Sunday, August 26, 2007


"Our country is so big that even if we have the information that something is planned we do not know where or when "- Shivraj Patil, speaking after the Hyderabad bombings.

Yes, just like when I was a kid, I used to complain during a treasure hunt that I could not find the treasure because the garden was just so big.

Let's see George Bush/Condoleeza Rice say something juvenile like that and get away with it; after all, the US is five times as large as India and it should be even more difficult to predict where terrorists will strike. Yet Bush has kept the country free from terrorist attacks for six years (although he has probably sown the seeds for more in the future).

Even if our administration had put in good intelligence efforts and then made this infantile excuse, our leaders should have been blamed for their incompetence. But the fact that our government has done almost nothing to clamp down objectively on terrorism and still says this is a true outrage.

The other important fact is that they are more concerned with appeasing minorities and not hurting their sentiments, in addition to making such excuses. For them, not hurting minority sentiments is much more important than saving the lives of citizens. Now let's just wait for Manmohan Singh to spew trite boilerplate with a stone face and say things like "terrorism knows no nationality and no religion". Meanwhile, both majorities and minorties will continue to die.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Why, people ask me, would I watch such an obnoxious piece of tabloid trash? Because so many times it's nothing less than hugely entertaining!

For example, watch:

The lady by the way has 16 children. Immense respect develops

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Brief thoughts on hurricanes... the rest of the entry on Desipundit...

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This is nothing short of about being lucky


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


How did I miss his marvelous Nobel lecture?...
"Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed..."


Tuesday, August 14, 2007


When I was in Texas visiting my friends recently, I visited the George Bush (the more decent one) presidential library. After looking at a nice, detailed replica of the White House, with the interior meticulously duplicated, we were about to walk out, when the lady at the desk asked me if I wanted "a letter personally signed by President Bush, in which he answers a question".
I thought, how uninteresting, because I could be sure I am going to get pre-scripted answers from a machine where you type the question and then get it answered. I chose one of the most cliche questions, "What do you think is the most pressing problem that America faces"? Out came a prewritten sheet of paper with a copy of el Presidente's signature. It was a nice touch, but the answer was so cliche (dealing with eradicating inequality or something) that I have forgotten the details.

So it is surprising that, on the eve of Independence Day, I find myself having a rather simple and unequivocal answer for the question, "What is the biggest problem that India faces?". There are of course many answers, but I find myself easily cutting through the thicket of these and finding the one.

Lack of individual freedom.

A look at newspapers in the last five years should be enough to see why this is the case. We pride ourselves on being a free democracy, and still are being stifled at the individual's level through many means. Individuals don't have property rights, individuals cannot honestly start a business without glitches or without politicians and contracters demanding a share of the profits, individuals cannot criticise the government without receiving threats and getting censored, individuals cannot seek quick and easy redress in courts and in the corridors of the law, and contrary to outsiders' belief, individuals don't have the freedom of speech to openly say something (including personal opinons on "controversial" matters) without fear of retribution from corrupt politicians and their hired goons, and at the least, face covert or overt censorship tacitly supported by the government. If the threats don't exist in the books, they at least informally exist over the telephone. And in spite of being a secular country, individuals really don't have the freedom of religion, and they don't have the freedom to criticise other religions. In the muck that covers many of our poverty-ridden streets, the most dominant element is the individual.

Mobs, on the other hand, as well-described in a post here, have almost every possible freedom. In India, freedom of religion means the freedom by religious mobs to cause untold destruction to public property and individual well-being while the police stand by. That means that by inference, it emphatically does not allow for the freedom to practice one's religion without interference. No individual freedom to criticise religion exists, and all such criticism, no matter how mild, is arm-twisted by religious leaders to justify sending in their goons and attacking the individual.

If we were a dictatorship, this stifling of individual freedom would be obvious and there would be outcry. But in India, the stifling of individual rights always is draped by resorting to a show of democratic ideals. Without individual freedom, the word "freedom" loses its meaning, and in our country has thus lost a lot of its meaning. And this false show of freedom that we tout makes the problem even more serious, and the situation more dangerous. Because in a police state, everyone knows there is a problem. But in a country which lives under a veneer of freedom, identifying and solving such problems is much harder (although at least identifying them seems to become tragically easier every day)

I am not an unabashed fan of libertarianism, and I find some of its tenets untenable. I always wondered why Indian libertarians are always so vocal and passionate in their writings and arguments. But I realised that the reason of course is that libertarianism is first and foremost about individual freedom, and I realised that India perhaps more than any other country (with the obvious exceptions of totalitarian-like states) needs a desperate dose of libertarianism, mostly because of the, how shall I put it euphemistically, unusually inefficient government here. Right now, that dose is woefully missing. The government still decides what is good for us. It still takes away farmers' lands because it thrives on the lack of individual property rights that the farmers don't have. It censors movies and allows gangs of political goons to burn theaters, because it does not give a damn about what we as individuals and adults should be free to decide in terms of what we want to and not want to watch. It has accepted definitions of what it considers to be "Indian culture", and will uphold them by forcing them on individuals who might want to live their own culture. By implementing archaic bans on homosexuality, it does not even think of people's personal lifestyle preferences that do not intrude on others' privacy. The Indian government is a true champion in prosecuting victimless crimes, among other things.

I realised that it is not without reason that libertarians especially in India have agonized so much about an absence of their principles. I believe that government action is necessary in some sectors, but in our country, government action in almost every aspect has become unbearable and despicably misimplemented. And the most significant way in which this government makes its action unbearable is by interfering with the freedom of the individual. Some government in my opinion is always better than no government at all, but increasingly and more easily it seems to me that no government at all is eminently better than the Indian government. I may argue with libertarians about which taxes are necessary, and whether government action is the only suitable one for preempting environmental pollution and global warming, but when it comes to criticising the beast that is the Indian government, I am right there with them.

Ironically, in the few cases where even libertarians agree that government should levy taxes, such as law and order and public construction, the Indian government is so inefficient as to give good reason for losing faith even in those basic beliefs. I will be very uncomfortable if law and order is privatised, but given the way that our government implements law and order (or rather does not implement it), I am slowly starting to find privatisation of even law and order a comforting thought not just in my moments of madness. In the list of lesser and greater evils, the Indian government is wallowing at the top end of the scale in many respects. Again, I am not an unequivocal advocate of privatisation, and economist Kaushik Basu says that instead of privatisation of all services, the government should make its existing services competitive with private services. While this seems perfectly reasonable, given government inefficiency in even basic matters, this action seems to be an untenable dream. And once again, mostly because the government does not want to respect individual voices that demand better things for themselves.

So on the eve of our independence, in reply to the question, "What is the biggest problem facing our country today", probably for the first time, I could cut through the complexities of our problems, and instead of saying "'s hard to say which one is the most troublesome...there are just so many of them", I find it refreshing that I can give a quick one line answer largely free of ambiguities.

Lack of individual freedom.

And I find it depressing and alarming, precisely because I could find this answer so easily.

P.S. This is a tag...for everyone who reads this blog. "What is the biggest problem that India faces?"

P.S. 2: In general, I have to say that I mistrust both corporations and government, but some corrupt corporations are at least efficient, especially so in India!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007


Compared to Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann did not get the popular appreciation he deserved...

Read the rest of the entry on Desipundit...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Yes, we all know that the CIA's history is anything but respectable and noble, and that they and the US government have done a lot a lot to cover up that disresputable history, but that does not cease to make it interesting. TNT's The Company, adapted from Robert Littell's mammoth 900 page semi-fictional account of the shadowy agency is a convoluted ride through the world of double agents, secret societies, Cold War intrigue, femme fatales, and stories that were haphazardly given the touch of historical importance on the fly. The account focuses on three "Yalies", including a character played by Chris O'Donnell. Three friends, with two similar and yet very different destinies. Three idealistic all-rounders from Yale (whose very motto seems to include the manufacturing of secret CIA agents and US presidents, including all the disreputable ones), steeped in the canoeing rivalry with Harvard. One of them turns out to be a Russian who grew up in the US, whose working philosophy is not Marxist or Leninist, but as he claims, "Tolstoyist". Incidentally, his parents are still the USSR, and when he goes back to attend the funeral of his mother who dies, is given a nice recruiting pep talk by a senior retired KGB official who had mentored his father.

The young Russian's perceptions of America and his readiness to join the KGB are revealing, and probably emblematic of those millions of basically decent Russians of the time who thought communism was truly a way towards "equality". Yes, America is a decent country, and I like Americans, he says, but there is much inequality and I would like to contribute in remedying it. It's one of the great tragedies of history that all these idealistic communists very easily got sucked into the trappings of that expansive armchair philosophy, and became more than ready to trade freedom for "equality" and to throttle the very existence of thousands to preserve their notions of doing a decent deed in their life. Most of them such as Che Guevara, began with the honest aim of alleviating inequality, and ended up not just reinforcing it by brutal means but cherishing it. What began as simply a desire to do good became an obssesive quest to preserve the means for their own sake, and in the process these dreamers lost their decency. Yevgeny was not much different, although his transformation would have to to await the end of the series.

On the other side of the world, the other two Yalies, Jack and Leo, are quickly enamoured by the frankly equally idealistic rhetoric heaped on them by the CIA recruiters and join the agency. Characters in the series are a mixture of fictional and real. Probably the most fascinating character is Jesus James Angleton (played appropriately by Michael Keaton), head of the CIA's counterintelligence unit at the time. A brilliant strategist, Angleton could separate the wheat from the chaff and get to the heart of the problem, sniffing and rooting out conspiracies and spies. Yet he fails to see the true colours of his friend in the British MI6, Kim Philby. Philby, a real character, was a part of the Cambridge spy ring, one of the most famous and involved spy rings in history, which seems to have all the ingredients of a riveting novel imbibed in it. Four brilliant British students at Cambridge, well-versed in languages, literature and history, most either homosexual or bisexual, all recruited by the KGB, later attaining key and decisive positions in the British Foreign Service and other government quarters in the US and the UK, and all highly placed to transmit secrets of the highest importance, including atomic secrets. Angleton's failure to identify his close colleague finally led him to paranoia, and he began seeing communist conspirators everywhere.

Jack and Homer each pursue their own careers. Jack is much better as a field agent in Germany. There he befriends a German female agent who transmits information to him. In the end, like all espionage romantic stories in the offing, this one turns out to have tragic consequences. Such are always the burdens of the spy's life. His boss in Germany, played by Alfred Molina, is a hard hitting brusque agent, who would not mind taking a bullet- and firing more than one- for information about spies. On the other side of the Atlantic, Leo is more at ease as Angleton's collaborator, shuffling around in the secret-ridden recessess of the CIA in Washington.

As mentioned earlier, the CIA is surely not the noblest government agency in the world. But at least to some reasonable extent, during the Cold War, because of the utter unfeasibility of the other side's ideals, it turned out to be on the side of the "good" guys. The CIA during the Cold War had a few heroes, a few villains, but most people were in between. No matter how its agents operated and what its modus operandi, the balance of power including nuclear power in the Cold War has made its story into a fascinating episode of history.

The Company airs on TNT on Sunday at 8.00 p.m., with two more 2-hour episodes to go. It reminds me of The Good Shepherd, which even though it received mixed reviews, I thought was a fine movie. This episode which was the first dwelt on the early period of the Cold War, until the late 1950s. Next time, we find about the more shameful and embarrassing history of the agency in Cuba and Southeast Asia, and then finally about its even more ignominious deeds in Central and South America. To be frank, now I cannot wait to read the book again, which I have really only browsed before.


Monday, August 06, 2007


Homeopathy has rightly been regarded as dubious science. Especially its strained hypothesis of dilution actually increasing the potency of a drug runs counter to established scientific principles. But anecdotal evidence and good faith continues to fuel the homeopathic establishment. A novel hypothesis to explain the basic principle of homeopathy- the "memory of water"- was long discarded. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting credence once again. The new debate, however, establishes no basis for believing in this fantastic idea...

...Read the rest of the entry on Desipundit...

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