Saturday, June 30, 2007

Salman Rushdie and Incompetent Terrorists

It would be interesting if these terrorist attacks in Britain had anything to do with the Queen knighting Salman Rushdie a few weeks ago. This is just speculation on my part, of course, but many local jihadists were quite vocal in their disapproval, some even advocating violence. Fortunately, the attack on Glasgow airport this morning failed spectacularly. And if the perpetrators, who were all caught (and denied martyrdom, in the process), were members of Al-Qaeda or just freelancers, they proved themselves to be quite incompetent.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

India-Made Autos Coming To United States

Indian-made automobiles will be arriving on American shores sometime in 2008. From Road & Track magazine:
Mahindra Automotive will begin selling three models—2-door and 4-door pickup trucks and a midsize 7-passenger SUV—in late 2008 or early 2009. Features include a 4-cylinder common-rail diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, available shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive and a 4-year/60,000-mile warranty.

The 2-door truck will have the longest and deepest bed in its class. Pricing and specifications will be announced in a few months, but it should be priced around $20,000, with the 4-door version in the low $20s and the SUV starting in the mid-$20s.
More competition is always good, I suppose, but I have doubts about the viability of another auto company, especially an Indian one, entering the American market, the most competitive auto market in the world and the most difficult to crack.

The Chinese are coming too. And the pie is only so big—and contracting—and there are no slices, big or small, left. The barriers of entry, in my opinion, are just too high. Many auto companies, mostly from Japan and Korea, have tried to enter the U.S. market only to leave soon after, leaving tremendous amounts of red ink in their wake.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Book Recommendation: The Historian

I normally don’t recommend books that I’m currently reading, but I’ll make an exception for Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which I’m 150-pages in to. It’s a historical novel about Dracula which, contrary to popular perception, is not a person of mythic lore, but very much real, and still supposedly living among the living. Combining elements of Vlad the Impaler (the real Count Dracula), Eastern European history and life in academe, and all told through the eyes of a young girl, Kostova has rendered an intellectually gripping read.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Britain Knights Salman Rushdie To Spite Iran

JK has an interesting take on the timing of Salman Rushdie’s knighthood:
When members of the Royal Navy were captured by the Iranians in March, the Iranians made sure that the British were decently humiliated. The sailors had to apologize for straying into Iranian waters and later thank president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for magnanimously releasing them. The entire nation could do nothing, but watch this public humiliation in silence. Now displaying something called spine, the British have knighted Salman Rushdie providing employment opportunities for suicide bombers. The Iranians are upset and made the usual remarks.
Exactly! Why didn't the British government knight Mr. Rushdie five years ago when no one would have paid any mind? And why now, today? As JK explains: Britain wants its revenge for the humiliating treatment meted out to its sailors, and, in my opinion, they got it. Now the Iranians are up in arms; looking like fools in the process.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

China World's #1 Polluter

Guess which country is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide? No, it’s not the United States, the perennial whipping boy, but China. From The Guardian:
The surprising announcement will increase anxiety about China's growing role in driving man-made global warming and will pile pressure onto world politicians to agree a new global agreement on climate change that includes the booming Chinese economy. China's emissions had not been expected to overtake those from the US, formerly the world's biggest polluter, for several years, although some reports predicted it could happen as early as next year.
No surprise given China’s breakneck growth rate; and with a population four times the United States (and still growing), carbon dioxide emissions will only increase, and at a quicker rate. If anything, it proves how flawed the Kyoto Protocols are to begin with, which gives deferential treatment to “developing” countries—like China and India—in reducing carbon dioxide emissions while shackling “developed” countries like the United States because the latter consumes more energy than the former. China topping the list proves this premise wrong.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Book Review: Two Decent Mystery Novels

I just finished reading two Tom Bradby’s mystery novels published by Anchor: The Master of Rain and The White Russian. It's not your typical breezy, beach-toting thrillers. For one thing, the protagonists-- both police officers--are looking for something beside murderers. But like other detectives, they are non-conformists living by their own rules—damning the consequences whatever they may be.

The Master of Rain, the weaker of the two books, takes place in 1920s Shanghai, which is occupied by European powers and ruled like a fiefdom. As a result, revolution is fomenting in the countryside, fueled by growing resentment among the native Chinese, and egged on by Bolsheviks in their midst. This an anti-colonial theme that Bradby cites frequently in his book and echoed by its main character, Richard Field, an idealistic, freshly-minted police detective with a troubled past, who is new to Shanghai and naïve to its corrupt workings. He is tasked with suppressing communist tendencies but is assigned to investigate some grisly murders of Russian prostitutes. Suspects include a prominent Chinese underworld figure, and even members of the upper echelons of the city elite, which includes his uncle.

The White Russian runs along similar themes but it’s a much better novel. This time the story takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia. The country is on the cusp of revolution, but Chief Detective Alexander Ruzsky must investigate several murders while dealing with serious family issues, including estranged relationships with his wife and father. Ruzsky, too, has burdened himself with the past, and the weight of which almost kills him.

There are no Hollywood endings with Bradby. Both Field and Ruzsky catch their murderers except their victory is bittersweet. To them, murderers are the product of a corrupt system, and it is this system they are fighting against. But it's too powerful for one man to take on alone; so they are forced to accept the status quo and choose exile instead, letting history take its course.

Bradby’s strength is that he renders his novels with such lushness and vividness. The problem with Bradby is that he overdoes it, sacrificing plot and character development in the process. The Master of Rain especially suffers from this: I simply don’t care for Field and the plot moves at a snail’s pace, and often it doesn’t move at all. The White Russian, on the other hand, is a vast improvement.

I recommend both books, but if you had to choose just one, read The White Russian.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Paris Deserves To Be In Jail

Paris Hilton, if anything, is a source of bemused amusement; as are her many Hollywood friends, real, fake or imagined. But her attempts to avoid serving jail time really hit a raw nerve among members of the media, which include the bloggerati. Surprisingly, there are some who deem the sentence, a mere 45-days, a tad harsh. I think Captain Ed from Captain’s Quarters blog says it best:
Pardon me for injecting a little conservative thought into all of this, but I have very little sympathy for Ms. Hilton. She has had all of the advantages possible in society, and has shown herself contemptuous to any sense of responsibility. The screaming and crying jag in court only came after she had thrown away her chances to get lenient treatment by lying and evading responsibility for her actions.

Let's not forget why Paris Hilton went to jail. Last January, Hilton got convicted of driving drunk. That killed 18,000 people last year; it's no joke. Hilton didn't have to serve a day in jail for it, either. She got 36 months probation and had her license suspended (in November 2006). She was also ordered into an alcohol education program.

Within a month, she had been arrested twice for driving without a license, and still had not entered the program as ordered. The city prosecuted her for violating her probation and the court order, and convicted her last month. Her defense? She blamed everyone but herself, and even at this last court proceeding, wanted to appear only by telephone. The judge had to order her brought to court.

Paris Hilton is no child. She's twenty-six years old. She has all the money she needs to hire the best lawyers to represent her. For that matter, she had all the money she needed to hire a driver after her license got suspended. Not too many of us have those kinds of resources, but she does, and she decided to flout the law and her probation anyway.
One of the things we can hope for by the end of her jail sentence, I guess, is a very sober Paris Hilton, who will hopefully mend her ways and live a semblance of a normal life, perferably within the confines of the law; and that it serves as an example to others like her.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Six Days That Shook The World

Not really in a good mood to write something heavy today, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something about the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, which pitted tiny Israel against the combined might of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. TIME magazine has a nice article summing the history of the war, and how its legacy is still being felt today.
The war was a triumph for Israel. Within hours of its start, the Egyptian air force had been destroyed in pre-emptive air strikes. Israeli troops sliced through Egyptian defenses in the Sinai Peninsula, moved against the Syrians in the Golan Heights and outflanked King Hussein's Bedouin army in the West Bank. In 132 hours, it was all over. Israel had more than tripled its territory, its forces moving into ancient Jerusalem, fulfilling the age-old quest of the Jews to return to their holy city. The war changed mental maps in the Middle East as much as it did the political landscape, altering hopes and fears. In 1967, Israel as a nation was not quite 20 years old, born in the shadow of the Holocaust and a war in which Arab armies attempted to throttle the new state at birth. So for Israelis, 1967 was a time of euphoria, only to be followed by years of letdown as victory's hoped-for fruits--peace and coexistence with their neighbors--seemed ever less likely. Hardened by terrorism, many Israelis now want to wall off the Palestinians behind a mass of concrete and razor wire.
Powerline also has a post about how some critics claim the war was a Pyrhicc, not a total, victory for Israel because it inherited the Palestinians, who are a constant thorn in Israel’s side. Perhaps, but it is a problem Israel can easily live with because the alternative—the destruction of the Jewish state—would have been much worse.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Entering the United States Pregnant

Interesting letter about a female Pakistani doctor and her dealings with U.S. immigration has been published in Dawn today.

Dr. Nimy writes that on arriving in Chicago, her visa was immediately revoked by immigration authorities because they discovered her to be pregnant. She was to be deported but quickly became ill because of stress and taken to a local hospital. She was allowed to stay in the United States until her health recovered. She later gave birth to her child in a Houston hospital. She tried to protest the revocation of her visa to USCIS, but was ignored. She returned to Pakistan soon after.

She writes:
We are a country cooperating with the US administration in its war against terror and our country has been suffering on that account too.

As against this, the treatment of the US immigration authorities with the Pakistani visitors is so unduly harsh as mentioned above.

It is, therefore, requested to the US/Pakistan administration to kindly look into my case and to possibly rectify the undue wrong so done to me and to see whether the treatment of the US immigration authorities towards me was legally and morally justified.
The USCIS sees all visa seekers as potential immigrants irrespective of their country, and doesn't care whether it cooperates in the war against terrorism or not. So there is no special treatment because Dr. Nimy is a Pakistani.

Though to Dr. Nimy this sounds harsh, it is well within the immigration officer’s purview to revoke her visa because she is pregnant. Because the U.S. Constitution specifically states that anybody born on U.S. soil becomes an automatic citizen, thousands of pregnant immigrants, legal and illegal, try to enter the United States so their newborns will become U.S. citizens, thus allowing, hopefully, them, the parent(s), to remain in the United States as well. So seeing Dr. Nimy in a pregnant state, the immigration officer, naturally, refused to allow her entry into the United States.

Dr. Nimy’s treatment may sound harsh, and arguably immoral, but it is very legal.