30-Sep-2005

A Principled Stand?

Then there is this article by TK Arun in TOI's sister in which he tries to retrofit principles on the Iran vote. Why is this necessary? He argues that the interesting question which is getting overlooked in the whole Iran vote criticism is this: how India’s voting serves India’s interests, rather than Washington’s or Teheran’s. He blames the Left for ignoring this point and blames the government for allowing this side-stepping of the interesting point to occur. The government (he says) should have plugged a good nuclear doctrine acceptable to the political class and the people. If only they had done that then (according to him) the above question would've been addressed. Then we would have had a debate, or so he seems to sugggest.

He then presents a principle to serve this purpose passing through some impossible hoops in the process:
What can be a principled position on Iran’s nuclear programme? There is no quibble over a peaceful, energy programme. But should India endorse Iran’s sovereign right to develop its own nuclear weapons? How can India oppose such a right, after having become a nuclear power itself?

India stayed out of the non-proliferation treaty because India stood for universal disarmament and was not willing to accept asymmetrical rights of certain nations alone to have nuclear weapons. Universal disarmament remained a dream. India is too large a nation and too complex and diverse a polity to become anyone’s client state. So it developed/ is developing its own nuclear capability, both bombs and delivery vehicles. This is not all that absurd.

Second-best options are, at times, radically different from the best possible solution, rather than its close approximations. The way to the unchanged goal of universal disarmament probably lies in effective deterrence constituted by dispersal of countervailing force in a number of power centres that together provide equipoise, enabling gradual roll-back. Proliferation will only hinder, rather than help this process.
Boiling it down over a medium flame for 20 minutes we get this:
India wanted universal disarmament once upon a time. But it was a dream. We thought it was not right that only some nations should have nukes and not others. And we were too proud to become anyone's client state. So we developed nukes. Agreed, this is not anywhere close to universal disarmament, but now we've changed our minds. Now we think it is better that certain select countries have nukes (of course including us). This will make it possible for everyone to start rolling back towards nuclear disarmament. If countries other than us get nukes it will make things difficult.
That does not make sense to me. It suggests to me that if a country believes in nuclear disarmament and is proud it can go right ahead and develop nuclear weapons. I mean, disarmament is still a dream - a far bigger one if I may say so. A nightmare in fact.

As for Iran in the current context specifically:
Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. It has signed away its right to develop nuclear weapons.
So what if Iran walks out of the NPT like North Korea did? He has an answer to that too:
And it is not in India’s interest for another country in its neighbourhood to develop nuclear capability.
Two close friends of ours have nukes and we share a border with one and are at a stone's throw distance from the other. How would Iran getting nukes be different? And we are supposed to be friends! Get real sir.

No, the only justification for the vote is what someone in this newspaper's editorial (no link, they don't put the edit out on the web) today had the sense to suggest:
We need the nuclear fuel because we are getting crippled without power. If the nuclear deal is aborted we will feel much pain.
Also, there is some spin being spun, that we prevented the immediate referral of Iran to the Security Council. This is a Reuters report from the days before the vote. It says the EU backed away from immediate referral on account of pressure from Russia and China. The report may not be fully accurate, but I heard no news to the effect that India prevented that thing from happening. (Note: No news until after the vote itself I meant).

Note 2: I'm not sure if it wouldn't be the best thing the govt can do - to actually explain the vote in terms making the power situation better. Makes a forceful argument. But there is always the issue of how to explain it away if the US still refuses to play along.

Note 3: Worth noting once again what The Hindu wrote about the resolution: "It is possible that it is designed to short-circuit the prospect of a negotiated solution, and to push the world towards another major confrontation...The U.S. and its allies want to rewrite the rules so that they will be able to control both the nuclear fuel cycle and the commerce around nuclear fuel and reactors". Now mull this: The nuclear industry has donated $8 million to Bush and his party since the 2000 elections.

Note 4: And this too:
India's position on the Iranian nuclear question at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) appears to have been one of the key conditions to the successful negotiation of the India-U.S. nuclear deal on July 19.

29-Sep-2005

A Rose By Any Other Name

Would smell as sweet, but corruption by any other name slips under the guard of the people. They don't even realise it is happening and if they do it is so boring that they yawn and go to sleep instead.

Ahead of everyone else as usual, the US has gone ahead and found another name for corruption. Pork. Those of us who have watched CNBC TV18 between 6:30 pm and 7:00pm last week or so would have seen a segment called Porkbusters which they are running (the 6:30 - 7:00 time is for the direct broadcast of the MSNBC program Squawk Box as it appears on TV in the US). The background to this is that the US government passed a $280 billion transportation bill - you know building/maintaining/upgrading roads and other transportation-related infrastructure. But then two hurricanes happened and now they need money for rebuilding the affected areas. The US is running massive fiscal deficits already. Where to get the money from? Suddenly everyone seems to realise that the $280 billion bill is filled with mainly useless projects with no other objective than to benefit the politicians in whose area the project is located. This is known by a specific name, viz., pork. Why pork and why not beef or fish I don't know. Anyway, Squawkbox is getting individual US Congressmen on the show and trying to shame them into giving up their portion of the federal pork. Hence the name Porkbusters.

One more background fact: one of the hurricane-affected states has requested $250 billion aid from the federal government for reconstruction.

I brought up all of that since I wanted to link this article from Washington Post which talks about this phenomenon. I think it explains how the US stays out of the corrupt countries list by refusing to call it corruption. Some excerpts:
[we], are still learning how deeply corrupt America's legislative branch has become. Most of the time, members of Congress don't accept cash bribes in unmarked envelopes. Most of the time, senators don't pay for their daughters' wedding receptions out of government slush funds. Most of the time, American politicians don't put their ill-gotten gains into numbered Swiss bank accounts or get the Mafia to launder their money. But corruption comes in many forms, and in this country it comes in the dull-sounding, unglamorous, switch-off-the-television form of infrastructure appropriations.
Then it mentions the hurrican affected state's request as follows:
They are playing by the rules of the only system for distributing federal funds that there is, and that system allocates money not according to the dictates of logic, but to the demands of politics and patronage.
And touches on the transportation bill:
Nor does this logic apply only to obvious boondoggles such as federal transportation spending, the last $286 billion tranche of which funded Virginia horse trails, Vermont snowmobile trails, a couple of "bridges to nowhere" in rural Alaska and decorative trees for a California freeway named after Ronald Reagan (a president who once vetoed a transportation bill because it contained too much pork). On the contrary, this logic applies even to things we supposedly consider important, such as homeland security. Because neither the administration nor Congress is prepared to do an honest risk assessment, and because no one dares say that there are states at almost no risk of terrorist attack, a good chunk of homeland security funding is distributed according to formulas that give minimum amounts to every state. The inevitable result: In 2004 the residents of Wyoming received, per capita, seven times more money for first responders than the residents of New York City.
One question arises: will this money end up with the people who need it most ? Or will it stay in the pockets of those who want it more? I would guess most of it would stay with the latter - the businesses and corporations. How could this happen in a form of government which is of the people, for the people, by the people?

Conclusion? Call it by its real name:
Of course, there are risks to writing about this subject. The very words involved -- "infrastructure," "funding" and "pork" -- cause readers' eyes to glaze over, and Washingtonians' eyes to roll. Government waste is, after all, as old as government itself...

...But maybe at least it is time for a change of terminology. After all, taking $200 million of public money to build a bridge, name it after yourself and get reelected isn't merely "pork." Demanding $250 billion of public money for your hurricane-damaged state -- in the hope that voters will ignore all the mistakes you made before the hurricane struck -- isn't just "waste" either. As I say, corruption comes in many forms. But whatever form it comes in, it will be easier for voters to identify if it's called by its true name.
PS: $250 billion is equal to Rs 11,25,000 crores.

28-Sep-2005

Making Out In Cars

Came across a blog by accident. Read this one. Nice story (No, it is NOT the one about the cute little girl who is dying).

Detecting Away

If I have read my detective stories right, the first thing the sleuths look for when solving a a murder is the motive. Who gains from this person being dead? If the husband gets to inherit the wife's fortune, he goes to the pokey.

Now, today's DH has a story on the front page. Kannada activists storm Infosys. It set me thinking. Who gains from this?

One gainer will be the Kannada Rakshana Vedike whose members "stormed" Infosys. They get publicity from this protest against a extremely well-known and respected company, morale-boost for the organisation, possible cash payments for the protest. That may sound cynical. After all, they might have been really concerned about the lack of jobs for Kannadigas. But I don't remember them doing any protesting for solving real problems - for instance, the poor state of government schools, health care, horrible conditions in poorer sections of the city. I did a Google search for their name. Their main campaigns have been protesting against other language films, and the Playwin lottery:
Kannada rakshana vedike members attack other language films.
The Hindu Business Line : Playwin lottery office attacked in Bangalore.

One could argue that their raison d'etre is to fight for language related campaigns. I say then they should change their raison d'e. Nothing is going to happen till there is universal education.

There is a bigger gainer though. The government. How? It provides a counter for the demands of the IT industry. This already started happening in the case of the proposed boycott of the IT.com event by the Bangalore IT firms recently. It is a straightforward issue - You crib against Bangalore infrastructure, we will hang the Mahishi report implementation sword over your head. But can governments carry out such protests? I'm sure not, but a nudge here and a hint there by individuals within the government can probably result in some such thing undoubtedly. The conspiracy theorist in me simply refuses to go to bed.

Kannadigas will not gain - much more than now. Infosys has people from many parts of the country. Kannadigas are also present, but they were selected entirely on their merit. The IT industry has made it clear that such reservation would not be possible. If Infosys agrees to non-merit based reservations to any non-trivial degree for its core business it has to watch its competitors take away some or all of its business and shut shop eventually. It would not be surprising if the company chooses to relocate to better climes rather than face that. And language-based reservations for its core business is what the activists want. Not blue-collar work.

So there. This is what I have been able to detect (or is it deduct?). Honestly.

27-Sep-2005

Sign Of Maturity

Says Indian Express. It does not bother with double-standards, going back on our words, or the merits of the case except to starkly say that Iran was cheating:
"That no one in the 35-member IAEA board of governors, barring Venezuela under the maverick leadership of Hugo Chavez, has voted with Iran suggests how isolated Tehran is on the nuclear issue. There was no reason for India to condone Iran’s cheating on its nuclear obligations; nor is there any shame in not jeopardising its own interest in nuclear cooperation with the international community for the sake of defending a regime that has been caught red-handed cheating on its nuclear obligations.

12 of the 35-members were sufficiently opposed to the resolution to abstain from voting including Russia and China. That's a lot less isolation than the editorial suggests.

26-Sep-2005

Hard-nosed Realism

The first of the appreciative articles appears on TOI in which we learn that the vote
presages a drastic reorientation of India’s foreign policy at the risk of being seen an American camp follower.

Hard-nosed realism with regard to future strategic goals and not a reflexive clinging to past positions marked the Indian decision, officials say.

As for Pakistan which abstained from voting, it had a pretty underhand and mean motive for doing so:
...Pakistan, a US lackey ... is trying to build bridges with both Russia and Iran even as India moves closer to the United States.
So now that Pakistan has left the US for Russia and Iran, India can be the undisputed lackey in this region, apparently.

And what were the reasons for the volte face? One is as follows:
For years, Washington has bristled at New Delhi’s stance at international fora, particularly at the UN, where critics say India has recorded more votes against the US than even its traditional bugaboos such as Cuba. In fact, this was cited as one reason why Washington would not back India’s candidature for the UN Security Council seat.
As for the question: what changed? Even that is answered:
So what changed between last week, when India expressed itself against the US resolution ... and Saturday’s vote?

Officials say the PMO and the MEA undertook a detailed assessment of India’s long-term strategic and economic before arriving at the decision.

(I think they meant strategic and economic interests). So did the vote have anything at all to do with the nuclear deal? No way:
"Any suggestion that our decision is under pressure from the US on account of the nuclear agreement we signed with them is totally wrong," a top Indian official said. "This decision is anchored in our larger national interest."
Will it help at all, in some peripheral, indirect, remote way?
Still, New Delhi’s unambiguous decision to go with the US is expected to pay dividends in the immediate context of the U.S-India nuclear deal which is expected to come up before Congress shortly. It deprives Washington’s non-proliferation lobby and partisan lawmakers of their primary ammunition to attack India.
Someone else seems to think that another screw will be tightened now that we are on the US wagon:
India’s vote for the European move at the International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday is likely to shift the focus of the American debate on nuclear cooperation with India from Iranian proliferation to the size and shape of New Delhi’s own nuclear arsenal, leading experts here say.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, said the Iran issue might have ‘‘created a static’’ in Indo-US relations, but will not undermine the nuclear pact.

‘‘There is no way on god’s green earth, that there will be significant opposition to the nuclear deal with India,’’ Talbott said. He, however, pointed to the discomfort within American arms control community that the Bush Administration has not got India to accept any restraints on its nuclear arsenal.

(emphasis mine). It is very difficult being a developing country nowadays.

25-Sep-2005

Blackmail Pays

At least in this case it did.

Stating the facts briefly, we were against reporting Iran to the Security Council but we still voted in favour of a resolution which calls "on the IAEA board to consider reporting Iran - at an unspecified date - to the UN Security Council." (Italics mine).

The whole Iran issue is an issue because of one thing - Iran wants to generate its own nuclear fuel which is done by uranium enrichment. As it happens, the same enrichment technology can be used for further enriching uranium for the purpose of making nuclear weapons. Why does Iran want to do the enrichment itself instead of buying its nuclear fuel as others like India do? It says it cannot trust outside suppliers. They may be subject to American influence. Ring a bell? Yes, the exact same position India finds itself in - begging the US to lift sanctions so that it can beg the US, France, the UK - anyone - for fuel. True, we are under US sanctions because we developed nuclear weapons, but it is not difficult to imagine other reasons for the US imposing the same on a country like Iran. The US has enough sticks to beat everyone with.

The other aspect of the scam is that Iran is a signatory to the NPT but hid its enrichment program for 18 years. This is against the NPT. But this I suppose is a mere technicality. Many others went ahead and produced nuclear weapons - and no one can say they advertised the entire process. Like ourselves. India was wise - we did not sign the NPT and happily produced nuclear weapons. But we have to still beg for our civilian nuclear energy needs. Let's say that again: we did weapons, but cannot do civilian nuclear energy. Iran wants to do civilian nuclear energy but we oppose it fearing it may want to do weapons. Nice. Pakistan and Israel were also wise enough to do weapons first/simultaneously. North Korea, in its inimitable style, has become wise now all of a sudden. It has withdrawn from the NPT and says it now has nuclear weapons. Mind you, the NPT allows nuclear enrichment by members, the condition being that it has to be done under inspection by the IAEA.

Another interesting point is that it can now be taken as confirmed: Bye-bye little bird. Bird as in the Iran-Pak-India gas pipeline.

There will be many opinion pieces in our newspapers appreciating the trade-off between principles and pragmatism. But we will still be left wondering why not even the African countries supported our bid for a Security Council seat. We simply don't deserve it!

Update: The Hindu is the only one commenting on this today. Here are some excerpts:

... This Bush-led resolution is unjust as well as provocative ... Iran and the IAEA have resolved most of the issues in dispute; in fact, the IAEA Director General reported to the Board as recently as September 2 that "good progress has been made in Iran's correction of the breaches and in the Agency's ability to confirm certain aspects of Iran's current declarations." ... It is possible that it is designed to short-circuit the prospect of a negotiated solution, and to push the world towards another major confrontation.
...
It's a bit rich that India — which has refused to join the NPT, has turned its back on accepting full-scope IAEA safeguards, has conducted six nuclear explosions (in 1974 and 1998), and is a declared nuclear weapons state — is able to join in a `proliferation' indictment of Iran. This means embracing the worst kind of double standards.
...
At stake is not the danger of proliferation — nobody has produced any evidence that Iran is pursuing, or has ever pursued, a nuclear weapons programme — but the right of a sovereign country to develop peaceful nuclear power as a source of energy and engage in the nuclear fuel cycle. The NPT allows all parties to the international nuclear bargain to develop uranium enrichment facilities of the kind being built at Natanz, provided they are safeguarded. The U.S. and its allies want to rewrite the rules so that they will be able to control both the nuclear fuel cycle and the commerce around nuclear fuel and reactors. That is why the non-aligned group of countries has tended to stand with Iran on this issue.

23-Sep-2005

Nuclear Blackmail

This is from the joint statement by Manmohan Singh-Bush in the US recently:
President Bush conveyed his appreciation to the Prime Minister over India's strong commitment to preventing WMD proliferation and stated that as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states. The President told the Prime Minister that he will work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India as it realizes its goals of promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security.
Now this:
Gary Ackerman (Democrat-New York), chastised New Delhi for not unequivocally supporting the US position demanding that the UN Security Council handle the issue of Iran's nuclear programme that Washington alleges is aimed at weapons production.

"...we'd like India to rapidly review its relationship with Iran: Earlier this month... representative Tom Lantos (Democrat-California) used strong language to criticise New Delhi for seemingly equivocating on supporting the US bid and taking the stand that efforts by the European Union to negotiate with Iran must be exhausted before the Security Council was approached."

"The Prime Minister has previously indicated, I believe, that he would not favour referring this to the Security Council. That's not a good decision in the minds of most Americans, and in the minds of most members of the India Caucus. I don't speak for everybody I'm sure, but the overwhelming majority certainly." Asked if this would influence legislation regarding civilian nuclear cooperation, Ackerman gave an unqualified "Yes".
Italics mine. So, all that stuff about India being a responsible state was just bunkum. Till we decide to support the Iran issue going to the Security Council - that is, till we toe the US line - we will not get a whiff of nuclear cooperation. Of course taking the issue to the Security Council will allow some future US president to wage a war against another energy rich country - only incidentally having the second largest natural gas reserves in the world - on the pretext that it is violating a Security Council resolution.

Everything else aside, one aspect of this is so ironical that no one even comments on it. The US is the only country to have used nuclear weapons to date. They have used it as recently as the current Iraq war. And they are going around proclaiming which country should have use nuclear technology and which should not.

21-Sep-2005

Bubble Or Not?

Prem Shankar Jha calls it a bubble. Funny timing too. The market tanked 260 points before recovering most of the losses and closed just a little in the red.

Things should get interesting in November if he is right.

19-Sep-2005

He Goes In Dec

This was one family quarrel that was quite serious. Unlike what I'd imagined.

One good thing is that at least now the BJP could become the party with a difference again. It was looking more and more only like a party with differences.

18-Sep-2005

In A Spot - 180905

The latest in the series. Two quotes (emphasis added):
... the stranglehold on the economy of the bureaucracy remains intact. Why does this situation exist when we have a Prime Minister who began his term by admitting that administrative reform was at the top of his agenda?
So the prime minister thinks administrative reform is important. But wait, look at this:
If India is to ever become an economic superpower the bureaucracy has to be curbed and it can only be curbed through serious administrative reforms. Neither Sonia Gandhi nor the Prime Minister have shown any sign that they understand this.
Admitting that administrative reforms are at the top of his agenda is not a sign. Nope. He would have to make a personal gesture to Ms Singh - a slow wink during a speech or a slight nod of the head or something.

Could it be that Ms Singh has not the least idea what actually needs to be done hence falls back on blaming her favourite punching bags? For, of course, there is little doubt that the bureaucracy needs to be curbed/reformed/rightsized. How to do it is the crux of the problem isn't it? Because it involves people - us. And we are not too happy to be curbed/reformed/rightsized are we?

15-Sep-2005

Ma'am, May I?

I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?
That's the leader of the free world at the UN asking permission to visit the loo from his Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice. I'm not kidding. It's on Reuters. Link via Eschaton.

Update: Oop! Is this photograph for real or was I taken in - a la Times Of India? Well, check this analysis from a website tracking urban legends:
We don't doubt the authenticity of the photograph, as Rick Wilking is an established photographer with 12 years' experience shooting news photos in Washington (including various White House assignments) who recently covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (leaving that city only, according to Editor & Publisher, "after his laptop and two cameras were stolen from his car parked near the convention center"). As well, Reuters carried other pictures of the same scene from the United Nations, including one that appears to have captured the back of President Bush's head. We've left this as "undetermined" for now to allow for the possibility that the President was merely responding to or adding comments to a note written by someone else.
The last line does look a bit different than the rest of it - the 'I' is different for instance. Still, why would the leader of the f.w. be even caught with such a note at all?

Update 2: It is for real. The photo was taken as it appears and the photographer says the baby Bush wrote it. Via Crooks and Liars.

14-Sep-2005

Armed To The Teeth

We continue to purchase arms furiously though human development languishes in the country. This editorial lays it out. India was the biggest purchaser of arms last year - $5.7 billion vs $2.2 billion spent by China. We were 127th on the Human Development Index last year and we are 127th this year. And now we hear of the 7 submarines to be bought from France.

Good going.

Fixing Is Back

Two officers of the ICC's anti-corruption unit in Dubai visit India leading to new speculations about a match-fixing probe. A fair lady is involved too.
According to DCP Kamalakar, diaries seized from Tarannum have revealed names of several bookies, including one named as “DJ” in the betting circle, as well as cricketers.

Names of two Sri Lankan cricketers – one batsman and another a leg spinner – have been mentioned as being her contacts in betting racket.

Sources in the police department claimed that the ICC sleuths had tapped phone calls of some international cricketers, which led them to a particular number in Mumbai. That number reportedly belonged to Tarannum, who has now confessed of indulging in betting heavily on cricket matches.

During long hours of interrogation first on Saturday and then on Monday, she admitted her involvement with the betting racket.

She admitted of having betted heavily on the England-Australia Ashes game and also nearly Rs 1.75 crore in the India-Sri Lanka final.
Why is 'DJ' known to cricketers? Why were the international criceters calling the lady? Why did she wager such a huge sum - Rs 1.75 crores? She must have had some extra info surely?

Mohinder Amarnath cast his net too narrow when he called the the Indian selectors a "bunch of jokers".

The Flat Earther

"Tom, the playing field is being leveled," Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani told him. On the car ride back to his hotel, Friedman, as he is wont to do, began chewing over the phrase. "What Nandan was saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened," he writes in the book. "Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!"
Thomas Fried-man on how he came up with the title of his latest book. From here. That to me is the supreme example of completely muddled thinking. Nandan says that companies can now compete with each other on equal terms, and his interlocuter hears it to mean that the blue planet is flat. How the jump? How? And to think that even by his own logic, the earth cannot be flat. It is being flattened - it is not yet flat. He says so himself! And it is true, the process has not yet ended - barriers to completely free competition, in the form of tariffs, subsidies, and other forms which I don't know about, are still very extant as far as I know. So where the hell is the question of the earth being flat? How to explain that jump? The man must be out of his mind.

I haven't read the book. But after this review (mentioned in the Fortune article above) - I might just pick it up - but not if I can borrow it instead of buying. Just to see how much fun can be had with it.

Land Of Surprises

India is a land of surprises. It surprises me too sometimes, though, of course, I'm a native and have been one for more than 35 years.

Since about a year or so, utility bills in our city can be paid 24x7x365 - bill payment has been automated. The machine scans your bill, accepts your cash/cheque, and gives you a receipt. But there are two catches. Some people don't know how to operate it. Simple voice-based instructions/prompts in Kannada, Hindi, English would have probably helped, but this has not been provided. So there is a person standing next to the machine to help you. He gets the machine to scan your bill, feeds the cash into the machine, and hands you your receipt. The other catch is that the machine refuses to accept some notes. New notes, old notes, big notes, small notes - it rejects them all at one time or the other. And the solution is again the same - the human interface to the machine helps you - he folds the note down the middle, so that a V shape forms and then feeds it. Sometimes the machine plays along. Other times he goes into the utility office to get change or replacement notes.

I went to pay my electricity bill two days ago. There were three people already there. I saw the helping hand shoot into the main building as I entered the gate. He's gone to get the change I thought to myself. A customer was in the process of handing out cash to the machine. He was at the end of his patience I could see. I've felt like that many times myself. But I was a bit taken aback all the same to hear him talking to the machine - he was asking it something. And I have just got over the shock of seeing mobile phone users, for all practical purposes, talking to themselves in droves. But then something else happened which was more astonishing - the machine was talking back. And the voice was human. Strange. It was asking him if he had put the note inside. He replied yes, and the machine asked him to put the next note. A real conversation. Then the whole thing became clear. The human interface had somehow got into the machine from behind - and he was doing something there to help the afflicted customer. Who can deny the fact that ours is a land of surprises?

Finally the man was done. Before leavng he helped the next person in line with the initial part of the process. He chose the mode of payment as 'cheque'. But the person actually had only cash. So he was left staring at the screen prompting him to enter the cheque date and number. There was no way to cancel or exit. I entered some date and cheque number expecting the heavy hand of the law to fall on my shoulder any moment. But it worked and we began his transaction anew. The next person in the queue had two bills to pay and two five hundred notes. But the bills were for Rs 600 and Rs 400. Things looked like dragging on for sometime so I left.

I went back today. And there was the good samaritan (he must be getting paid though). And the machine was talking again. How was that possible? Someone else was working behind the scenes. And the earlier manual cash counters had been re-opened (I don't know since when). So there we have it. Automated bill collection has led to additional employment as advocates of computerisation have always claimed. The two men at the manual cash counters still have a job, and there is one additional person to man the machine, with an additional part-time employee doing an inside job.

02-Sep-2005

Some Disaster

Could this be happening in the US?
It's hard to describe. It's something I never could conceive of ever seein gin a major city like New Orleans. It is hard to believe. This is New Orleans Louisiana we ware talking about. We spent the last few hours at the convention center where There are thousands of people just laying in the street. They have nowhere to go. These are mothers. We saw mothers. We talked to mothers holding babies. Some of these babies are 3, 4, 5, months old living in these horrible conditions. Putrid food on the ground. Sewage, their feet sitting in sewage. We saw feces on the ground. These people are being forced to live like animals. When you look at some of these mothers your heart just breaks. We're not talking about a few families or a few hundred families. Thousands of people are gathered around the convention.

I want to warn you. Some of these images that you will see they're very very graphic. But people need see this. The people that are down there have been down there for days. People need to see what it is really like here. We saw dead bodies. People are dying at the convention center and there's no one there to come get them. We saw an older woman, someone's mother someone's grandmother, in a wheelchair. Her dead body pushed up against the side of the convention center with a blanket over it. Right on the ground next to her another dead body wrapped in a white sheet.

People are literally dying. Right in front of us as we were watching this a man went into a seizure on the ground. It looked like he was dying. People tried to prop his head up. No one has medical training. No ambulance can come. It is just heartbreaking that people are just sitting there without food or water waiting for the buses to come tak ehtem away. People keep asking us - when are the buses coming. And I just have to say, I don't know.
Link via Eschaton. Will try to get the right one, this one seems to be partial. Watching it on CNN was sad-making.

01-Sep-2005

Accountability-free Moments

It turns out Bush and his politics may have a hand in how bad the New Orleans damage has been. But people are denying him his 'accountability-free' moment. "Enough!" seems to be the cry.

Fatwa Or Opinion?

Commenting on one of Tavleen Singh's columns where she discussed the Imrana case, I'd written:
...it is not even clear apparently that there was a fatwa. Could it have been someone just giving their opinion?
Well it seems that both could be true and still not contradict each other. That is, even if there had been a fatwa, it would have been someone just giving their opinion. This article notes:
...a fatwa is strictly an opinion given by a mufti on religious matters to a querist who seeks some clarification. The recipient has the option to accept it; otherwise, if he so desires, he could seek a fatwa from some other mufti. Thus a fatwa is never a legally binding decision.
It goes on
As a consequence of the tremendous development of the media, if the subject matter is such that it has ingredients enough which could be played about to sensationalise it, it becomes a hot topic.
Hence a fatwa, which is really meant for the querist, gets disseminated widely by those whose only interest is to satisfy their morbid curiosity. But it continues to be a fatwa, i.e. a subject matter between the questioner and the mufti. Even after it is published in a magazine or a newspaper, it is not as if it becomes applicable to all its readers!

...
according to its traditional and proper meaning and scope, a fatwa cannot be issued suo motu by a cleric who calls himself a mufti, on a subject on which no one in particular has asked for an opinion by addressing a query to the mufti.
So much for sensationalisation of news. And even editors are not far behind with their opinions. In response to another recent 'fatwa' against women participating in elections, which led to some women opting out of the UP municipal (or similar) elections, the Economic Times immediately delivered a fatwa calling for a Uniform Civil Code. Having heard clearly on TV that it was another dedicated reporter who had sought the opinion of the mufti or pesh imam or whoever it was, it was funny reading the editorial start off as follows:
Darul Uloom, Deoband, has ruled that Muslim women should not contest elections, and if they have to, they must do so from behind the veil. It’s a regressive injunction which deserves condemnation.
Finally, a view from the other side of the Uniform Civil Code argument.