Thursday, January 31, 2008

Death Of A Terrorist

The death of George Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the second largest faction in the PLO behind Fatah, should be celebrated; that this Marxist terrorist, murderer of children, women, and other innocents alike, did not live to see his bloody dream come even remotely close to coming true—the destruction of Israel. May he eternally burn in hell.

Nevertheless, like many bloodthirsty thugs, Habash has his admirers, mostly in the kooky extreme left. This letter in Dawn is typical of the fawning treatment Habash slavishly receives from his many fans, who are more than willing to overlook Habash’s penchant for violence. A choice quote:
I believe that future events in Palestine will vindicate Habash’s turn after 1967 to armed struggle and confirm him as one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century in the lineage of Fidel Castro, Ahmed Ben Bella, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong.
I’m sorry but George Habash’s star does not shine as bright as those of Castro, Bella, Minh, or Zedong (a veritable rogue’s gallery of thugs, murderers and despots), who created nations and ruthlessly ruled them. In fact, George Habash is not even in the same galaxy. For one thing, Habash completely failed in accomplishing any of his objectives: Israel still stands and there is no Palestinian state. Too late now, I suppose

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Then There Were Two...

After Clinton and McCain won their respective Florida primaries, both Edwards and Giuliani have opted to drop out the race. I’m not really surprised by Giuliani’s announcement, since he staked his entire campaign on Florida, where he came in a distant third. I’m surprised, though, that Edwards has decided to call it quits since he has a very good chance of playing the spoiler; I figure he would at least stick it out after super Tuesday.

So why did they choose to quit?

Giuliani was a bundle of contradictions, who based his campaign solely on 9/11, which, naturally, made for a good story, but couldn’t be translated into a referendum for the presidency. And there was the question of his character: his divorces, his affairs, and his supposed Catholic convictions. That Giuliani didn’t see the conflicts, or chose to ignore them, did not bode well with social conservatives, and the religious right.

Edwards, on the other hand, should’ve done better. But when he came in third in South Carolina, supposedly his neck of the woods, Edwards knew he was in trouble. Florida was his last stand too, and like Giuliani, Edward lost big. Edwards has the natural gifts of being a great politicians, but unlike Obama, he doesn’t come off as smart and likable, more like arrogant and smarmy. More snake oil salesman, who he is, then a progressive, which he clearly isn’t. But given the see-saw campaign between Clinton and Barack, Edwards was a good position in influencing the outcome, making sure the leading candidates stuck to their Democratic principles; and, yes, even play the role of kingmaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Giuliani has pledged his support for McCain, who is clearly on a roll. As for Edwards, he’s being quiet for now, no doubt angling for a juicy role. Vice President, perhaps?

Johan Santana Goes to Mets. Thank God!

Johan Santana being traded to the New York Mets is the second-worst thing that can happen to the Boston Red Sox. The first? If Santana was traded to the New York Yankees instead.

I can understand the reluctance of both the Red Sox and Yankees to pull the trigger—the price was just too high. First, the Twins would rightly demand, and receive, a basket of either team’s top prospects. Second, both teams would have to agree to pay Santana his 7-year, $140,000,000 asking price. Definitely too rich for the Red Sox, who often eschew long-term contracts; and it’s even too rich for the New York Yankees, who already have the highest payroll in the leagues even though they could use Santana’s arm.

As a Red Sox fan, it’s better that Santana ends up in the National League, where he’s out of sight and out of mind.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hillary Clinton Not Getting Key Endorsements

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s chances of being the second “black” president (her husband, Bill Clinton, was the first) have been dashed after Toni Morrison gave her endorsement to Sen. Barack Obama. Not only that, now the Kennedy clan have also decided to endorse Barack Obama.

Are endorsements really effective in a presidential election? Does anyone really care what a writer like Toni Morrison thinks anymore? Most Americans consider artists, writers and Hollywood types to be on the fringe of politics; to be ignored and ridiculed, not to be taken seriously. And what of the Kennedys, a political family clearly in their twilight years? Ted Kennedy is viewed both as a liberal lion and a buffoon. Does his endorsement carry any weight?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rogue Trader Damages French Bank

A French Nick Leeson?
French bank Societe Generale said Thursday it has uncovered a $7.14 billion fraud — one of history's biggest — by a single futures trader whose scheme of fictitious transactions was discovered as stock markets began to stumble in recent days.

CEO Daniel Bouton said the trader's motivations were "irrational," netting the trader no personal financial gains.

A person familiar with the case named the trader as Jerome Kerviel. Bank officials said earlier the trader was a Frenchman in his 30s who probably acted alone. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Internal control and compliance systems are usually integrated into most trading platforms these days, imposing limits on aggressive (or simply stupid) traders like Jerome Kerviel, just to avoid such multi-billion dollar “mistakes.” Obviously the controls that were in place at Societe Generale were wholly inadequate.

All I can say is: c’est la vie.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My DVD Pile

Let’s see what’s in the DVD pile for the next few weeks:What’s in your pile?

Fred Thompson Drops Out

Not surprisingly, former Senator Fred Thompson has dropped out of the race after finally realizing he had no chance of winning the Republican primary, let alone the White House. Thompson’s poor showing in the primaries was not the result of lack of ideas, or charisma—it was heart. To be President, you got to ask for the job, even beg for it. Thompson did neither of these things and the voters noticed. That’s why he lost.

For a trained lawyer and successful actor, he was often ill prepared, both in debates and on the campaign trail. Hardly a confidence builder. He definitely looked the part—tall and authoritative—but he couldn’t play the part. And that was his undoing.

I don’t know what he’s going to do now. Can’t go back to Law & Order since there is both a writer’s strike and the fact that Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston, is now the new DA.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Atlantic: Free For Everybody!!! is now a free site. To celebrate, here’s a link to an article about Bangladesh by Robert Kaplan, one of my favorite writers, in the January/February issue of Atlantic. A primer:
With rising Islamic fundamentalism, weak government, and not enough dry land for its 150 million people, Bangladesh could use a break. Instead, it must face the catastrophic threat of climate change.

Anti-War Films Fail To Garner Many Oscars

Oscar nominations are finally out. It was suppose to be a year where anti-war films shined, but aside from Tommy Lee Jones getting a best actor nomination for In the Valley of Elah, there were no takers.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Day in the United States, I present King's famous “I Have A Dream” speech:

Plus King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail".

King was a great orator, gifted leader, and an energetic activist. If King weren’t a preacher, he would still be a great man of letters.

Unfounded Fears Of An American Theocracy

M. Abdul Hafiz, columnist for The Daily Star, proffers his opinion on who will be the next President of the United States. Like most international commentators, he leans Democrat, of course; and naturally he’s weary of Republicans, especially of Huckabee. He writes:
The US constitution, in its first amendment, prohibited state support for the establishment of a religion -- a stipulation further articulated and reinforced by Thomas Jefferson, the third US president. However, much of the recent invocation of religion can be attributed to the increasing enthusiasm of the fundamentalist Evangelical Christians. Their activities were openly promoted by the Republicans during Bush's presidency, which, inspired by the neo-conservatives, produced a heady mix of religion and politics. The result is that an obscure Baptist Christian preacher Rev. Mike Huckabee surged forward in the polls in Iowa on the strength of his religious background. This trend has already distorted the secular character of American polity. Unless checkmated, the entire civilisational achievement of the great nation will be at stake.
Fundamentalist Christians have been involved in American politics off-and-on since the United States was founded, but they’ve never been successful in turning the United States into a theocracy that Mr. Hafiz fears. We can thank the Founding Fathers for their vision: first, for separating religion and government, which was a novel idea in the 18th century; and second, for constructing a constitutional mechanism— a system of check and balances—that makes a theocracy almost impossible. If somehow Huckabee became president, the prospect of American turning into a “Christian” nation would be next to nil.

Friday, January 18, 2008

World Bank Fires Anti-Corruption Head

An employee does her job and gets fired for her efforts:
The World Bank on Wednesday announced the resignation of Suzanne Rich Folsom as director of its anticorruption unit, or INT. "She was not forced out, she was not asked to leave," said external relations chief Marwan Muasher. That's one way of putting it.

Ms. Folsom is, in fact, leaving the bank of her own accord for a private-sector job, having recently completed a devastating report on $569 million worth of corrupted bank projects in India. But this is a story of a resignation by a thousand cuts. Along with her top deputies, Glenn Ware and Allison Brigati, Ms. Folsom departs having survived years of relentless vilification by a bank staff and even senior leadership determined to undermine her anticorruption efforts
She “left to pursue other opportunities” is a popular euphemism for being forced out, one step short of being fired. I had hoped Ms. Folsom would stick to her guns and force the World Bank to fire her. The ensuing publicity would have brought much needed attention to an organization that—like the International Monetary Fund and United Nations—is rife with corruption and bureaucratic malaise.

This incident also underscores the need to either reform both the IMF and WB, or eliminate them entirely. The United States, which provides the lion’s share of the funding for both entities, should demand changes in order to increase transparency and accountability—American taxpayers demand it from their government, why not international insitutions? Failing that, the United States should unilaterally withdraw from both the IMF and WB.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book Review: Hatchet Jobs

I admit it. The only reason I bought Dale Peck’s Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction was the result of reading his snarky excerpts published in blogs and magazines. Normally I don’t read literary criticism; I find much of it obtuse and inaccessible to a lay reader like myself.

But when Peck writes “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation”, he begs to be noticed, and he got plenty of it. People—the types who adore car crashes at NASCAR races and fisticuffs at a hockey game—hunted down his reviews, most published in The New Republic, for the literary equivalent of a bloody beating. In the end, like myself, they were disappointed to find that the reviews were pretty ordinary.

From the reviews I have read so far, Peck is not the type to mince words—he is frank, and often brutally so. This frankness, at times, leads him to make snarky comments. Peck doesn’t like the fact that his reviews are reduced to the literary sound bites. Alas, we live in a culture where people make their opinion from five-second sound bites, not 7,500-word essays.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DVD Review: Wall Street Warriors: Season 1

Wall Street Warriors is a good attempt at a good idea, but ultimately fails in its goal: to provide an insider’s glimpse into those warriors who live or die on Wall Street. A product of MOJO HD, a high-definition men’s channel, it profiles a slew of financial professionals over six half-hour episodes, and therein lies its flaw.

We have a hedge fund manager, an analyst, day trader, portfolio manager, and an upstart. You can already see the problem. A half-hour (including commercials) is hardly enough time to explore the personalities let alone what they do for a living. And some characters get more time than others. Timothy Sykes, the upstart, who manages a micro hedge fund from his apartment, seems to get the lion’s share of the attention. And I can see why: he’s young, ambitious, enthusiastic, charismatic, and very lovable, although a bit obnoxious at times. The analyst, on the other hand, gets five minutes, and by series end completely disappears from view. And the portfolio manager is often identified as a hedge fund manager, which will lead to confusion, since there is another hedge fund manager already being profiled

Not to say this series is a complete lost; it’s still interesting in many ways; and the bonus material on the DVD makes up for some of the deficiencies. Rent it from Netflix.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Identity Politics Coming Home To Roost

Have been very busy of late: digging out of a snowstorm, busy at work (surprisingly!), and dealing with wife’s ear surgery. But I’m never too busy to comb the internet, looking for interesting stories like this:
Somewhat surprisingly, as the campaign has tightened, racial tensions have bubbled to the surface with the two camps exchanging accusations. Those tensions are reflected in this week’s polling data. Overall, Clinton and Obama are close nationally in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll. But, among white voters, Clinton leads 41% to 27%. Among African-American voters, Obama leads 66% to 16%.
The Democrats have always played the race card in elections, often with spectacular results. It’s all fine and dandy when using it against hapless Republicans, but now that a black man has a chance to win the Democratic nomination, is either Clinton or Obama going to play the race card? Knowing Hillary, she’ll use every weapon in her arsenal to win, including some good, old-fashion race baiting. Obama, to his credit, is not really playing the race angle, but who knows what will happen when finally faced with the prospect.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Hindu Extremist" Kill Rajiv Gandhi?

William Dalrymple writes good books on India, but even he makes mistakes. In a column in The New York Times, Dalrymple, in comparing the assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, makes the following falsehood:
WHEN, in May 1991, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India was killed by a suicide bomber, there was an international outpouring of grief. Recent days have seen the same with the death of Benazir Bhutto: another glamorous, Western-educated scion of a great South Asian political dynasty tragically assassinated at an election rally.

There is, however, an important difference between the two deaths: while Mr. Gandhi was assassinated by Sri Lankan Hindu extremists because of his policy of confronting them, Ms. Bhutto was apparently the victim of Islamist militant groups that she allowed to flourish under her administrations in the 1980s and 1990s
Rajiv Gandhi was not killed by a “Hindu extremist,” but a female homicide bomber from the LTTE, a cultish, Marxist—and very secular—insurgent group violently fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. The LTTE is no more Hindu than the various factions of the PLO (Fatah, PFLP, PFLP-GC, etc) are Islamic, even though they are portrayed as such.

No doubt about it. There are plenty of Hindu extremists around (including one who shot Mahatma Gandhi), but a relatively few of them have become homicide bombers. In fact, I’m at wits end to come up with even one.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Political Punditry: Like Looking At Tea Leaves

The only thing I know is that political pundits—no matter how smart they are, or what experience they may have—came out looking like idiots after yesterday’s results from the New Hampshire primary, where they foolishly and prematurely declared Sen. Hillary Clinton politically dead after her poor showing in Iowa, and, not to mention, her misleading “poll” numbers.

Even a neophyte like myself knows Iowa is an unreliable prognosticator; yet the political pundits (you know who you are!) insisted that Obama Barack would take New Hampshire by double-digits. No doubt Barack still did well in New Hampshire, but if it proves anything: it’s going to be a tough primary season between Barack and Clinton (Edwards has no chance), each winning a handful of states, with none getting an outright victory.

It is increasingly looking like a very interesting Democratic National Convention in Denver. Hope it’s bloody!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Musharraf Blames Everybody Except Himself

Here’s a rather interesting interview with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on 60 Minutes, where he invariably blames the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on, well, Benazir Bhutto. “We warned her” was the common refrain made by Musharraf, and “she chose to ignore it.”

In hindsight, Bhutto should have been more careful, but this does not, in any way, mitigate the crime. A murder was committed and no suspect has yet been apprehended, and no one has claimed responsibility. All we are left with are conspiracy theories and half-serious utterances by the government.

It was nice to see Musharraf squirm when asked about his complicity in Bhutto’s murder, and, under his leadership, Pakistan has become less secure, with Taliban and al-Qaeda ruling the tribal areas. Musharraf blamed the United States for this rotten state of affairs, of course, for not getting the job done in Afghanistan.

No doubt about it: Musharraf is a weasel.

Movie Review: Namastey London

I don’t watch many Bollywood movies for one, very obvious, reason—there mostly bad; worse than Hollywood, in fact. But I did manage to watch Namastey London over the weekend to fulfill my annual quota, and it was a bad choice. The film, in all honesty, is a piece of crap.

Namastey London is the type of jingoistic tripe Bollywood regularly churns out that reminds the world (and many Indians, in fact) that India suffers from some sort of post-colonial inferiority complex. It’s a film replete with scenes and dialogues insulting the West (in this case, India’s colonial masters, the British). A lot of fists in the air, slap on the backs sort of shtick one expects from a mediocre film like this and the cheap patriotism it portrays.

The story is the typical diaspora story. An Indian (Punjabi) family living in England: with a traditional father and a submissive mother and their out-of-control, westernized daughter. They don’t like the fact that she’s Western or that she’s involved with an Englishman (an evil, patronizing gora!), even though she has lived in England all her life. What do her parents expect to be, a traditional Punjabi girl?

Anyway, make a long story short. Parents decide daughter needs a strong Punjabi husband, and trick her into going to India in order to fix her marriage. Parents find the boy, like him, and arrange the marriage. Daughter resists until the end, while secretly planning to marry the Englishman, who, by the way, is wealthier than Queen Elizabeth II. Daughter finds that Punjabi husband is not some rube from the hinterlands of Punjab, but a modern, English-speaking man. Suffice it to say, she leaves her gora fiancĂ© at the altar and goes back to India with Punjabi husband to live happily ever after. This is Bollywood’s ending, and it’s so typical. There are dozen films before Namastey London that do a much better job.

One wonder why Indians immigrate to other countries, which give them opportunities India could not, and then denigrate that country because of incompatible cultural issues—dating, religious, etc. The list is virtually endless.

Anyway, avoid this film. Katrina Kaif cannot act or speak a lick of Hindi. Mercifully, the only positive thing I can say about Namastey London is the fact that it was only two hours long.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Saddam Hussein: One Year Later

It’s been a whole year since Saddam Hussein was hanged yet there’s been only a handful of news items, much of it trivia, few celebratory. Iraqis, too, have moved on for the most part except for the handful of die-hard supporters in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, where his mausoleum is located, and whom few visit.

Saddam has failed to become the martyr his supporters claimed he would become. Yes, Saddam Hussein remains an icon, of sorts. Not someone who is revered, of course, but someone who is despised, and whose ultimate passing to be celebrated. Iraqis don’t seem to care, they have moved on to better and bigger things. Their future may or may not be bleak, at least it won’t include Saddam Hussein.

[via american footprints]

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Does Iowa Matter?

I believe the Iowa caucuses are vastly overrated—and undemocratic, to boot. Paul over at Powerline sums it up nicely:
I haven’t yet figured out which candidate I support for president, but I know who I’m pulling for in Iowa: Mike Huckabee and John Edwards. It’s not that I want either to be president. On the contrary, they are among my least preferred candidates in their respective parties. So why root for them in Iowa? Because a victory by either would help discredit that state’s caucuses.

I find it offensive to think that 75,000 Iowans (or whatever the number is), a disproportionate number of whom have nothing to do for several hours on a week night, get to play a major role in the nomination process. Actually, I doubt that they play such a role – in my view the Iowa caucuses are vastly overrated. However, it’s generally thought that the caucuses are important, and that perception alone is enough to distort the process.
In our information-drenched society, who has the time to weigh the value of this pointless political exercise? If the media says it’s important—it must be important. The reality is, what happens in Iowa will have little or no impact on who ultimately gets the nomination. Aside from being the first state in the country to kick off the election cycle, what does Iowa, a small state, and the 75,000 Iowans who participate in the caucuses, have to offer? Very little except for talking points for the media, who have created the perception that Iowa matters.

Benazir Bhutto's Admiration Society

A laudatory letter about Benazir Bhutto by a female admirer in Dawn. An excerpt:
I grew up looking up to Ms Bhutto as a role model for women in Pakistan. I fell in love with her as she was elected Pakistan’s first female prime minster. And in all honesty, I was devastated to learn about her corruption charges. But this letter isn’t to discuss her weaknesses, be they political or personal. Indeed should you agree with her policies or not, there is one fact no one can deny. Benazir Bhutto was perhaps the most influential and positive role model for women in South Asia in particular, and the modern Muslim world as a whole
.If Benazir Bhutto proved anything it’s the fact that women are just as capable of men in ruling a nation. I’m afraid Benazir was not breaking any new ground on this score. Benazir Bhutto had a long list of women leaders to model herself after: Thatcher, Gandhi, Mier, etc. Benazir Bhutto also proved that she could be just as ruthless as her male counterparts, and equally as corrupt.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How Bilwal Is Like A Boy Band

Even though he lacks qualifications for office, Bilawal Bhutto Zaradari has one vocal base of support—female fans on Facebook:
Bilawal Bhutto, thrust into the political spotlight by the assassination of his mother in Pakistan, can count on support from at least one source -- female Facebook fans who describe him as "hot".

"Oh My God he's cute," said one contributor to "Let's not assassinate Bilawal Bhutto because he's hot, ok?," a new group on the social networking site after the 19-year-old was named last week to succeed his mother as leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

"Oh God, I totally agree. He's so sexy," added another member of the group, which so far had 48 members.
Like a boy band, Bilawal has a shelf life: he can be “hot” for only so long before being replaced by another “hottie” chosen by another generation of teeny-boppers. Hopefully, when that time comes, Bilawal will either have the political legs to lead the PPP, or fade into oblivion. If Bilwal does manage to stick around, he can return to the serious tasks of resurrecting the memories of his mother, his uncles and grandfather.