Monday, March 31, 2008

Random Quote #2

"Perpetual peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream, and war is an integral part of God's ordering of the universe...Without war, the world would become swamped in materialism."

--General Helmuth von Moltke

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The People's Daily Supports China

The Hindu finally lets its opinion be known about Tibet. It's a rare single, six-paragraph editorial instead of the usual two, two-paragraph editorial that is their stock and trade. Not suprisingly, The Hindu takes a pro-China stance. The first paragraph says it all:
If you go by western media reports, the propaganda of the so-called ‘Tibetan government-in-exile’ in Dharamsala and the votaries of the ‘Free Tibet’ cause, or by the fulminations of Nancy Pelosi and the Hollywood glitterati, Tibet is in the throes of a mass democratic uprising against Han Chinese communist rule. Some of the more fanciful news stories, images, and opinion pieces on the ‘democratic’ potential of this uprising have been put out by leading western newspapers and television networks. The reality is that the riot that broke out in Lhasa on March 14 and claimed a confirmed toll of 22 lives involved violent, ransacking mobs, including 300 militant monks from the Drepung Monastery, who marched in tandem with a foiled ‘March to Tibet’ by groups of monks across the border in India. In Lhasa, the rioters committed murder, arson, and other acts of savagery against innocent civilians and caused huge damage to public and private property. The atrocities included dousing one man with petrol and setting him alight, beating a patrol policeman and carving out a fist-size piece of his flesh, and torching a school with 800 terrorised pupils cowering inside.
Why are reports from western media and the Dalai Lama considered propaganda while Chinese news reports, which are essentially official government press releases, more credible? And how does The Hindu account for the fact that China employed a press black-out, where no non-state media outlets were allowed in. So where did The Hindu get these images, news reports, eyewitness accounts? The Hindu does not say, but we can speculate that they got their 'fanciful' news stories directly from China.

Nitin gives the editorial the thorough dissection that it deserves.

ADDENDUM: It would not surprise me one bit that among protestors were agent provocateurs to engineer incidents like attacks on civilians and police. Authoritarian regimes often engage in such practices to give them a free hand in suppressing opposition, violently if need be.

Friday, March 21, 2008

How Many Really Die In Tibet?

From the AP:
China's official news agency says the casualty toll from anti-Chinese riots in Tibet has risen to 19 dead and 623 injured.

Xinhua said Friday night that 18 civilians and one police officer were confirmed dead in the unrest a week ago in the Tibetan capital. The news agency said 241 police officers and 382 civilians were injured in Lhasa.
The actual death and injury toll is probably much higher. Xinhua is underreporting the numbers for political reasons.

Amazon Kindle: Sold Out After Heavy Demand

I thought Amazon's Kindle was one in a long line of electronic book-- or eBook-- products that have failed to catch on; and, at $399, a bit on the pricey side. But, it seems, Amazon cannot make enough of them. No sales figures are available, but this article in Popular Mechanics is simply fawning.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tibet Is Just The Beginning

People seem surprised by the protests in Tibet, which seems to be growing in scope everyday. I wasn't. Tibet is just the tip of the iceberg. China is more restive than it's being reported by the mainstream media, who tend to focus on China's red-hot economy.

For one thing, the countryside is not as placid as China would have us believe. It's a region of great ferment. Violent protests have broken out in all parts of rural China, which the government brutally represses. Only sanitized version of events appear in state-controlled media, which much of the world media parrots without comment or skepticism.

And it's only going to get worse. The Communist Party, which rules China, has no mechanism to channel protests of any kind. It perceives any dissent, no matter how trivial, as a threat to its authority. There are no democratic institutions in China: no free press, no political parties, no freedoms-- nothing! As long as the economy is strong, and jobs are plentiful, people are happy. But what will happen when the economy weakens? That is the dilemma that will plague China in the days to come.

Monday, March 17, 2008

He Deserves To Die, Without A Doubt

I'm not a real fan of the death penalty, as it's applied capriciously, but I have no druthers giving it to this guy, who is a piece of garbage.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Indian Labor: Whimisical Unions

The Airports Authority Employees' Union (AAEU), a CPI-M backed outfit, has decided to call off its 'strike'. The AAEU was protesting the closures of Bangalore and Hyderabad airports, which are being replaced by privately-operated airports, which would cause massive job losses and the thinning of union ranks.

This brief PTI article doesn't say why the 'strike' was called off, but I suspect one of two scenarios: first, the government, in its infinite foolishness, gave concessions to AAEU, the type that one regrets later; second, the union, whose last strike was wholly unpopular, decided not to raise the ire of passengers, who they treat as burdens rather than customers.

When I first heard the AAEU was going on strike, my reflexive response was for the government to fire each and every one of them. I'm not anti-union, and I do believe the AAEU has legitimate concerns, but unions should not be allowed to strike on a whim. Mechanisms should be adopted to address the grievances of unions, including mediation boards and collective bargaining agreements.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hasina Medical Visit Blocked

Sheikh Hasina needs to be sent abroad for medical treatment, a team of doctors attests:
Prof Mohammad Abu Tahir, Prof Tofail Ahmed, Prof Pran Gopal Dutta, Prof Modasser Ali, Prof MU Kabir Chowdhury, Dr ABM Abdullah and Dr MH Millat examined her for over an hour after her admission in the morning. They concluded there is no alternative to sending her abroad for treatment if she is to avoid permanently impaired hearing.

In another development, the US doctors, who had earlier treated Hasina for the ear injuries she sustained in the August 21 grenade blasts, have requested the jail authorities to send her to their hospital in Florida without delay.
It makes sense that doctors who have treated her before would be in the best position to treat her again. So why is the government so reluctant to release her? What's she going to do? Apply for political asylum in the United States? Her position is not that weak, especially that the Awami League is poised to win the next election. So I see no harm in temporarily releasing Hasina.

On the other hand, there's a raging debate why the rich, elites and politicians have to go abroad for treatment when there are facilities in Bangladesh, but that's a whole different can of worms.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Is Pakistan Unpopular In the United States?

Interesting letter in Dawn that deserves further analysis:
AN article, ‘Unpopular countries’ (March 10), portrays a misleading picture of what ordinary Americans think about certain countries. The Gallup’s 2008 world affairs survey, as it is called, puts Pakistan among 10 most unpopular countries in the US.

A total of 1,007 Americans were interviewed for this survey. This means about 20 people from each state of the US. Is this figure representative of the whole state? Did the survey organisers take into account the ethnicity, age, education, occupation, gender, etc., of the respondents before presenting the results as facts to the unsuspecting recipients of the report?

In addition, how were the questions framed? The report also states that the popular perception endorsed the official US policy as all these countries are also denigrated by the US administration. Is it not the other way round, the administration’s policy being the reason for the development of these ill-feelings against certain countries?
Emphasis is mine.

The writer is right, for the most part, when he says the U.S. government is the driving factor why Americans have ill-feelings against countries branded as unpopular by the survey-- Iran, North Korea, Cuba, etc.

But in the case of Pakistan this does not apply because the Bush Administration has consistently backed Pakistan to the hilt. So the negative perception is not being driven by the Bush Administration, as the writer hints, but by the media, who have often questioned Pakistan's commitment on the war against terrorism, its flirtation with radical Islam, and its anti-democratic nature.

Laptops In The Classroom: A Distraction?

Laptops have become so ubitiquous in classrooms these days that I'm probably the last of my generation to take notes with pen and paper-- and I'm only 35!

I'm not a Luddite. After all, I'm part of the PC generation, but I do believe there's a time and place for everything. Sitting behind a screen, anonymously pecking away at a keyboard, doing God only knows what is not a good way to learn, in my opinion. Laptops also get in the way of the teacher-student relationship, fragile as it is, distracting students from giving their professors their undivided attention, the only thing they demand.

So put away that laptop, if only for a moment. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is There Viagra In My Drinking Water?

A good reason why sales of bottled water will continue to be strong:
A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.
Comedian Lewis Black has a funny rant about bottled water:

In light of this new revelation, however, how did pharmaceuticals get into our water supply? I believe it's a conspiracy: that bottled water companies are intentionally spiking our water supply with drugs in order to boost sales. Paranoid? Maybe. It's a scene straight out of Dr. Strangelove, where General Jack D. Ripper believes there's a communist conspiracy afoot to "sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dirt: TV Worth Watching

Saw the season premiere of Dirt last night. It was damn good. I've seen bits and pieces of the first season and thoroughly enjoyed it. The second season looks just as good, if not better.

What am I talking about, you ask? Dirt is about the Hollywood gossip machine, pitting tabloid journalists (can we call them that?) and the celebrities they cover. If there is one thing this remarkable series makes abundantly clear is that there is a symbiosis between the two-- one simply cannot live without the other, like parasites. In this case, who is the parasite in this relationship depends on whom you ask.

It's a sick, twisted relationship that Dirt delivers with style. It's well written, well acted, and well made. Buy the first season at Amazon, or rent it through Netflix.

The Wise Man And The Fool

Compare and contrast these two young baseball players, both in the same boat experience wise, in how they cope with their weak bargaining positions regarding contracts. First, Prince Fielder:
The Milwaukee Brewers renewed the slugger's contract for $670,000 on Sunday after he finished third in NL MVP voting last season, when he made $415,000.

"I'm not happy about it at all," Fielder said. "The fact I've had to be renewed two years in a row, I'm not happy about it because there's a lot of guys who have the same amount of time that I do who have done a lot less and are getting paid a lot more."
And second, Jonathan Papelbon:
Jonathan Papelbon may be young, but he knows how the business of baseball works.

He knows that, with a little more than two years of major-league service time, he has no contractual leverage with the Red Sox. Not yet eligible for arbitration, Papelbon has little recourse at the bargaining table.

But he also has a benchmark for what he should be paid in 2008, and if the Red Sox don’t come close to his figure, he would rather they renew him at a lower salary figure, without further negotiation.
It's obvious Papelbon is the wiser of the two. Papelbon knows full well he can't do anything about his contract, the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and union exclude him from the negotiation process, so he'll concentrate on being the most dominant closer in the game, knowing full well come arbitration time he'll get his money one way or the other.

Fielder, on the other hand, needs to take a reality check.