Saturday, November 24, 2007

Invincible! Immortal? Soldiering (dys) Functionally

Not so long ago we had taken a peek at stuff like PTSD and the psychological costs of sending our young people to war. John Doyle, over at Ktismatics has actually been working with Veterans and their unique problems for quite some time despite the VA's refusal to allow outside psychologists in.

Now, new research indicates that there is also a very significant amount of actual brain damage being found in returning soldiers and recent Vets. The figures indicate that this happens FIVE TIMES more frequently than the army has been willing to admit to.

Listen to the NPRs interview (title link) with USA Today reporter Gregg Zoroya on his findings on the presence of brain trauma in soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. The army had reported only 4,000 so affected, but this study indicates that the numbers are 20,000 (so far), and that the vast majority of war returnees have not even been screened yet!

Another startling 'statistic' on veterans indicates that 1/3 of all the homeless in the U.S. A. are veterans. A rough estimate puts that at nearly a million vets (estimates range from 780,000 to 970,000 depending on who-take a look at some typical stats here, here and on Oldtimer.). A rough conservative calculation indicates that there are over 30 million Americans who could be classified as poor and of all of these about 1 in 10 is homeless. Another horrifying fact is that another one third of the homeless are children! One can expect that these stats will only get worse as the Iraq war returnees have experienced much longer tours of duty (than their Vietnam Vet friends) and will probably reach the crash out points that much faster. Add to that the spate of failed mortgages and the effects on families of losing their homes and their savings and you have a recipe for disaster.

I am not surprised that war veterans have suffered injuries that are both physically debilitating and mentally incapacitating. The chances of these sacrificial lambs successfully making it back into 'normal' life is always slim. What is surprising, very surprising, is that the army loudly touts it's ability to "take care of its own", but very obviously does not.

Soldiering has thus become just one more functionality in postmodern America. The lack of ideology is not as horrifying as the show of absolute callousness. It is quite impossible to believe that our armed forces do not know, did not anticipate, the sort of damage that our kids would be facing. Certainly, over four years into the war, they cannot only now be 'discovering' brain damage in returned vets. One naturally wonders how many of those in-service now are already suffering from such brain damage and either do not know it or are afraid to have it found out? The scenario is likely very similar to what is still the case for PTSD - denial.

Typically, the Neocon response has been to laugh it all off, with the Democrats not far behind, for this is a scandal of betrayal on a massive scale and it has been perpetrated in a singularly nonpartisan manner.

People, we are not talking about spin!

This is something much more like an
information black hole - And with an election coming up too!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

FARMING CONCRETE - India at 50/50

We, the people of India, always seem to be at the crossroads.

For a country that is thought to be developing fast, a lot of the time we are quite uncertain as to our direction, and even more confused about our ultimate destination. Instead we are very busy doing what Yogi Berra once advised : "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Everyone seems to silently assume that our goal in 'development' is to become a clone of 'developed' economies as much like the U.S. or Britain, or Japan, and to transform into this heavenly vision just as soon as possible.

Having traditionally been socialist in spirit but officially non-aligned, India has largely come out of 'the socialist trap', and now appears to be leaning towards a capitalist, 'free market' economy, somewhat to the delight of those who like possessing, and using, Capital. Or, so goes the assumption at present, but do we really wish to become 'more developed' in this limited and warped sense?

What are we turning ourselves into? What are we to become? We have indeed emerged, but to what? At present we Indians seems to me to be in the grip of a particularly thick fog. We are incapable of seeing our own noses, let alone tackling any bigger questions. And one of the biggest questions revolves around what we are going to do with agriculture.

Here is today's biggest fork in the Indian Road: 50% (yes, one half) of India's 1.1 billion population is now urban. The growing urbanisation of rural populations is driven by the death of small farming as a viable way to make a living. As making a livelihood out of farming becomes less attractive to families and (by design) much more attractive to corporates, the trend will be that smaller farms will be abandoned to be consolidated by larger, capital rich, corporates who will then complete the mechanisation of agriculture (in the name of efficiency) and try to completely eliminate rural labour.

What are we going to do to employ the up-coming flood of ex-farmers? The number of farmer suicides is growing (though we seem to hardly notice) by leaps and bounds every year. Do we just let them quietly continue to commit suicide? What a convenient solution...

The problem of course, is more general than just agriculture. In a comment on a previous post, Mahil had alluded to the increasing drive for specialisation in our developing world. As the machine, aided by intelligent computerised control, takes over both production and process, where will human-performed jobs come from? From a different angle, another tough question to answer now is : How will our nation's wealth eventually be distributed? Do justice, and fairness, and honesty, and openness have a say in our direction into the future?

Admittedly, our problems in India are not small ones. With a population of well over a billion people, somewhat scarce natural resources, limitations on arable land, and weather that always seems intent on either starving us with drought or starving us with deluges, it's perhaps not surprising that we seem fixated on wondering mostly about the when and the where of the next meal.

The pundits tell us that now, security is the name of the game. Do you own a house? Have you financially planned for your children's educations, and more worryingly, their marriages? have you got a couple of credit cards? Are you keeping up with the Krishnans?

The idea of planning, beyond the matter of the family's survival, is not something that includes our neighbors, our rural cousins and our nation at large.

Being shortsighted produces a situation that is rife for those who do have longer term agendas to quietly set their plans in train. Our politicians seem sometimes to be hand-in-glove and sometimes (rarely) simply dupes. Eventually, when the truth of massive sell offs does emerge, all will perhaps claim to have been too easily fooled! This is not in any sense a 'conspiracy theory'. I refuse to believe that folks that are so good at ingeniously lining their own pockets are as dumb as they wish us to believe on the questions of development and overall direction.

In theory, we have something called a 'planning commission'. The only problem is that this too is a 'socialist' leftover and as such this commission now does little of substance. The current head is someone who explicitly believes in deregulating everything. The resultant "Five Year Plans" have become manifestos of what to dismantle first, and of how fast the markets can be 'liberated'.

Our politicians are just as intent on survival (in the narrowest sense) as anyone else, but they are far-sighted enough to ensure that their monetary genealogies will survive for at least a few generations of their own profligate progenies.

In other words, motive and opportunity are known to be present in all developing economies. These are the ingredients of economic murder. Our economic c(r)ooks are particularly intent on making them coincident TODAY in India.

So, what are we going to do about it? Are we prepared to continue to be myopically concerned with our own little selves? Are you prepared to let your child's nation's future be quietly sold off to the highest

Thanks to for the lovely pics from Tibet

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Value of Adding Value

As mechanisation has been a staple reality world over for the last couple of centuries, it has shaped our societies and cultures.

In honour of the industrial revolution, engineering became one of the most sought after professions that only the most brilliant could aspire to. Courses in civil and mechanical engineering initially held pride of place, but then gave way to electronics and electrical engineering, and now even these have become less popular than communications and software 'engineering' - courses that are now even found in the ubiquitous 'Arts College'. The professions have tried to keep pace with cultural developments.

The agricultural revolution and rapid advances in medicine have also combined to make the world's huge population explosion just barely manageable. Of course, out of 6.6 billion people only 1 billion live well. Of the rest, around 25% are in abject poverty and in danger of starving (that's about 1.65 billion people). In absolute terms compared to a century ago, the percentage of poor has declined by half but the absolute number of the very very poor has gone up by about 40 million!

It is argued quite successfully (on paper) that the way to deal with poverty is not to give handouts but to give a hand-up. In other words, bring the poor of the world into the mainstream of production, and poverty will be licked. Is this realistic? Is it even possible? What jobs can we envision creating for the billions of poor?

In 2006, it was calculated that if a real U.S. dollar value were to be placed on the per person share of the entire world's economy (per capita on the world's GDP), it would work out to about $6,600 each. Such figures are heavily disputed by economists, mostly depending on where the economist hails from and what turf they are seeking to protect, so I take this as merely illustrative. The plain fact is that this is well below what an American or a European would consider the barest minimum subsistence level. In other words, if one were to pay an American $6,600 a year, they would starve to death. The poverty level cutoff in the U.S. last year was over $13,000 per annum. On the other hand, in India or China or in Africa six and a half thousand dollars would support a whole family of four at a 'middle class' level for a whole year.

Another little illustration that might illustrate the difference is that a good Medical Transcriptionist (MT) in the U.S. would earn about 65 cents a line. An average MT may pull in about 45 cents a line. The same work, when outsourced to the Philippines or India will earn the MT there, anywhere from 2 cents to 3 cents a line. In both types of economies this would constitute a middle class occupation.

The difference lies in the ways in which "value" has been added to products and services in these developed economies. People eat, they wear clothes, pay rent, they go to and from work, their kids get educated... all over the world. But in the 'developed economies', it costs a heck of a lot more to live even in this basic-needs sort of way.

Marketing and management have become the most honoured professions. The highest paid of all professionals in the world are the managers of large corporations. Now knowledge is the key to money and power. The knowledge that is most valued is the alchemical secret of value addition. It has to be done insidiously and so effectively that the consumer will consume both the product and the mythical value and feel pleased. Now, that's MAGIC !

Is it all worth it? The corporations think so and to tell the truth the answer is that without the layers upon layers of value addition, these developed economies would collapse.

Big business absolutely relies on the inflationary effects of exploitable, value addition, in order to pump profit margins up to a level where there remains little connection between what a goods or service costs to perform/produce and what the end user ends up paying for it. The value addition is self justifying also because it is the primary means of distributing "wealth" or more accurately earnings in the strictly trickle down economy.

Now, these economies want the developing world also to faithfully follow the same route. Everyone should buy-in to the concept of breaking the connection between the real value and what we collectively end up paying for anything after value addition.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is Mass Production Ethical? What's A Droid World like?

Successful and well developed economies in today's world are mostly of the 'free market' design. These are economies where a modicum of free enterprise is only slightly limited by government regulation (except in agriculture, but we are not taking that topic up today). The alternative of top down control and no private ownership (communism) has died a natural death.

Both systems were outgrowths of the industrial revolution of the 19C. When looked at from an individual standpoint, by relieving the individual or family unit of the need to accomplish all basic tasks pretty much for themselves, and by introducing the incredible efficiencies of mechanisation, the individual is freed up to do other things, and these things necessarily, will now involve specialisation if one is to fit in to the overall framework. The economy mass produces stuff by mechanised processes that are increasingly automated with as few people as possible controlling as much process as possible.

Work, for an individual, is defined as the specialised, narrow, thing that that individual has been trained to do. The individual has to fit into whatever slots are available in the economy of the day.

So, the training of the individual, education also has to become specialised. Now, in India, there is no more point in getting an 'arts degree'. There is no utility in it. Job requirements do not include something as impractical and unspecialised as an 'arts degree'. Furthermore, if one wants to change lines of work, say after five or ten years of experience, one finds that one is starting the new job at the bottom of the ladder- the earnings ladder! The only thing that counts is a proven ability to perform and that comes only with experience.

We know all of these things and they don't overly disturb us for we are fairly confident that the whole thing hangs together and works pretty durn well. After all, what we need is a job, and some job security, and for prices to remain affordable, and for there to be opportunities and time for recreation and the family. What else does one want from a healthy, sound economy?

A new Renaissance? No one works (except the robots) but everyone earns and enjoys. That would be a utopian future and it's about the biggest lie we've been asked to swallow so far...

I would suggest that we have blinded ourselves to who and what we really are. We are blind too to where the trend will eventually take us and our world. We allow ourselves to be duped because it is the easiest thing to do. We are comfortable enough, our families are pretty much taken care of, so what could really be wrong?

What we have perhaps gained is security.
What we have certainly lost is ...

What happens to human beings that become redundant? What happens to machines that become redundant? The human has become nothing more than a machine, filling a slot in the endless cycle of mass production. And when we are not even a cog anymore?

Mass production is good. Mass production runs the economy. Without mass production there would be no economy and there would be no prosperity.

We may have gained the whole world-
But, we have lost ourSELVES.

Andrew McAfee (Jan 2013) gives us an update: A Droid World is Potentially a Utopia not a Dystopia.

What do you think???

Sunday, November 04, 2007

War Games - Musharraf goes the "Cheney me to a Rice Bush" Route

India has been toying with doing things in 'The New American Way' for some time now. Our present almost misadventures with the 1-2-3 Nuclear Power Treaty have clearly indicated our own Junta's leanings. We too seem to be actively seeking ways to democratically subvert our democracy, but thankfully have so far failed.

Still the Dickied Rice Bush has had some measure of success with our neighbour Pakistan.

America kept insisting that this Mushy stuff was the closest that the Pakistani people could get to democracy. Instead, what was all along a dictatorship in democratic guise has now reverted to form and proved that it was indeed a full blown military dictatorship all along.

Musharraf is a suave, smooth, polite, educated, and eminently reasonable dictator, but a dictator and a ruthless and brutal one nonetheless. He is photogenic and charismatic (wonder where I've heard that before) and an ideal stooge for the U.S. State Department's deeper Neocononial designs in this part of the world.
The last time Musharraf needed to consolidate his power he engineered a war (the '99 Kargil War) with India. The then democratically elected Pak. leader (Nawaz Sharrif) had to flee for his life.

This time Mushy has been concentrating on his Afghany front, and let's hope that he stays focussed there. The chances are that as long as the current U.S. administration is wooing India, Mushy will have to bite his tongue and wait, but nothing is certain in todays global village.

Who knows, perhaps in international parlance this is just one more way of delivering a hidden ultimatum? An openly militaristic Pakistan should certainly fuel the the local arms race and that itself would have made Dickey & Co. very happy. Every cloud should have a silver and gold lining, as should every pocket...

It's too much to hope that India would have learned anything substantial from this, except that there're always ways to make a quick buck. The depth of the pocket is actually what drives politics in India anyway.

Statesmanship is a thing of the rather distant past - a blurry, fading, black and white memory of what was always something of a hazy backlit dream.

"Do, you know that the U.S. tried ever so strongly to dissuade Mushy from such a drastic step?" At least that's the current spin, being disseminated through the hidden alleyways of a 'leaky' State Department.

Everyone does know that Musharraf would never have dared unless he was offered tacit U.S. support.

  • We have blown it on Myanmar. We are supporting a brutal military junta.
  • We have blown it with Tibet. We have shamed the Dalai Lama.
It is not too late to change tack.

Let us try to realise the reality of our own proud constitution.
Let us once more try to stand for FREEDOM,
to truly uphold DEMOCRACY, and
to be the champions of JUSTICE
that we once thought that we could be,
and that we would be.

UPDATE 1 (Nov. 5) The headlines about 6 months down the road after a bit of NYT investigative journalism:


Gen. Pervez Mussharaf had exported Pakistan's supreme court justices to the U.S. under the Democracy re-education program sponsored by the US Department of State. Now we are pleased to report that waterboarding and other assorted recreationally educational nontortures at Guantanamo for the recalcitrant Pakistani Supreme Court justices has finally resulted in signed confessions of connections to terrorism from all the judges who had originally refused to swear allegiance to General Musharraf after he imposed martial law in order to save Pakistani democracy. They unanimously support the continuation of Mr. Mussharaf as he is clearly now 'the only dictator capable of restoring true democracy.' The Secretary of State is very pleased that the U.S. has been able to further promote democracy in the world."


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