Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Going Gets TOUGH

Billions have been lost by the 'know it all' big bosses of politics, finance, and industry. Those billions won't bother you now as much as that tiny bit of the pie that suddenly went down the drain and that was all that you had to lose!

Getting into the inviting rut of worrying about what you could possibly have done different is now not going to help. What's gone is probably irretrievably gone. If anything does eventually get salvaged that will be far too late to solve today's problems. So, rather than decry the current state of affairs, we'd all better get practical and start doing what needs to be done.

My first suggestion is: GET BASIC!

The core areas of our economies will survive even the very worst economic disaster and will also be the first to pick up after everything bottoms out.

My second suggestion is THINK FREE!
As one of my heroes remarked "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." (A. Maslow)

So, get lateral, jump out of that box, roundcan the mental straitjacket, and start to use those noodles to good effect.

and Finally: Be GENEROUS.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wars, Deaths and Selfishness in World Politics

This month's New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) carries a free full text of correspondence related to two widely divergent estimates of post-invasion violent deaths in Iraq. The debate in itself is about statistics and stuff but the shocking fact is that the lowest estimate of non-combat violent deaths in the civilian population is 150,000 while the more realistic estimate (still on the conservative side) is 600,000!

Saddam Hussein in his worst avataram, is considered over a tenure of 24 years (1979-2003), to have been responsible for no more than 50,000 deaths per year. Post ouster that rate has climbed to at least double and probably even much more.

Should we not certainly be worried when hundreds of thousands of people die?

One of my major questions is was it worth it? I really don't know how to answer this question. America repeatedly claims that they simply had to get rid of a psychopathic butcher, but then the butchery after his removal seems to have got that much worse!

On another front look at what has been happening in Sudan's Darfur region. The toll there is conservatively estimated to be around a half million with a couple of million who have been turned into refugees and are always on the brink of starving to death or of being massacred in their UN/AU 'protected' refugee camps.

The striking similarity in both these horribly deadly disasters is the oil. Black gold. In both cases we see greed for control of oil revenues spilling over into ethnic-racial conflicts and terrible destruction of human lives. Entire peoples are being wiped out. Oil is not evil in and of itself. What it boils down to is greed. Greed alone is not enough, it is those who have power and who get greedy who then utilise ethnic hatred and use that as a propaganda weapon to justify and inflame their wars on innocents.

Saddam fell into the trap twice, first with Iran and then with Kuwait. In between he took a few swipes at the Kurds. I don't think that there is much doubt that in both wars, Saddam was lured into being the point person for others, who subsequently dropped him like a hot potato when the going got tough. But then that's just par for the course in the world of Realpolitik.

Do we have to search very hard for the reasons for other disaster zones like Zimbabwe or Myanmar? On the surface, NO, yet my overactive suspiciousness always makes me wonder who is duping whom to get what? It always seems that one of those with real power in this world sits and meddles in the background to actively but furtively create a situation out of which will fall windfall profits and increasing power and influence on the world stage.

Greed, power and the death of innocents...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On the Branding of Swadeshi

India's economy is in crisis. Inflation has raised its ugly head. Even our huge new middle class is in trouble. The poor may sink completely. Our greatest immediate difficulty is that those most essential of commodities - staple foods and fuel - are seeing the fastest rising rates.

At the same time, complexity takes hold of our economic, political, religious, and cultural fronts. Yet we are being sold a strange brew of oversimplifications. It's the cost of development, they say; or, reform is always painful and so costly to implement...

There is a deliberate bid to reduce the political fallout by confusing the issues. Great and somewhat relentless forces have silently been unleashed in our nation. Though we can see the evil clearly in our neighbors' experiences, we are blinded to our own inability to see ourselves as we really are.

Strategically and with global implications, the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, the sidelining of 'Mushy' Musharraf, and the now more hidden face of the military oligarchy there, coupled with the fallout of the 'war on terror' on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, has led the US, Britain, and the EU to seek much closer ties with India.

We see the rise of the West in India most clearly in the fields of defense and retail. More subtle signs include the red carpet welcome to Western based MNCs, as well as a deliberate (but silent) turning away from the independence theme of Swadeshi that formed the economic backbone of Mahatma Gandhi's freedom movement.

It is not just one Indian national party that has changed their tune to welcome the latest trend to global capitalistic hegemony. Both our leading political blocks - the Congress led UPA, and the BJP led NDA, are openly shedding nonalignment for Western goodies.

Just a couple of small examples show how far we have come since our 'non-aligned' days of standing tall for freedom. On the one hand our politicians try to convince us that our economic and defense needs dictate our strengthening trade with the West and even with Israel. On the other hand, we are not willing to accept desperately needed gas from Iran. Iran's policy of seeking nuclear self-sufficiency (as we too had done) apparently now offends our Realpolitik and the necessity of pandering to the American foreign policy. We feel safer as American dependents - now how strange is that?.

I think the biggest blind spot that we have is our fear of China. There is no logic to this fear. Any rational analysis would show that closer ties between these two economies promise huge benefits for both sides. It is an economic alliance that the West justly fears. All sorts of pressure has been brought on our politicos to increase the alienation, and our brave leaders have succumbed. There is no logic, but after all an immediate need in the depths of their pockets.

No similar 'pots of gold' await any deal with Iran. While our nation may benefit immensely from the low cost of sorely needed Iranian gas, and we continue to surreptitiously buy Iran's oil, this pales in comparison to the loss of secret revenues from those neoglobalists who want to call the shots for us.

As Mahatma Gandhi knew, when there is no Swadesh there can be no Swaraj. Yet we no longer care for the Mahatma's advice.

Swadeshi is also prominently missing in agriculture. The obvious result is that while the prices of basic foods skyrocket, the traditional farmer gets poorer and poorer. Those that benefit directly, and immensely, are the stockists and 'middle men' - now a misnomer in itself for this niche has been fully occupied by MNC minions. It almost seems as though our political bosses are aching to replace the myriad millions of traditional farmers with mega farms controlled by a few choice corporate houses.

The new breed of MNC linked trading house can stock (it used to be called 'hoard') and therefore exercise empty 'value addition' with impunity. They sell at self-created demand peaks in connivance with a government that will authorize exports of commodities that are in short supply. The obfuscation is most clearly visible when the government blames 'global' factors including that wonderful commodity, crude oil. The recent global spike up in the prices of commodities should actually have absolutely no impact on domestic prices when our own agricultural production is more than self sufficient! The same goes for cooking oil where retail prices at one stage rose by more than 50% over just a six month period!

Meanwhile, the farmers starve, fail to pay their debts, and commit suicide. We face a drought this year with the failure of the SW monsoons. And on the sidelines await the ever-eager property speculators, who are just waiting to pick up excellent farmland at distress sale prices, to hand over to the cash-rich agri-corps, who are also circling hungrily above. Once the carcass has been picked clean, we Indians who earn only a tenth of what the West averages, will yet pay the full 'global' price at par for our own commodities. Paying such a price to our existing farmers seems not to be an option. No, we will wait for the corporates to make the killing!

As Gandhiji remarked so many years ago, "Swadeshi is that spirit in us which requires us to serve our immediate neighbours before others, and to use things produced in our neighbourhood in preference to those more remote. So doing, we serve humanity to the best of our capacity. We cannot serve humanity by neglecting our neighbours"

And further and more pointedly, Swadeshi is "a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures"

The  maha atma Gandhiji came, and he did more than his bit to rescue us from our coils of slavery. There is no sense in yearning for him to come again. The only ones who can save us from our (oh so 'Gandhian') politicians, are ourselves. Right now we have only ourselves to blame for not calling our politicians to account. It is high time for our youth to rise and discover the true power of the ballot, voting for persons who are not so bent on first taking care of lining their own pockets. But that is only the beginning.

We must find ways to hold our politicos to account, to demand that they lead well and honestly, and to demand that they have a vision for humanity, for the India that can be built up by a committed and caring India.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Course in MT designed for College Students

AN exciting new course on medical transcription designed for college students in Coimbatore has been announced at Phoenix & Ahead

I am really excited about the possibilities. I will be handling the Language of Medicine (LOM) and in whatever other ways that I can. The Phoenix center is beautifully designed with a ThinCLient networked Lab and a separate dedicated classroom with all the infrastructure in place.

It looks to be an eight month stretch (by sacrificing all of one's weekends) and any college student should be able to earn a certificate in Medical Transcription.

There are obvious synergies for students as their command of English will automatically get polished and that's a huge plus for getting through any of the competitive entrance exams (GRE, GATE, CAT, CEE or TOEFL ...).

Furthermore, as I myself am a witness, being able to do MT as a transcriptionist or editor is a tremendous boon in any financial tight spot - and we all know that students and young people generally will face plenty of those!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

How free is FREE?

I have been mulling over the latest political brouhaha in the US primary race. I think it's symbolic of how shallow the US's purported commitment to freedom really is.

Senators Obama and Clinton are locked in a 'fight to the death' in the democratic primaries. Into the midst of this melee springs a surprise (Obama machine) monkey wrench, the Wright Wrench. Now, suddenly, Obama turns tail and runs for cover, rebuking his overzealous ex-pastor and in the final analysis losing (in my unAmerican opinion) his perceived moral edge over his eagerly expectant rival.

The politics of the situation is rather comic. Whoever wins will be a 'historic' candidate in remarkable ways. So, I am not overly exercised by the potential outcome. Past experience has taught me never to be overly optimistic in these matters, for Americans generally seem more enamoured of the more caddish candidate and have always voted these known bad apples in for a second term and with their eyes wide open too.

What does interest me is the shallowness of the meaning of 'freedom' for Americans. One is welcome to be free, it seems, as long as that freedom does not extend to criticizing anything American. America is always good. America is always right. American foreign policy is always eminently fair... Any dissent is unAmerican. Any dissenter is a traitor. You are free only to believe and espouse one American truth.

One need not agree with a Wright, or for that matter with a Ward Churchill ("little Eichmanns" title link), or even a Farrakhan, or with anyone who refuses to wear a flag lapel pin... But, if one believes in freedom, if one really believes in freedom, one has to respect the dissenter and the dissenter's right to dissent.

At one time it was traitorous and unBritish for the erstwhile colonists to speak out against their God-appointed king. The dissent on which a potentially great democracy was founded was enshrined in the American Constitution's main text and then specifically spelled out in the very justly famous "First Amendment". It is a fundamental human right to be free to disagree!

One would think that being a member of a church where a pastor dares to speak what he sees as the truth, should be a big plus point for a presidential candidate. Here is someone who says that they admire the person and agree with some of what that person stands for and yet recognises that person's fundamental right to hold views that are unpopular.

Ask yourself: Is agreement necessary for acceptance? Does unpopular = unAmerican? I also wonder, does criticism of America mean less love for America, or even less patriotism?

If I were a psychoanalyst, I might even wonder whether such obvious displays of hypersensitivity may not be symptomatic of some under-the-surface feelings of GUILT?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I find that today's youth has a really eclectic taste in music. Here's a playlist that has some of Saranya's (19) and Rommel's (15) slowly growing/constantly evolving pile of Good Stuff:

Find our Christmas songs HERE and my own 'a bit of hard rock etc.' Here...

Monday, March 17, 2008

India and Tibet

No one in the International community of nations seems to be ready to bell the Chinese cat on Tibet. The policy of silence is loudest in Tibet's closest neighbour India.

It seems a shame that commercial interests combined with India's real fear of confrontation with China on the disputed area of the borders in Arunachal Pradesh state, should be sufficient to cow down such an erstwhile champion of human rights as India. Still, the sad truth is that though the Dalai Lama is our guest in exile, in toto, that too is just for publicity's sake and has little other than symbolic value.

Reading through Tibet’s long and tortuous history, we must again conclude that the death blows to Tibetan independence were finally dealt by the British in the early years of the 20th century, closely followed by a botched CIA operation during the 1950s.Like any unfortunate country that is lacking great enticements (like oil or mineral wealth), no other nation is willing to stick their necks out against the Chinese behemoth for the sake of a few million poor and exploited Tibetans. Europe is happy to support the right of Kosovans to self determination but won’t even whimper at the fate of the poor Tibetans. As with Sudan and Burma, so it is too with Tibet - a mysterious cat has got every single nation’s tongue!

Meantime, the Chinese have been much more concerned with the possible effects on their precious Olympics. I think they have misread the world’s commitment to anything other than money. Our modern world’s shame is highlighted by the fact that ‘amateur’ sport has been so successfully exploited to become the biggest money spinning "event" of all time. Catch the nations of the world putting principles ahead of the chance to collectively make some really fast bucks! If only even one country would demand autonomy or at least basic human rights for Tibetans before agreeing to participate… fat chance!

Just for fun, compare the "Free Tibet" facts and figures (click on the title) with the Chinese version of 'the truth' and tell me what you think...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Update Burma - Bloody Stones

Quoting from the Christian Science Monitor : "The government's Myanmar Gem Enterprise – Burma's third largest export company after the state-run oil and timber companies – has said gem sales have increased by 45 percent every year for the past three. The gem auctions, held once or twice a year since 1964, are becoming more frequent. All told, the official trade in Burma's gems, according HRW, was valued at $297 million in fiscal year 2006-2007, but is estimated to actually be much higher when factoring in unofficial sales. " (title links to full 3 page article)

The triumphant announcement of the growing success of the Rangon gem auctions comes after our morally bankrupt "world leaders" called for a boycott on Myanmarese gems.

Most of the mines are government owned, with large shares going to individual memebers of the military Junta. The mines supply a world hungry for jade, rubies, diamonds, cat's- eyes, emeralds, topaz, pearls, sapphires, coral, and yellow garnet. Remember that about 80% of the world's gem quality rubies come from Burma/Myanmar!

A further horror is that in typical fashion, all the mines have been confiscated from local communities these same communities are now 'employed' there as forced labor - mostly women and children.

Interestingly, gem exploitation ranks only third in Burma's export earnings. Oil and TIMBER take the lead (no boycott has been called against Burmese timber or oil!). Incidentally, while India earns quite a bit from Burmese gems, the main interest is in black gold (oil)...

In all three spheres, China studiously ignores all calls for international boycotts and is closely followed (though much more obliquely) by India.

While some of the world’s gem trading MNC giants have officially supported the ban, many are also busy exploiting ‘the letter of the law’ and hiding the origins of their gemstones by rerouting the raw Burmese gems to other countries such as India and Sri Lanka in order to muddy the original source. In India, gem traders gleefully line their pockets with the bloody spoils of value addition as they polish and facet the gems to be exported as India’s own (it’s an 800 billion rupee industry with India processing between 75% and 80% of the all of the world’s gem stones).
What a shame that the world’s largest democracy and supposed champion of human rights would quietly allow their traders to deal with a monster state that makes its money while bleeding a fellow democracy to death.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The New Voting American

One of the most fascinating aspects of the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been the surprisingly variable response from women voters.

Hillary was the feminist dream come true, or so we all thought, but a shockingly high proportion of the women voters have plumbed for Barack.

Immediately, some famous feminists have called foul. They feel that women who support the "young, handsome" male in this epochal battle are abandoning the faith. These 'heretics', they claim, have played true to sexist form in rejecting the more experienced and more iconic woman in place of the untried though charismatic male upstart.

Many have expressed a surprisingly negative sentiment about the future with statements made like "this is the only real chance of my lifetime to see a woman become president". The fact that Hillary is not a self-made candidate has perhaps been blocked out by emotion, or even campaign rhetoric?.

What I see though is that if for a moment one listens to these 'traitorous' voters, neither sex not rock star charm have anything to do with their choice. Many are in fact staunch feminists. The issues for them are the issues. The Clintons are a known quantity and many women do not like what they stand for. These voters are in fact thrilled to have a choice, and of a one who stands equally tall on issues of equality.

In the final analysis, for the young new American voter the choice has nothing to do with either gender or race and nothing could be more thrilling or actually more amazing. The iconic issues of the past have been foregone for a new, mature, approach to selecting the best PERSON for the job.

May the best person win...

click the title link to go to Samantha Power's Scotsman interview...she's an excellent example of a very broad phenomenon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kenya - Meddle and Muddle

Under British colonialism, the world learned how to divide and conquer. Now, with the American hegemony at hand, that has been replaced by a 'policy' of meddling and muddling. The resulting confusion is very destructive to nations and economies. Kicking off the 21st century, Iraq stands as the sentinel example . Pakistan, with Mushy (the U.S. backed dictator) now creating an unholy antidemocratic mess, is another case in point.

Kenya is an unlikely place to suspect an American hand but the signs have been there for quite some time now. Mwai Kibaki, the previous president, is a typical example of one who seems well intentioned, urbane, well educated, soft spoken, and yet is firmly in the U.S.'s back pocket. The secret is money, though that's hardly a great secret, is it?

Unfortunately for the U.S., even the Kenyan government's official map that purports to explain the strange result of Kibaki's 'win' shows, to anyone who knows how tribes and populations are actually distributed in Kenya that the 'official result' is a farce.
Bush, in the face of an obviously rigged election, wants power to be shared in Kenya. Shared? Did he offer to share his presidency when John Kerry won the popular vote in his own questionable 'win' in his own 'democratic' country? In other words, by whatever means, Mwai should retain the semblance of power, for Raila Odinga is an unknown quantity and looks (from what we can tell of his public persona) to be much less likely to slip quietly into the CIA's silky hands.
Kofi Annan's attempts to help sort things out in Kenya must have really alarmed the Bush administration. Kofi has been a quiet but powerful force in opposition to the American attempts at hegemony. That fight almost destroyed the U.N. itself as the U.S. used its money power to choke the U.N. into submission. Rice is now sent to butt herself in to the delicate situation in Kenya to see to it that Mwai doesn't cave in. The fact that then thousands more may die in the face of a ham-handed attempt to subvert real live democracy, is immaterial.

Also immaterial, it seems, is the fact that perhaps for the very first time in Africa, a country has voted without regards to tribal allegiance. That is the only way for Odinga, a non-Kikuyu to have popularly and decisively ousted Mwai who is a Kikuyu. Kikuyus themselves, and a lot of them too, voted for someone from another tribe - unheard of in Africa, till a couple months ago!
Kenya is a land of vast potential. It has excellent agricultural prospects, good water, regular rains and has a wide range of habitats. The people are intelligent, relatively well educated, hard working, honest, sincere, friendly and very politically active.
Let's not do things the Cheney-me-to-a-Rice Bush way just this once. Enough of this meddling and muddling! Let's give Kenya a chance.

In the meantime, as Kenyans struggle for their independence and their right to decide their own future, let them know that there are many around the world praying for their success and peace and progress.
For the land of my birth, right now though, I am much reminded of the title of a book by a South African writer, Alan Paton:


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Haunting Echoes of 'Health' Insurance

Way back in June of 2006, I had done a post ("Money or Medicine" - click the title link) on the shenanigans of health insurers and particularly a group called United Health (at that time hiding behind a quiet buyout of Oxford) who had earned a rather rich write-up in the NY Times. I was therefore less than surprised to see this heading at NPR today on my Google Homepage: "N.Y. Attorney General Accuses Insurers of Fraud".

Part of the answer must be that it's a bit like life insurance - you don't really know much about what you've actually got for your investment till it is (far) too late to make any changes. Folks that get really sick and then get shafted are already in such bad shape both financially and personally that their feeble voices are well below our threshold.

We will insist on believing the slick sales talk, and continue to be awed by the shiny brochures and the oh-so-well-designed websites that we forget that all that cosmetic costs real money and its coming out of the premium that so quietly gets deducted from your paycheck every month. Effective cosmetic cover is only really needed when there is no intrinsic beauty to reveal. Individual horror stories are a dime a dozen, but few seem to be aware that their fates are a result of careful planning and cleverly hidden execution. The return on investment for the shareholders is the permanent goal. Shafting and systematically cheating a few thousand here or there is the acceptable collateral damage along the path to that ROI.

Granted that the present U.S. government is more concerned about protecting the turf of such big businesses than overly worried about the healthcare that the general populace does or does not get. Still, I wonder how such corporations can continue to convince people to pay the dues that keep them raking in the money even when their primary aim is to take folks for a cheap but royal sounding ride?

We are so proud to be among 'the protected' and we will continue to be proud until it's too late and we are too far gone to be able to do anything about it but cry.

Thanks to Peter Kuper for the wonderfully apt illustration.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What will Be?

nonsequitur earth from moonYou who are on the road Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

As a teenager, anytime mom and I would have a knock down, drag out fight over any matters of cultural evolution or generation gap stuff - important stuff too, like having the FREEDOM to grow one's hair long - I would eventually get round to playing this song, just a bit too loud, and after ensuring that she had indeed won the argument, mummy would laugh.

I look around at the youth of today, with a postgrad daughter and a son in college, and I wonder. When I was a teen, the issues seemed clear. We were against war and for peace, we were for love and against hypocrisy, we distrusted the establishment and wanted to be allowed to learn from making our own mistakes, and we loved the music that spoke and felt of these issues.
And you, of tender years, Can't know the fears that your elders grew by, And so please help them with your youth, They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well, Their children's hell will slowly go by, And feed them on your dreams The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
("Teach Your Children" written by Graham Nash and performed by CSNY)

Whether it is TV, or popular books, what is taught in schools or even what we read on the most popular internet sites, today no definite positions are ever taken. We've been worn smooth.

Avoidance of discussion seems preferable to fighting it out. The truth is a non-sequitur, and the activities of daily living have taken precedence over thought, belief, and principle, or perhaps we have lost the confidence to really believe in anything.

I would much rather that the youth do not follow in such nondescript footsteps.nonsequitur storm from space

While the amalgam of the strange ideas of the sixties-seventies may not provide answers for today's dilemmas, in many ways there are now much bigger challenges than any we faced 'back then'.

The paths that our youth choose to take, their beliefs, and their 'code of the road', will determine much for the future of what mankind is to become.

Choose wisely!


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