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Friday, February 24, 2006

US, India, China and the Dollar

One may like or loathe America. But we all have to accept one fact -- that the USA is one nation that puts its interest uppermost, come what may. Rules of the game, propriety; ethical, social or environmental concerns just don't matter. Everything is fine as long as America is fine.

It's a country that practises the "Theory of enlightened self-interest" to the last detail. When there is a conflict between your principle and self-interest, which one will you sacrifice? America doesn't sacrifice either; it merely changes the principle to suit the new self-interest!

See, how America gets professionals from all over the world, and makes them work for their country! America is a country that is run by the best people from around the world.

America never liked India for two reasons (in spite of sharing almost all values systems that America itself practises): one, we were close to its Cold War enemy, Soviet Union; and two, more importantly, America never had access to India's huge market.

Ever since India began opening up its economy in the early 1990s (not because we wanted to, but we didn't have an option), the West in general, and the US in particular, have become interested in India. There are umpteen illustrations of that.

The fact that George Bush will come calling on March 1 is another indication of their interest. His will be only the fifth visit to India by a US President. Earlier ones were by Dwight Eisenhower (1959), Richard Nixon (1969), Jimmy Carter (1978) and Bill Clinton (2000).

And, in the runup to his India visit, Bush granted interviews to two Indian newspapers, The Times of India (English) and Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi). Not surprisingly, he has lavished praise on his would-be hosts.

One point stands out. In the interview he talks of how India's middleclass population is far greater than the population of entire America. "..... 300 million middle-class citizens in India. That's larger than the population of the United States. And so we shouldn't fear relations with India -- matter of fact, we ought to welcome them and work on ways to strengthen them. That's really what the purpose of the trip is."

We shouldn't feel bad that Bush is taking care of his country. Only that he is very candid about it. What we need to ask is "Do our politicians take a similar interest in our own country?" Sadly NO; at least not to the extent a country like China does.

China is one country -- yes, the only country in the world -- which can stand up to the US. To put it bluntly, America crawls when China asks them to merely bend. Why? America's self-interest is at stake. American dollar after all comes from China!

China is such a fascinating country -- politically Communist, economically Capitalist. Nobody has been able to get that combination as effective as China has.

Remember how China intercepted and forced an American spy plane to land in its island of Hainan, after it collided with a Chinese fighter in April 2001? China refused to let Americans even come anywhere near the plane. China wanted an apology from the US for the collision, in which a Chinese pilot went missing. The US was finally made to apologise. But by then China had literally dismantled the entire aircraft. The US had to piece them together and take it back in utter humiliation. Read the entire sequence of events here.

No other country in the world could have done something even close to what China did.

There is a lesson here, which India can adapt in its own way. Open the market, entice America with dollars (that is a trap America will willingly fall in); and make them play the game with our set of rules.

See the influx of foreign companies to Bangalore. While they have gained by opening shop here (outsourcing has saved many of them from closing down back in the US), how much have we gained, other than many Indians getting jobs? How well have we capitalised on the interest the West has shown for our city and our country?

Some points there to ponder over as, arguably, the world's most powerful man gets ready to visit India.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Whither blogging

The Financial Times Magazine, London, has carried a well-written and comprehensive article by Trevor Butterworth, a writer based in Washington DC, on blogging. It discusses how the nascent medium has grown, where it stands vis-à-vis conventional journalism, and the economics of the medium. A unique thing the magazine did was it opened a blog to where readers could post their comments on the article.

Some salient points of the article:

** Even in the US, the blogosphere’s superpower, most internet users -- 62 per cent according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project -- aren’t exactly sure what a blog is.

** At the close of 2002, there were some 15,000 blogs. By 2005, 56 new blogs were starting every minute. As I type this sentence, there are, according to technorati.com, 27.2 million blogs. By the time you read this sentence, there surely will be many more.

** One of the conventions that happened to work in blogging’s favour was the way the media take a new trend and describes it as a revolution.

** That established journalists were blogging gave the revolution a dose of credibility that it might not have had if it were in the hands of true outsiders. And then, just before the presidential election in 2004, blogging had its Battleship Potemkin moment, when swarms of partisan bloggers rose up to sink CBS’s iron-jawed leviathan Dan Rather for peddling supposedly fake memos about Bush’s national guard service.

** Isn’t the problem of the media right now that we barely have time to read a newspaper, let alone traverse the thoughts of a million bloggers?

** Some experiments have gone awry. When the Los Angeles Times decided to try letting readers insert their own ideas into its editorials online last year, the trial ended within days after obscene pictures were posted on its site.

** Blogging will no doubt always have a place as an underground medium in closed societies; but for those in the west trying to blog their way into viable businesses, the economics are daunting.

** If the pornography of opinion doesn’t leave you longing for an eroticism of fact, the vast wasteland of verbiage produced by the relentless nature of blogging is the single greatest impediment to its seriousness as a medium.

** “Mere potboiling,” wrote Engels of the more than 500 articles he and Marx wrote for The New York Daily Tribune, “It doesn’t matter if they are never read again.”
And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence.


A wonderful article. Go ahead and read it here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bird flu theories

When news reports of HIV-AIDS began first appearing in the media in late 1970s or early 1980s, there were all sorts of theories floating around. Only that unlike now, there wasn't a vaccine to be "promoted" then. Mostly the theories were centred around on how it was part of a grand American plan to finish off the developing world.

In mid-1990s during the outbreak of plague in Surat, similar conspiracy theories were floated. Interesting thing is that while there was proof the virus in the laboratory, there wasn't anything to substantiate the wild theories. The flights of imagination were a good source of entertainment. However, one good outcome was that a "stinking Surat" was transformed into a "spick-and-span Surat".

Now we have the bird flu theories:

1. Western companies and governments were amazed that SARS and mad cow disease didn't affect India. They were jealous. They found that a big market for drugs had been left out. So, they introduced bird flu.

2. America is getting jittery that Indian economy is growing. This is the first of the many plans to derail our economy.

3. A clever move by the fish and mutton lobby to strike at a time when bird flu is spreading in other parts of the world.

4. Just another unconventional warfare launched from across the border. Didn't we tell you never to trust them?

5. The anti-KFC like organisations who feel frustrated that their campaigns are not working. Plus, the curse of the vegetarians.

Of course, implicit in all these is that our birds might die of anything, but never bird flu!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bird flu and media

I hate this -- if things have gone out of control and don't know whom to blame, then point the finger at the media. I hate this not because I belong to the media. I hate it because it plainly makes no sense.

It's akin to shooting the messenger; because media is a carrier of information. Nothing more. Nothing less. Different media deal with different issues in different ways. And thus, the method of rendition and the diverse information contained therein serve differerent purposes to different people.

I am writing this because I was told that media has been blowing the bird flu incidence in India out of proportion. I would accept that observation as an individual's personal viewpoint, with which I disagree.

It's not true that media has been sensationalising the bird flu issue. Different media organisations have been treating the information in their own manner, and rightly so. No one has sensationalised it. No one has blown it out of any prorportion.

The issue here is information and not any proportion. In fact, the media has been carrying lot of details -- from the scientific, social and economic perspectives -- about the disease. I wish people were more bothered about the information rather than the way it is rendered.

UN's World Health Organisation site on avian influenza
Tamiflu

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tell me whom you love, I'll tell you who you are

Love's in the air, as the cliche goes. And on Valentine's Day, let me reproduce a beautiful, touching, moving piece, that keeps getting forwarded across emails over and over again. Here it is:

Tell me whom you love, I'll tell you who you are

John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn’t, the girl with the rose.


His interest in her he had begun 13 months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf, he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes pencilled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind. In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner’s name, Miss Hollis Maynell.


With time and effort, he located her address. She now lived in NY City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day, he was shipped overseas for service in World War II. During the next year and one month, the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like.


When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting — 7 pm at the Grand Central station in New York. “You will recognise me,” she wrote, “by the red rose I will be wearing on my lapel.” So, at 7 pm, he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he’d never seen.


We will let Mr Blanchard tell you what happened…


A young woman was coming towards me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive.


I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way, sailor?” she murmured. Almost uncontrollably, I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had greying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes.


The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible; her grey eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.


This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever be grateful. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke, I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment.


“I am John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner.”


The woman’s face broadened into a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is about, son,” she answered, “but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should go and tell you that she is waiting for you in the restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!”


It’s not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell’s wisdom. The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive. “Tell me whom you love,” Houssaye wrote, “And I will tell you who you are.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Paritrana -- party with a difference

I was reading about Paritrana, the political party formed by IITians. There has been quite a bit of of media coverage. No wonder a great initiative. But I don't know how successful they will be in overcoming the inertia the present present in India has gained.

While I write this, the debate on the confidence motion -- that the new chief minister of Karnataka H D Kumaraswamy has sought -- is going on in the Assembly. This debate is a good example of what need not be debated. Sadly our politics is largely, if not fully, made up of such debates. No doubt democracy is also about debating, but definitely not at the cost of action. And, debate important issues that matter to the society and its people.

What Paritrana can definitely achieve is bring about more awareness about the need for a change. There is nothing wrong with our politics; what's wrong is the way politics is managed and conducted. Let's wish Paritrana the best.

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Politics and development

Off all that the new chief minister of Karnataka H D Kumaraswamy said after being sworn in yesterday, the one I liked the best was his declaration that he won't announce any (development) packages but take up problems on priority basis. The stress on development sounds good and looks like a contribution of the BJP partner.

I just can't understand, why in India development is still a very political subject. The need to have good roads, clean water, good shelter, uninterrupted power supply etc should hardly have anything to with which party is in power. These are basic needs that have got to do with the living standards of people, and they must be apolitical.

What parties can fight over are finer issues like whether working hours should be from 9 to 4 or 10 to 5, interst rates, whether retirement age should be 55 or 60, whether fuel price should be increased by Rs 2 or 4, whether marriage age should be reduced to 18 for guys, whether India should vote with US or against US etc etc

Our rate of development has been pathetically slow because of politicisation. All the progress we have still achieved (for the first time big powers like the US are talking about competing with India) is inspite of our politicians.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Time and watch

RR was showing off his newly acquired, expensive, imported, gold-plated watch costing something like Rs 18,000.
 
JJ, standing beside, asked him, "What's the time?"
 
RR: "10.30"
 
JJ, turning to me, looked at his watch and said: "It's 10.30, by my watch too!"
 
I looked at JJ's watch. A simple, elegant, beautiful one.
 
Later I asked him, "How much did you pay for this."
 
JJ said, "Rs 750. I have been wearing it for the last six years. The strap is a new one, though. I got it last week for Rs 75."
 
He then added with a wink: "Irrespective the of the cost, all watches, if set right, and maintained well, show the same time!"