not be treated like second-class citizens. Second, an illegal immigrant, by nature, tries to live under the radar, avoiding unneeded attention less he or she is arrested and deported. So giving the state your name and address, which is put in a database, thus accessible by the federal government, is one step short of committing suicide. No, thanks. I’ll take the bus.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Real Reason For Rebuking Chavez

More details have emerged about the rebuke Chavez received from Spanish King Juan Carlos at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile: it’s about the lackluster economies of Latin American countries. According to Spain, which invests heavily in Latin America, the region needs more foreign investment. This set Chavez off:
But behind the royal reprimand, much of the international media missed what may have set Chávez off in the first place. Chávez became visibly irritated at the summit when Spain's current Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero — a socialist and Chávez ally — insisted that Latin America needs to attract more foreign capital if it's going to make a dent in its chronic, deepening poverty. Chávez blames "savage capitalism" for Latin America's gaping inequality and insists "only socialism" can fix it — hence his tirade against Aznar and other free-market "fascists." At that point Zapatero chided Chávez, reminding him that Aznar himself "was democratically elected by the Spanish people." Chávez kept trying to interrupt — summit organizers even turned off his microphone — at which point the King said what was on most summiteers' minds, if the general applause he got was any indication.
Chavez can afford to indulge in his socialist fantasies. After all, he has oil, and plenty of it.
And it pointed up a fact about Chávez's revolution that chavistas are too reluctant to acknowledge. Venezuela, with its vast oil wealth, can afford to indulge socialism and eschew foreign investment; but most other Latin American nations can't. Their economic growth still depends on the kind of capital that global competitors like China and India are raking in, but which Latin America seems unable or unwilling to garner. The chavistas rightly argue that the distribution of capitalism's fruits has been grossly unequal in Latin America — which is a large reason why leftists like Chávez have been swept into power in recent years. But the region needs that investment nonetheless — and even leftists like Zapatero sound impatient with the region's mediocre performance.
This is Chavez’s megalomania on display. His goal is not to spread socialism, but his brand of socialism, financed by him and led by him. He has branded himself as a toxic mix of Che, Simon Bolivar and Fidel Castro, all in one neat package. No wonder other Latin American leaders, including many fellow leftists, are weary of him and his burning ambition to be numero uno in Latin America. Countries like Brazil are increasing their defense budgets to counter Venezuela’s growing appetite for arms, fearing Chavez might spread his revolution by force, if not coercion.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Norman Mailer RIP

What can I say about Norman Mailer, who recently passed away: great writer, colorful personality, and an arrogant prick. He made modern literature macho. Mailer behaved more like a Hollywood celebrity--whose hijinx is well-documented--than a well-respected author. Mailer did not demur from such characterizations. In fact, he invited it, upto to his last days.

Christopher Hitchens says it best, in my opinion. Roger Kimball, editor at New Criterion, offers a dissenting view.

Why Larry King Sucks

The video below echoes why I never liked Larry King:

The man enjoys playing the role of the village idiot, revels in his ignorance, and delights in asking the dumbest questions possible. His mode of operation is simple: ask the first question that pops in his pea-sized brain. There’s no reason to read the book, watch the movie, or, for that matter, do the prep work and research necessary to have a good interview. Charlie Rose he isn’t. The result of which can be seen above.

And King doesn’t ask the tough questions (if he ask questions at all, which is quite often). This is why scandal-plagued celebrities and politicians flock to his show. It’s a great way to rehabilitate themselves without worrying about the interviewer asking any nagging, probing questions.

More Kid Karamel

What's a good way to start the week then more video of Kid Karamel. Here are two more.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Chavez Told To Shut Up, About Time

Finally, someone has said what should’ve been said long ago:
Spain's King Juan Carlos told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday to "shut up" during closing speeches by leaders from the Latin world that brought the Ibero-American summit to an acrimonious end.

"Why don't you shut up?" the king shouted at Chavez, pointing a finger at the president when he tried to interrupt a speech by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero was in the middle of a speech at the summit of mostly leftist leaders from Latin America, Portugal, Spain and Andorra, and was criticizing Chavez for calling former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a fascist.

Chavez, a leading leftist foe of Washington, also attacked Spanish businessman Gerardo Diaz Ferran earlier in the week after he questioned the safety of foreign investments in Venezuela.

"I want to express to you President Hugo Chavez that in a forum where there are democratic governments ... one of the essential principles is respect," Zapatero told the leaders gathered in the Chilean capital, Santiago.
And this was from fellow leftists too. Chavez is slowly pissing off even his friends, who are getting tired of Chavez’s bombastic grandstanding, his increasingly rude behavior and use of undiplomatic language. Slowly and surely, Chavez will become such an embarrassment that world leaders will stay away in droves.

Chavez thrives because he's become the chief Bush hater. Chavez needs Bush. Chavez’s popularity feeds off Bush’s unpopularity. What will happen when a new U.S. president is sworn in little over a year? Democrat or Republican, the new president will have a more pragmatic worldview, even with Chavez’s Venezuela. Will Chavez be singing the same tune then?

Friday, November 9, 2007



Pakistan: Army And Militants One In The Same?

Excellent op-ed in The New York Times by a former member of the Pakistani military, who witnessed the Islamization of the military under President Zia-ul-Haq, and its consequences Pakistan faces to this day. Key graphs:
On the night he declared the emergency, General Musharraf released 28 Taliban prisoners; according to news reports, one was serving a sentence of 24 years for transporting two suicide bombers’ jackets, the only fashion accessory allowed in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled areas. These are the kind of people who on their off days like to burn down video stores and harass barbers for giving shaves and head massages.

In what can be seen only as a reciprocal gesture, the Taliban released a group of army soldiers it had held hostage — according to the BBC, each soldier was given 500 rupees for good behavior.

Why do General Musharraf and his army feel a sense of kinship with the very people they are supposed to be fighting against? Why are he and his army scared of liberal lawyers and teachers but happy to deal with Islamist Pashtuns in the tribal areas?

The reasons can be traced back to the 1980s, when another military dictator, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, launched a broad campaign to Islamicize Pakistani society and the armed forces in particular. Back then, I was a cadet at Pakistan’s Air Force Academy, where I witnessed, along with hundreds of other aghast cadets, a remarkable scene in which a new recruit, out of religious conviction, refused to shave his beard. (Like most military training institutes in the world, the academy’s first right of passage was to turn the civilian recruits into clean-shaven jarheads.)

The issue was eventually referred to the Army high command in Islamabad, and as a result procedures for training institutes were amended — the boy was allowed to keep his beard and wear his uniform. The academy barber never recovered from the shock.

Within months there were other changes: evenings socializing to music and mocktails were replaced by Koran study sessions. Buses were provided for cadets who wanted to attend civilian religious congregations. Within months, our rather depressing but secular academy was turned into a zealous, thriving madrassa where missing your daily prayers was a crime far worse than missing the morning drill.

It is this crop of military officers that now runs the country. General Musharraf heads this army, and is very reluctant to let go.
More proof that the military is at loggerheads with democracy and secularism, especially when it has better relations with the Taliban, their purported enemy, then their own citizens. If what this writer says is true, then what effect can Musharraf and the military have in combating Islamic militants in the tribal areas when much of its mid-level officer corp is sympathetic to them, and many of the rank-and-file soldiers, so ill-equipped and so demoralized, are surrendering to them in droves?

[via ultrabrown]

A Realistic Look At US Policy Towards Pakistan

Charles Krauthammer, in my opinion, is a realist when it concerns American foreign policy, and has a great column on President Musharraf in The Washington Post. Key graphs:
Universal democratization is lovely, but it cannot be a description of day-to-day diplomacy. The blanket promise to always oppose dictatorship is inherently impossible to keep. It always requires considerations of local conditions and strategic necessity.

Lebanon, for example, has a long tradition of democratic norms going back to independence in 1943. America's current policy (backed strongly by France) of vigorous support for an independent Lebanese democracy is not utopian. Sudden democratization of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, however, is utopian -- an invitation to the kind of Islamist takeover that happened in Gaza and nearly occurred in Algeria.

Pakistan is not the first time we've faced hard choices about democratization. At the height of the Cold War, particularly in the immediate post-Vietnam era of American weakness, we supported dictators Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. The logic was simple: The available and likely alternative -- i.e., communists -- would be worse.
What Krauthammer says is essentially true, and he’s doubtful Pakistan can make the transition.
That depends on whether we think Benazir Bhutto is Corazon Aquino and whether Bhutto and her allies can successfully take power, which means keeping both the army and the country intact. Heightening the risk of dumping Musharraf is that external conditions today are not like the relatively benign conditions of the 1980s. The Taliban and its allies are gaining in strength and waiting to pick up the pieces from the civil war developing between the two most westernized, most modernizing elements of Pakistani society -- the army, one of the few functioning institutions of the state, and the elite of civil society, including lawyers, jurists, journalists and students.
Yes, there are no Abraham Lincolns waiting in the wings; and Bhutto and her counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, are far from ideal, but they enjoy some modicum of popular support. And I disagree with Krauthammer that the army is a westernized institution. In fact, it’s increasingly becoming radicalized. It’s more of a hindrance than a pillar of support.

Read the rest of the article, Krauthammer makes a lot of sense.

Some Palestinians Seeking Israeli Citizenship

It seems Palestinians living in Jerusalem are applying for Israeli citizenship in droves. These two articles explain why. Some excerpts:
"I don't want to have any part in the PA. I want the health insurance, the schools, all the things we get by living here," says Ranya Mohammed as she does her afternoon shopping in Shuafat.

"I'll go and live in Israel before I'll stay here and live under the PA, even if it means taking an Israeli passport," says Mrs. Mohammed, whose husband earns a good living from doing business here. "I have seen their suffering in the PA. We have a lot of privileges I'm not ready to give up."

Nabil Gheet, a neighborhood leader who runs a gift and kitchenware outfit in the adjacent town of Ras Khamis, also resists coming under the PA's control.

"We have no faith in the Palestinian Authority. It has no credibility," he says, as his afternoon customers trickle in and out. "I do not want to be ruled by Abbas's gang," he says, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"They've weighed the pros and cons of life under the Palestinian Authority and those under Israel and they've chosen," said residents in East Jerusalem of their naturalization-seeking neighbors.

33-year-old Samar Qassam said his motivation to apply for Israeli citizenship was to seek a better future for his family. Along with his wife and son, Qassam once lived in the Old City but recently moved to Beit Safafa, an Arab village south of Jerusalem.

"I was born in Jerusalem, this is where I grew up and this is where I make my living. My entire life is here. My wife comes from the West Bank, so I do fear she may be deported and therefore filed a naturalization request for her as well. I want to keep living here with my wife and child without having to worry about our future. That's why I want an Israeli citizenship," Qassam said.

"I don't know what the future holds. There's talk of the Palestinian Authority coming to Jerusalem. Personally, I don't think that will happen. But only God knows what will happen. I work as a mechanic for an Israeli company, I have both Jewish and Arab friends. I speak Hebrew and go out to Tel Aviv and Akko in the evenings. I just want a better future," he said.
Good governance and quality of life trumps nationalism. These Palestinians have tasted success and prosperity living under Israeli rule, they’ve seen how their brethren live in the West Bank and Gaza and have come to the following conclusion—they don’t want any part of it.

Nitin's Rightful Criticism Of Tehelka

Nitin criticizes Tehelka for publishing a rather shaky article questioning Gujarat’s economic success. Gaurav, in turn, criticizes Nitin for shooting the messenger. I think Gaurav is way off base. Nitin accomplished two things by writing what he did: first, he refuted the claims made by the article and, second, he criticizes Tehelka for its shoddy, gotcha-journalism practices.

Newspapers are supposed to be contrarian by nature, to question prevailing views, and to cast doubts on utterances by governments and public officials. I do not question Tehelka’s right to doubt the Gujarat government's claims, but I do question its methods, which seems to be driven by economic (to sell more magazines and get more hits on its web site), and a hidden political agenda (most newspapers and magazines India are left-wing) against the BJP-led Gujarat government.

Integrity and credibility are stock and trade of the journalism business, and Tehelka seems to be losing on this score.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Karuna Caught In United Kingdom

Here’s an interesting story from Sri Lanka:
Damning evidence has surfaced that the Government smuggled LTTE renegade commander Karuna to Great Britain on a forged diplomatic passport.

An investigation revealed that the forged diplomatic passport was issued by the Immigration Department on the orders of higher authorities in the name of Kokila Gunawardena on August 30, 2007.
Who is Karuna? He is a renegade LTTE commander who broke off from the LTTE to, ostensibly, protest the marginalization of eastern Sri Lankan Tamils within the organization. It’s been long rumored Sri Lankan intelligence services have been secretly backing him: in the vain hope that eastern Sri Lankan Tamils would rally to his side, weakening the LTTE by dividing them in two. This support did not materialize as planned, mostly due to the ruthless efficiency in how the LTTE deals with dissent. Karuna was a marked man, and so were his supporters.

I would gander a guess that Sri Lanka decided to cut its losses and redeploy their resources elsewhere. They could have left Karuna twisting in the wind; a LTTE hit squad would’ve finished him off sooner or later. After all, they never forget traitors nor do they stop hunting them. On the other hand, Sri Lanka wanted to spare themselves the embarrassment, so they decided to send him into exile, hopefully buying his silence. London is a good choice as Karuna’s family was already ensconced there.

And Sri Lanka risked a diplomatic row to send Karuna to London. Using a false name, a forged passport, and outright mendacity, Sri Lanka tried to smuggle Karuna into the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, Karuna was caught at the airport and arrested. No doubt he’ll be deported back to Sri Lanka. Karuna will try to ask for political asylum—perhaps this was the plan, after all—and may well receive it given liberal asylum policies of Europe.

I’m sure the United Kingdom is outraged that Sri Lanka was abusing the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic protocols, to send the likes of Karuna to the U.K. under the guise of diplomatic cover. We haven’t heard the last of this story.

UPDATE: Human rights groups are calling Britain to prosecute Karuna for war crimes, including torture and recruitment of child soldiers. I don’t think this will go anywhere. I doubt Britain has the jurisdiction to prosecute a person whose crimes were committed in another sovereign nation; and I’m unfamiliar with international law to have an opinion one way or the other. The only scenario that I can see is that Karuna is deported to Sri Lanka and tried for his crimes there.