22 December 2006

Tying Up Loose Ends

I don't have anything new to write about today. I was just going through my old postings and saw that I have two corrections to make.

First is the one about Red/Blue states. Turns out my long thesis was unnecessary. I searched a little more and found a simpler and more direct explanation. All one has to do is look at the county-level (not state-level) electoral map. The picture is truly astounding - instead of Red or Blue states, what you have is a sea of Red and some Blue dots here and there! Those dots are, of course, the big cities of USA: New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. The 'Blue' states happen to be Blue because their big city population outnumbers that of the rest of the state. The 'Red' states are states in which this does not happen. For more details (and a passionate argument for liberal/urban politics) click here.

The other is the one about the India-US nuclear deal. I said,"The N-deal is as good as dead" when the Dems won the House and the Senate. Well, time for me to eat my words. The N-deal was passed on the Hill (with overwhelming bi-partisan support) and signed by Prez Bush into law, thank you very much. This subject received a lot of coverage in the Indian media, especially the Indian Express. I somehow never took much interest in it; I don't know why. How important is this deal for us really? What it basically means is that we'll now have fuel for our reactors from the US (and other countries in the NSG). Fine. But what percentage of India's energy needs can be met by nuclear power? I don't have any numbers, but I don't think it will be much. Nuclear energy will be just one of the many sources we have to tap if we want to satisfy our growing hunger for power.

19 December 2006

Man Of The Year

Time magazine has named its Person of the year for 2006. It's you. Yes, it's you, me and everybody else who's generating and consuming content on the Internet (I am including myself in the list by virtue of this blog, humble though the effort may be). The magazine argues that Web 2.0 is fundamentally changing our world in many ways, and that the common man is at the centre of this revolution.

Do I agree with this choice? I guess so. It is true that the Internet has grown and changed substantially over the last couple of years, affecting our lives in ways we take for granted. And the net is now truly democratic, putting power in the hands of the people - as against governments or corporates.

At the same time, I would argue that this is a convenient choice for the editors of Time. It suited their purpose to look at a 'trend' and name the person at the centre of this trend (in this case, you) as Person of the year. Why? Because if they had followed the usual, and expected, process of picking the man who had the most impact in the year (for better or worse) and who created the most news, then it would have been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Don't agree? Tell me - which was the most happening part of the world this year? Which region was/is the most critical to the world (in key areas like energy and security)? West Asia, obviously. And which country dominated this region in 2006? Iran. Consider this:
1. Iraq's Shia-dominated government is supported by Iran. More importantly, Iran is also supporting the Shia insurgents, who (along with others) have brought the world's sole superpower to its knees.
2. Iran is supporting Hezbollah, who humbled the Israeli army (the most powerful one in the region) in the Lebanon war.
3. All efforts to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program have come to naught. Iran thumbed its nose at the US, the EU, the UN, the IAEA and got away with it. It might take them another 10-15 years, but they will get the bomb.
In sum, Iran is gradually emerging as the most powerful player in the region. It is also drawing a 'Shia crescent' (with Syria and Hezbollah) through the region, giving the jitters to not just Israel and US, but also the Arab/Sunni states.

And who was the man leading this 'rogue nation'? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. True, he is not the most powerful man in his country. That title belongs to the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. Some say Ahmadinejad is just a front for the mullahs who rule Iran. Perhaps. But nobody will deny that, to the world, he is the face of his country. He has been in world headlines all this year with antics like denying the Holocaust and writing a letter to Bush (asking all Americans to convert to Islam, of course).

Not sure how the Americans would have taken it if an enemy of the US had been named as Person of the year. So Time decided to play it safe. This is the not the first time they have done so. The most infamous example was in 2001 when they named Rudolph Giuliani, instead of Osama bin Laden. If ever there was a slam dunk for Man of the year, this was the year, and this was the man. But political correctness triumphed over intellectual honesty.

PS: Ahmadinejad is a civil engineer (with a PhD). I tell you, we engineers rock! ;-)

05 December 2006

The New James Bond

Saw Casino Royale. Enjoyed it a lot. The media earlier focused too much on the new actor playing 007. Turns out that it wasn't only the actor that's new. Everything is different - the whole tone of the movie. It's more serious, more violent, darker and more intense. Suits me.

It was about time actually. The silliness of the older films (especially the Roger Moore ones) was becoming increasingly irrelevant. It was one thing to make fluffy spy movies during the Cold War (when the threat was distant) and quite another to continue with the same thing in this age of terrorism (when you can be blown up by a bomb anytime). This is the light in which the transformation should be seen, and not just in terms of box office appeal. (Most observers have only commented that the franchise had to become more contemporary, like the Jason Bourne movies - which have been more popular with the younger crowd)

The villain is a financier for terrorists across world. Tellingly, none of the terrorists shown are Muslims. So controversies are not created and box office collections are not affected. Africa is shown a couple of times. But I doubt if Africans are glad with this kind of exposure.

As for the man himself? Daniel Craig? How does he measure up? He's good. Fits the new version of Bond (actually it's the original version - the way Ian Fleming had created the character) like a glove. He's 38, though. Not sure how many Bond movies he has in him. But we'll enjoy it while it lasts...

29 November 2006

What Took Them So Long?

Finally the US media are calling a spade a spade. NBC, New York Times and some other news organisations have decided to call the situation in Iraq what it is - a fucking civil war! Of course the White House has objected. What does it matter what we call it? 3000 Iraqis are dying every month.

This reminds me of the cyclone that hit Orissa in 1999. Over 10,000 people died, and our MPs were busy debating whether the situation should be declared a "national calamity" or not!

13 November 2006

What Next?

What kind of change can we expect in the US's Iraq policy, after the mid-term polls and Rumsfeld's departure? George W Bush is still the President and the Commander-in-Chief for the next two years. So any change in the approach in Iraq is entirely in his hands. Will he be more flexible and open minded? Is he prepared to redefine "success in Iraq"?

There won't be any shortage of inputs. The new Defence Secretary was CIA Director under Bush Sr, so he should have some ideas. The Democrats are calling for a phased withdrawal/redeployment of troops over the next 18-24 months. Some of them are talking about "keeping troops in the region but not in Iraq", which seems a little bizarre to me. The Baker-Hamilton Committee might submit its report next month. That will be more comprehensive and coherent. But they seem to be pinning too much hope on some plan that involves Iraq's neighbours (including Iran and Syria).

Perhaps Dubya should ignore all this noise and just read Fareed Zakaria's article in Newsweek, which gives a realistic and sensible analysis of the situation - and a way out.

10 November 2006

A Vote For Change

I missed the action on Wednesday as I was attending a friend's wedding in Mysore. I came home late in the evening and switched on the TV to see the news: Democrats had taken the House (as expected), and the Senate was in the balance. Next day brought more good news: the Senate was in the bag as well (surprise!), and Rumsfeld was gone (too little, too late). Of course from India's point of view, it wasn't good news. The nuclear deal is now as good as dead. The irony is that while Bush was bad for America and the world, he was good for India.

The woman of the moment is Nancy Pelosi. She may be a she-dragon, but even her critics admire the way she has led her party of "wimps" to an emphatic victory. And finally, after 230 years, America has a woman Speaker.

What An Asshole!

Check out this guy.

03 November 2006

Ash Is Back

Aishwarya Rai is back today in 'Umrao Jaan', after a long hiatus. If you ignore 2004's 'Khakee' (in which she didn't have much screen time), her last big movie was 'Devdas' in 2002! Since then it's been a string of flops (Hum kisi se kam nahin, Dil ka rishta, Kuch na kaho, Kyun ho gaya na and Shabd), item numbers (23rd March 1931: Shaheed, Shakti: the power and Bunty aur Babli), art films (Chokher bali and Raincoat) and ill-advised overseas forays (Bride & prejudice and Mistress of spices).

The audience doesn't seem to mind. They still consider her Bollywood's #1 actress (check out India Today's bi-annual opinion polls if you don't believe me). I guess the rules are different for Ash. She is thin and has green eyes, you see. 'Umrao Jaan' also mark's Ash's return to India. Till now she's been busy trying to become an 'international' star - appearing in Cannes and on Oprah and David Letterman. Welcome home, Ash!

Ash has two more releases this year: 'Dhoom 2' and 'Guru'. How will these films fare? And how will they impact Ash's career? My predictions are:
Umrao Jaan - average
Dhoom 2 - big hit
Guru - average
Dhoom 2's success won't be due to Ash. In addition to riding on Dhoom 1's success, it has Hrithik and great locales. But still Ash, being Ash, will walk away with a significant part of the credit. As I said, the rules are different for her. What will be the impact of the movies' performance on her standing? It will further boost her #1 status. At worst she will remain #1 :-p

How long will Ash mania last? Perhaps another 2 years. Once she turns 35, she may no longer be hot property. That's why she's making hay while the sun shines. Get ready to see a lot of Ash in the next 2 years. Curiously she's playing a lot of historical characters: Mumtaz Mahal (The heart of India), Jodha Bai (Jodha-Akbar) and Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai (The rebel). It'll be a nice way to end her career, since she started it the same way: her first film was 'Iruvar' (1997), in which she played a character based on Puratchi Thazhaivi Dr J Jayalalithaa :-p

02 November 2006

What's In A Name?

Ok, the unthinkable has happened. My beloved Bangalore has become Bengaluru. What next? Bendakaluru?!

After Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were renamed I thought we Kandus were the only sane people left in the country. Now even we have lost our heads :-(

I agree that Kannada must be supported and encouraged. But this is not the way to do it. The language of Pampa and Basavanna does need the protection of illiterate politicians and incompetent bureaucrats. Renaming cities will do nothing for the cause of Kannada.

Besides, the move is meaningless. The name of the city was already Bengaluru in namma cheluva Kannada. 'Bangalore' was merely the Anglicised pronounciation of the same. We could have continued to have the two names. Why should we impose our pronounciation on others? The Bongs were nuts to 'rename' Calcutta as Kolkata. Atleast Chennai is a different name from Madras. And I won't even talk about the Shiv Sena.

Kannadigas are the most broad minded, tolerant and cosmopolitan people in India. This kind of chauvinism and parochialism go against our ethos. This is nothing but a gimmick by politicians to divert attention from the real issues: infrastructure, education and healthcare. In what way will a name change improve the life of ordinary Kannadigas?

This whole mess started when the Dharam Singh government was looking for ideas to celebrate Karnataka's golden jubilee. Of all people, U R Ananthamurthy came up with this suggestion. The do-nothing Dharam was only too happy to accept it. His government fell before Nov 1, but the JDS-BJP regime that succeeded him went ahead with the asinine move.

30 October 2006

Limbaugh Vs Fox

Rush Limbaugh made some politically incorrect comments about Michael J Fox's appearance in a TV ad (for a pro-stem cell research Democratic candidate) and everybody went ballistic. Even the Republicans were too embarrassed to defend Limbaugh.

For once I think I am on the side of the much-maligned conservatives. Fox's movements do appear a little exagerrated. I remember seeing Mohammed Ali at an Oscar ceremony, and his tremors weren't even 10% of Fox's.

But Limbaugh should have been more civilised in his criticism. Just a suggestion that Fox might have been exagerrating would have done. But then he wouldn't be Rush Limbaugh, would he?

23 October 2006

20 October 2006

Red States and Blue States

This is a subject I've been reading and thinking a lot about lately. The key to understanding US politics, especially Presidential elections, is the division of the country into two halves: the Republican (red) and the Democrat (blue). Pages upon pages can be written analysing this phenomenon. Here I will confine myself to some basic numbers. (Most of them are approximate)

First, out of the 50 states, the Blue: Red division is 20:30. Population wise, the division is less skewed - 48%:50%, with the Reds having a slight edge. These translate into an electoral-votes ratio of 250:275. [The exact figures are: out of the 51 states (including District of Columbia) the blue: red ratio is 19:29. Three are 'purple' states - Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico. These 3 changed their colours in the 2004 polls and account for the missing 2% population you are wondering about]

A small note here - I was under the impression that America was majority Blue, but due to the screwed-up electoral college system, the Reds end up winning. I was wrong. While it's true that many Red states are sparsely populated, there are also some very small Blue states (in the north east). So, ladies and gentlemen, the rednecks are not a minority. They represent mainstream America. It's the liberals who are the minorty. They are confined to 3 pockets: the North East (12 states), the West Coast (3 states) and the Great Lakes (4 states).

On with our analysis. So the question arises: what decides if a state is Blue or Red? There are many factors, but one that almost everybody mentions is the urban/rural divide. The Blue states are supposed to be largely urban/industrial, and the Red states are supposed to be largely rural/agricultural. I decided to put this theory to the test. I tried to see if a state's Blueness/Redness is linked to its degree of urbanisation. I got the data for the states' urbanisation from the 1990 US census and voila!

[A caveat here: 'rural' does not mean the state is less than 50% urban. That way we'll get nowhere. We must remember that the US is a developed country with 75% of its people living in urban areas. Once we define an urban state as a state whose urbanisation is 70% or more, we can make some progress]

1. About half of America's states are urban (urbanisation is 70% or more). Among these the Blue: Red split is 16:7. So an urban state is twice more likely to be Blue than Red. If we look at the top 20 most urbanised states, the split is 12:7. Yes, the Blues' advantage has gone down. But the 12 states left are comfortably Blue with an average victory margin of 15% (The margin for each state will be the average of the margins in the 2000 and 2004 polls). Whereas out of the 7 Red states, 3 look shaky - with margins of less than 4%. Two of these are large states: Florida and Ohio. So in the 20 most urbanised states, only 4 are comfortably Red. Two of these deserve special mention: Utah and Texas - they have urbanisation rates of 87% and 80%, and Red victory margins of 42% and 22% respectively! How could such highly urbanised states be so heavily Red? The simplistic answers are Mormonism and George W Bush, respectively.

2. Now let's look at the rural states (urbanisation is less than 70%). These are 27 in number, and the Blue: Red split is 3:22! No contest there. And the 22 states are comfortably Red, with an average victory margin of 19.5%.

That ends our little investigation. The hope is that as urbanisation increases, more states will turn Blue. Till then, the strategy for the Democrats remains the same: attack Florida and Ohio, and hold Pennsylvania and Michigan! :-)

16 October 2006

West Wing

I don't put up more than two postings in a day. But today I'm in the mood to write a little bit more.

Since we are on the subject of US politics, we can talk about 'West Wing'. I have been catching up on the series on DVD. I finished Seasons 1 and 2. Now I'm into Season 3 - which I had already seen on TV, but I am watching it again to have some continuity when I watch Season 4. Also, since I saw the first two seasons, it's worth watching Season 3 again as I can now understand what's going on - especially with regard to the re-election campaign, the Multiple Sclerosis fallout and the investigations.

I can't get the last episode of Season 2 out of my head. Bartlet goes public with his MS. Immediately the #1 question is: Will he run again? Nobody knows: not the public, not the press, not the staff, not the family, not the man himself. But the decision has to be taken soon. Meanwhile Mrs Landingham, the President's secretary, whom he has known since he was in high school, and who's been like an elder sister to him, dies. After the memorial service he has to go to a press conference where he has to have an answer. Bartlet remembers Mrs Landingham telling him,"If you don't want to do it, I'll respect you. But if you are not doing it because you think you'll lose or because it's too hard, then I don't want to know you."

The song "Brothers in Arms" starts playing as Bartlet stands outside in the rain and ponders. He then makes his way towards the press conference. Sure enough, the first question is "Will you run for re-election?"

Bartlet puts his hands in his pockets, smiles and says,"Yeah. And I'm going to win."

End of a Revolution

There seems to be no end to the Republicans' woes. Iraq, the economy, corruption scandals - and now Foleygate. The biggest albatross around their neck is the President himself, with approval ratings of below 40%. Seen as the main vote getter for the party just 2 years ago, he will take much of the blame if the Republicans do badly in November.

TIME magazine's cover story this week talks about the end of the revolution of 1994 (when Republicans siezed control of the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic domination). "Every revolution begins with the power of an idea and ends when clinging to power is the only idea left." Wow! It seems to be an original line. Click here for the article.

13 October 2006

The Numbers Game

Talk about coincidences: just yesterday, when I mentioned the death toll in Iraq as 45,000, a new study came out putting the number at 6,55,000! The research was carried out by John Hopkins University, and published in the Lancet.

As expected, the Bush administration and the Republican party have rubbished the findings. The last thing they want one month before the US Congressional elections is to admit they started a war that has wiped out a population the size of Baltimore.

I think the study is quite credible. For an excellent analysis, see

12 October 2006

A New Horror Story

My musings on novels will have to wait. Today it's back to the real world.

Just when you thought the situation in Iraq couldn't get worse, a new horror story comes from the war zone: Shia death squads are doing the rounds of Baghdad's hospitals, systematically killing Sunni patients. The Iraqi Health Minister happens to be a loyalist of Muqtada al-Sadr, the extremist Shia cleric and leader of the Mahdi militia.

To be fair, the Sunnis are no saints. They have been busy bombing Shia shrines (including Samarra in February this year, which triggered the civil war).

http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ reports that 45,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003. That's how much innocent blood George W Bush has on his hands. Are you proud, George?

06 October 2006

Three Favourite Novels

Of late I have been thinking of which would be my favourite novels. Most people would have a Top 10 list. But I have read very few novels (much of my reading is non-fiction). So I have to limit myself to a modest Top 3. Here they are in chronological order:

1. War and Peace (1869) - Leo Tolstoy
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
3. Shantaram (2003) - Gregory David Roberts

1. War and Peace
No, I am not being high brow. I really liked this book. It took me almost 2 months to finish, but it was worth the effort. An epic set against the backdrop of Napolean's 1812 invasion of Russia, it traces the fortunes of about half a dozen aristocratic families. The three central characters are Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. For me the hero is Pierre Bezukhov, and the book is nothing but the story of his journey through life and his search for truth. He starts off as an earnest seeker, deeply interested in philosophy. (The account of Freemasonry's metaphysics given here sounds remarkably like Vedanta!) But the end is disappointing - Pierre concludes that there's no point in philosophy and one must just enjoy the simple pleasures of life (read marriage and children).

I'll talk about 2 and 3 later...

21 September 2006


Hmm, been off the air for a while. Quite a few things happened: the first female space tourist (an Iranian), a coup in Bangkok and Hugo Chavez's speech at the UN. But none of them was sufficiently motivating to make me log in here and pen my thoughts.

Today I'll talk about something different. It'll be a shift from the outer world to the inner; from current affairs to philosophy.

Buddha's rationality has always been appealing to any seeker. Less appealing is his pessimism. The very first of the Chatur Arya Satya (Four Noble Truths) says,"Life is full of suffering" (Dukha). This is how it is commonly quoted. And this is how I remember it from our school text books. Needless to say, this is enough to turn off everybody except the die-hard pessimist. For a long time, this one line stopped me from a deeper study of Buddhism. Recently I have changed my view. It is better to rephrase the statement as "Suffering is a part of life". (If you don't like the word 'suffering', you can replace it with 'pain' or 'sorrow') Even a die-hard optimist will not disagree with this. Once we make this modification, we can continue our study of Buddhism.

[I know, this is not an earth-shattering breakthrough. It is quite trite. But it makes a huge difference to me.]

I don't have any books on Buddhism right now. I am reading the chapter on the same in Radhakrishnan's 'Indian Philosophy' (Vol 1). Like the rest of the book, it is atrociously written and I'm not sure how much longer I can go on.

Everybody knows about the Chatur Arya Satya and the Arya Ashtanga Marga (Noble Eightfold Path). These were drilled into us in our school text books. Less well known, but equally important, is the Trilakshana (Three Marks of Existence). These are Dukha, Anitya and Anatma (or discontent, impermanence and non-self). Just for the record, I agree with the first two, not with the third. A related concept, Pratitya Samutpada (Dependance Origination), is also interesting. I came across these basic things only now - which shows how little I know and how much I need to learn.

I wanted to write about the Upanishads too. But I think I'll do that later...

18 September 2006

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

The Western media say the Pope has 'apologised' for his comments on Islam. The most common headline is "Pope 'deeply sorry' for offending Muslims". But has he really apologised?

The exact text of the statement reads "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims". That is, he is sorry for the reaction to what he said, not for what he said. In other words, "The problem is not with me; the problem is with you guys."

We can also speculate over this was really a faux pas. Vatican 'experts' on CNN and BBC went on and on about how this Pope had spent most of his career as an 'academic', as compared to his predecessor, who was more politically savvy. Well, you don't need to be a political genius to figure out that quoting a line like "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" will cause all hell to break loose. My own feeling is he knew exactly he was doing. But even he must realise now that he went too far. An Italian nun has been shot and killed in Somalia. Let's hope there's no more bloodshed.

14 September 2006

Death of a Banker

I begin my blog on a sombre note. Andrei Kozlov, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Central Bank, was shot dead today.
He was at the forefront in reforming Russia's banking system, and paid the price for it.

Why should this be of any concern to me, an Indian? I don't know. Words are superfluous (and self-indulgent)...

Maybe this is the form this blog will take. I'll just be putting up news stories and articles that catch my attention. Not much 'commentary' from my side. It won't be necessary. If you connect the dots, you'll see the big picture.

(Btw, I hadn't heard of Kozlov before today)

Just found out that Kozlov had featured in a
Business Week cover story ('The New Stars of Finance') in 1997.