Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend picture (the kind that remains with you)

While most of the world is concerned with terrorism at large, personalized terrorism continues...

This piece of news from 2001...
India has stepped up police patrols in Indian-administered Kashmir to prevent acid attacks on women who do not follow the Islamic dress code. Dozens of armed women officers are also guarding girls schools and colleges in the capital, Srinagar, where two women who were not wearing veils were sprayed with acid earlier in the week. A group called Lashkar-e-Jabbar, has claimed responsibility.
This piece of news from 2008...
The police in Kandahar Province arrested 10 Taliban militants they said were involved in an attack this month on a group of Afghan schoolgirls whose faces were doused with acid, officials in Kandahar said Tuesday.

By the way, while we are on the subject of hard line militant groups, Lashkar-e-Toiba has been implicated indirectly in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai...


From here: Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies. Naeema Azar (who was a successful real estate agent prior to being attacked that left her blind and terribly disfigured), above, was attacked by her husband after they divorced. Her 12-year-old son, Ahmed Shah, looks after her.
From here: When a woman is seen as property, her only real worth is what she can provide to her husband, including dowry, sex, children. If she is left by her husband, whether divorced or abandoned; especially in a country where her movements are heavily restricted unless she has a male to escort her; her only chance for a "good life" involves marrying someone else. The chances of this happening are almost nil if her face has been disfigured.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Jihad - reasons

It is clear that the terrorists who targeted Mumbai did it for the same reasons they targeted New York seven years back... Buck the the economic targets and you have the nation by its lifeblood.

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Jihad - perpetrators

Now it looks like the Mumbai attacks have come to an end a couple of hours ago and it is also becoming clear that the execution was helped in large parts by cooperating forces in Pakistan... Pictures here.

Details fom Ajmal, a jihadi nabbed alive by Mumbai cops.. Details that speak to the tenacity and the hate behind the actions.

Ajmal has revealed the name of his fellow jihadis all Pakistani citizens as Abu Ali, Fahad, Omar, Shoaib, Umer, Abu Akasha, Ismail, Abdul Rahman (Bara) and Abdul Rahman (Chhota). The account of Ajmal also strengthens the doubt of the complicity of powerful elements in the Pakistani establishment. According to him, the group set off on November 21 from an isolated creek near Karachi without the deadly cargo of arms and ammunition they were to use against the innocents in Mumbai. The group received arms and ammunition on board a large Pakistani vessel which picked them up the following day. The vessel, whose ownership is now the subject of an international probe, had four Pakistanis apart from the crew.

A day later, they came across an Indian-owned trawler, Kuber, which was promptly commandeered on the seas. Four of the fishermen who were on the trawler were killed, but its skipper, or tandel in fishermen lingo, Amarjit Singh, was forced to proceed towards India. Amarjit was killed the next day, and Ismail the terrorist who was killed at Girgaum Chowpaty took the wheel. A trained sailor, Ismail used the GPS to reach Mumbai coast on November 26. The group, however, slowed down its advance as they had reached during the day time while the landing was planned after dusk. The group shifted to inflatable boats, before disembarking at Badhwar Park in Cuffe Parade. From there, they mandated to kill indiscriminately, particularly white foreign tourists, and spare Muslims split up into five batches. Two of them Ismail and Ajmal took a taxi to Victoria Terminus. Three other batches of two each headed for Oberoi Hotel, Cafe Leopold and Nariman House. The remaining four went to Taj Hotel.

Consuming ourselves to death... Comment and an observation

The coming Obama administration should not enact any tax cut policies that will encourage reckless consumption. We are pretty much consuming ourselves to death at this point. Infrastructural spending on bridges, transit systems, displaced worker training and cleaner automotive technology should be the preferred points of spending in a stimulus package that the new administration is set to enact as soon as they get into office.

From here: A decade of excess consumption pushed consumer spending in the United States up to 72 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, a record for any large economy in the modern history of the world. With such a huge portion of the economy now shrinking, a deep and protracted recession can hardly be ruled out. Consumption growth, which averaged close to 4 percent annually over the past 14 years, could slow into the 1 percent to 2 percent range for the next three to five years. The United States needs a very different set of policies to cope with its post-bubble economy. It would be a serious mistake to enact tax cuts aimed at increasing already excessive consumption. Americans need to save. They don’t need another flat-screen TV made in China.
Of course, crass consumption patterns that must have been acted out this morning (Black Friday) across the malls of our land sometimes leads to death by the forces of consumption - albeit of a different variety.

From here: A Wal-Mart employee in suburban New York died after being trampled by a crush of shoppers who tore down the front doors and thronged into the store early Friday morning, turning the annual rite of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting into a frenzy. The 34-year-old employee, who was not identified, was knocked down by a crowd that broke down the doors of the Wal-Mart at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y., and surged into the store. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 6 a.m.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Terrorism in India

Desicritics on the global ramifications of the recent terrorist strikes in Mumbai. People who considered terms like 'global war on terror' as empty rhetoric need to think twice...

Mumbai has been attacked several times before. So has the rest of India. It is not uncommon for me to rush and dial home in the middle of a work day and make sure my family and friends are safe. I selfishly heave a sigh of relief when everybody I know is alive and well. This time when some of the headlines stated that foreigners, specifically Brits and Americans were being targeted I was puzzled. And then it made sense. With the security heightened in the US and in Britain as well in recent years, it is hard to target Americans and British nationals inside their own country. Mumbai security has never been particularly terrorist-proof and hosts tourists from all over the world. Everybody is aware that most foreign tourists reside in the Oberoi and Taj hotels in the city. While heinous acts of terrorism are not unusual in Mumbai, this attack though carried out in Mumbai, is in reality an attack on the people of 3 nations that should come together as a stronger, more united front in the fight against terrorism.

A mummy meme

The Toxic Wife (from here):
Not to be confused with the stay-at-home mother who selflessly devotes herself to the upbringing of her children, with all the housework and domestic chores that entails, the Toxic Wife is the woman who gives up work as soon as she marries, ostensibly to create a stable home environment for any offspring that might come along, but who then employs large numbers of staff to do all the domestic work she promised to undertake, leaving her with little to do all day except shop, lunch and luxuriate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

India next?

India seems to be next on the terrorist target list... News streaming here covering a senseless attack. Looks like the mayhem is still unfolding and reports include some tourists taken hostage. Targeting British and US passport holders seems a pathetic and horrific way to vent. Over 80 people were killed and 300 injured as of this afternoon. Not a great way to start off the four day holiday here.

UPDATE: Wiki page on the attacks. This is another source. (via Sepia)

History timeout

Kenneth C. Davis, the author of Don't Know Much About History, opines in a Times column that the first real Pilgrims to land in America were from France (Calvinists) who landed in sunny Florida circa 1564 rather than the Mayflower Pilgrims who landed off the cold Massachusetts coast about 50 years later. Included in the column are some fascinating but little known facts about this country. As far as the French pilgrims were concerned, they were summarily slaughtered by a party dispatched from Catholic ruled Spain whose leader after the bloody massacre proclaimed that 'I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to heretics.'
Starting with those massacred French pilgrims, the saga of the nation’s birth and growth is often a bloodstained one, filled with religious animosities. In Boston, for instance, the Puritan fathers banned Catholic priests and executed several Quakers between 1659 and 1661. Cotton Mather, the famed Puritan cleric, led the war cries against New England’s Abenaki “savages” who had learned their prayers from the French Jesuits. The colony of Georgia was established in 1732 as a buffer between the Protestant English colonies and the Spanish missions of Florida; its original charter banned Catholics. The bitter rivalry between Catholic France and Protestant England carried on for most of a century, giving rise to anti-Catholic laws, while a mistrust of Canada’s French Catholics helped fire many patriots’ passion for independence. As late as 1844, Philadelphia’s anti-Catholic “Bible Riots” took the lives of more than a dozen people.

Photo from a recent visit to see the oil paintings of Vincent Desiderio on display at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea. The show runs from Nov 20 - Jan 3, 09.

From their brochure: A highlight of the exhibition will be a 39-foot triptych entitled Quixote, 2008 (oil on canvas: 107 ¾ x 458 in., 273.7 x 1,163.3 cm). The center panel depicts the elongated shadow of a bicycle wheel along an abraded concrete floor flanked by a piano wrapped in movers’ blankets ascending into a Magritte-like sky and a hanging carcass before a bullet-ridden pink and green tile wall. The floating piano of the left panel is painted with a deadpan humor reminiscent of a Buster Keaton film, while the right panel, inspired by a slaughtered animal in a Hermann Nitsch performance, pits what could be a butcher shop in Sarajevo with a Lacanian sense of lack. Defying easy interpretation or a strict linear narrativity, Desiderio’s complex paintings engage the viewer on multiple levels: one is immediately attracted to the beauty and technical virtuosity of Desiderio’s technique while simultaneously tantalized and perplexed by their mysterious nature.

Clueless and scheming

Thomas Friedman commenting on the people who were responsible for the mortgage market meltdown and the resulting credit freeze.
So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made a fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.

Shadows: Morning, Afternoon, Evening



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The great Number Crunching game

The bailout numbers keeps getting better and better... (especially with the news announced today).

The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:
  • Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
  • Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
  • Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
  • S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
  • Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
  • The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
  • Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
  • Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
  • NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion
TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

The bailout cost with the latest Citigroup addition is about $5 trillion.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Taxing the rich - forgotten promises?

I hope that Obama has not conveniently forgotten his campaign rhetoric of increasing taxes on the rich. I waited for some mention of this hyped up promise in the economic team rollout event this afternoon, but did not see even a passing reference. Even if the current economic climate is not the most conducive for a statement on taxing the rich, one hopes sincerely that he has not forgotten this plank that he ran on...

As mentioned previously on this blog, only 2% of all households in the US make more than $250,000 a year. That leaves 98% of all households below the $250,000 limit. The median income of US households is about $50,000. A sensible tax on the elite 2% will help pay for the stimulus/infrastructure plan that the President elect unveiled over the weekend. We cannot go on deficit financing all of our expenditures and lay the repayment responsibilities on future generations.
From here: But there were no plans to balance the tax cuts with an immediate tax increase on the wealthy. During the campaign, Obama said he would pay for increased tax relief by raising taxes on people making more than $250,000. "There won't be any tax increases in the January package," said one Obama aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the Obama package have not been fleshed out.
The last eight years of 'trickle down from the rich to the not so rich' just has not worked. It is clear from the staggering disparities between the upper crust and the rest.

Meanwhile on the bailout front, the current administration is not even trying to act coy about raising the possibility that the bailout mania will end with Citigroup. The pledges made by the US government to ease the credit crisis now totals $7.7 trillion. It is indeed strange how the bailout czars trip over themselves to rescue the world of the virtual (a service economy that deals in cooked up financial instruments) even as it lets the nuts and bolts economy (an automotive industry employing real people and producing tangible goods) by the wayside. I do agree that the automotive industry led itself into the current mess by lobbying for policies that was more in its short term self interest than strategic, but the last great manufacturing lynchpin in this country will crumble in the blink of an eye if we ignore the $25 billion bailout requested by the automotive industry. Why is Detroit not included in the elite 'too big to fail' category when it is responsible for directly or indirectly employing nearly 3 million US residents?

Expatriate diaries

An interesting column on the reverse migration of Indian Americans to India (includes a reference to S & M conferences that take place in India - no, it is not what you think).
Exact data on émigrés working in India or spending more time here are scarce. But this is one indicator: India unveiled an Overseas Citizen of India card in 2006, offering foreign citizens of Indian origin visa-free entry for life and making it easier to work in the country. By this July, more than 280,000 émigrés had signed up, according to The Economic Times, a business daily, including 120,000 from the United States.

At first we felt confused by India’s formalities and hierarchies, by British phraseology even the British had jettisoned, by the ubiquity of acronyms. We wondered what newspapers meant when they said, “INSAT-4CR in orbit, DTH to get a boost.” (Apparently, it meant a satellite would soon beam direct-to-home television signals.)

Working in offices, some of us were perplexed to be invited to “S&M conferences,” only to discover that this denoted sales and marketing. Several found to their chagrin that it is acceptable for another man to touch your inner thigh when you crack a joke in a meeting.

We learned new expressions: “He is on tour” (Means: He is traveling. Doesn’t mean: He has joined U2.); “What is your native place?” (Means: Where did your ancestors live? Doesn’t mean: What hospital delivered you?); “Two minutes” (Means: An hour. Doesn’t mean: Two minutes.).


Images from a recent visit to Mary Boone Gallery. They have a exhibition of Eric Fischl's glass/resin and bronze sculptures. The show runs till 20th Dec.
From the gallery handout: The largest figural group, “Ten Breaths: Congress of Wits”, is based on photographs taken by Fischl of a Brazilian dance troupe. The exuberance conveyed by these five dancers is countered by the palpable physical and emotional weight of the figures in “Ten Breaths: Damage” and “Ten Breaths: Samaritan”. “Ten Breaths: Tumbling Woman”, a variation on the bronze sculpture Fischl created in response to 11 September 2001, is here given new context in the presence of another solitary figure – the striking translucent “Ten Breaths: Falling Angel” mounted high above the floor of the Gallery.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prescience

Even if I do not have a magic mirror to look back across the decades, I am sure it does not take great erudition to declare the following:
Forbes magazine President and CEO Steve Forbes called Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “the worst treasury secretary we’ve had in modern times”, citing, among other things, the government’s handling of the housing crisis.
And they are planning on bailing out Citi tomorrow. If prescience is anything, Peter Schiff had it right quite some time back. The scary scenario is that he does not project a very reassuring future ahead... (via The Dish).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Infrastructural changes ahead

If Obama can manage to deliver on the rhetoric mentioned at a weekly address earlier today, we are indeed in for some major change.
I have already directed my economic team to come up with an Economic Recovery Plan that will mean 2.5 million more jobs by January of 2011 – a plan big enough to meet the challenges we face that I intend to sign soon after taking office. We’ll be working out the details in the weeks ahead, but it will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.

I liked the fact that he mentioned crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools and alternative energy technologies. The only way to get us out of our current morass is infrastructural improvements. Similar to what was enacted after the Great Depression in the 30's.
One must always bear in mind that these are tall promises, very tall. Not easy at all. My fingers are crossed.

Photos



Friday, November 21, 2008

Rhythmic review

From Michiko Kakutani's review of a book about the 2008 presidential race written in rhyme by Calvin Trillin. The review itself was written in rhyme by the Japanese American Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani. Her rhyme is a keeper.

There once was a poet named Bud Trillin,
Who cast George Bush as his villain.
He sounded like a new Ogden Nash,
Writing doggerel with real panache,
Chronicling the reign of Bush Two,
And Rove’s quest to wipe out the blue.
The prez was famous for gaffes,
Which Trillin played for some laughs.
He painted Bush as a shrub,
With a strong impulse to flub,
While taking on the Pentagon
And Cheney and the neo-cons.
In our nation’s hard times,
Trillin sought funny lines.
Some said he made mere frivolity
Out of real issues of polity.
But others toasted his wicked wit,
And gave him lots of Amazon hits.

From Katrina to Enron to the war in Iraq,
Bush’s missteps weren’t hard to attack.
W.M.D.’s that didn’t exist led to a desert fiasco,
While greed and a hurricane created domestic disasters.
In the Gulf, we were caught in a quagmire,
While at home, things looked increasingly dire.
This mess helped spawn two earlier books
By providing some embarrassing hooks.
Now the poet’s turned to the ’08 election,
Skewering the candidates for our delectation.
There was Rudy, McCain, Huckabee and Romney,
Obama, Edwards, Dodd and, of course, Hillary.
All of them tracked from Iowa to New Hampshire,
In caucuses and primaries from Des Moines to Manchester.

The former first lady versus Senator Obama
Made for lots of gripping political drama.
Bud noted Barack’s “eloquence at his command”
And how he got Dems to eat from his hand.
As for McCain, Bud saw flip-flops at a cost
From the straight-talking man who in 2000 lost,
He’d become someone fond of the tactics of Rove,
Especially as all his poll ratings dove.
While critics said the poet was partisan,
Fans hailed him as a talented artisan.

McCain’s pick of Palin was more grist for the mill,
Caribou Barbie saw herself as a tool of God’s will,
At least that’s how Trillin saw the lass from Alaska,
Whom Republicans hoped would play in Nebraska.
Both McCain and Palin tried to act mavericky,
But many thought of her selection as gimmicky.
The right was glad she was instantly famous,
But foes just saw a complete ignoramus.

Everything changed when the Dow took a dive.
Bankers on Wall Street questioned how they’d survive,
And folks turned from talk about lipstick and pigs
To worrying how they’d stay in their digs.
More bad fallout from the reign of 43,
Which hit the poor, the rich and the bourgeoisie.
Republicans suffered from this new twist of fate,
And McCainiacs wondered if it was too late.
Mac touted a guy known as Joe the Plumber,
But his populist gambit became a bummer.
Trillin recounted this all with verve and élan,
Charting the candidates’ every slogan and plan.

Trillin followed the race to the end,
Seeing what message the voters would send.
This deadline poet began his last lines
As anxious Democrats looked for a sign.
The networks announced that Obama had won,
A momentous end to a historic run.
Obama’s mantra of change helped win the election,
And promised America a brand-new direction.
Trillin praised the country’s choice to reboot
In verse that was witty, quick and acute.
What had begun two books back as a wry chronicle of woe
Became a tribute to the nation’s ability to grow.

Quick comment...

As mentioned here before, Geithner is a good pick for Treasury. Looks like the markets liked it. Seemed to close 500 points up. But then, who believes the markets these days...

Advice to Sec. Paulson (IMHO)

Out the 700 billion dollars authorized by Congress last month to rescue the economy (read: bailout financial institutions), 290 billion dollars has now been spent by Sec Paulson in doling out taxpayer cash to companies of his choice. Rightly or wrongly, Sec. Paulson made a little publicized comment that he is reluctant in approaching Congress for approval on spending the rest knowing full well that it might be an uphill battle with the public suffering from an extended bout of 'fat cat only' bailout fatigue. He has rightly called that the next President-elect have the reins on the money to do what is best fit to get us out of this hole.

Meanwhile, what does the market do - it holds us hostage. Every day we see the DOW slipping by about 400 points. Yesterday evening it closed at 7552. We see prominent banks calling for the rest of the $410 billion to be disbursed as soon as possible. Many are warning of dire forecasts if the stated plan is to wait until the next administration takes office. Yesterday, Citigroup’s stock fell by historic amounts to less than 5 dollars a share. Some people are hinting at a Citigroup based bailout, others are mentioning Citi's merger with another firm. From a macro view of events, large financial institutions know that now might be the best time to wring the rest of the bailout funds - kind of like looting banks as the banks premises are engulfed in flames.

At this point in time, it might be prudent for Sec. Paulson to just sit back - take a deep breath and let the markets settle down. Let the much talked about 'bottoming of the markets' run through its course. It is clear that all of the policies (however loftily planned) introduced by Sec. Paulson have failed miserably - whether it be buying troubled assets or investing in banks directly or shoring up credit card and loan companies - nothing seems to have affected the downward slide. With a lame duck (looks more crippled than lame) administration and a Congress awaiting a change of hands, now might be a good time to relax and tell the market "Just shut the **** up - do what you have to do – we are not moved by your daily swings".

Yes, this is a classic case of the tail wildly wagging the dog. Instead of prudent policies guiding investments and market conditions, we live in an age where fiscal and monetary policies are determined by the direction of the DOW or the spiraling stock values of ‘select’ companies. Yes and remember, it only ‘select’ companies like prominent Wall Street firms that get the preferential treatment. Sec. Paulson: Now, more than ever, is time for a much needed respite, some introspection and enact of policy of 'wait patiently'. People will respect this policy of yours more than the failed policies associated with the TARP bailout. I suspect the moment Sec. Paulson starts to project an image of this nature, the market which has been behaving more like a spoilt brat on painkillers will also settle down. Of course, before the ‘settling down’ can actually happen, the spoilt brat might throw just one more hissy fit taking the DOW to maybe 5000 and swallow a couple of companies with it, but what the hell, we have endured so much so far and used up billions of dollars of taxpayer money and nothing much has happened, let the hissy fit run its course. As soon as the market and (by translation the big financial institutions) understand that they cannot wag the dog any longer, they will also resort to prudent methods of buying and selling.

Irrationally exuberant behavior started this whole thing. Inflated housing prices, unbelievably cheap credit and overleveraged companies all acted in collusion to hype the markets to soaring levels. Rational approaches like the one outlined above will help end it.

Talking about irrational behavior, it is indeed interesting to end with the cover of a book published some years back that predicted a DOW of 36,000. The book said that it will offer the reader “Rock solid investment advice. Long term investors can place it next to the works of Benjamin Graham and Peter Lynch, as well as Warren Buffett’s annual homilies to his Berkshire Hathaway’s investors”.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Questions

Today is World Philosophy Day.

From Elisabeth Roudinesco’s new book Philosophy in Turbulent Times (via LRB):

Jean-Paul Sartre – for or against? Raymond Aron – for or against? . . . Should we take a blowtorch to May 1968 and its ideas . . . seen now as incomprehensible, elitist, dangerous and anti-democratic? Have the protagonists of that revolution . . . all become little bourgeois capitalist pleasure seekers without faith or principles, or haven’t they? . . .

The father has vanished, but why not the mother? Isn’t the mother really just a father, in the end, and the father a mother? Why do young people not think anything? Why are children so unbearable? Is it because of television, or pornography, or comic books? . . .

And women: are they capable of supervising male workers on the same basis as men are? Of thinking like men, of being philosophers? Do they have the same brain, the same neurons, the same emotions, the same criminal instincts? Was Christ the lover of Mary Magdalene, and if so, does that mean that the Christian religion is sexually split between a hidden feminine pole and a dominant masculine one?

Has France become decadent? Are you for Spinoza, Darwin, Galileo, or against? Are you partial to the United States? Wasn’t Heidegger a Nazi? Was Michel Foucault the precursor of Bin Laden, [and] Gilles Deleuze a drug addict . . . ? Was Napoleon really so different from Hitler?

Science watch

Will we be walking around with fellow Neanderthals soon? New research hints at the exciting or horrific possibility. Depends on how one views this... This research will again re-ignite the cloning debate and the resultant religious viewpoints to genome replication.
From the Times : If the genome of an extinct species can be reconstructed, biologists can work out the exact DNA differences with the genome of its nearest living relative. There are talks on how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother, and mammoths might once again roam the Siberian steppes.
The same would be technically possible with Neanderthals, whose full genome is expected to be recovered shortly, but there would be several ethical issues in modifying modern human DNA to that of another human species.

Image ripped from here. Reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a Homo sapiens skeleton. Some research suggests that it is the human, not the Neanderthal, that strays in the human family tree.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poetry

Female genital mutilation - man's controlling hand, again... by Patrick Jones

eyelids down
drenched in righteousness
spitting venom upon innocent skin

sworn
to secrecy
steeped in indignity
parading as,
cultural identity,

stapled sexuality
an egotist's litany
controlling lives
with rusted knives

stitched virginity
with thorns of masculinity

the mouth clings to memory
as blood in dirt
an indelible history
drowned in theocracy

even diamonds slip to insignificance
as the price of purity
rises as does
the perpetual misery

be it religion or cultural
that shape the fear of the clitoral
all are evil and genocidal

eyelids open
drenched in morality
spit reason
upon decrepid ritual

Note: Patrick Jones was recently forced to launch his new collection of poems in the street after a bookstore cancelled the event because of a campaign by Christian activists. Christian Voice said the book was "obscene and blasphemous" and called on the chain to remove copies from stores.(via Bookslut )


Google made thousands of photographs from the LIFE photo archive dating from 1750s to today freely accessible here. Long live opensourcing!

Children of plantation sharecropper Lonnie Fair preparing food on wood stove in sparsely furnished shack. Location: MS, US Date taken: 1936 Photographer: Alfred Eisenstaedt

The remixed skies yesterday evening


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Appropriation in the Arts

As I continue to understand appropriation in the arts, I ran into a great write-up on poet Lewis Hyde and his philosophy on copyrights and copylefts. It is a great read for those exploring the realms of creative commons and believe in the virtues of sharing their creative output…
Despite Ben Franklin’s notorious talents of self-promotion, he was explicit that his inventions were not and should not be his to claim as property. Offered an exclusive patent on the Franklin stove, he refused on the grounds that the invention was based on previous innovations — specifically, on theories of heat and matter articulated by Isaac Newton and the Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave. “That as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others,” Franklin wrote in his “Autobiography,” “we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”

Of course, you might say, this was an easy position for Franklin to take: he was rich. People need their copyrights to live. But that’s exactly Hyde’s point: copyrights are utilitarian things. They generate money to pay a mortgage and buy groceries and continue working. Extended too far beyond their practical usefulness, copyrights not only contradict their original intent; they also wall creators off from the sources of their inventiveness. Genius, Hyde believes, needs to “tinker in a collective shop.”

The $4,284,500,000,000.00 bailout

It is common to hear about the bailout costs and the $700 billion number associated with the exercise. However, there are many elements of the taxpayer sponsored bailout quietly gobbling huge sums of money behind the scenes. Fortunately, I managed to stumble upon a website that is keeping a running tab on the total bailout allocations. CNBC estimates that the total amount allocated so far in this taxpayer financed orgy to be $4,284,500,000,000.00. Yes, that is right - we are putting over 4 trillion dollars into this.

Here is a graphical breakdown.

I see very little money allocated to the tasks involved in the government working with homeowners in helping them change their lending terms or mortgage conditions. Helping hurting homeowners (albeit a difficult and arduous task) will help us identify the quantum of wrongful mortgages, their hidden clauses and their knock on effects on the bundled securities that they back up. Of course, such an effort will involve not just the government, but a concerted attempt by the mortgage industry and banks in sitting down at the table with the aggrieved mortgage holders and working this thing though – but then that is hard work and it benefits only the common folks.

Instead, Sec. Paulson writing in an op-ed piece here tells us that the best way to address housing and mortgages which are at the root of our economic difficulties is "more access to lower-cost mortgage lending to slow the decline in the housing market and reduce the number of foreclosures".

What he is telling us is that as soon as lenders (i.e. institutions like banks and mortgage lenders) are bailed out, the economic situation should stabilize. Again he is brandishing the principles behind the failed, trickle down Reaganomics that have led to naught over the last eight years… His idea seems overtly flawed because the solution completely bypasses the segment that is hurting (homeowners) and rewards the segment that caused the hurt in the first place (banks/mortgage lenders who with obfuscated terms and conditions bilked fledging homeowners)... I see a long hard slog ahead…

No more Gitmo

Day before yesterday on the television program 60 minutes, the President elect Barack Hussein Obama came forward and made a fairly bold statement in public:

I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture.
After being a helpless observer for the last eight years and in particular, after watching the systematic excision of liberties as depicted in the movie ‘Torturing Democracy’, I must say that it is a sign of change when the only person who has the power to close Guantanamo actually makes a statement that he is going to do so.

Depiction of Strappado by Bessonov Nicolay titled ‘Interrogation’, Oil on canvas, 1992.

Strappado is a form of torture that began with the Medieval Inquisition. In one version, the hands of the accused were tied behind his back and the rope looped over a brace in the ceiling of the chamber or attached to a pulley. Then the subject was raised until he was hanging from his arms. This might cause the shoulders to pull out of their sockets. Sometimes, the torturers added a series of drops, jerking the subject up and down. Weights could be added to the ankles and feet to make the hanging even more painful. It is alleged that this form of torture was also routinely used at Gitmo.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The bonus of parsing the fine print

A lot of people are agog over the fact that Goldman Sachs is not giving out bonuses this year. I urge such people to look deeper than just the attention grabbing headlines. The truth is that only 7 employees in Goldman are not getting bonuses. The rest of the employees are collectively pocketing 7 billion dollars in bonuses.

Now it looks like other banks are following the same strategy. Produce eye popping headlines and hide the dirty laundry in the fine print. Today’s headline splashed across the online Times read the following: Top Executives at UBS Will Not Get Bonuses.

Until I got to the fine print:
UBS said that its chairman, its chief executive, and other members of the executive board would receive only fixed salaries this year and that all other UBS employees would get lower 2008 bonuses.

Monday Quotable

"I have learned a long time ago. When they come up and say this has to be done and has to be done immediately, there is no other way of doing it, you have to sit back and take a deep breath and nine times out of 10 they are not telling the truth"
- Republican Senator Jim Inhofe asserting that Henry Paulson might have decided who to dole out the $700,000,000,000.00 taxpayer financed bailout money based on his Wall Street friendships.

It is funny, while Inhofe was referring to the extreme haste with which Sec. Paulson rushed the TARP legislation through Congress by invoking that 'all will be lost' if we do not pass it, one could almost apply Inhofe's comments verbatim to the case made for the Iraq war.
If we do not learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it again, again and again...
The Poker Game, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (1844-1934), oil on canvas, 41" X 50". (Image from Sotheby's)

Is Goldman Sachs pulling the wool over our eyes?

Today, Goldman Sachs, the bank that vacuumed in 10 billion dollars of taxpayer bailout money made a pathetic announcement: They said that they were trimming the bonuses of 7 employees. Here is what they said:
Our senior executive officers made this decision because they believe it is the right thing to do. We cannot ignore the fact that we are part of an industry that is directly associated with the ongoing economic problems.
I guess they could not have made it sound more condescending. Of course, other than the seven people singled out as 'top management', the rest of the firm is set to receive 7 billion dollars in bonuses (per last week’s news). Each of the firm's 443 partners is set to pocket an average of more than 5 million dollars as part of the annual Christmas windfall this year.

It might be better if the people at Goldman try not to pull the wool over the public eye with contrite sounding statements like ‘the top management at the firm are getting no bonuses’ – when it amounts to just 7 individuals. Individuals who might more than likely have some left over change from last years bonus packages that totaled more than 17 billion dollars.

Bonus pools of Wall Street firms up until 2006. In 2007, the total bonus pool was a whooping 36 billion dollars. 36 billion dollars would not have fit into the vertcal axis of the above graph. Source: The Washington Post - December 20, 2006

Weekend pictures





Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Quotable

“Who are we as men to say that we are called by God to the ministry of priesthood, but women are not? That our call is valid, but theirs is not? We profess as Catholics that the invitation to the priesthood comes from God, and it seems to me that we are tampering with the sacred.” - Rev. Roy Bourgeois.
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, 69 is a Roman Catholic priest whom the Vatican is considering excommunicating next week for participating in a ceremony it considers illicit and invalid: the ordination of a woman as a priest.

Andres Serrano, 'Heaven and Hell', 1984, Cibachrome Photograph, 27.5" X 40" (ripped from the Artnet site)

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed- interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit- crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?

--- From the movie Trainspotting, whose director recently released Slumdog Millionaire.

Skies


I didn't say what a good painting must be, or have, or do. I described some of the features of paintings which in my judgment are good paintings, and how these features work to the advantage of these paintings. It's as simple as that. I make mistakes but not rules. Anyone who makes rules for painting is a fool, and anyone who reads description as prescription is also a fool - Walter Darby Bannard

Asian psyche

Chinese reactions to the US election...

"I think the main reason Chinese have liked Obama so much is he's a black person and we Chinese have sympathy for the weak side," said Li Bingxin, an official with the China Journalists Association "They have fought so many years for equality. If the black side can win it will be a breakthrough."

One good Chinese friend had asked me days earlier if Mr. Obama would be the first black president and was surprised by the answer. "Wasn't Abraham Lincoln black?" he asked.
Um, no.
"But he did something really good for the black people, right?"

Another friend asked to know more about Mr. Obama. I played her a video clip of a speech and she was shocked when he expressed a litany of economic problems, including people struggling to pay for health care and send their children to school.

"Is this all true?" she asked, and was shocked by my affirmative answer. "We thought everyone in America was rich."

The great monthly flip flopping ritual

Former Goldman Sachs CEO and current Treasury Secretary Henry 'FlipFlop' Paulson is caught in a curious case of shape shifting. We are now able to soundly predict with a large degree of confidence the frequency with which the Treasury Secretary performs the flips and flops on the bailout package. Yes, the predictable recurrence pattern on plans to use bailout funds now happens monthly. See below.

In September: The $700,000,000,000.00 bailout bill was called TARP (or Troubled Assets Relief Program). It was sold to lawmakers as a mechanism to buy off troubled and toxic securitized assets off banks and lending institutions and thus ease the credit crisis sparked by the mortgage meltdown.

In October: Buying troubled assets was cast by the wayside and the Treasury decided to flip and put out a plan to buy equity stakes in American banks of their choice. Hank's alma mater Goldman Sachs saw a cash injection of $10 billion. Morgan Stanley got another $10 billion. Is it a matter of coincidence that both of them announced bonus pools of 7 billion dollars. No, I would not dare suggest that they used taxpayer money to pay their bonuses.

In November: Treasury flopped and now announces that they have decided that buying up equity stakes in banks are not working (or maybe worked just well enough for those banks to declare bonuses). The wizards yesterday announced that they are planning on using the remaining bailout funds to help companies that issue credit cards, make student loans and finance car purchases.

In December: Plans to unveil disbursement of as yet unknown cash injections to as yet unknown set of companies as Christmas gifts. Consumer retail stores, bodegas and kiosks might need to behave properly in line as they queue up to get a part of the largesse.

Curiously missing from the whole bailout equation was help for troubled and distressed homeowners.

United States Senator from the state of NJ Robert Menendez summed it up best:
In the month of August, over 9,800 homes entered foreclosure every day, if this statistic was that there were over 9,800 Wall Street executives that lost their jobs every day in August, we would have ended this a long time ago.
Sad but true...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thus Spake Sarahthustra - IV

The pitbull's punditry gets better as we go on. Continuing the series that started here... Gov Sarah Palin, seems to be a gift that keeps on giving (especially to purveyors of linguistic gymnastics). She is in her element here in a couple of performances over the past week.

On her plans to get to run for the 2012 presidency.

"I'm like, O.K., God, if there is an open door for me somewhere - this is what I always pray - don't let me miss the open door, show me where the open door is, even if it's cracked open a little bit, maybe I'll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it."

Recently the media was agog over the fact that she considered that the continent of Africa was one country. Here she is correcting her record:

"My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska's investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars."

Whatever Gov. Palin says about Africa, she still cannot beat what the current President had to say about that great continent...
"We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." —Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001

Sign of the times

I read this quote today from a young lady from Colorado who quit her job voluntarily to nurse her husband full time. The situation is sad but commendable. It turns out that the husband was an Iraq war veteran who was shot in battle and is now rendered a quadriplegic.
"I am here and I take wonderful care of Matt and I enjoy it, but he would be institutionalized without me. He is my full-time job now. I just feel like I should be compensated for that. They should value what I do."
From when did spouses who take voluntary decisions to look after their families have to be compensated by the Federal government for the work done?

Of course, one might say that my statements are not in good taste considering that her spouse gave up his freedoms for our country and is entitled to adequate compensation. I might have gone with a ‘not in good taste’ mode until I found that the family in question already has access to the following amenities:
  • This war veteran gets a full disability pension of $6,800 a month.
  • This family was given a well landscaped split level home with two car garages - donated to them free of cost.
  • The family also has the ability to hire a person of ones choice to look after the affairs at home - a service that is paid for by the government in cases such as these.
At this rate, we need to start keeping tabs and asking the Feds compensation for looking after our children. That is also a full time job over and above ones regular job. Maybe we are all getting too caught up in the free money for everyone bailout scheme in vogue. Of course in the endgame, going to Iraq in the first place was the biggest mistake.

Profiles in profligacy: The Bailout Lobbyist

We have talked abut the bailout multiple times here, here and here. It is undoubtedly the greatest giveaway of taxpayer money since one can't remember when, but in an interesting piece in the Times today, I noticed profiles of a couple of lobbyists who are making sure that the constituents they represent get a fair share of this socialist largess doled out by the Treasury.

A Hispanic business group is representing plumbing and home-heating specialists. This group wants the Treasury to hire its members as contractors to take care of houses that the government may end up owning through buying distressed mortgages.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association is asking whether boat financing companies might be eligible for aid to ensure that dealers have access to credit to stock their showrooms with boats.
While the plumbing lobbyist is making sure that the Joes it represents obtain a fair bite of the bailout chunk, it is painfully clear that almost none of the aforementioned bailout money has explicitly been allocated for distressed homeowner mortgage protection.

On the other hand, if the boat based lobbyist group actually succeeded in convincing the Sec. Paulson, then it will be a historic time when we start using taxpayer money to help boat dealers stock up their showrooms with new boats at a time when consumer confidence is at a historic low!

More than lobbying for boat dealers, it looks like someone needs to lobby to repair the money rushing out of gaping holes in the rickety Treasury Department steamer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On what we could learn from the Chinese regarding bailouts

Today was yet another great day for bailouts. Firstly, there was yet another bailout of the beleaguered insurance giant AIG, then there was news that the Treasury Department on the sly decided to give American banks a tax windfall of $140 billion and thirdly, there was news of a half a trillion dollar Chinese bailout. OK, now why am I mixing the Chinese bailout with similar measures taking place here? Well, it is indeed interesting to see how these monies are being put to use. To get a quick idea on the differences between the plans hatched by the Treasury as opposed to the Chinese in bailing out, it is instructive to see the details. Or, maybe it is even time to learn from the Chinese.

On what the Chinese would do with their bailout:

At a time when major infrastructure projects are being put off around the world, China said it would spend an estimated $586 billion over the next two years — roughly 7 percent of its gross domestic product each year — to construct new railways, subways and airports and to rebuild communities devastated by an earthquake in the southwest in May.
On the sly tax windfall to US banks:

Late September, the Treasury Department issued a five-sentence notice that attracted almost no public attention. Administration officials had just given American banks a windfall of as much as $140 billion. The change to Section 382 of the tax code came after a two-decade effort by the Republican administration to eliminate or overhaul the law. Section 382 of the tax code was created by Congress in 1986 to end what it considered an abuse of the tax system: companies sheltering their profits from taxation by acquiring shell companies whose only real value was the losses on their books. The firms would then use the acquired company's losses to offset their gains and avoid paying taxes.
On bailing out AIG again and yet again:

The government created an $85 billion emergency credit line in September to keep A.I.G. from toppling and added $38 billion more in early October when it became clear that the original amount was not enough. As part of the new revision announced today, the Federal Reserve said it would reduce that credit line to $60 billion. When the reorganized deal is complete, taxpayers will have invested and lent a total of $150 billion to A.I.G., the most the government has ever directed to a single private enterprise.

So just to get this clear:

  • China spends its bailout money on actual projects like infrastructure additions that benefit its citizens and in turn keep the economy humming and productive.
  • In the United States, the Treasury decides to award tax write-offs to banks that shelter their profits from taxation by acquiring shell companies whose real value indicates losses on their books, but then manage to offset imaginary losses with actual capital gains to avoid any payment of taxes.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ways to go...

Meanwhile the rest of the world (esp. the Middle East) have quite some catching up to do in matters of race. As this Lebanese daily reports:
Racism against black people has been alive and well in Arab countries for a long time, with Saudi Arabia ending its own private brand of slavery only at the beginning of the sixties and Mauritania still maintaining a very active slave trade until this day. Even in countries in which the practice of slavery never existed, the view of blacks as inferior has been prevalent for many years, and carries its own brand of prejudice culturally and politically.
One of the highest selling type of cosmetics in Egypt, Sudan and the Gulf today are skin-whitening creams that carry names such as "Fair and Lovely," "Ultra Fair" and "B-White," and whose advertisements send the message that girls will get the job/ men/look of their dreams if only they were whiter.
"Most westerners do not have an idea of how racist a place the Middle East can be," said Anthony Badran, a Lebanese Fellow for the DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "They are completely unaware, for example, that in many Arab countries, the word still used to refer to a black person is 'abed' or 'slave.'"


Dianne Blell combines fashion advertising, mythology and art history in the production of her photo tableaus. Here she seems to use classic elements of Hindu folklore using the vehicle of Radha and Krishna’s love story. The inherent stereotypes latent in many societies are reinforced subliminally using their mythologies and histories. This might be one reason why it is easier for people to transcend race here in the United States (the United States is relatively a new union without too much mythological baggage) but will be a much tougher act to follow in many other parts of our world.

Echoes of 2000??

Something smells in Alaska and it is definitely not the cod (via The Daily Dish).
Four years ago, 313,592 out of 474,740 registered voters in Alaska participated in the election-a 66% turnout. Taking into account 49,000 outstanding ballots, on Tuesday 272,633 out of 495,731 registered Alaskans showed up at the polls; a turnout of 54.9%. That’s a decrease of more than 11% in voter turnout even though passions ran high for and against Barack Obama, as well as for and against Sarah Palin! This year, early voters set a new record. As of last Thursday, with 4 days left to vote early, 15,000 Alaskans showed up-shattering the old record set in 2004 by 28%! Consider the most popular governor in history-and now the most polarizing-was on the Republican ticket. Consider the historic nature of this race; the first African American presidential candidate EVER! The second woman to ever make a presidential ticket; and she’s one of our own. Despite that, we’re supposed to believe that overall participation DECREASED by 11%. Not only that, but this historic election both nationally and for Alaska HAD THE LOWEST ALASKA TURNOUT FOR A PRESIDENTIAL RACE EVER!!! That makes sense. REALLY??? Something stinks.

William T. Wiley, 'Dr. Faustow and Diablo', 2006, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 59" x 73" image. From an exhibition of his works at The Charles Cowles Gallery

Comment on Obama considering Summers for Treasury

The Times is agog with the news that Mr. Lawrence Summers is in the short list to be the next Treasury Secretary. It is commendable that President elect Obama is looking to allay jittery markets and appoint someone as quickly as possible at the Treasury who can project an image of stability, values and infuse continuity at the Treasury.

The only problem is that Mr. Lawrence Summers is not that man.

From his speech to the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Women often don’t want to work the hours needed to get to the top and that girls are socialized toward nursing while boys are socialized toward building bridges. In the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are, in fact, lesser factors involving socialization and continuing iscrimination.
In other words, this man was telling us that women were intrinsically inferior to men when it came to math and sciences.

That he was the President of Harvard University when he made that comment was another thing... Now he is being considered by President elect Obama to be the Treasury Secretary. No way. Now how. Not ever.

Obama can do better than that. Geithner is the right individual for this job.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Comment on Palin trashing in vogue

The Republican party and its wingnut appendage Fox News are busy tripping over each other in their enthusiasm to throw Gov. Palin under the Straight Talk express bus. In my humble opinion, the blame should not be directed at Gov. Palin who did a great job arousing the hateful, right wing crowds using the one thing she knows best – using hateful, rabble rousing, preachy speeches. Instead, the blame should lie squarely with Sen. McCain who made the disastrous, unvetted decision to anoint a hitherto unknown lady who was barely equipped to be the Governor of Alaska.

Bonus reductions

Projected bonus cuts on Wall Street here. About time those millions were cut (in my view) and redistributed. Of course, some of this might be companies posturing to the market in the hope of driving up stock prices. The same strategy employed when companies announce layoffs... Has anyone gone back a year later to some of these companies that garner headlines when they project layoffs and asked them exactly how much they laid off or exactly how much they cut bonuses? No. I am sure not. Yes, posturing for the markets is an important aspect of this exercise...
Growing up in Bangalore, India I used to catch glimpses of the covers of the local newspaper 'The Deccan Herald' as my father sat on his chair drinking his morning cup. The effects of the Obama win echo and reverberate far and wide and this is what the Deccan Herald from Bangalore had to say this morning:

History often produces the man it requires for its need and purpose and Obama perhaps knew it was his moment and seized it. But opportunity is responsibility too. That casts on the 44th President the task of creating a new, more humane America, responsive to the myriad problems it confronts within and creatively engaging with the world of which it is still the leader. There is much cleaning up and reconstruction that awaits him in the economy, society and elsewhere, and Obama has indicated that he is seized of the enormity of the challenge. It would be the hope of the world that America’s howl for change does not go waste.

Update: Other reports from around the world here. A great photograph compilation of people's reactions from around the world. Some of them are indeed touching.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

On turnouts and community organizing

On the turnout yesterday:
Via Kos: Provided the number stands, the turnout rate for yesterday's election was the highest in 100 years, according to the estimate from turnout guru Dr. Michael
McDonald at George Mason University. Almost 137 million (136,631,825) went to the polls... There is a chance that American turnout will match or surpass the 1960 turnout, and if it does, that will mean approximately 136 million people voted. That raw number will be the most people who have ever voted in an American election.
Also a quick recap of community organizing (the kind of organizing that Gov. Palin said was a job that shouldered no real responsibilities)...

Community organizing is a process by which people living in proximity to each other are brought together by an organization to act in their common self-interest. Community organizers may act as area-wide coordinators of programs for different agencies in an attempt to meet community needs for various services. Community organizers may work actively, as do other types of social workers, in community councils of social agencies and in community-action groups. At times the role of community organizers overlaps that of the social
planner.
Barack Obama started as a community organizer. Maybe it was the ethos of community organizing that people saw as a reason to go to the hustings in such large numbers... I do not know and maybe we will never know.
All said and done, it was a victory for America and our people in the large scheme of things - the country, the concept, this glorious experiment in progress.
"Can you teach me to fly like that?" Jonathan Seagull trembled to conquer another unknown.
"Of course if you wish to learn."
"I wish. When can we start?".
"We could start now if you'd like."
"I want to learn to fly like that," Jonathan said and a strange light glowed in his eyes. "Tell me what to do,"
Chiang spoke slowly and watched the younger gull ever so carefully.
"To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is," he said, "you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived ..."
The trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two inch wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time.


-- From Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Barack Obama - The President of the United States of America


On Barack Obama being President...

Occasionally, I read Markos' blog. Dailykos has a reputation for being a super-opinionated liberal blog, and I try not to get caught up in the marching rhetoric. Every once in a while I find myself getting sucked up. Markos got me early in October with this piece where he speaks in a fiercely quiet way about the change we are witnessing.
So with conservatives bracing for the worst, they won't experience the kind of pain we did in 2004. Not unless we deliver a defeat even worse than their worst nightmares. And I'll be honest with you -- I want them to hurt as much as we did. I want their spirits crushed, their backs broken. The day after the election, I want to see an electoral battlefield littered with defeated Republicans, their ranks demoralized, their treasury in heavy debt, and no real leadership to take the helm. I want a vacuum so complete, that a bloody leadership battle between the neocons, theocons, and corporate cons shakes the GOP to its core, and leaves it fractured and ill-equipped to stymie the progressive agenda, much less ramp up for an even bleaker (for them) 2010.
We're not out to win this thing. We're out to crush them. And that's going to require a level of engagement beyond anything you've ever done before. It'll mean more phone banking, more canvassing, more donating. Work on this site keeps me from working the phones or walking precincts (my wife has helped out on those fronts), but I've surrendered a significant portion of my income, way more than my family can really afford, on behalf of the cause. We've all got something to offer, whether it's time or money, and now's the time to offer what we can…
I am proud to say that I did my little bit in convincing people the need for a positive change – through blogging and otherwise. I am happy that I did - however small it might be. I hope for a better future, not just for our country, not just for our people, but for the world at large. The new President has a host of problems that he will have to shoulder and hit the ground running. On top of the agenda is the economy and distressed homeowners. Add to that the dangers posed by creeping inflation and rising unemployment and one has the recipe for disaster. Outside of the country, it is a fact that Afghanistan is hurting badly and Iraq is still in a quagmire. With global recession and a bellicose Russia he will have a lot to deal with internally and externally. A lot will be expected of him over the next four years and my hope is that he delivers. Time will tell. For now I am happy.

In light of the fact that President Obama faces a Great Depression like scenario in front of him, a historical parallel drawn by George Packer in the New Yorker today is handy:

On the night of his landslide victory over Hoover, in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt had an intimate conversation with his son James:
"You know, Jimmy," Franklin said, "all my life I have been afraid of only one thing—fire. Tonight I think I'm afraid of something else."
"Afraid of what, Pa?"
"I'm just afraid that I may not have the strength to do this job." He paused reflectively. "After you leave me tonight, Jimmy, I am going to pray. I am going to pray that God will help me, that he will give me the strength and the guidance to do this job and to do it right. I hope that you will pray for me, too, Jimmy."


Jonathan Curley, a banker who voted for Bush Sr. once and Bush Jr. twice writes in the Christian Science Monitor on what he learnt while campaigning for Sen. Obama.

I've learned that this election is about the heart of America. It's about the young people who are losing hope and the old people who have been forgotten. It's about those who have worked all their lives and never fully realized the promise of America, but see that promise for their grandchildren in Barack Obama. The poor see a chance, when they often have few. I saw hope in the eyes and faces in those doorways.
Read on here.

Voting Day Stories - III

The lines at the firehouse where my wife and our four year old stopped to vote was relatively small. It was a quick affair and she called me and said that all went through smoothly. The workflow built into the voting machine in New Jersey follow a two step process. First you get to pick all of the candidates for the state, senate and the Presidential races of your choice. Once selected, you then press a button to 'vote' for the selected choices. My wife said that she had no problems selecting the various choices on the ballot. My wife then told me that when the time came to press the button to cast the ‘vote’, she did not do it. I asked her what happened. Did she not feel up to the great task of actually participating in this final rite of passage after being battered with promises and ads over the last two years? She then told me over the phone that she made our four year old son do it. I think she did that in the belief that what she did today at the polls was more for our children than for ourselves. Yes, to a large extent we do these things for ourselves, but in the end run, we are here to pass the baton and we better pass a cleaner baton than a ruined old, dirty one to our children.

Voting day stories - II

Watching this video of over a 1000 students at my alma mater lined up at 6am this morning to vote is indeed heartening...

Making it easier to refuse emergency contraception even for rape victims

A Times editorial on the damage that the current administration can do before we see a new one in the White House.

Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations after these elections that would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims.
OK, let’s repeat the last part: As a result of the changes to be instituted in a couple of days, a whole range of health care workers (those of whom that make healthcare decisions solely on their religious/moral beliefs) will have the legal right to refuse emergency contraception even for rape victims. Simplistic had highlighted the issue when it had first surfaced in Sept.




Selection from the art of Octavio Ocampo.

Faces

Displaced people fleeing the fighting between Laurent Nkunda's 'rebel' army and the Congolese government forces in Goma, Congo. Full set of pictures here. Looting, rape and murder reigns.

Tuesday Quotable

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party - and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose - Abraham Lincoln

From Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume V, "Meditation on the Divine Will" (September 2, 1862?), pp. 403-404.