Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama's Albatross

Even with Obama's very vocal avowal of Rev. Wright, it's a link that will forever be cast in stone. After all, Rev. Wright has been Obama's pastor for some twenty odd years, right? Presumably, this is not the first time (or the second time) Rev. Wright has uttered such statements; and it definitely won't be his last.

Suffice it to say, this is very damaging to Obama, who was doing a good job of transcending race in this election, only to be taken down by a race-baiting preacher. Rev. Wright is the best thing to happen to Hillary Clinton and it showed in Pennsylvania

What Rev. Wright has said is no different than what white racists have said about blacks since Reconstruction.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pipe Dreams

I believe India is foolishly staking its energy needs on this potentially troublesome IPI pipeline, which it has agreed to in principle:
Pakistan and India have principally agreed to resolve fundamental issues of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and committed to start the construction work next year.
The most pressing concern for India, of course, is energy security since the pipeline will traverse the restive province of Balochistan, a hotbed of insurgency and unrest. Can Pakistan guarantee that the pipeline will not be harmed in anyway?
Regarding security Khawaja Asif said there is no security concern to the pipeline as we have made precatuionary measures to protect it. He said the gas pipeline will come from Iranian Balochistan along with coastal route and joint Nawab Shah in Sindh.
Then this happens:
Unknown saboteurs blew up two gas pipelines supplying gas to Och power plant and Punjab in two different incidents in Malguzar area of Jaffarabad and Doli area of Dera Bugti districts in the wee hours of Sunday, police sources told APP.
If Pakistan cannot keep its own pipelines secure how can it protect the IPI, which India is desperately relying on to slake its thirst for energy? Proponents will say the IPI pipeline will bind India and Pakistan, forcing to them to work closer and, hopefully, reduce tensions. Perhaps. But I believe Pakistan will also use it as a cudgel to force India's hand on issues like Kashmir.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Startup Financing Cycle: A Graphical Primer

A picture is worth a thousand words. I found (via Wikipedia, of course) a great slide that explains the venture capital funding process.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Review: Best American Crime Reporting 2007

Thomas Cook, Linda Fairstein, and Otto Penzler, eds. The Best American Crime Reporting 2007. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. 384pp.

This year's anthology returns to its roots with articles about bread-and-butter crimes, mostly murder. The editors have done a fine job of selecting the best of the best, and this year's picks do not disappoint. All are well-written pieces of journalism about crime, its victims and the criminals themselves. These articles ask what we all ask when we hear or read about any criminal act-- why? Most murders, it seems, are either crimes of passion or opportunity. Some crimes, like the story about a serial stealer of used books (who doesn't sell them but keeps them for his own collection), are psychological in nature. But what rings true about all these articles is that they lay bare a part of human nature most of us never see or will experience. This is what makes these stories so compelling.

The 2007 edition of this excellent series is different on one note. The series title has been changed from Best American Crime Writing to Best American Crime Reporting. It seems the previous title caused some confusion as to whether the anthology is fiction or non-fiction, this new title should make it clear that it's the latter.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Addicted To Twitter?

I use the following Twitter services:And I publish to Twitter via txt, im, web, and e-mail. I guess you can call me a Twitter maniac.

Left Front's Suicide Pact

The CPI-M offers its prescription for the rising cost of commodities in India:
  • Strengthen the Public Distribution System by universalizing it; restore the cut in food grain allocations to the states under the PDS; include 15 essential commodities including pulses, edible oil, and sugar in the PDS.
  • Put curbs on procurement of foodgrains from farmers by private companies and traders.
  • Ban futures trading in 25 agricultural commodities as proposed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.
  • Cut customs and excise duties on oil and reduce retail prices of petrol and diesel.
  • Take stringent action against hoarding of essential commodities; strengthen the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act to empower state governments to deal with hoarding and black-marketing.
  • The present requirement of declaration of stocks of foodgrains of 50,000 tonnes and above held in godowns and warehouses should be lowered to 10,000 tonnes.
It's a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. Government intervention, of any kind, may be a viable short-term solution, but in the long-term it will only end in disaster.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

When Is Exploitation Not Exploitation?

Another stupid John Cherian article in Frontline magazine, where he essentially says: Chinese investment in Africa is good, Western investment in Africa is exploitation and, therefore, bad. If I didn't know any better, I noticed an undercurrent of racism to his thinking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bangladesh Observer

Does anyone know if The Bangladesh Observer is still being published? They don't seem to have a web site anymore.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jealous Of China?

According to Jayati Ghosh, any criticism of China-- on Tibet, its unqualified support of Sudan, selling arms to thugs like Mugabe-- is imperialism incarnate, double-standards, racism, colonialism, and every word the left has monopolized to describe its enemies. Nice, no? Anyway, everything she says about China's critics can also be applied to China. Just ask China's neighbors. Or read a history book.

Twitter Is Back. Thank God!!!

Twitter has been facing some growing pains this weekend with an outage of some kind. Thankfully, it's back up and running, and all lost posts returned to their rightful place. It's strange. A technology I once dismissed as trivial and overly simplistic is now a critical part of my life. I love Twitter.

Review: Strangers On A Train

Patricia Highsmith. Strangers On A Train. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001. 256pp.

Patricia Highsmith has written a taut psychological thriller examining a person's capacity to murder; and the confluence of events that drive people to commit it. It is also a novel about fate: how a single event can irrevocably change the course of a person's life.

Guy Haines, a floundering architect, meets with Charles Bruno, a professional loafer, on a train. They talk. They drink. They commiserate. Guy is on his way to Texas to demand a divorce from his adulterous wife Miriam. Charles is taking a holiday from his father, whom he despises for being both a skinflint and a lousy husband. Charles, a charming psychopath concocts, a scheme to get rid of their "problems": Charles would kill Guy's wife, while Guy would kill Charles' father. The perfect murders. No one would know. Nothing to connect them. Guy dismisses the idea as crazy and decides right then and there to keep his distance from Charles and his murderous machinations.

But Charles won't leave Guy alone. He likes Guy. He wants Guy. And the only thing standing between him and Guy, Charles strongly believes, is Miriam. So he murders her in cold-blood. Charles then hounds Guy to do his part: cajoling him, blackmailing him, threatening to ruin his career, which was on the rise. Guy should have dismissed Charles' threats for what they were, threats, but Guy is racked by guilt: guilt for Miriam's death; and guilt for not fulfilling his part of the bargain.

Twisted? Yes. But this is what Highsmith excels at: her portraiture of the human psyche. Highsmith spends inordinate amount of time examining what her characters are thinking. For much of the novel, the reader will literally reside in Guy's head, as he battles not only guilt, but the dual nature of man: that inside all of us are two contradictory forces-- one good, the other bad. Charles had a telling but chilling quote that is the overarching theme of the book:
Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far-- and it takes just the least little thing to push them over the brink.
Charles is right, of course, but we must not forget that Charles is a psychopath: he feels no remorse, no guilt, nothing. Guy, on the other hand, guilt weighs heavily on his shoulders; often wishing to unburden himself by admitting everything, damn the consequences.

Yet Highsmith reminds us that this is not just some literary meditation on the pathos of guilt-ridden men, but a thriller of high-quality; and like any good thriller writer, Highsmith keeps us guessing till the end.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jagdeesh Kumar's only crime, it seems, was to be a Hindu in a Muslim country. He was killed by an enraged mob because he supposedly blasphemed Islam, which is a crime in Pakistan (thanks General Zia, hope your stay in hell is a pleasant one), during a heated argument with a co-worker at the factory where Jagdeesh worked.

The blasphemy laws are odious, unfair and applied capriciously (and most Pakistanis would agree with me), but the rule of law still prevails. Alleged offenders like Jagdeesh deserve their day in court, a fundamental human right. But even this was denied to Jagdeesh, who wasn't handed over to the relevant authorities as the law dictates. Instead, the mob took matters into their own hands: they pronounced judgment and meted out punishment, right then and there. Mob justice at its finest.

All this happened while the police stood idly by, twiddling their thumbs, as they are ought to do. I don't know if they were lazy, or they actively aided and abetted the mob, or are outright incompetent-- probably the combination of the three-- but they did nothing to save Jagdeesh's life.

For me, it is just one more confirmation that minorities are forsaken in Islamic Pakistan. They are discriminated against, live in dhimmitude, and their testimony does not hold up compared to Muslims in Islamic courts. In essence, they are second-class citizens.

Jinnah, when he established Pakistan, promised a secular republic, but his dream, like the Hindus who decided to stay in Pakistan after Partition, has turned sour.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How To Con A Billion Dollars

From The Pakistan Observer:
London—The US has promised to curb air strikes by drones against suspected militants in Pakistan, as part of a joint counter-terrorism strategy agreed with the new civilian government in Islamabad, the Guardian London has claimed. That strategy will be supported by an aid package, potentially worth more than $7b (£3.55b), which is due to go before Congress for approval in the next few months.

The package would triple the amount of American non-military aid to Pakistan, and is aimed at “redefining” the bilateral relationship, US officials say.

According to the newspaper, Pakistan will also be given a “democracy dividend” of up to $1b, a reward for holding peaceful elections and forming a coalition government. Of that, $200m could be approved in the next few days. [Link]
A $1 billion democracy dividend! This is one hell of a scam. Where can I get some of this action?

Why Cadbury Rocks

I love Cadbury chocolate. To me its the finest chocolate in the world, far better than any expensive European brand. And not just any Cadbury will do. Cadbury available in the United States is simply not as good as the ones sold in the UK. For one thing, the texture is different. I think the UK variety contains more milk as it tastes smoother and is far more creamier than its American counterpart.

I figured out that there is a proper way to enjoy a Cadbury. Don't chew it like you would with other chocolates, otherwise you'll miss out on the flavor. Savor it. Consume it like you would hard candy: English toffees, for example. It's one hell of an experience. And one piece will last you a long time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

China And Olympics: A PR Stunt

I don't know how the rest of the world feels about the Olympics, but it has no charm for me whatsoever. The Olympic spirit, so to speak, has been suborned by crass commercialism and political expediency.

China is using the Olympics strictly as a public relations gimmick: to propagandize its achievements; a sort of gaudy coming out party. They want the world to know that China has arrived. So it pains them to see their efforts sullied by silly protests over Tibet. So, in response, China has attacked the Dalai Lama, who has been nothing but supportive of China. China has also attacked the West, the usual standby, for its neocolonial mindset: they can't stand the idea of China succeeding. That old chestnut.

China is on the verge of being a superpower (something it always aspired to be), it has the world's second biggest economy, yet it is offended by harmless protests. It's only going to get worse. China would to like the world to see China strictly on its own terms. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. When you put yourself on display like China is doing, the whole world will see everything, good and bad. It's the price of being a superpower. Deal with it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another CSI Star Leaves

Gary Dourdan, who plays Warrick Brown, is leaving CSI at the end of this season. Remember Jorja Fox, who played Sara Sidle, left late last year. Both want to pursue other projects. I don't blame them. They've been acting on the same show for over eight seasons now; and playing the same character over and over again is not only tedious but boring. Even Barry Pederson, who plays Gil Grissom, signed on for another season, but will appear only in a handful of episodes.

For me, it's a sign that the show has run its course - creatively. But like the Law & Order franchise, CSI is a show where the process is the star, and the characters are secondary. So there's a good chance CSI will last beyond its original shelf life.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Chip Off The Old Block

Practically all male members of my family do what I like to call "deep thinking" on the toilet. It's nice to see the younger generation following suit.

China: Friend Of The Environment?

No one kisses China's ass more than The Pakistan Observer, whose editorials are nauseating for their sycophancy, if not outright worship of the Red Dragon. In its latest editorial, it heaps praise on China's new found concern for the environment:
The world today is facing grave threats due to unplanned, reckless and irresponsible development that has produced serious ecological and environmental problems for the mankind. Most of these problems are the direct result of the blind pursuit of material development by the West, which is still not prepared to take bold and vital steps to save the globe from impending disaster. In this backdrop, China deserves credit for bringing leaders and experts together to discuss the crucial issue of how to improve environment of Asia. This is timely initiative in view of the fact that after Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, countries like China and India too are moving swiftly on the path of industrial growth raising concerns about environmental issues.
If China wants to improve the environment, it should look in its own backward. According to The Guardian, no friend of capitalism, China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, and it's only going to get worse. Many of China's major cities live in clouds of pollution so toxic residents have to wear masks. And in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, China has banned thousands of automobiles from Beijing in order to improve its air quality.
It is quite obvious that the developing countries, which are at the receiving end, cannot spare adequate resources to undertake comprehensive programmes for promotion of environment and therefore, it is responsibility of the rich and developed nations to provide them financial assistance as well as transfer technology for the purpose.
Interesting. Is The Pakistan Observer saying that China-- with over $1 trillion in foreign reserves and arguably the second largest economy in the world-- is still considered a developing country, and that developed countries (code for the West) should give it resources to improve its environment so China can continue its economic growth at no cost? Ridiculous, simply ridiculous.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

MP Insults Pilot, Pilot Threatens To Sue

The problem with Indians, as I see it, is that we are thin-skinned and overly sensitive to slightest of slights. For example:
The row over an MP being asked to get off an aircraft by its pilot deepened on Sunday as the former refused to tender an apology and threatened the pilots' body to "do what it wants to do".

"There is no question of any apology from my side. I have done noting wrong," Indian Muslim League MP Abdul Wahab, who was accused of allegedly using foul language against an Indian Airlines pilot, said.

"Let the pilots association do what it wants to do," the Kerala MP said.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) had said they would file a defamation suit against Wahab for allegedly calling the pilot a "glorified driver" and asked him to tender an unconditional apology.
Yes, MP Abdul Wahab is probably a jerk, but calling the pilot a "glorified driver" hardly merits a riposte let alone a defamation suit. In fact, the pilot should have just furnished an insult of his own. End of problem.

But in all honesty, the MP is not far off the mark when he called the pilot a "glorified driver", because it is true. A pilot's job is to pick up passengers, go from point A to point B, and disgorge passengers. Repeat. Aside from more skill involved, what's the difference between a pilot and a bus driver? And I'm not being insulting, but someone who loves aviation and even tried his hand at being a pilot. I had no allusions about being a pilot then, and I don't now. So the ICPA should just leave it alone.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Affirmative Action In India

Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh says the UPA will be quick to implement the law that gives members of Other Backward Castes (OBC) 27% of seats in elite public education institutions like IIT and IIM after the Supreme Court ruled the law was not unconstitutional. The law is odious because it institutionalizes discrimination against another group while supposedly protecting another, but the UPA government is not stopping there:
Singh told HT that a bill to regulate admissions and fees in private educational institutions “will be taken up” once the current “priority of implementing the SC order,” is finished. “I have not moved away from it,” Singh said. He said his ministry is interacting with central institutions to implement the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act cleared by the apex court on Thursday, after excluding the creamy layer.
Forcing private institutions, who do not rely on government funding of any kind, to implement such an immoral policy is a classic example of socialist high-handiness the UPA is still known for.

Do private institution even quiz applicants on their caste? Do they even care? If the government forces them to set aside seats to OBCs, they will be forced to ask that question. This will only increase resentment, and discrimination, against OBCs by affected groups who are already shutout from public institutions.

The only good thing to come out of this (if you want to call it that) is the fact that the Supreme Court has rightly excluded members of the 'creamy layer' from the quota. Plus, the Supreme Court will reevaluate the law after five years to gauge its effectiveness.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pakistan To Get Aid To Fight Terrorism: Here We Go Again

With the restoration of 'democracy' in Pakistan, the United States will reopen the aid spigot:
President George W. Bush has cleared the way for giving millions of dollars to Pakistan to fight terrorism this year, the White House said as a new government took power in Islamabad.

In a memo to the secretary of state dated Monday, Bush used his authority to exempt Pakistan from a law that restricts funding countries where the legitimate head of state was deposed by a military coup, as in Pakistan.

The waiver, which Bush has approved every year since 2003, opens the way for the United States to provide about 300 million dollars this year to key "war on terror" ally Pakistan to boost its counter-terrorism operations.
It's not like the $10 billion given since 2001 hasn't been put to good use or anything, so why not another $300 million, a drop in the bucket for President Bush. The returns have been spectacular after all. Let the Chinese build Pakistan's infrastructure and profit from it while the United States takes taxpayer money and sets fire to it.

Train Diplomacy

Starting April 14th there will be direct train service between Bangladesh and India for the first time since 1965. This editorial in The Daily Star gives a good summary of this momentous occasion:
THE train service between Dhaka and Kolkata, a link to be resumed after 43 years, will add a new dimension to traveling between the two most historic capitals of the region. If everything goes well, the much-awaited service in the shape of “Moitree Express” is to start on 14 April, Pahela Baishakh, which is an auspicious day for the Bengalis on the two sides of the border. According to the deal signed by the representatives of the two governments, passenger trains will run between Cantonment Station in Dhaka and Chitpur Station in Kolkata through the Darshana border for a period of three years. The treaty would be renewed if the two sides find it worthwhile after the period initially agreed upon.
I don't know the precise details, but I presume the train service will be direct with no intermediate stops between Kolkata and Dhaka aside from Darshana. This is good for people in Kolkata and Dhaka, but it shuts out anybody living and wanting to travel between these two cities. Nevertheless, it is a welcome step in Indo-Bangla relations, which have often been rocky.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Three Cheers For Saddam

John Cherian, the leftist foreign editor for Frontline magazine, gives us his assessment on five years of brutal American occupation of Iraq. In a nutshell, Cherian writes, Iraq was better off under Saddam Hussein. Cherian gives numerous examples, of course, including the usual set of indicators that make most leftists swoon for the likes of Saddam, Castro, and Mugabe: advancement of women, outstanding health and education systems, standing up to the United States, etc.

Mussolini made the trains run on time but he was still a fascist. Saddam was from the same mold but even crueler. Cherian does not mention this because it would mar an otherwise perfect narrative. In addition, there is no mention on how Saddam dealt with dissent from dissidents, Kurds or Shias - that he simply annihilated them. Saddam was not one for democratic niceties. And, finally, no mention of the fact that the famed Oil For Food program, which was riddled with corruption, did very little to ameliorate the suffering among Iraqis, but did line the pockets of Saddam, his family and his sycophants.

If the United States was brutal as Saddam was, and as colonialist have been in the past, Iraq, perhaps, would be peaceful and prosperous as in Saddam’s time. This is what leftists like Cherian want, right? But I doubt they would be so charitable.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

V.S. Naipaul: A Literary Monster

V.S. Naipaul is no doubt a great writer, who also has a reputation for being an arrogant prick with a gigantic ego. Like Paul Theroux, who once called Naipaul a mentor and a friend, I knew very little of the man. Some choice quotes:
Now French’s biography amply demonstrates everything I said and more. It is not a pretty story; it will probably destroy Naipaul’s reputation for ever, this chronicle of his pretensions, his whoremongering, his treatment of a sad, sick wife and disposable mistress, his evasions, his meanness, his cruelty amounting to sadism, his race baiting. Then there is the “gruesome sex”, the blame shifting, the paranoia, the disloyalty, the nasty cracks and the whining, the ingratitude, the mood swings, the unloving and destructive personality.

...Normally an author’s biography offers a reading list of influences and favourite books or writers. What do we have here? Naipaul’s father Seepersad is his favourite writer, some of Conrad passes muster, Flaubert is a one-book wonder; and all the rest he dismisses or disparages – James Joyce, Dickens, E M Forster, Maugham, Keynes, Jane Austen, Anthony Powell, Derek Walcott and many others, including me. I am “a rather common fellow”, who writes “tourist books for the lower classes”. I am also a bore and as a pedagogue “in Africa, teaching the negroes”, I clearly did the unpardonable.
Read the whole article. The level of cruelty Naipaul delights in will simply make you vomit. What a horrible, horrible man. Nevertheless, I'll still continue to read him.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

US Recession Coming To India?

According to The Hindustan Times, Indians are concerned about the U.S. economy:
The McKinsey survey says that 83 per cent Indian executives polled felt the US recession would negatively impact the Indian economy and business, and 74 per cent felt it would have a negative impact on their industry and business. Fifty-five per cent Indians polled felt that there have been significant increases in the links between the Indian and US economies in the last three years.
When most of your I.T. industry is geared towards outsourcing, what ails America will eventually ail India.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pakistan's Humble Leaders?

Wit is a rare commodity these days, combine it with humor and it’s even a rarer find. KO fills both qualities amiably with this hilarious post, where he explains how Pakistan is becoming an egalitarian society:

Pakistan is turning out to be a very egalitarian society. Some of the new crop of politicians come from very humble beginnings, indeed. Sure, not all of them started out humble, but all of them have improved in leaps and bounds from their starting point. Not too many countries can boast of that, so here is a listing of our extremely egalitarian politicians:

Asif Ali Zardari, went from selling cinema tickets in black and second hand cars to political husband, First Mate to Benazir, than billionaire extraordinaire. Considering he never worked much, being busy with polo, cars, vacations, exile and jail, it's amazing how fast he went from zero to hero. Back in his heyday as a young man about town, he had his finger in every pie - today, he is the pie.

Nawaz Sharrif's family owned a smallish middling sized industrial concern, not doing too well - but after the military blessed the family their fortunes started rising on rockets. Today, his star is high up in the sky, hanging with the likes of Zardari and Saudi Kings. From not much money and land at all, Nawaz turned himself into a veritable landlord by acquiring land and contracts everywhere.

Sarcasm never sounded so good. Read the rest.

An Analyst On Crack: Apple To Sell 45 Million iPhones?

An analyst is predicting that Apple (APPL) will sell 45 million iPhones in 2009. He gives the following reasons:
  • By introducing a 3G iPhone within the next 3 to 6 months
  • By offering a family of 2 to 3 iPhones — including lower-priced models selling for $200 to $300 — by Jan 2009 at the latest
  • By entering new countries, effectively doubling the addressable market every year for the next two years
  • By adding new features, such as games (Tiger Woods Golf, played by swinging the iPhone?) and remote purchases (Starbucks lattes without the wait?) starting in June
I think this analyst’s predictions are a bit on the optimistic side, in my opinion, and I will hit on two reasons why: first, in the U.S. market, the iPhone is only available through AT&T (though an unlocked iPhone will work within any GSM network, say, T-Mobile, but not Verizon), which seriously limits its appeal; and second, the barriers of entry are so low, there are scores of competitors who are bringing out clones of the iPhone, and at much lower prices. And then there’s Google…