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Saturday, January 27, 2007

West Asia Realignment Is Well Underway

Early this month, I suggested India should have strategy to deal with realignment between Saudi, Jordan, Egypt one side and Iran's Shiite influence in Lebanon and Iraq on the other. Apparently US is helping along the realignment.

David Ignatius, of Washington Post, writes Condoleezza Rice has bought into, probably, Saudi and King Abdullah's proposal of creating a broad based Sunni coalition, in conjunction with Israel, to push back Iran's growing influence in the Arab Gulf region.

In an interview Tuesday, Rice summarized the new strategy that has been coming together over the past several months. Although many of its elements have been previewed in recent weeks by commentators such as Columbia University scholar Gary Sick, Rice's comments were an unusually detailed public explanation of the new American effort to create a de facto alliance between Israel and moderate Arab states against Iranian extremism.

Rice said the new approach reflects growing Arab concern about Iran's attempt to project power through its proxies: "After the war in Lebanon, the Middle East really did begin to clarify into an extremist element allied with Iran, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other side were the targets of this extremism -- the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians -- and those who want to resist, such as the Saudis, Egypt and Jordan."

Although Ahmadinejad seems gung-ho about taking on US and Israel with his nuclear weapons and his announced $2billion plan for anti-American programs with Hugo Chavez, during his recent visit to Caracas, the rest of Iran is seems worried. There is lot of hand wringing about Ahmadinejad not spending that money inside the country and for endangering Iran.

Manmohan and Putin had brave words to Iran on its nuclear program during his visit to India. This, ironically, after Russia delivered anti-missile batteries to Iran to protect its nuclear sites. Beyound this rhetoric, one would hope Manmohan and Pranab Mukherjee have a plan to deal with current realignment unfolding in the Arab/Persian world.

Cross-posted on INI Signal

Amazing Rock Arts In MP

Dr. Jean Clottes created a small web exhibit of rock art from, mostly, Madhya Pradesh - around Bhopal and northwest of the state - after visiting International Rock Art Congress in Agra in 2004.

Bhimbetka - White elephant and human

V. Wakankar started in 1957 the latest study of these rock arts with newer scientific methodology.

Dr. Clottes writes:

The first discovery of rock art we know of was done in 1867 by Archibald Carlleyle, then First Assistant of the Archaeological Survey of India, in the sandstone hills of the Vindhyas Mirzapur District (what is now Uttar Pradesh). This was twelve years before the discovery of Altamira. His discoveries were not published at the time, but long after, in 1906. On the other hand, in 1870, H. Rivett-Carnac, a Colonel of the colonial British administration, found and reported cupules near Nagpur, then in the state of Maharashtra. Then he found some more in Kumaon (Himalaya). In 1883, John Cockburn reported the painting of a rhinoceros hunting scene in the Mizrapur District and shrewdly attributed it to prehistoric times and made ethnological comparisons, so that “Cockburn’s views and concept on the rock art of India (are) still valid for further ethno-archaeological investigations” (Chakarverty 2003: 9).

Bhimbetka - Dual of red warriors with swords, shields and daggers

And he continues:

Yashodar Mathpal sees three broad periods in the history of rock art research in India. The first one, from 1867 to 1931, would be that of enthusiasts and explorers. During the second one, from 1952 to 1972, “more attention was paid to faithful recording” while “during the third period which still prevails, the study of rock art has become a science and a subject of research” (Mathpal 1992: 213-14).

Bhimbetka - White warring scene with elephants and horses

He has art from Bhimbetka, Karabad, Shamla Hill, Magazine Shelter, and Chaturbhujnath Nala all from Madhya Pradesh. There are more scenes of fights, wildlife, ordinary life of man, women, and domesticated animals here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Won't That Be A Wonderful Republic Day Gift

Isn't time to pull back on the military showmanship during the grand parade - the missiles and tanks belong in the barracks or on the front line, pull back the VIPs and VVIPs, and let ordinary people join in to enjoy their constitutional freedoms?

Isn't it time to turn Republic Day into a day of freedom - from outside tyranny and from our own government?

And isn't time for our Prime Minister to get rid of Schedule 9 - get rid of the unconstitutional trampling on individuals fundamental rights and economic rights once and for all - and appease all Indians, instead of this or that minority, for a change? Won't that be a wonderful Republic Day gift for the republic's people!

That would be the Republic Day to celebrate with full heart.

Happy Republic Day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Anything For A Few Votes - Even Treachery

The second flank of terror is in full operation. While India is slowing getting the courage to face up to Pak's terror infrastructure and with US and EU breathing down Pak's neck, with US and its coalition forces in Afghan, Pak is slowing migrating its terror infrastructure and resurrecting its old pre-1971 contacts with Bangladesh. It's like Pak hegemony in Bangladesh never ended. I am not even sure why India helped Bangladesh escape Pak gulag.

It's fairly well know that Islamic groups are gaining a foothold on Bangladesh economy, polity, and intelligence with threats and murders of secular opponents. The role of Bangladesh intelligence, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), in building terror infrastructure and in more recent terror attacks including Mumbai train bombing, in July 2006, and Varanasi temples bombing, in March 2006, is getting clearer by the day.

Praveen Swami, of The Hindu, reported after Varanasi bombing in March 2006 about the Bangladesh connection.

Now we learn instead of ULFA being captive in Bangladesh, like our NSA M.K. Narayanan would have us believe, it is actually living the high life (via Acorn). I guess Manmohan will not be able to pursue his talks agenda with ULFA, even after the recent killings of more than 80 Biharis which drove them out of Assam, if Narayanan acknowledges that ULFA is actually pretty well established in Bangladesh and working hand in glove with the local Islamists parties, international terror groups like LeT, ISI, and DGFI.

Maloy Krishna Dhar, former director of IB, writes in Rediff on how closely these various factions are integrated against India.

But we are still hesitant to take any step to curtail ULFA and going after Bangladesh for aiding and abetting terrorists. Sudheendra Kulkarni, in a three-part-column, provides the reasons why Manmohan and his Congress party is lying to Indian people about Assam.

....how Dr Manmohan Singh challenged information about Bangladeshi infiltrators presented by his own ministerial colleague. On July 15, 2004, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Shreeprakash Jaiswal stated in Rajya Sabha that “1,20,53,950 illegal Bangladeshi migrants were residing in 17 states and Union territories as on 31 December, 2001.” He disclosed that 50 lakh Bangladeshis were residing in Assam. The prime minister happened to be in Guwahati the next day. There he faced a vociferous protest from Assam’s worried Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. The worry was: “What will happen to our party in the 2006 Assembly elections?” The politician in Manmohan Singh understood what the honest patriot in him must have certainly loathed. He publicly stated that he doubted the veracity of the statistics provided by Jaiswal. A week later, the worthy MoS told Parliament that the information provided by his own ministry about Bangladeshi infiltrators “is unreliable and based on hearsay.” [Link]

For a few more votes - is there another word for what Manmohan is doing?

Peaceful Rise or, Is It, Quite Rise?

As a technology demonstration goes, it probably wasn't too high tech, once China had ballistic missile technology. They knew the trajectory of the missile, they knew the trajectory of the satellite, and there was no bomb involved - it was a kinetic anti-satellite missile (ASAT). But still technology needed to be tested. The testing probably was equivalent to the first anti-missile technology test that we conducted in December 2006.

But the concerns are many folds. First, globally, it may portent a restart of space arms race. In fact it is very similar to what the Soviets and Americans did during cold war - performing a test of new capability without announcing it to the world so that everyone is kept guessing. The Chinese, 10 days after conducting the test, still don't have an official statement acknowledging the test. Some US diplomats think this may be a sign that Hu Jintao didn't know about the test beforehand. Is the same Hu Jintao who flushed out Jiang Zemin's military men from PLA and party ranks, to consolidate absolute power, within the first year? Is the same Hu Jintao who deftly supports North Korea, Sudan, and Iran while keeping Washington singing China praise for smart diplomacy? Is it the same Hu Jintao who used his recent trip to India to size up what Arunachal Pradesh meant to India (with no word of protest from our PM)? I very much doubt it.

The second concern, for specifically Washington (and Japan), is Chinese army targeting its soft infrastructure during the long process of increasing and consolidating strength for the coming clash over Taiwan. It's a matter of if, not when the clash occurs - people, once free under democracy, would not fold into dictatorship without force.

Concern for India is significant, except perhaps in New Delhi. Air force has been asking for space command for almost a decade - mainly because it has been worried about Chinese focus on space - with no response from MOD babus or various Rakshak Mantris during the period. Some have used the current episode as an opportunity to bash (Didn't C. Raja Mohan just become an associate editor?) India's defence industry - while all the government controlled defence industry shortcomings may be true in general, that's not the point here. MOD is the hurdle to defence industry and armed forces with lackluster attitude towards potential threats and no accountability on how it spends (or doesn’t spend) money year after year, decade after decade.

The key is get the offensive technology right away - again, as a technology demonstrator, the test itself was not a big deal. If China can bring down one satellite of India, India should have the capability to bring down two of Chinese - for that tracking and monitoring of Chinese satellites is needed beyound having ASAT missiles ready.

But beyound offensive, defensive measures will play a significant role. Hardened satellites that can withstand debris of destroyed ones, satellites that can detect and take evasive actions such as deploying decoys or maneuver to a different orbit fast - automatically or, ground-based, manually, and potentially satellites with some sort of laser technology that can detect and destroy the incoming ASAT. Beyound defensive capability redundancy is crucial - having enough excess secure transponders to pick up slack from destroyed satellites for continued operations or having duplicate satellites ready to launch in matter of hours or days.

All these capabilities - offensive, defensive, and redundancy are very expensive. It's better to bring China into an ASAT moratorium. But who would believe the Chinese would not use the technology, once they have acquired it, when the need arises?

Update [Jan 24, 2007]: China, finally, makes a formal announcement of the test, two weeks after the test. Apparently it itself is not sure why it tested ASAT missile. And, ironically, it called for elimination of arms in space. In any case, the Chinese have demonstrated their capabilities. It is time for us to have the capability to respond offensively and defensively.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Economic Freedom's Slow Road Of Progress

The Heritage Foundation released its Index of Economic Freedom last week. While most of such broad indices and studies should be taken with grain of salt, I think relative comparison between countries and the trend over a period of time are worth look at. Apparently the methodology for calculate the index has changed for 2007 rankings.

India is still in the mostly unfree countries cohort with a rank of 104 out of 157 countries ranked with Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia leading the pack of nations.

India's Score Over Twelve Years

India's Indicators In 2007

Looking at the pattern of scores, over the past twelve years, shows the slow progress India is making in freeing up its economy although the gap between global average and India's score is narrowing. We, at least, seem to be catching up to Asia's average score. The ten criteria show the obvious, even to a casual observer - poor scoring in business, trade, investment, financial, and corruption relative to global average. Progress on almost all of them came to a crawl during the UPA administration in the past three years, with the exception of, perhaps, investment.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Swarm of Bees

In spite of the dumb title, I have read decent reviews on Edward Luce's, the former Financial Times India correspondent, book on India's economic growth since 1991, "IN SPITE OF THE GODS: The Strange Rise of Modern India." I guess it's neo-European to assume that anyone who is spiritual can't be an economic being that leads to this book title.

While I hope to read the book some time soon, one description, as quoted in one review, of India as a society seems to make sense to me.

"At one point, Mr. Luce ponders India’s constant state of chaos and compares it to a swarm of bees. From inside the swarm, things look random, but from the outside, the bees hold formation and move forward coherently. " [Link]

Swarm of bees analogy is such an adept one, I think, for anyone standing on the side (or on the outside) looking in. Eventually, after a decade, when one looks back, one can see that the country does move coherently forward, despite all the current problems - social, political, and economical - as though there is some higher purpose, or that there is method, to India's daily madness.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Growth Through Better Allocation

In the latest McKinsey Quarterly, comparing Indian and Chinese finance sector impediments to accelerating growth, two key distortions of Indian finance sector are identified: huge spending binge of government and non-existent corporate bond market. (There is other interesting information about savings, return on savings, and public ownership of GDP comparisons between the two countries in the report.)

India's problem seems to be less to do with financial markets efficiency and more to do with distorted allocation of capital. Although one widely noted study shows that India produces more growth per invested capital when compared to China - i.e. India uses capital more efficiently - allocation of capital is worst than China. And it is mainly because of government's visible hand in bank loans - with 10% deficit spending (central and states) on all kinds welfare schemes, including the latest and expensive employment guarantee scheme, government is crowding out bank lending market. Beyond deficit spending government has mandated loans to agriculture, small businesses, public sector companies, and now communal lending (yes, 6% of all loans should apparently now go to religious minorities). Although private sector is lot more productive than public sector companies, it receives only 43% of total credit. And it also increases borrowing costs to everyone resulting in higher interest rates.

Another distortion relates to large companies borrowing from banks instead of from markets. Vast majority of bank loans go to large companies because there is no active bond market. So small businesses, which do not have government mandate - usual clients for bank loans in more developed economies - are starved for capital.

While India's equity market is developed, with private companies making up vast majority of listed companies (Chinese market is dominated by public sector companies and have all sorts restrictions on trading of listed shares), and bank non-performance loans have been reduced from 10.4 to 3.5% in the last five years (Chinese reduced their official NPA from 31 to 10% but it's mostly accounting gimmicks), removing the distortions in Indian financial sector would, McKinsey projects, increase the annual GDP by $48billion, that's 6.7% of GDP.

Ila Patnaik wrote a column in Financial Express, few weeks ago, about the how the Chinese are reforming their equity markets and banks, mostly by allowing foreign investors, when compared to India's tighter rules on foreign investing. In contrast, McKinsey's report deals mainly with internal, policy-based, reforms dealing with capital allocation.

With the introduction of state VAT, in 2006, and possible introduction of central Goods and Services Tax (GST), by 2010, India is dealing with tax distortions of all sorts amongst states thus enabling India to become one large common market with huge consumer base and improved business efficiency to generate higher employment and economic growth (a high-level article on what GST is). It’s time to address financial sector distortions also.

While China has lot more to gain from correcting its financial sector distortions ($321bil or 16.6% of GDP), because its financial sector and GDP are lot bigger than India's, correcting India's capital allocation distortions will accelerate India's overall GDP growth going forward.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Momofuku Ando Dead At Age 96

"Doo minute aur thayaar!" With these words Nestle introduced, sometime in the mid-80s, an international food, probably the first one in large-scale, into Indian households what was until then available in Chinese restaurants and high-end bars - Noodles. Maggie Noodles was, of course, instant noodles.

Smart Indian moms took to it right away; most eventually - never mind that it almost always took them more than two minutes (the time it takes most other cultures that just add hot water and spice mix that comes with noodles packet) - more like 20 minutes - because it was Indianized in the kitchens with vegetables, spices, and what not. And the kids loved it too - they love most junk food.

Nestle took what was until then poor man's and, more likely, poor college students, quick and cheap food in the west (and in Japan) into a middle class food in India. Regular noodles is now ubiquitous in India food scene - you can pretty much get it on any street. Well, all those middle-aged and young moms, and all of us who love noodles (may be not the instant kind), have this man to thank.

Momofuku Ando

Mr. Momofuku Ando died, last Friday, at age 96, in Osaka, Japan. He created the fast-cooking noodles, in 1958, because he couldn't find it anywhere. He created Nissin Foods to sell what is called ramen noodles and made it into a food giant by the time of his death.

The idea stemmed from an experience a decade earlier, when Japan was still ravaged by postwar poverty. In “The Story of the Invention of Instant Ramen,” an autobiography published in 2002, Mr. Ando told of walking through the rubble-strewn streets of Osaka.

“I happened to pass this area and saw a line 20, 30 meters long in front of a dimly lit stall from which clouds of steam were steadily rising,” he wrote. “People dressed in shabby clothes shivered in the cold while waiting for their turn. The person who was with me said they were lined up for a bowl of ramen.”

“I realized that people were willing to wait patiently just for a bowl of ramen,” he said....

According to the company’s Web site, instant ramen satisfies more than 100 million people a day. Aggregate servings of the company’s signature brand, Cup Noodles, reached 25 billion worldwide in 2006....

In July 2005, the company vacuum-packed portions of instant noodles so that a Japanese astronaut, Soichi Noguchi, could have them on the space shuttle Discovery. Mr. Ando said at the time, “I’ve realized my dream that noodles can go into space.” [Link]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Little Late, But A Picture Perfect Launch

After the twin disasters in quick succession - GSLV and IRBM Agni III, both in July 2006 - and much debate about India's rocket technology capabilities, it is nice to see a picture perfect launch of PSLV-7. Although it was initially set to launch in 2006, it was probably better to postpone for diagnosis and doing it right. India's rocket technology is quite all right.

With a mix of solid (stages 1 and 3, and six strap-ons) and liquid (stages 2 and 4) fuels and a total weight of 295 tonnes and nine successive flights, PSLV is the India's rocket workhorse. The new new thing on this flight, beyound incremental improvements, is the dual launch adopter - an adopter that can carry and launch two large satellites at the same time.


The significance of this launch is not really the rocket itself but one of the satellites, not in the conventional sense, which went for the ride - an experimental space capsule. The capsule itself is small - probably good for one person, but two may squeeze inside uncomfortably. The experiment is to monitor it for two weeks in space and bring it down to earth and recover it, presumably somewhere in Bay of Bengal.

Experimental Space Capsule

Obviously lot of new things were invented for this space capsule - other countries with space technology don't share human-reentry technology very easily - and need to be tested: heat shield (hope they designed a better one than NASA has on its shuttles), high-velocity parachute, metrics inside the capsule, and reentry control technology. Hope everything goes well and a Bharatiya man (or a women) will be in space soon (without all the pomp and silliness of the Chinese man-space flight).

My only complain about ISRO is with its horrible names. They really need to hire a few marketing people, or hire an ad agency, to come up with better names. GSLV/PSLV/INSAT - please! They can learn from our military - Agni, Nag, Trishul - now those are real names.

I surely hope they can hire those marketing people before they decide on an Indian name for human-in-space - cosmonaut, astronaut, and yuhangyuan are already taken.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Japanese Are Onboard?

The Japanese moved quickly, after Bush signed the US-India Nuclear deal late last year, to amend NSG to include India proposing an NPT+regime.

"This NPT+Regime is only for India, not for North Korea or Iran. Once this regime is agreed (upon) and the NSG approves this, India will be allowed full access to nuclear fuel and nuclear technology," Japanese Ambassador to India Yasukuni Enoki said during a panel discussion 'Towards India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership'. [Link]

However AP reports that Tokyo denies this!

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki also urged India to abandon its atomic weapons program, denying a newspaper report on Wednesday that Tokyo was mulling acknowledging India's nuclear possession....

"We will continue to seek the admission of India into the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state." [Link]

Apparently they can't make up their minds. The Europeans and the Russians are presumably onboard. Let's see how Indian diplomats’ tackle Chinese hang over to get this amendment passed and give India de facto nuclear weapons state status.

Ashton Carter writes an update to his July/August 2006 Foreign Affairs article on the nuclear deal.

With the stroke of a pen, Bush reversed 30 years of U.S.-led nonproliferation policy, including efforts to punish India for conducting its first nuclear test after the NPT was signed.

Cross-posted on INI-Signal

Is Convergence Finally Here?

Is the much touted convergence finally here, a decade later, after the talk began?

The market place will determine if this is the epitome of convergence - the company has failed before. But it surely looks nice!

Zubin Mehta's Interview

Charlie Rose spoke to Zubin Mehta on Jan 5th 2007. It's not an extraordinary interview but one can learn a bit about Mehta - what he likes and dislikes and what he's currently doing and his short take on his love for India. The interview is the second one in the Charlie Rose Show's embedded Google video below - starts around 31:50 minutes. (I am not sure how to slice the Google video.) Hopefully it will be available for free into the future.

I watched his Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on 2007 New Year's eve - as usual it was very excellent. PBS page on the broadcast is here - unfortunately the performance itself is not on the site (it is available for sale).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What is India's Strategy in Post-American Iraq?

For India, beyound Iran's LNG and nuclear weapons questions, the current battle between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq that is pulling all the neighbouring countries into its vortex is something to think about. Iran is already present with full might, albeit covertly, in Iraq. The Sunni countries are sitting on the sidelines because of friendly American presence and because of the hope that the Sunnis and al Qaida combination can push back Shiites. It is becoming increasing difficult to stop Shiite death-squads as we saw during Saddam's hanging.

The Americans do not want to get involved in the battle between the two groups nor want to leave behind a lawless mess for al Qaida to take over. The Saudis explicitly, but latter retracted, stated that they would join al Qaida to protect Sunnis - i.e. fight Shiites - in Iraq if Americans pack up and leave. Egypt and King Abdullah already expressed dismay - talking of Shiite crescent - at Iran's take over of Iraq, which acted as a buffer between Iran Shiites and the rest of Arab Sunnis until now. Surely Pak will join the fight, supporting Saudis, Egypt, and Jordan to product the Iraqi Sunni minority and push back Iran, its nemesis on its west border.

It’s likely that the current American presence is reducing an all out bloodshed in the region. It is also likely that if the Americans leave Iraq - declaring victory - after the failure of current surge and not wanting to get involved in Iraqi civil war, the Sunnis and Shiites, with al Qaida mixed in, will go at each other in Iraq and across its eastern and western borders. But it’s also entirely possible, after initial bloodshed and a possible stalemate in Iraq, the two groups will work out a deal among themselves - an extremely difficult proposition in Iraq - and put al Qaida on tight leash as long as it does not attack their interests - attacks on western and eastern countries shouldn't bother them too much.

An all out battle in Islamic world to the immediate west would surely impact India. What would India do? India could sit on the sidelines watching, but with a large Muslim population with majority Sunnis it has to make up its mind quickly. Its likely to talk of about peace between the two groups instead of taking sides – taking sides would be a disaster. But a potentially messy and bloody fight from Rajasthan border to European border can't be ignored easily.

Because Middle East is the energy spigot to the world, it is unlikely the rest of the world will let the bloodshed continue for too long. But it’s hard to imagine non-Islamic countries influencing age-old Islamic divide, especially if it comes to full boil. Obviously, it will also impact the economies of these oil-exporting nations. That, along with open blood on the streets, could be starting point for comprise between the groups.

Cross-posted on INI-Signal

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Shouldn't That Causeway Be A National Monument?

But I forget. We are secularists.

The much touted Sethusamudram project undertaken by Indian Navy, to reduce distance between eastern and western commands, is now being challenged by Hindu believers.

The causeway that Lord Raama build to get his beloved Sita back from the Lanka raakshasa Raavana using his Vanara Sena is to be destroyed by the project. Indian Navy wants to dredge the submerged land between Indian southern peninsula and Sri Lanka breaking up the causeway.

NASA's enlargeable satellite pictures of bridge (I couldn't find the best one I have seen) is here and here. NASA calls it Adam's bridge!

(Click to Enlarge)

Swami Omkarananda, of Chidbavananda Ashram in Theni, and D. Kuppuramu, the village panchayat president, filed a lawsuit to stop the destruction of the causeway because of religious significance. May be they have India's Tourism Department on their side? Add the causeway to the Mahabharat Circuit.

Expect the so-called secularists to propose more dumb theories on how the submerged causeway was formed (probably something to do with currently reinvented benevolent, but formerly murderous barbarian, Babar), - and propose that even if the bridge was built as Sage Vaalmiki described in Ramayana, it was so long ago, and that we should had over the land to secularists so that they can built a hospital for the poor (they are not too keen on Indian military expansion anyway) - yes, in the middle of the sea!

Also, enjoy the sneerings of the rationalists and atheists.

Voucher Days Are Here? And Question of Stats

Is India catching on to the idea of education vouchers for school children proposed by Milton Friedman many years ago? At least IE editorial, apparently, has taken notice. There is lot of voucher literature and support for it among parents, maverick principals, and education experts, and, of course, economists in US, but the all powerful American teachers union - probably the strongest union anywhere - crushes the idea whenever it raises its head.

Instead of investing so inefficiently in education infrastructure alone, the government should shift much of the subsidy towards those it is intended for, the students. This can be done by adopting an idea that has been around for long and, since Milton Friedman first popularised it, one that has lost its undeserved elitist gloss: education vouchers.

I know. That's exactly what I was thinking! What investing? By the time the eminent Education Minister does his caste and creed calculations for votes in the next elections and pushes reservations, based on the sliced and diced social and other, non-education related, data, through the Parliament, he doesn't have time or patience for primary education.

But isn't that precisely the point. What investment in primary school infrastructure? Spend that money, and more, for all children of school age in the nation, KG-intermediate (12th class) via vouchers - set payment for tuition and books for each child in every Indian family - no quotes or reservations required to make this happen. Shut down all the public schools as the attendance decreases or when other options are available. And watch the private sector transform the primary education industry in the cities, towns, and villages across the nation within a decade.

And the question of stats:

At a time when policy planners are debating ways and means to democratise nursery admissions, the news could not be more dispiriting. In the space of just a year, enrolment in primary schools has fallen. A nationwide study by an NGO, Pratham, has found that enrolment in classes I to VIII — or roughly, among children in the 6-14 age group — has fallen from 93.5 per cent to 93.2 per cent. In its geographical spread, the data has more alarming dimensions. In West Bengal, for instance, 8.1 per cent of children were not in school in 2006, compared to 4.3 per cent a year earlier. In Himachal Pradesh, a much cited success story in delivery of education, it has risen from 1 to 2.2 per cent. In Karnataka, from 1.9 to 5.5 per cent.

A drop of 0.3% (from 93.5 to 93.2) is dispiriting? Bengal's (is it time lose the west in it?) drop of 3.8 percentage points and Karnataka's drop of 3.6 percentage points seem high. But are these statistically significant? Don't tell me Pratham actually counted all school children across the country.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Rules to Understanding Gulf Countries by Tom Friedman

While Tom Friedman writes, or rather updates, these rules for Bush, I think they are useful to anyone even cursorily interested in events in West Asia. He gives 15, but I quote those that are not Israel-Palestine specific:

Rule1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant.All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.

Lying in public sounds familiar to most Indians about New Delhi.

Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany – not Iraq.

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all – they won’t believe it.

This rule applies to Indian TV and, increasingly, to print media too.

Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasser Arafat, I could paper my walls.

Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning’s paper.

Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.

Rule 7: Most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: “We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Have you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it’s too late. It’s all your fault for being so stupid.”

I have heard this so many times mainly by Arab commentators and their apologists in India and in the west. Increasingly European media –BBC, Guardian and such like - and the likes of NYT, in US, are resorting to this tactic. The outcry of murderous Saddam’s hanging is a recent case.

Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas – like liberalism and communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule.

Because India communists and the, so-called, progressive liberals are in bed with each other – the fight for ideas in our country is between the dead wood called progressive liberals (including the newly minted global atheists) and conservatives (people who still believe in the idea of strong and rich India – religious and libertarians types.

Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one is weak, it will tell you, “I’m weak, how can I compromise?” And when it’s strong, it will tell you, “I’m strong, why should I compromise?”

Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: A) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; B) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; C) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. Saddam used to be the iron first in Iraq. Now it is us. If we don’t want to play that role, Iraq will end with A or B.

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation of Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al-Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently talk the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”
(Bold mine.)

Is there an Arab nation that has 350 million people? Another reason to take Mahmoud Ahmedinejad threat to wipe out Israel very seriously.

Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arab’s first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab Kings and dictators, and most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

Sage advice.

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do.

This Friedman's op-ed was published by NYT on December 20, 2006.

History of Indian Medicine

One usually hears lot of things about Indian Medicine - snickering from westernized Indians to complete faith and admiration for the medical science by large number of people.

Now there is actually the entire history of Indian Medicine in a multiple volume book (via IndiaArchaeology group):

G. JAN MEULENBELD: A History of Indian Medical Literature. (Groningen Oriental Studies Volume XV/I–III.) Groningen: Egbert Forsten (Ia and Ib) 1999; (IIa and IIb) 2000; (III) 2002. Ia: 1 frontispiece, xvii, 699 pp.; Ib: 1 frontispiece, vi, 774 pp.; IIa: 1 frontispiece, viii, 839 pp. (in addition: reprint of 19 pages defective in Ia); IIb: 1 frontispiece, viii, 1018 pp.; III (Indexes):1 frontispiece, ii, 549 pp. 600.

With a total of 4,020 pages with 36,600 footnotes in five volumes, G. Jan Meulenbeld produced A History of Indian Medical Literature.

Dominik Wujastyk, while reviewing the book, says, "A colleague working on tantric sources recently sent me an email that is typical of responses to HIML: 'To say that it's a goldmine, awesome, etc. is an understatement. I can hardly conceive of one person doing all that work in one lifetime'. "

Interesting points in the review:

Volumes Ia (text) and Ib (footnotes) are dedicated to the foundation works of ayurveda, the CarakasamD hitar, the SusarutasamD hitar, the AsD t D arndgahr D dayasamD hitar and the AsD t D arndgasamD graha....The identities and roles of the key contributors to the text of the CarakasamD hitar, A¯ treya, Agnives´a, Caraka and DrDdDhabala, are discussed at length. The persons called Susaruta and their identities are examined, as well Dhanvantari, Divodarsa, and the problem of the later revision and expansion of the SusarutasamD hitar, including the role, if any, of a Nargarrjuna in this process, are all detailed....He examines and rejects the opinion of Hilgenberg and Kirfel that the SamD graha is an enlarged version of the Hr D daya,...

The early compendia called ‘the great triad (br D hattrayi)’—those ascribed to Caraka, Susaruta and VargbhatDa—are works that at least most Indologists have heard of, if not studied. But volumes IIa and IIb of HIML will reveal to many for the first time the staggering volume and diversity of scientific literary production in the post-classical period. They survey the thousands of Indian medical works written from about AD 600 up to the present....

Volume II opens up a vast new arena for research. And while all periods produced unique and important works, it is particularly fascinating to see that the rate of literary production in no way diminished in the later periods. Authors in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced a rich and important crop of diverse medical treatises, often describing new diseases, new theories, new treatments, and new medicines. These facts decisively contradict the two common opinions that post-classical Indian medicine was static and unchanging, and that medical creativity entered a dark age after VargbhatDa.

...Meulenbeld makes the point that HIML is not and does not seek to be a ‘continuous history of Indian medical literature’ in the sense of providing what one might call a ‘story’...But Meulenbeld notes that with the publication of HIML, it is now possible for someone else to ‘take upon himself the duty of composing a readable, yet accurate and detached, history of Indian medicine and its literature’. ...

Almost every page of HIML contains nuggets of cultural and historical gold. For example, when Meulenbeld is discussing the KalyarnD akarraka by the Deccani Jaina author Ugrarditya he notes that ‘The developed state of alchemy in a [South Indian] treatise from the ninth century can only be explained by assuming that this science originated in Southern India and spread from here to the northern parts of the country much later’ (IIa, 155). Such incidental remarks, arising out of the close scrutiny of particular texts, can be expected gradually but profoundly to affect the alignment of many other aspects of Indian literary and cultural history. (Bold mine)

And the bibliography is online:

Volume IIa is completed by a bibliography, the most substantial ever published for ayurveda. This bibliography has also now appeared as a database available for consultation on the Internet. An Annotated Bibliography of the History of Indian Medicine is (in 2003–04) at the address http://www.ub.rug.nl/indianmedicine/. It contains some 10,000 entries, and is due to be updated as new publications appear: submissions are invited. The online bibliography is
searchable in various ways, including keyword, adding greatly to its value as a research tool.