Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Elections In Bangladesh:

The Awami League has returned to power after two-years of military-backed rule, winning the election. The results were resounding for the Awami League-led alliance, which won over 260-seats, while the hapless BNP-led alliance won only 30 seats, with their chief ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, winning a paltry two seats.

I have two thoughts on this watershed election.

It is worth noting, however, how poorly Jaamat faired in the election. Many feared Jamaat’s growing political prowess as they won more seats with each subsequent election, a clear-cut sign of Islamization of Bangadesh society, but in reality Jamaat was nothing more than a house of cards. For all their public piety, for all their purported virtue, for all they do for the poor and the downtrodden, Jamaat have proven themselves to be sleazy and dishonest. For one thing, they supported terrorist outfits. They openly denied their involvement in suppressing the independence movement. When confronted with the facts, they changed their tune, suddenly claiming they were on the side of history-- on the wrong side. Such blatant dishonesty was paid back in spades at the polling station. Let us hope they are marginalized for some time to come.

Finally, are we witnessing a new era in Bangladeshi politics, or reverting to the same old, same old? One of the hallmarks of military rule is the perception that things were better: law-and order was better, less corruption, more stability, etc. Can the Awami League sustain what the military has started? It’s possible given the overwhelming majority they currently hold, but, often, such overwhelming majority can also lead to tyranny and autocracy and their evil step-child, corruption.

Let's hope that Bangladesh is on a positive track.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Left Front Frets Over Meaningless Matters

The left parties in India are well-known for their theatrics and to make mountains out of mold hills. This statement was issued by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which I produce in full below:
The Manmohan Singh government has introduced a Bill in the Rajya Sabha to increase the FDI cap in insurance sector from 26 to 49 per cent. This is a shameless move to facilitate greater control of the insurance sector by foreign insurance companies. It is shocking that the Congress-led government is taking this step at a time when the financial crisis in the United States has exposed the pernicious practices of the insurance and financial companies of the West.

The CPI(M) denounces this move by the Manmohan Singh government which will harm the financial sector and import the crisis into our system. This confirms the fact that this government is more interested in favouring international financial capital at the expense of the country’s interests. The CPI(M) extends its full support to the strike on December 23 by the insurance employees against this Bill.
It still means that 51 percent of the insurance sector will still remain in Indian (and/or government) hands, enough to block any nefarious attempts by greedy capitalists to upend India's solid insurance sector and protect its employees from any competition whatsoever.

But just in case - and why waste a juicy political moment - insurance employees, almost all of whom belong to Left party-controlled unions, will go on strike, inconveniencing yet again the people who matter the most: their customers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thoughts On Las Vegas

I returned from Las Vegas on Saturday, my fifth trip in six years. I've traveled to Las Vegas more times than any other place on this planet, except for Bangladesh or India, which I visit more for family than for vacation.

Why do I go to Las Vegas so often? I keeping asking myself this question all the time, and the answer is always different. I know it’s not the gambling. I can gamble in any of the Indian casinos within driving distance, or online. So what’s the reason?

Las Vegas does have its allure, that’s for sure. The hotels and casinos that sit astride the Strip (officially knows as Las Vegas Boulevard) are monuments, both physically and the feelings they evoke when you look at them. They are massive edifices where dreams can come true and die – sometimes at the same time.

It’s a city designed to cater every known vice to man (both legal and illegal). It’s a place where people can practice hedonism to the nth degree: drinking is allowed in the streets, and raucous behavior that it springs from. People change when they come to Las Vegas, only if it’s for a few days.

I observe these changes like a sociologist. The city fascinates me because it is so different and unique. This is what draws me to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terrorists Had Better Tools

I haven't had time to post this until now:
When the attackers arrived on the shores of Mumbai last month, they had studied satellite images of the city, were carrying handheld GPS sets and were communicating with their handlers via the Internet and satellite phone.

Many of the Indian police they encountered did not even have walkie-talkies.

The Mumbai gunmen not only overwhelmed security forces with their weaponry and willingness to die, but also with their sophisticated use of technology, security experts said.

"These (terrorists) are well aware of the technology available and also know that the police are several steps behind. And a lot of this technology is extremely easy to use and to learn," said Pavan Duggal, a technology expert and New Delhi-based lawyer.
Several thoughts come to mind.

First, the Indian police are woefully underfunded, ill-equipped and poorly trained to handle such situations.

Second, the terrorists may be sophisticated in their tactics but not in technology. Many of the equipment they used were the off-the-shelf variety, that can be had cheaply and quickly. The Indian police could avail themselves of the same technologies but the bureaucracy is so mired in the dark ages that their is an institutional aversion to anything beyond the oscillating fans (which were only introduced after great handringing and clenching of teeth).

And third, the United States, for all its failure at HUMINT, has a first rate ELINT capabiliy. If the terrorists were communicating via the internet and satellite phones, there is a good chance several United States intelligence agencies (specifically the NSA) has it on file somewhere.

It's possible, I suppose, tht the United States had an inkling something big was in the works. The question is: did the United States know it, and if they did, did they notify India? And if India did receive such intelligence, why did they fail to act on it?

Reading List For Las Vegas

I have finalized my reading list for my forthcoming trip to Las Vegas. I decided to use the long, captive moments to finally finish several books that are in different states of completion.

In fact, I'm only adding one new book, which isn't actually new but a reread, and since it deals with sports gambling, which I'm planning to pursue during my, I thought it would be apporpriate. Thus my reading list is as follows:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What To Read For Trip To Las Vegas

I have decided to take Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson to read on my long plane ride to Las Vegas this Wednesday. I thought it to be a spirited choice. Anybody else have any suggestions? I'm also taking a couple of books about gambling, plus a collection of columns by writer Nick Hornby as well.

UPDATE: On second thought, I have decided against taking Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with me, instead I will focus on the two gambling books and finishing up Body of Lies, which is simply superb.