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.

Musharraf Promises To Be Tough, Again

Conservative will say anything to protect Musharraf, their boy in Pakistan, to save face. For example, the gang at Powerline write:
The Asian Age reports that Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has given the go-ahead for a massive crackdown in the restive tribal areas for the purpose of crushing pro-Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. To the extent that Musharaf is serious, this doesn't seem like the time for the U.S. to counteract his attempts to consolidate power.
Musharraf had 7-years and over $10 billion in U.S. aid to be serious about cracking down on pro-Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Why is he doing this now, and why does he need to suspend democracy to do it. They don’t ask these questions. They just blindly accept the bullshit being spouted by Musharraf and his cronies. Conservatives have become those parents who are frequently frustrated in their attempts to discipline a spoiled child, who constantly makes empty promises. All I can say is: here we go again.

Frontline Kisses China's Ass

This article on the Communist Party of China’s 17th Congress proves that Frontline magazine is nothing more than an appendage of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). There’s not a single negative comment in it. It’s all praise: China can do no wrong. The author giddily writes:
The “Scientific Outlook on Development” is projected as a pathway to “a harmonious socialist society”, whose establishment is also outlined in the latest amendment. The idea is to “turn China into a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country”. The amendment further stipulates that “the CPC leads the people in developing the socialist market economy”. A related mandate is that the party “unwaveringly consolidates and develops the public sector of the economy and unswervingly encourages, supports and guides the development of the non-public sector”.
What China practices is not socialism but a type of gangster capitalism that shuts out much of the population from the prosperity that elites and the oligarchs are presently reaping. China obfuscate it by calling it “Scientific Outlook on Development.” Typical commie hypocrisy and double-speak. It’s the type of capitalism communists continually decry in India, but have no problem praising China for.

What the article fails to mention is rising discontent in the countryside among farmers. So far China has resorted to repressive measures, coupled with tight controls on media, to keep things quiet. But with hundreds of millions of people seething, how much longer can China keep lids on issues simmering for years? Frontline never explored this position because it has its head too far up its asses to take notice.

Pakistan: What Does The Common Man Think

The throttling of democracy in Pakistan is a matter of grave concern, and I’m the last person to belittle it, but is it a crisis the media makes it out to be? Is Pakistan really on precipice of an Islamic takeover? I’ve seen the pictures on the Internet and television of thousands of people protesting the declaration of martial law, but most of them appear to be lawyers. Naturally, they would be upset if the judicial system is shuttered, it’s their livelihood after all.

I want to know what the man on the street thinks, the regular guy who is trying to eke out a living—the laborer, street merchants, low-level government employees and other people the media tend to ignore. What do they think of Musharraf and his declaration of martial law? Does it touch their lives in anyway? My guess would be no. For them, the next day will be just like yesterday. What does it matter to them what the government does, after all it’s never been there for them. And why should they care about lawyers and students protesting for democracy, a mere trifle in their world. To the common man, they’re part of the same ineffective and corrupt system.

If you look at it: you have to be a cynic to live and survive in present-day Pakistan.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Writer's Strike

The writer’s strike is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it will give me an opportunity to catch-up on shows—on DVD—I may have missed and, on the other hand, it will shorten seasons on shows I really, really like, specifically Scrubs, which is in its final season.

The last time there was a lengthy writer’s strike was in the late-80s, which spawned the mindless reality-television movement. It’s still with us today and if the strike continues for a long-time (which is likely), expect more of it.

Hope the strike ends soon.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Zia's Legacy Haunts Pakistan

Kevin Drum has an interesting post about Pakistan and Islamic parties gaining control of Pakistan after President Musharraf declared martial law.
Over at Informed Comment, Juan Cole suggests that the Islamist movement in Pakistan isn't really very impressive, but adds that events could change that: "What is really significant, however, is that Qazi Hussain [the leader of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i Islami] is the only major party leader openly calling for mass resistance against Musharraf, a stance which will help the popularity of his party even if (as seems likely) he winds up in jail over it."
What we’re seeing are the final results of late President Zia-ul-Haq’s handiwork blowing up in our faces. It was Zia who Islamized, not only Pakistan, but the military as well. Much of the officer corp—from junior to mid-level—are hardcore Islamists. There’s a clear nexus between Islamists and the military that wasn’t there before, but is definitely there now.

Since the military is a bulwark of stability in Pakistan, and the only institution with any real authority, what it says goes. Governments cannot rule without their blessing. The elites rely on them to maintain law and order (and their positions of power) as it is they who have the guns. If the military collapses, so does Pakistan.

And if the military is under the sway of Islamists, vote count—and, yes, even democracy—is meaningless.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

DillanTV: Episode 1

I would like to present to you Kid Karamel, a.k.a. Dillan Agarwalla, and my nephew, in his first video.

As you can see, he’s quite mischievous and curious and, not to mention, highly mobile. He’s adorable as well.

Funny Movie Trailer And Zee Commercials

A funny scene from the movie Goa to Bombay:

If the driver looks familiar, he's also in this very funny Zee Cinema commercial:

And if you like this Zee Cinema commercial, here's another:


Martial Law Declared In Pakistan

President Musharraf, who is still General Musharraf, has committed his second coup by declaring martial law, suspending the constitution, and sequestering the Supreme Court. Did Benazir Bhutto have an inkling of what was going to happen? She abruptly left for Dubai, ostensibly to see her children and ailing mother, but now we know the real reason—she was trying to avoid arrest.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Satire: America's Mideast Diplomatic Offensive

Winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world as told by The Daily Show

This is why The Daily Show is a must see, better than any cable or network news broadcast.

US Navy Battle Pirates: Soft Power At Work

The U.S. Navy battling with pirates off the coast of Somalia is not getting the media attention it deserves. It’s an important new role for the U.S. Navy—the role of maritime policeman—and its implications are far reaching. By protecting trade routes from marauding pirates, the United States is doing a service that will earn it respect in the world community, something that has been quite fleeting of late. It’s an example of “soft power," something the United States should use more of, not less.

Being a “policeman” requires retooling the U.S. Navy from top to bottom. Presently, the U.S. Navy is built to fight major wars, with its aircraft carrier battle groups central to its strategy, which is overkill for battling pirates, who tend to operate in small groups. No, what the Navy needs to be is more nimble, something akin to the U.S. Army, which increasingly uses small, highly mobile groups (company size or less) instead of large, lumbering groups (divisions). What the Navy needs are more patrol boats and attack submarines rather than aircraft carriers, cruiser and destroyers.

Robert D. Kaplan, who writes about defense matters for The Atlantic, has been talking about restructuring the U.S. Navy for quite some time now, echoes what I have written above:
In essence, this new maritime strategy represents a restrained, nuanced yearning for a bigger Navy, albeit one whose mission will be cooperation with other navies. That requires more than just new ships. “A key to fostering such relationships is development of sufficient cultural, historical, and linguistic expertise among our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to nurture effective interaction with diverse international partners.” Such training costs money and creates bureaucratic challenges, but it helps lay the groundwork for an exceedingly gradual, elegant decline of the Navy’s capabilities—a future in which it has fewer platforms but gets more out of the ones it does have by working more closely with others.
Another thing Kaplan writes about is the fact that the U.S. can’t go it alone. It will need the cooperation of many countries and, yes, including China, which, given its export-oriented economy, needs to keep trade routes secure.

Book Review: While Europe Slept

Europe as we know it is slowly disappearing as radical Islam steadily spreads across the land, helped by multicultural do-gooders and socialist statists? This seems to be the premise of Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, a polemic about the growing menace of radical Islam and how it is slowly destroying Europe and it’s liberal, freedom-loving ideals.

The way Bawer tells it, it is an apocalypse in the making. That unless radical Islam is stopped in its tracks, Europe will become Islamized and Europe, as we know, will cease to exist. Reality or just plain hysterics? I think it’s a little of both.

Bawer is not some conservative nut job, but a noted writer and critic who lives in Norway and sees first-hand what effect radical Islam is having. Radical Islamists demand Sharia be imposed, that gays be murdered (Bawer is gay, so imagine his reaction), and that democracy be dismantled. All for recreating some mythical caliphate that existed in the seventh century.

It’s not clear whom to blame: Muslims, who fail to assimilate; or Europeans, who coddle them. Bawer tends to blame the latter. Made up mostly of politicians, journalists and other elites, they are Europe’s ruling class; and they have a blind spot to the coming danger.

These elites—mostly socialists, multiculturalists, and other assorted leftists—tend to treat Muslim as some exotic ethnic group to be protected, not as an ideology. With lax immigration policies, Muslims arrive in Europe by the planeloads, where they are not integrated or assimilated in anyway, but are separated, forced to live in ghettos, encouraged to keep their culture, keep to themselves, and are discouraged from learning the language, culture, values of their adopted land. It is the kind of patronizing racism that is practiced throughout Europe.

This explains radical Islam appeal among Muslim immigrants and their offspring. Alienated by the country they live in, they are susceptible to entreaties by radical Islamists, who control many of the mosques (and funded by the government), and fed a steady diet of anti-Western rhetoric, and conditioned to hate the country they live in. It explains why crimes by Muslim youths are on the rise throughout Europe, something Bawer continually harps on. Remember the Paris riots of 2006? It was by Muslim youths. Of course, the European press tends to whitewash these stories, blaming capitalism, globalization, or some other bogeyman of the week.

But is Europe going to hell, or is it so far along that there is no going back? Bruce Bawer doesn’t say much on the subject except that Europe must get its act together less it becomes some Islamic backwater, bereft of liberty, happiness, and democracy.

Personally, I think Europe is made of sturdier stuff and will survive with its ideals intact. Opposition to radical Islam has been slow, but growing steadier by year. A new crop of politicians, which Bawer mentions, are on the rise who plan to do something about the problems at hand; helped by Muslims, who are equally repulsed by the repugnancy of some of their fellow co-religionist’s stridently anti-Western views, who want to share in Europe’s prosperity, and its idels, while practicing their faith. Bawer gives these Muslims little shrift, in my opinion.

Essentially, the central theme of this book is about multiculturalism gone arye. Bawer often compares Europe to the United States, and how the latter has done a great job of assimilating its Muslims, while the former utterly failed in assimilating theirs.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

X-Files: The Sequal

There’s a new X-Files movie in the works. Filming begins in December, with a release date for late July 2008. What’s it all about:
Creator Chris Carter says that the movie will focus on a stand-alone mystery rather than exploring the show's dense mythology. Beyond that, he's not spilling details, only saying, "It will be scary."
The reason it took so long to make a sequel was the fact that Chris Carter was fighting with FOX over, what else, money over syndication and DVD rights. But with a writer’s strike on the horizon, it was now or never. So Carter and FOX settled quickly just to get this project off the ground. Hope it’s good.

Pakistan And RAW: The Drama Continues

This is getting tiring:
The three assassin terrorists arrested recently by the law enforcing agencies, have revealed that Indian intelligence service (RAW) hired them for Rs 6.5 million to murder three Chinese nationals on July 8, 2007 at Peshawar. This clearly shows that India wants to disrupt developmental activities by intimidating Chinese engineers in Pakistan. Ever since the Chinese engineers have undertaken the construction of Gwadar deep seaport, a series of attacks targeting Chinese nationals have become a regular feature. The terrorists are not only attempting to damage Pakistan’s economic growth, they want to jeopardize the “strategic partnership’’ between the two countries. Pakistan’s friendship with China is unique and has stood the test of time in the matters concerning national security and economic cooperation.
It’s incredible. Every time there’s terrorist activity on Pakistani soil, it’s automatically attributed to India and its intelligence agency, RAW. Not only that, Pakistani security agencies always manage to capture the terrorists (yet they can't find jihadis or Osama bin Laden), who quickly admit they were in the employ of RAW. No other evidence is offered aside from “confessions” made by the supposed terrorists, who no doubt were coerced—i.e. tortured—into making false statements implicating India. Then we never hear from these terrorists ever again.

This scenario will be repeated in a few months time.