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Friday, June 29, 2007

One Wonders, What Does Media Drink?

This in Indian Express Editorial yesterday:

Left parties have, justifiably, prided themselves on two attributes: probity in public life and a secular, modern outlook that takes a particularly dim view of public religiosity....

All this may have been par for the course in parties far less scrupulous about their normative parameters. But for the comrades brought up on a diet of Marxian strictures against religion, it is important to be seen influencing the somewhat shambolic polity, given to capitalist corruption and irrational forces, for the better. [IE]

You have to wonder, what does our media drink?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Finally Some Bharat Rail Toilet Etiquette

Not just bathrooms, tracks and stations won't stink either

My pet peeve about traveling by rail has always been the toilets. Stations stink because the tracks are used as sewers. Toilets themselves stink because of poor design. But that may change soon.

Bharat Rail launched a pilot project to take the stink out from railway toilets using bio-septic tanks. Instead of using the usual septic tank system, like most railways in the world do, that is used to collect waste, which is later pumped out to be treated in a waste treatment plant, Indian Railways is trying a new approach.

The pilot project is being implemented on one of the 25 carriages of the Prayag Raj Express by the Railways’ Research, Design & Standardisation Organisation (RDSO) in collaboration with Microphor of US, and Aikon Technology of India.

The waste is collected in a stainless steel tank divided into two sections. The first contains a patented man-made bacterial culture that breaks down wastes by enzyme action. The resulting liquid — mostly water, and entirely free of pathogens — is led into the second section where it is purified by chlorine and other chemicals before dispersal. A flap valve in the commode prevents the odour generated during the process from reaching the toilet and inconveniencing users.

The only undesirable by-product is some methane gas, but the amount is negligible in comparison to that generated by normal degradation of wastes.

But the toilets don’t come cheap. Installing four such toilets in each carriage costs Rs 8 lakh and and annual maintenance for each coach works out to Rs 2 lakh. Contracts have been awarded to Microphor and Aikon Technologies to install 80 such toilets.

“Results have been good so far,” said Northern Railway spokesman Rajiv Saxena, adding that another spinoff was less corrosion of tracks, which could mean lower track maintenance bills.

Shriti Shukla, co-ordinator in India for the World Wildlife Fund’s climate change and energy programme, said, “Since we have one of the largest railway networks in the country, this environment-friendly idea will help. It will also improve lives of people whose homes are next to railway tracks.”[IE]

You can say the last bit again. Hope the project is rolled out nationally fast to clean up railway air at the earliest.

A Caged Dragon's Response

The quartet tried to show it off as a talk shop. But the dragon isn't buying it. It may be one more bullet point on the Chinese list of justifications for spending close to $100 billion per year on it defence. But still Chinese are unhappy. Our babus aren't talking about it though.

Beijing, June 27: China has asked India, the United States, Japan and Australia, who are trying to forge a quadripartite format not to go against the global trend and be "open and inclusive" while a Chinese expert believes it would "divide" Asia...

"We have noticed relevant reports," Qin said without confirming or denying Indian media reports that China has sought an explanation from New Delhi, Washington, Tokyo and Canberra on the purpose of holding the first-ever meeting of senior officials of the four nations on May 24-25 in Manila, the Philippines.

According to media reports, the meeting, held on the sidelines of an ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) session, discussed issues like disaster management, economic cooperation and energy issue. All four countries also agreed to meet again to continue their dialogue. [IE]

It's nice to know the Chinese are for openness. India should keep smiling and get on with the dialouge with the quartet.

Communists and Their Betrayal - More Evidence

Don't expect treason charges for these desa drohis

On June 26, CIA has declassified it's secret reports up until early 1970s. By and large the three sets of reports (the non-Family Jewels) deal with evolving communist movement in Soviet Union and China. A few reports deal with how communist movement in India was impacted by the communists in Soviet Union and China. While it's common knowledge to most historians dealing with communism on how Indian communists were puppets to both Soviet Union and China, the CIA document reveals the inner working of Indian communists with regards to the movement's two extra-territorial bosses. Instead of playing off each other to gain from them, the dedicated Bharatiya communist slaves were slaving for both, leading to a split among themselves - the Marxists and Maoists, as is already known.

There are three 1963-64 reports (1950-59, 1959-61, 1961-62) in POLO series dealing with Indo-China war of 1962 with background from the 1950 onwards.

One 1962 report in the EASU series deals with our own communists directly and how the China-Soviet Union ideological split impacted our communists.

Obviously Indian intelligence and most non-communists political leaders like Nehru, Sardar, and Indira knew what was going on with communists movements during 1950-70s. Sardar wanted to stand up to them but died prematurely in 1950 before taking any action or creating a frame work for Nehru. Nehru knew about communists but thought he could control them, while appeasing China and Soviet Union, ended up failing miserably. Indira upended the communists by becoming one herself in all actions but her name.

Now the communists are part of the establishment supporting the so-called secular party. The latest revelation will do nothing to shake Sonia and Manmohan's confidence in their partners in power. It's highly unlikely that they will look into their partners past desa drohi activities, some of those leaders are still around, and bring treason charges against them. And the so-called secular media will be complicit, as always, with the communists with program titles such - Is this a conspiracy of CIA? or Is there any truth in the secret documents? with a pre-concluded judgment that communists are innocent, non-communal, India-loving people.

I hope we had well-funded independent (ie non-government) institutions that can bring treason charges by filing PILs with the Supreme Court - which is really the only last hope to bring these guys to account.

Unstoppable Rage Boy

Professional protesters are a rupee a dozen. But here is a post about one extremely funny professional protester, the Rage Boy, with that classic profile of a Muslim with a beard and a cap - more on this later. About the every present protests and protesters themselves, Christopher Hitchens writes in the Slate about the professional kind and why we shouldn't bother to care about them.

I have actually seen some of these demonstrations, most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn't be if there was a big, surging mob involved....

But our media regularly make the assumption that the book burners and fanatics really do represent the majority, and that assumption has by no means been tested. (If it is ever tested, and it turns out to be true, then can we hear a bit less about how one of the world's largest religions mustn't be confused with its lunatic fringe?)

The acceptance of an honor by a distinguished ex-Muslim writer, who exercised his freedom to abandon his faith and thus courts a death sentence for apostasy in any case, came shortly after the remaining minarets of the Askariya shrine in Samarra were brought down in shards. You will recall that the dome itself was devastated by an explosion more than a year ago—an outrage described in one leading newspaper as the work of "Sunni insurgents," the soft name for al-Qaida. But what does "Rage Boy" have to say about this appalling desecration of a Muslim holy place? What resolutions were introduced into the "parliament" of Pakistan, denouncing such shameful profanity? You already know the answer to those questions. The lives of Shiite Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Christians—to say nothing of atheists or secularists—are considered by Sunni militants to be of little or no account. And yet they accuse those who criticize them of bigotry! And many people are so anxious to pre-empt this accusation that they ventriloquize the reactions of Sunni mobs as if they were the vox populi, all the while muttering that we must take care not to offend such supersensitive people. [Slate]

His point about testing the majority, and then, if it is was the majority, what about the lunatic fringe theory, is worth keeping in mind. Also the rage never seems to about Sunnis killing Shias (and surely never about attacks on other religious groups).

In any case, snapped shot has post (pictures from Getty AFP archives) on a professional protester, the Rage Boy, from, where else, J&K, protesting about every slight to Muslims and Islam in every part of the planet (mentioned in Hitchens article early on).

See the post at Snapped Shot for the amazing rage of the Rage Boy

The Rage Boy's shots are always close ups and in similar grabs and the protests are about everything and anything. Extremely funny post at snapped shot with essentially just pictures.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nuclear Deal: NPA Flawed Assumptions

Non-proliferation Ayatollahs usually make two key charges against US-India nuclear deal: the deal will enable India to divert it's own scare Uranium deposits towards weapons production and that the deal will enable India to build a large nuclear arsenal. These two arguments are used to beat up on the nuclear deal from the U.S. side. (Opponents from Indian side present different set of arguments.)

Almost an year ago, Ashley Tellis, an analyst who espouses close US-India relations, showed that both the charges raised by NPAs are flawed. In his June 2006 report, Atoms for War? U.S.-Indian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation and India's Nuclear Arsenal, for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ashley estimates the Uranium deposits currently available to India to make the follow conclusions:

  • India is currently separating far less weapons grade plutonium annually than it has the capability to produce. The evidence, which suggests that the Government of India is in no hurry to build the biggest nuclear stockpile it could construct based on material factors alone, undermines the assumption that India wishes to build the biggest nuclear arsenal it possibly can;
  • Further, India's capacity to produce a huge nuclear arsenal is not affected by prospective U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation. The research in this report concludes that: India already has the indigenous reserves of natural uranium necessary to undergird the largest possible nuclear arsenal it may desire and, consequently, the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation initiative will not materially contribute towards New Delhi's strategic capacities in any consequential way either directly or by freeing up its internal resources; that the current shortage of natural uranium in India caused by constrictions in its mining and milling capacity is a transient problem that is in the process of being redressed. The U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement proposed by President Bush does not in any way affect the Government of India's ability to upgrade its uranium mines and milling facilities—as it is currently doing. As such, the short-term shortage does not offer a viable basis either for Congress to extort any concessions from India in regards to its weapons program or for supporting the petty canard that imported natural uranium will lead to a substantial increase in the size of India's nuclear weapons program;
  • Further, India’s capacity to produce a huge nuclear arsenal is not affected by prospective U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation. A few facts underscore this conclusion clearly. India is widely acknowledged to possess reserves of 78,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU). The forthcoming Carnegie study concludes that the total inventory of natural uranium required to sustain all the reactors associated with the current power program (both those operational and those under construction) and the weapons program over the entire notional lifetime of these plants runs into some 14,640-14,790 MTU—or, in other words, requirements that are well within even the most conservative valuations of India’s reasonably assured uranium reserves. If the eight reactors that India has retained outside of safeguards were to allocate 1/4 of their cores for the production of weapons-grade materials—the most realistic possibility for the technical reasons discussed at length in the forthcoming report—the total amount of natural uranium required to run these facilities for the remaining duration of their notional lives would be somewhere between 19,965-29,124 MTU. If this total is added to the entire natural uranium fuel load required to run India’s two research reactors dedicated to the production of weapons-grade plutonium over their entire life cycle—some 938-1088 MTU—the total amount of natural uranium required by India’s dedicated weapons reactors and all its unsafeguarded PHWRs does not exceed 20,903-30,212 MTU over the remaining lifetime of these facilities. Operating India’s eight unsafeguarded PHWRs in this way would bequeath New Delhi with some 12,135-13,370 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, which is sufficient to produce between 2,023-2,228 nuclear weapons over and above those already existing in the Indian arsenal.

The point about constrictions on mining and milling capacity is important. India will never allow any other nation, especially US Congress, to dictate how much it can import and how it can use the existing Uranium deposits. Bush's team, lead by Nick Burns, understands this. So the only major sticking point during the recent negotiations has not been about how the Uranium is used but has been with regards to what to do if India performs another weapon's test, apparently in response to Chinese test. While I am not sure why we need to test if the Chinese do - we should test because there is need for it based on our own requirements - it obviously is helpful if India's actions and US and Nuclear Supplier Group's actions are spelled out before hand if such a scenario unfolds.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kinda Like Nehru Family

Practicing placeholder democracy - until the successor ripens or for constitutional convenience.

Apparently Russia's president Vladimir Putin learned something from Sonia Gandhi - placeholder politics.

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin seems to quietly delight in stoking the fevered speculation about who will succeed him when he steps down, as he has promised to do, following presidential elections in March.

Now Moscow is suddenly chattering about a new, unnamed prospect -- the loyal place-holder.

Under that scenario, which Putin recently toyed with publicly, a new leader would keep his seat warm until 2012 -- or even sooner, as some have suggested, if Russia's next president were suddenly afflicted with nervous exhaustion or some other condition that forced him -- or her -- to resign. The Russian constitution only prevents Putin from serving more than two consecutive terms.[Washington Post]

Too bad General Pervez Musharraf doesn't seem to have this democratic option.

John La Carre Has it Right

Response to Salman Rushdie's knighthood is amusing to say the least. Most of the western news houses, naturally picked up by Indian media, have Islamic nations protesting the knighthood. Rushdie himself probably doesn't care. He has been through lot worst. Whether one agrees with the protesters or not, Eugene Robinson, a columnist for Washington Post, has an interesting flash back in one of his columns. It's regarding his meeting with Rushdie many years ago, when Rushdie was still in hiding (because of Iran's fatwa to Muslims to kill him for blasphemy in Satanic Verses). Apparently Rushdie was taking the whole thing in stride, but was peeved at some of his fellow writers in London for not supporting him completely. Rushdie apparently singled out La Carre.

Robinson writes of La Carre's response:

He considered the prime offender to be none other than le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell and who also happened to be a neighbor of ours -- his city house, as opposed to the country house where he spent most of his time, was just across the way, and we had met him socially. So there we were, torn between literary lions.

Le Carré's position, as he later explained in a published letter, was that "like any decent person" he of course deplored Rushdie's persecution but that he also believed "there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity."

Leaving aside an earlier feud between the two authors over a book review, le Carré makes a reasonable point about gratuitous insult. It's basically the same point I made about those Danish cartoons that ridiculed the prophet Muhammad in a stunt whose only purpose was provocation. [Knighthood for a Literary Lion - Washington Post]

When apparent secular folks are up in arms about freedom of speech (based on first amendment of US constitution?) and Hindu fascists with regards to Durga Devi's offensive painting, it would be wise to take La Carre's words in advice.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Now We'll Know What They Did

When Soviet Union collapsed, most Soviet achieves were thrown open to researchers from all over world. Western journalists, looking for their Pulitzers, researched and wrote books and op-eds, and gave speeches on spies, Soviet system, Stalin, the Gulag. Most of the research subject area was about the West vs the Soviets. At that time, I was extremely disappointed that there were no similar endeavor by Indian scholars, journalists, and amateur experts looking at Soviet-India relationship during pre-independence, Nehru, and Indira eras. It was disheartening not to know how the Indian communists worked the democratic system in India using the Soviet communists subversive methods. May be MEA won't give visas (and rubles) to scholars to do their studies. May be our journalists didn't care to go anywhere but the west for an assignment. And surely there is no Pulitzer equivalent in Indian journalism. At most, one found reference to Soviet involvement in India, in passing, in one or two pages, in some books - Metrokin's book giving few details about KGB paying Indira comes to mind.

And then, with Putin's arrival, the Russians closed most of the archives back up. One may never know how much Soviets covertly influenced Nehru, Indira, and communists.

In any case, all that might change, at least from another vintage point. The left-wing intellectuals, journalists, and JNU type scholars will be booking a flight to Langley soon - to expose CIA's involvement in Indian politics, the fights between KGB and CIA in India, and how CIA undermined Indian intelligence and war affords - at the very least I hope.

The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency's worst illegal abuses -- the so-called "family jewels" documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs.[CIA to Air Decades of Its Dirty Laundry - Washington Post]

Sure, there is still no Indian Pulitzer, but ideology and, ironically, a few months in eastern US will probably be the drivers for some good (and bad) research work. I hope we see a few worthy books in the CIA espionage area.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Right Track on Climate Change

It's heartening to see our policy makers are on the right track on climate change. While Manmohan, as usual, began to make some worrying noises about climate change, Foreign Secretary gave an indication of how India looks at the issue:

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, in fact, said the best means for countries like India to deal with climate change is via more development. “If you are poor and you stay at a subsistence level, your ability to deal with it (climate change) is that much more difficult.”[IE]

While rich countries became rich, and stay rich, by using vast amounts of cheap energy, in the process generating greenhouse gases, now they claim they can better cope with climate change because they are rich. The only way poor countries can become rich countries is by using cheap energy for development. If newer cheap energy does not produce greenhouse gases, fine. If not, we still need cheap energy. Staying poor by using little per-capita energy is not an option.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Holding Foreign Policy Hostage

Since the late 40s, it was mostly the communists of India, as individuals or as parties or as media, that had wide sway over Indian foreign policy, mostly to the detriment of the nation. Now DMK does:

Sri Lankan Defence Secretary and President Mahinda Rajapakse’s brother Gotabaya Rajapakse, who met National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and all three Services chiefs during his recent visit, is believed to have conveyed that Colombo understood Delhi’s political compulsions which were preventing increase in military cooperation between the two countries.

Rajapakse told Indian authorities that Colombo, which had urgent need for air defence equipment in view of the bold aerial attacks being carried out by the Tigers, would be approaching Pakistan, China and other countries.