Thursday, January 12, 2012

My discussion with a commenter to a NY Times Article 1/12/12

    • Nick
    • Rockville, MD

    The fact remains that the "elected" leaders of Pakistan have failed the country miserably. The real cause of the rise of extremism in Pakistan is the manner in which the country's economy has been ruined and the resources looted by the politicians. These politicians dont represent the people but the feudal exploiters.

    In Asia, no country has developed through democracy. It has been through military backed governments (or single party rule strongman rule) that have transitioned to democracy once the society developed enough to support democratic institutions. This was true in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Malaysia, etc... Maybe the army in Pakistan will find a leader who will lead Pakistan out of this morass by being steadfastly dedicated enabling economic growth and the strengthening of insitutions like the anti-corruption body, State Bank etc.

    And American should perhaps not forget that it was Pakistan which remained a loyal friend throughout the cold war - and the sacrifices of Pakistan and its people to a large extent helped win the Cold War.

      • HMP
      • USA

      In saying that "In Asia, no country has developed through democracy" you seem to have forgotten the second most populous country in the world. India is in Asia, is a democracy, and is generally regarded as developing.

      • Chetan Patel
      • King of Prussia, PA

      It's funny how you fail to mention the largest democracy in the world which exists in that same neighborhood. Was this just an oversight? You say that America should not forget who helped it win the cold war. Really? Living not too far from the heart of American politics, you should know that in diplomacy it's really more like, "What have you done for me lately?" And what Pakistan did was to harbor and abet the guy who masterminded an attack on American soil. You are pretty naive if you think the US owes Pakistan anything. The question really should be "what do Pakistanis' owe themselves?" Maybe they should look not to far across the border and see how a little investment in free speech or education might help their country.

      India is far from perfect, but most Indians know this. The trajectory of their country's history was set forth on the higher ideals of her citizens right to think for themselves and worship as they please. Pakistan was formed violently by Jinnah with the notion that Muslims would not find a welcome home in India and needed a muslim state. I wonder today how many "opressed" Indian Muslim's would like to trade states and move to Pakistan. Maybe some in Kashmir - and they have legitimate gripes against both India and Pakistan - but not many.

      By the way... a sacrifice is so only when there is nothing expected in return. The Pakistanis played their cards in the regional game of poker, and the world is calling their bluff.

      • Nick
      • Rockville, MD

      Even well-wishers of India will agree that one cannot compare India to developed countries of Asia like S.Korea, Singapore et al. In fact the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen recently pointed out that India has done poorly in human developmental indicators in comparison to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, let alone those other Asian countries. What we should all fear that Pakistan is too big to fail and the only way forward is stable rule by those who are dedicated to the country's future and not their bank accounts.

      • Chetan Patel
      • King of Prussia, PA
      NYT Pick

      Who is doing the comparing? I was pointing out a glaring ommission in your discussion. So India's shortcomings somehow make Pakistan look better? Is that now your argument? If you are proposing that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are more developed economies than India's and in general their populations are better off than I think you will find few takers. There are poor and malnourished everywhere. The question is what each nation does for itself to change it's history for the better. Pakistan has demonstarted since it's formation that it is more interested in inflicting pain on India than in developing it's own economy and public institutions. And no entity is "too big to fail". There many examples of failure in history. Germany and Japan come to mind. They had to fail because of the rot of their former ideology. But they have recovered mightily after their "failure". I would wish the same success for Pakistan, in hopes of a better neighborhood for India and a better world for all of us. All that remains to be seen is whether Pakistan collapses on it's own or whether the failure is imposed from the outside. In either case the fallout will have to be contained by it's neighbors and the world at large.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Optimism for Obama

It is obvious from my previous posts that I am an Obama supporter. I have not written much during this election because, honestly, I am not sure much more needs to be said. There is so much news today, and even more commentary, both in print and in the various forms of electronic media available today. I think writing this post is just my attempt to work out what I feel about this election for myself and relating a couple of relevant experiences.

My friends often come to me to speak about politics and the news of the day because they know that I am a current events junkie. I clearly point out that I still think of myself as an independent voter - what does that mean? I think it means that I try to understand all sides of an issue without ideological disdain for any point of view. Do I have any philosophical prejudices? Absolutely. I believe the government should stay out of peoples personal lives and deal with the issues that they are unable to deal with on an individual basis.

So on this night before this election, I must admit that a relative calm has set in and I am somewhat confident that Barack Obama will be our next President. A few days ago, I admit that I would not have allowed myself that optimism. A few days ago, I still believed that some force or some unfortunate incident, or some revelation would change the landscape of this race before the candidates crossed the finish line.

Why the optimism? I volunteered for the Obama campaign for the first time this past weekend here in Pennsylvania and I was struck by the diverse group of people at the little satellite campaign office here in King of Prussia, PA. Many of the people there were the ones that his campaign was supposed to be having a problem attracting. Older white voters, and Jewish voters. More than that, however, was the festive mood in the office and of the people that had come out to help. There were smiles and laughter; there was quiet determination; there was an undercurrent of optimism and yes, that most important word - hope. My partner, Brad, and I set off to a neighborhood close to my own to leave "doorknockers" that would serve to remind the residents of the homes to vote and also informed them of their voting location. We were instructed by the campaign to only go to homes that had already been identified as supporters of the campaign, either by polling or by donations or previous canvassing. The effort had a very scientific approach to it; it was organized and confident.

Personally, the level of support there is in my home town for Obama has really impressed me. This would not have been the case here even ten years ago. Brad, who had come from New Jersey to help convince Pennsylvanians to vote for Obama (he figured New Jersey was already in the bag), was worried when we came to streets that had only a few homes identified as Obama supporters. I related that we were in an older neighborhood, and that if we had been in one of the newer neighborhoods with the tony town homes or the apartment complexes, we would probably see more supporters with their better mix of younger and more diverse populations. Even so, there was a good amount of support and the Obama lawn signs definitely outnumbered the McCain ones in this previously solid Republican suburb of Philadelphia.

What else gives me optimism? Some friends that were sure to vote Republican in the past are definitely voting for Obama. Even those that will still vote for McCain admit that Obama is an impressive candidate and do not seem to be horrified by the possibility of him becoming President as in past years with Kerry or Gore. I see all of this as evidence of a general change in the mood of the local electorate that can only be a reflective microcosm of the nation as a whole.

Lastly, there are those feelings that are purely based in the "audacity of hope." For those of us who have called for a more civil dialogue and more civil political conversation over the recent past, Obama is definitely a candidate whose messages of inclusion, upliftment, but firm action definitely resonate. Obama has been unique in his ability to so eloquently weave his own personal narrative into the fabric of this quilt that we call America. He appeals to those of us who despise slogans like "Country First" spoken by the same people that yell "kill him". The well being of this country - our country - is first and foremost in all of our minds, especially those who wish to provide an even better tomorrow for our kids.

I look forward to tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Real Tragedy

This is from my reply to another Washington Post article - the link to the article is above:

Of course, this is just another sad day in the sad times we live in. Reading some of the comments on this article, I am even more disheartened that so many are filled with hatred and disgust with "the other side". We do not honor the dead and serve their memories well by using their deaths only to score cheap political points or advance views on topics totally unrelated to the sadness at hand. There is no greater injustice then the death of a 2 year old little girl by a bullet of any kind - period! Whether she died from any American bullet or from shrapnel from an Iraqi/ Shiite/ Sunni/ Palastinian/ Hamas/ Hezbollah suicide bomber, it is a tragedy.And those of you who believe that soldiers are just cold blooded killers, I suggest you seek out some soldiers who have actually been in combat and talk with them. Or at least watch "For God and Country - A Sniper's Story" on MSNBC if they repeat it. Stop being so firmly set in your opinions that you have no room left in your brain and in your heart for the stories, experiences and opinions of others. If you are moved by the death of this little girl or feel for the soul of the soldier who shot her or actually give a damn about the world you live in, then go out and learn about the root causes of the conflicts we are involved in and find out about our governments motives behind the moves that it makes. Come to your own intelligent conclusions and vote! Don't let the cable news shows make up your mind for you. Just remember, we get the leaders we deserve. We elect them. They are only as dumb or as smart as we are. We bear the responsibilty for this country's actions or non-actions collectively. And if your brain can't comprehend the goings on in Iraq, then look in your own backyard. Is the death of a young child by a bullet on the streets of Philadelphia or DC by a car jacker or a crack addict any less tragic?Honor little Tabarik's life by caring about the world you live in, all of it's imperfect people, and be willing to give up something of your own, be it blood or treasure, to make it a better place for the children that remain and still to come.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Brave New World

I know that I have been missing in action for a long time. I just wanted to share the following comment I wrote in a response to a commentary written in the Washington Post today.

Here is the link to the Washington Post:

and my response is as follows:

bravenewworld wrote:

I must thank you Mr. Samuelson for helping me make up my mind for this election cycle. Your own lack of courage to go with your initial gut feeling about Obama and need to settle for questionable "experience" at best may make you feel safer, richer, whatever; but it is you who is deluding yourself. As we have seen in the past, numbers can be spun many ways, and frankly, most Americans probably understand that many of the goals that Obama has set will only come to fruition if he has a ready and willing Congress to back him up. Our system of checks and balances will either protect us from his supposed lack of experience or better yet, the people will give him a true mandate to help him make his optimistic vision a reality.I too was troubled by the whole "experience thing" until I read your silly and juvenile flip flop of a commentary. You and HRC and Mr. McCain have nothing to offer but pessimism. Some people may equate that with realism but that is an unequal comparison. Facing reality is something we do in the present tense. There is no realism when it comes to the future because we can not predict the events that will influence it. We can have hope and we can be optimistic about the future of our country if we so dare. Or we can crawl into our shells, content to be supposedly "secure" but with no real idea of where we want to go as a nation.Truthfully, I would rather make it up as we go along and risk my seven year old son's future in Mr. Obama's world than one with all the experience that a Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, HRC with her unfortunate vote on the war, Sen. J. Lieberman, and a flip flopper like you would provide. I would much rather he grow up in a world of "rhetoric" that is backed up by sincerity than one in which so called Republicans like Bill Frist and chief crook Tom Delay forgot their civic duties and the essence of republicanism, only to pillage and loot the nation of not only treasure, but also of many of it's long held and cherished principles and ideals.Lastly, maybe you would rather have Karl Rove back, too. He is also a known quantity as is Scooter Libby. I was born in India and I can not claim that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Patrick Henry, etc. were my forefathers; but thankfully they were your's. They, too, were inexperienced, but they dared to dream of a better future as did Lincoln, and Roosevelt, and Kennedy. Thankfully for all of us, they were none too bogged down by realism and the false sense of security it provides. Obama, too will probably end up being just as flawed as all of those mentioned before were. But we dare to hope that he too lives up to his rhetoric and remains as free from the burdens of history as those other great men were able to be.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gone Fishing

I know I've been gone for a while and I feel slightly guilty. But it was getting to the point of having to chose between spending the few spare moments in a day here in front of another computer after having spent the whole day in front of one at work or spending a few moments with my five year old doing things like going fishing for the first time for both of us or spending time with my friends playing Fantasy Football (more on that some other time) or just kicking back and watching lots of football and baseball on TV. Anyway .... baseball is finished and my beloved Philadelphia Eagles are screwing up another season that seemed promising at the start.

Lots of interesting things have been going on the past few weeks in the political arena. We've had one scandal after another revealed, exposed, exploited and probably after mid-term elections, all will be forgotten. It is of course election season again and both the Republicans and Democrats are are doing their level best to not have a serious discussion on the issues of the day... war, health insurance, education, etc. What does one do in an environment where our leaders fail us at every opportunity to show leadership? My suggestion... Go fishing.

Right up front I want to admit that I am no angler. A few weeks ago my son and I went fishing for the first time ever for the both of us. I don't know exactly where he got the idea from. Maybe it was from something he saw on Animal Planet, or Sponge bob. We have a little goldfish and koi pond in our backyard which I built a few years ago to kind of encourage him to appreciate nature and because I like to complicate my life to the point where I have more projects to tend to than I have time to handle them. Sometimes my neighbors younger son comes over with his friends and asks if they can catch fish in my pond with little nets and put them back. Maybe Neil got the idea from them. Well he had mentioned fishing before, but on this particularly beautiful autumn day, knowing that dad had the day off, he goes "Dad can we please, please, please, go fishing today? HOW COULD I SAY NO? He jumped triumphantly when I said yes and ran off to morning Kindergarten.

So the Republicans are worried about the coming storms on Nov. 7th. Will the fading fortunes of an ill conceived foreign policy, a scandal ridden Congress, and an out of touch and seemingly uninterested president finally, finally do in the Grand Old Party. Or will the Democrats once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by overplaying the gifts that the Republicans have been giving them lately, turning off the electorate by overtly drooling like a hungry pit-bull coming face to face with an unlucky thief.

I often find myself getting obsessed with all this stuff; I'll watch the Sunday morning shows like Meet the Press; on weekdays it's Hardball with Chris Matthews or The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer; often I will even force myself into Bill O'Reilly's No Spin Zone and watch Sean Hannity on Fox even though I despise him because his dishonesty is so blatant - all in the name of being informed and wanting to believe that I am open to all honest discourse. Although I do not let on, I find myself getting annoyed at friends at work who come to me for the Readers Digest version of the news and current events because I wish they would care more to be concerned about the challenges of the day.

.... Grandpa picked up the little one from KG like he does everyday while I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I pick up the little one after his Grandma has lovingly fed him his lunch and he and I set off to the "Pond Store". The pond store is actually a shop where I get supplies for our little fish pond. We buy plants, fish food, "good bacteria", snails, etc. from this place. The family that runs the place is very helpful and knowledgeable. In addition to all the spectacular aqua garden and waterfall displays to entice utopia seeking suburbanites like yours truly, they have a huge pond that they stock with fish just for novice fishermen like us. Neil could hardly hold back his excitement as we rented our fishing poles and collected our styrofoam cup filled with moist dirt within which were a couple of plump juicy purple worms. When he saw them, Neil let out a shriek, "Eeeeellll, that's gross, dad - (I had the same reaction when I heard about Congressman Foley hitting on Congressional Pages) - I'm not gonna touch them, you have to get them out". "Oh, no", I said, "this was your idea."

What slimy fat worms they were in that cup and I - who am more squeamish than I let on - had to break the worm in half and thread it onto a short metal hook. I did not want to seem a wimp to the folks helping us out and so I did the needful. Once the poor worm was pierced and gouged we cast the line into the water and waited. Unlike other sports, fishing is not about racing to the finish line or making points of any kind. It's a way to enjoy a great day and a breath of fresh air and most of all revel in the sounds of silence....

Silence is a virtue that John Kerry obviously does not posses. He is the gift that just keeps giving to Karl Rove and the conservative "nut-jobs" (Kerry's word) just waiting for him to open his pompous mouth. He tries to crack dumb jokes about Bush's intellect and ends up fumbling his words just as badly as Bush often does; except when Bush fumbles we shake our heads and laugh... when Kerry does it we cringe. He has yet to figure out that people don't respect high intellect in their politicians but clarity of thought and expression. How a decorated veteran like he is can put himself and his fellow party members in a defensive posture on patriotism repeatedly during wartime is beyond understanding.... And he is not even running for office.

And we wait....

We enjoy the sun...

"Dad, isn't this great dad? Just you and me going fishing?"

At moments like this I suddenly feel guilty for the fifty times a day I am yelling at the little guy for just being a five year old.

There is a wonderful breeze...

He losses patience a couple of times and we reel in the line thinking we have something and it just ends up being some drifting weeds.

Again, we cast away..... and wait...

....and lo and behold there is a tug and suddenly the fishing line is quickly unraveling. My little fisherman screams with excitement. He catches his first little sunny. He has a grin as wide as I have ever seen; the poor little fish writhes on the end of the line. We call over one of our helpers and he pulls out a pair of pliers to delicately pry the hook out of the fishes mouth.

The little one wants to hold the fish and Mr. Larry instructs him to wet his hands first. As the little creature slips into his hands he giggles and laughs and within a split second the little yellow sunny falls into the water near his feet and Mr. Larry pushes it out a little farther so it can swim away.

I remember reading an article once on the ethics of fishing. It was all about whether fish feel pain or have nerve endings in their mouths. I don't think there was any conclusive proof one way or the other.

My son is hooked. He agrees to pick up one of the worms in the styrofoam cup. With great guilt I shove the hook into it and again we cast away. Father and son caught three fish that day believe it or not. We let them all go. Unfortunately, the last one did not fare too well. The hook had gotten stuck in it's gills and Mr. Larry had to do some minor surgery to get it out. As we laid it back in the water it just lay there on its side, barely moving as the minor surface ripples carried it out of view. My little guy was a little sad but I convinced him it might still be okay. I told him it was just in shock.

As I write this, it is now 4:22 am in the morning - I got home from work at 3:00 am - and Neil got up soon after and gave me a hug and went back to sleep. Despite my wife's best efforts he will wake me up at 7:00 am before he brushes his teeth and eats his cereal and watches the same episode of The Last Airbender that he has seen a zillion times on Comcast On Demand. He will reluctantly rush off to the bus stop with my wife, but not before asking me for the umpteenth time whether he can have this toy or that toy for his birthday which is in 11 days.

I would not have my day begin any other way. Sleep is over-rated.

After they are gone my obsession will kick in again. First it will be the New York Times then The Washington Post. On the television will probably be CNBC or if I feel like entertainment than it will be on Fox News. Frankly, it is all entertainment. There is very little substance to the news today. Gone are the days when my dad and I would sit after dinner and watch John Chancellor on NBC News and he would give it to us straight. Today the networks do the thinking for us and most of us let them. One must now listen between the lines and after removing the various filters applied depending on the network, come to some conclusion about what is actually fact. Who wants to work that hard just to be informed. It is easier to remember the buzz words - liberal, conservative, cut your taxes, raise your taxes, stem cell research, killing embryos, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq... freedom, democracy, terrorists, ... they are weak on defense, ... no theeeey are just "STAY THE COURSE", etc......

Frankly, it does just make one want to go fishing...... doesn't it?

PS: If you actually got this far - then many thanks are in order for still hanging with me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Arrogance of Power

I have been struggling for the last few weeks to put fingers to keyboard in an effort to make some sense of the violent goings on around the globe. Immediately after my last post, numerous bombs went off on trains in Mumbai, India killing hundreds of people. I was filled with rage and anger. Rage at the cowardly bastards that carried out the attacks on unsuspecting innocent people and anger at the fact that the various intelligence assets there in India had not able to crack these plots before they happened. To be totally honest, I spent the next couple of days thinking that if the mainstream Islamic community around the world did not stand up to its' militant clans, the other peoples of the world might actually get it together enough one day to unite against them to indiscriminately wipe them out. The above statement obviously stems from the assumption that the perpetrators of the Mumbai bombings were Muslim extremists, separatists, terrorists, etc... Frankly, it is hard to imagine who else it could be.

Then shortly thereafter, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah started. Israel too has been the subject of numerous suicide bombings, missile attacks, etc., at the hands of both Hamas from the Palestinian areas around the southern part of Israel and Hezbollah from the north from within Lebanon. Both India and Israel are involved in "low intensity" conflicts mainly originating from outside their borders; the Kashmir territorial dispute festers between India, Pakistan and other interested parties from within Kashmir and Israel and her Arab neighbors have still not been able to reach a lasting peace since the creation of Israel during the Arab Israeli war of 1948-1949. I suggest going to Wikipedia to get an in depth background on both conflicts.

My interest here is to look at how both countries are forced to deal with their individual situations in different ways. From the outset, let me admit that I often find myself jealous of the military superiority that Israel enjoys over its disorganized, badly trained, and ill equipped Arab neighbors. It seems that for every pound of flesh that Hamas or Hezbollah is able to extract from Israel, she is able to extract ten times more. Now I know that that sounds extremely primitive. But I too have seen firsthand the toll that terrorism and religious communalism exacts from a city and a population. I remember being on a train in Bombay that was being pelted with rocks and helped numerous passengers shut their window shutters and helped men keep the train doors shut while Muslim youth tried to board it to attack us in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists. Also, I was on a plane heading to Bombay on March 12, 1993 when 13 bombs went off in the city causing immense carnage and destruction. I will spare you the historical details (look up Bombay Blasts March 1993 in Wikipedia). Suffice it to say that the human toll of all of these events are immense and are always borne by those who have nothing to do with the nonsense that serves as the fountain of hatred from which these events flow.

Unlike Israel, India is constrained by numerous factors. First of all, her arch enemy has nuclear weapons which serves as a major deterrent despite India's advantage over Pakistan in conventional weapons. Secondly, India does not have a major enabler like Israel, namely the United States. India is flanked on her other side by China who has no qualms selling Pakistan advanced weapons and proliferating to it both nuclear and missile technology to keep Indian ambitions in check. And lastly, being a secular republic, she cannot be seen taking a heavy hand against the minority Muslim population and thereby tarnishing her secular credentials. This is despite the fact that she has the second largest Muslim population of any country save Indonesia; some of whom serve as aiders and abettors of extremists that come from outside of the country and foment trouble at the slightest provocation. These troublemakers of course do not appreciate that they have much more freedom and representation in India than they do in the most moderate of Islamic countries.

India has often threatened to use the doctrine of "hot pursuit" which is basically following the links back to where the terrorists come from - mainly from across the disputed Kashmir border - and destroying them and their sponsors. However, for the most part she has not carried through. I think that often leads to the impression of her being a "soft state". However, after seeing the Israeli response to the latest incursions by Hezbollah, I'm not so sure that her patience is not the more prudent course.

Although I completely understand and accept the notion that Israel has the right to defend herself; I do not see how destroying the infrastructure of Lebanon and killing so many civilians has helped her achieve more security. There is definitely no changing the hearts of those whom are hell bent on destroying her and even question the right of this Jewish state to exist. The greater disservice she has done to herself is to fall into the same misguided trap that America has fallen into. In trying to further the Bush doctrine of destroying your enemies before they destroy you, she has only emboldened her enemies and united those - the various Arab nations who are always at odds which each other- that are, at the best of times, completely suspicious of each other.

America also did Israel a great disservice. Instead of playing the wiser friend and convincing her to negotiate a quick cease fire and then work for a political solution to the pressing concerns of both sides, the powers that be in Washington were hopeful that Israel would deal a quick and decisive blow to Hezbollah and therefore diminish Iran's growing influence over the region. When Israel's "smart" weapons did not prove to be smart enough to avoid killing scores of innocents, even the American press which is blatantly pro Israel could not keep itself from openly questioning Israel's tactics and motives. When Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice coldly labeled wanton destruction of life and property by Israeli missiles as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East", she could not have known that Hezbollah would put up such fierce resistance. In the face of rising Arab unity and revulsion from around the globe to the images coming out of Lebanon, the US administration could do nothing but allow a totally unsatisfactory UN resolution to be born that neither disarms Hezbollah, leaves Israeli troops inside Lebanon currently, and still provides no clear deadline or vision as to when a robust international peacekeeping force will actually be deployed there. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, having survived the wrath of the vaunted Israeli Defense Forces, will now begin the task of rebuilding Lebanon with Iranian money, further entrenching itself in Lebanese society and winning the good will of the people.

What did Israel gain from this misadventure. Nothing. The cease fire does not even call for the mandatory return of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped and held captive by Hezbollah; the event that served as the catalyst for the beginning of this conflict. Hopefully, further negotiations between the parties and their various puppet masters will lead to a more permanent peace, but the history of this region and the quality of leadership in the world exhibited today do not give cause for optimism.

You may ask, "What course would you recommend"? I will take my guidance from Senator J. William Fulbright and his writings in his book The Arrogance of Power and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966.

The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission...

The cause of our difficulties ... is not a deficiency of power but an excess of the wrong kind of power which results in a feeling of impotence when it fails to achieve its desired ends...

Fulbright surmises that the best that America (I would expand that to all peace loving and democratic nations) can do is to lead by example. Instead of forcing our ideals on others, we should provide a good example for other nations to follow when they are ready and in a form that conforms to their cultural values. Without getting too far away from the current discussion, I would propose that the above ideal as the only prudent course for any great power, whether they be a global power, like the US, or a regional power like Israel, or a budding power like India.

In summary, I believe that Israel was a greater threat to it's enemies when they were in awe of her and respected her than after this current war. That is not to say she should not have defended herself against Hezbollah. But in broadening the conflict and in trying to change the course of history by upping the ante in this conflict she has not gained any greater sense of lasting security. And this should serve as a lesson for India as well. Although grand terrorist acts like those of the Mumbai train blasts may inflame our passions, the response should always be fierce against the proven perpetrators but within the confines of what civilised societies have accepted as self defense. Using these situations as an excuse to "go on offense" and solve long standing issues outside of political processes can only lead to an ultimate mutual destruction.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Green Thumbs, Greedy Palms & Ganda Bapa

I came to this country when I was four years old and my first trip back to India was when I was eight years old. One of my fondest memories is walking to my grandfathers small - less than 2 acre - farm with him down wet muddy paths wearing his white topi (Nehru style cap) and using his bamboo walking stick. We would walk past many small farms on the way to his little parcel, some bigger, some smaller but all minuscule in comparison to the large farms here in the US. I wore chappals but my feet would be encased in a reddish colored mud within minutes as it was rainy season. There was no pacco rasto (paved road) to the farms and between the large muddy puddles, the ruts cut out by the ox pulled carts, the fresh piles of dung, and the deep tire tracks cut out by the rare tractor, Ganda Bapa and I would follow his trusty walking stick to his precious land - past the almost naked except for loincloth clad laborers making bad quality bricks out of the reddish mud, past wading water buffaloes wading in deep algae filled ponds trying to catch a moment of relief from the blazing midday heat -onward to his little piece of heaven that he still hadn't gambled away yet, we would walk.

On his farm he grew the sweetest chibra's - small Indian cucumbers that still had not had all of their uniqueness bred out of them by more efficient but tasteless hybrid varieties. He also grew small plump eggplants and sometimes rice and sometimes sugarcane and the best okra that any chef in New Orleans would be proud to put in his jambalaya. Around the edge of his property grew large kantola; thorny cactus like plants that kept both wild hogs and unwanted humans away. Today there are canals and irrigation systems available for the few farms that are left in the area where my grandfathers land was; back then in 1976 though, there was only the rain - and sometimes it rained a lot, sometimes little, and sometimes not at all. My cherished memories of the few cherished moments I spent with him probably make his existence sound a lot more romantic than it actually was. What my grandfathers family could not use for food, they sold at market for a pittance... they toiled by hand to seed, plant, hoe and harvest what they grew. The whole town celebrated when one family was finally able to get a bank loan to lease purchase a small tractor that the farmers in the entire mohallo (neighborhood) would pay rent to use. It was a bright fire engine red tractor that the kids in the neighborhood would clean after it came back from a productive day tilling the fields. We would all take turns sitting in the hot vinyl seat and tug on the locked unmoving steering wheel until we got bored and moved on to catching frogs in the open gutter that ran around the neighborhood in coffee cans that we then blew up with the always available fireworks. When the tractor first came it had been blessed and garlanded just like every living thing in India is, and trust me, in India anything of any value is a living thing.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Washington Post has been doing a series of articles - Harvesting Cash about how billions of dollars are being spent by the federal government to subsidize large agribusinesses in the country. We have all heard the stories of how severe droughts have brought small farmers to ruin in the mid-west in the past and how because of overproduction, low prices around the world forces the government to pay many farmers to not farm in order to keep prices artificially high. But now, many farmers have learned to game the system of well meaning subsidies meant to be used in times of need and they benefit by hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money by holding their harvested crops until prices fall, collecting the subsidy, then selling their product later at market for full value when the price rises again. Why is this important outside of the fact that it is just another way our government fritters away billions of dollars to vested interests?

The US and the "Group of 8" highly developed economies have been trying for over a couple of years now to sign a new World Trade pact with developing countries in an effort to open up their markets to more American and European products. These are called the "Doha" round of ongoing trade talks. However, this time the developing countries, mainly India, Brazil, and even Australia are fighting back. They have been trying for decades to get the likes of the US, Canada, Japan, and the EU to lower their farm subsidies so their small time poor farmers can better compete with the large farm business of the developed world. How, you ask, do farm subsidies here hurt farmers there. It keeps crop prices here artificially lower than they should be because farmers are also paid subsidies by the government for their crops. "Small farmers" who do not have the volume of large agribusinesses like ADM, Monsanto, or Del Monti, and have no way of competing with the subsidies provided by these rich governments to their other farmers. Any other inefficient business model such as this would fail here today. It may seem a noble enterprise to support farming in ones country; frankly, I truly believe it is. But when a computer scientists job or a programmers job gets outsourced to India or a textile workers job gets outsourced to China, there are no lavish subsidies and no safety nets. There is no respite for workers in the auto industry who face greater overseas competition everyday. One can argue that there should be, but that is a whole other matter. Our trade representatives traipse around the world espousing the benefits of free trade and unrestricted capitalism, and yet we let our governments waste billions in protecting a business which is truly not "mom & pop" here anymore. And farming is one of the few areas where some of these fledgling economies can actually compete with us if given the opportunity.

I actually believe our ideals are correct. More free trade would mean that the best Indian mangoes would be available here in the US and Americas best insurance companies could write policies for that little red tractor in Sunder Mohallo. Unfortunately, that tractor is no more, because the farms are no more. On my grandfathers once fertile land now stands a condominium complex. As more industries pop up around near where I was born, in India, more land is sold away at ever greater prices for housing complexes, movie theaters and shopping malls. And maybe that is as it should be. The earth that sustained my grandfathers existence now supports the dreams and wants of future generations. Poor people in far flung places and middle class people right here close to home are forced to adapt to changing economic realities. The farmers in America will survive in their own way or be forced to do something else. We should only hope that the same market forces that we wish upon others, we would abide by ourselves and together raise the living standards of the entire world.

By the way, Ganda Bapa died when I was in sixth grade of lung cancer he got from smoking hand rolled bidis (unfilterd cigerettes) from fresh tobacco leaves. But up to his deathbed, he would ask my father to bring him and his buddies DUNHILL cigarettes from the London Heathrow Duty Free shops where Air India would stop over before continuing on to India from New York. Being a small time farmer in the dusty old village of Adajan did not keep him from wanting the best of what the world had to offer. I am sure that is true for many a small farmer across the globe.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Finding the Words

I had a long day at work yesterday, and frankly, I am whipped today. But I have been wanting to write for days, and actually have taken stabs at starting writing something numerous times in the past few days but nothing has really gelled beyond being anything more than mildly cute, possibly thought provoking, but definitely uninspiring. It is only because of my sons' swimming lesson being cancelled today that I have found time to sit at the laptop before going to work. Someone posted an anonymous comment recently telling me they enjoyed my posts and encouraged me to write more. I am truly grateful and their could have been no higher compliment. But unfortunately, I have hit some sort of wall. I am not a natural writer. It takes me a long time to write something that someone else can probably whip out in minutes. That is because there is a bottleneck somewhere in my brain between the parts where I think thoughts and the place where I find the ability to organize them before actually expressing them.

Organization has always been an issue with me. I like things to be in their proper places; that includes things and thoughts. But if I cannot find the perfect place for something, or if a place does not exist for something, the item or thought at hand seems to get placed on the desktop of my life. As this theoretical desktop gets more and more cluttered, I get more and more apprehensive and feel like I am about to drown in a flood of unaccomplished chores, unopened mail, unfinished home improvement projects, etc... My arcane 1 bit processor gets overheated. Then there is the crash and reboot. I lash out at my wife for the messy living room, yell at my five year old for playing too many video games (which I bought for him, of course), open all my mail, shredding most of it and get even more angry at myself because I temporarily lost the Best Buy bill and realize I now will be hit with a late fee and lose my 0% financing on the stereo amplifier and new speakers I probably should not have purchased six months ago but absolutely love. I frantically go on a cleaning spree, vacuuming and dusting as my wife ignores me, find some project to do with my son so he knows I care and call Best Buy reminding them what a good customer I am and blame the US Postal Service for late mail that wasn't. Satisfied that a few things are taken care of, the cycle of cluttering and clearing the desktop begins again.

I guess, what I am trying to say is that I seem to be able to accomplish things only in spurts of frenzied activity driven by guilt of inaction. This post is in the same vein. I made a commitment to write and now blogging is another icon my cluttered desktop. Hopefully, I will soon post entries in the near future on someone whom I consider a true hero, on a recent movie experience I had with my son, on my love of music, on issues of world trade... but for now, my desktop is cluttered with everything and nothing at all. With any luck, the downstairs bathroom will get remodeled soon, I will get my paperwork current, I will be able to get my son to his swimming lessons on time instead of 6 minutes late like yesterday, and yes, the game of Twister being played in my brain will end soon and I will find the words again.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Urushiol (you-ROO-shee-ol)

On Saturday past, I decided to finally get off my ass and clean out some overgrown bushes and brush in my backyard. I dread this job every year because I know the ultimate result will probably be the attack on my person of a mean red red rash all over my hands, legs, torso, and if I am lucky, nowhere else. Now this area of our yard is a partially landscaped no-mans-land, between our yard and the one behind ours. I should just spray the whole area with ROUNDUP and be done with it. But that would kill everything back there and I am not about to let a yearly bout with a dumb plant make me into a mass murderer just yet.

By the way, did you know that poison ivy is part of the cashew family. Now, cashews I love. I often get the big tub of them from Costco. Supposedly nuts have have good fatty acids in them so I eat fistfuls of them. Anyway... I digress.

Poison Ivy and I go way back. I remember getting it so bad when I was in 8th grade that the rash on my face forced one eye shut and forced the other one to stay open. If you can not imagine what that looks like check out this guy; except I had it much worse. Just imagine a brown skinned kid with a red rash, a puffy face, and pink chalky calamine lotion spread all over. And to think, my parents still made me go to school that way.

Since then cutting lawns, trekking through the woods, or walking within 10 feet of the stuff always proves to be an adventure.

God, I can't tell you how much I want to scratch my arms right now....

Urushiol (you-ROO-shee-ol) - that's the oil from this whole family of plants that causes all of this misery. If you have been around this stuff, says that you are supposed to clean the exposed area with rubbing alcohol first to kill whatever makes this stuff so lethal and then take a soapy shower. Doing the suds without first enduring the alcohol will only spread the misery. But if your like me, you really only have ten or so minutes before the evil oil gets under your skin.

I could not see my usual doctor today so I had to see one of the other ones. He asked me if my arms and legs had been covered while I was working out there. I lied and said yes. I did not want to waste my breath explaining that this was more about destiny than it was about defenses. You see, every year I dig, rip, and dare the glossy leaves out to a fairly one sided duel. Mother nature wins two out three years and I run off to the doctor for my usual dose of methylprednisolone. But I refuse to wear long sleeve shirts and pants in 95 F degree weather out of mere fear. A hazmat suit may have protected my hide but in my soul, I would felt like a loser.

Yes, I do realize how stupid this all sounds. But remember, your odds of getting out unscathed from a bungee jump are better than an honest fight with poison ivy. Guess which is the cheaper thrill?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Dixie Chicks and Finding Your Voice

So the Dixie Chicks seem to be selling more concert tickets north of the Mason Dixon line then they are in the Old Confederacy, their traditional constituency. Not too surprising, considering the negative comments their lead singer, Natalie Maines made in 2003 about President Bush while on tour in London. What is surprising is that she is sticking by her opinions and that the band has even incorporated their politics into their new album - Taking the Long Way. Finding their political voice, the Dixie Chicks seem to have figured out who and what they want to be. Take a listen - their sound may still be familiar but the words are all about leaving what was for something new, something more - maybe their traditional audience for a new one.

Although many red state country radio stations had been boycotting the band since 2003, it was assumed that all would be forgiven eventually, especially with the release of a new album. Hearing the new album, many stations have refused to play it saying it does not represent the views or mores of their audiences, even going so far as to refuse paid advertisements for their tour. Like so many who control different forms of media today, those programming these stations are more interested in making their listeners choices for them instead of just presenting the content and letting the listeners decide. So "who cares", you ask? Unless you're an old or new fan of the Dixie Chicks or of President Bush, you probably do not care.

Why do I care. I am neither an avid Dixie Chicks fan nor an avid fan of President Bush. I care because I see this situation as symptomatic of the political climate in the country today playing out on a smaller scale. "You're either with me, or against me." One instance of disagreement and we are blind or deaf to anything else that someone might say on any other issue. If you are willing to accept gay marriage than you can not possibly be a "values voter". If you support the war effort in Iraq, you could not possibly have a valid opinion on the budget deficit or stem cell research or funding for higher education.

And yet there is no real movement in this country to seek any sort of middle way. Not since the Civil Rights Movement and maybe even the Civil War has the nation been so intellectually and geographically divided. Are mainstream Republicans really happy to be members of a party who believes in kicking ass and asking questions later; are they really more interested in repeated debates on gay marriage over debating how to make our high schools more competitive internationally. Will mainstream Democrats not understand that faith plays a large role in the fabric of this country and was the reason many of our ancestors emigrated here in the first place? Although I believe in the causes of feminism and environmentalism, etc., Democrats must stop being pulled in thirty different directions and decide what is good for America and not for Latinos, or gays, or environmentalists separately. More importantly, these groups better realize that they need to find some common ground amongst each other to make any sort of credible opposition to the current ruling classes.

I know that there are those who would argue that steadfast principles are more important than reaching a consensus. I would argue that principles are for individuals to guide their personal lives and aiming for consensus is a principle because achieving consensus leads to action which leads to problem solving.

What I find puzzling and unsettling is that too many are willing to let others opinions form the basis of their beliefs instead of individually examining the facts. The news is hardly news anymore; it is constant analysis and opinion. And although that is also some of what I offer here in this blog, I would at least implore you to think for yourself. I intend what I write to be a starting point for a discussion and debate and have no desire to do your thinking for you. This is by no means a talking points blog.

The final point I would make is that a willingness to honestly examine facts would actually better enable us to achieve political and social consensus where opinions only provide cover to those more interested in intellectual dishonesty, dogma, and ultimately, the status quo.

Anyway, I thank the Dixie Chicks for allowing me to use them to make my points... and do take a listen, for both the music and the words.