April 29, 2006

"High" Gas Prices - A Few Thoughts.

It's amusing to see the kind of troubles that afflict the Americans in these times of "high" gas prices. Here are some of them.

1. A student of Brandeis University (Boston) not being able to visit New York every weekend to see her boyfriend;

2. A history major at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut deciding against a cross-country summer trip to California;

3. A junior at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. stuck at a "not-much-fun-in-summer" college town;

4. A 19-year old in Ohio missing his 25-mile monthly gift-giving trip to his girlfriend.

All this and more here

I don't know about you, but I feel a sort of perverse satisfaction seeing Americans' panic reaction to the slightest disturbance in their extremely shallow lives that revolve around meaningless consumption.

Two quick clarifications.

One, I have no way of establishing whether the panic reaction is actually felt by the people in general. I am only referring to the evident panic shown by the politicians and the media.

Two, I am sensitive to the hardships this may cause to the poorer sections of the society. But, I believe, expensive gas is not a cause of their misery. At most, it only intensifies it. Instead of exhibiting a dramatic concern for their lot, it would be far more prudent to attend to the causes of their lot.

Does anyone realize that even now Americans pay less for their gas than most others in the world? Can anyone see how much of their lives is defined by irresponsibly frivolous habits shaped by cheap gas? Is the American hypocrisy of protecting corn farmers of Iowa by high tariffs on Brazilian ethanol evident to anybody?

These are a few things worth pondering upon amidst all this hue and cry over "high" gas prices.

April 27, 2006

Chairman Bill!

This is hilarious stuff.

Gates: The thing is, Hu, that Linux system is bad news.

Ballmer: You said it, buddy. Spawn of the devil.

Hu: What is wrong with it?

Gates: Well, for starters, it's a system put together by a bunch of hippies.

Ballmer: It's like, totally un-American.

Hu: Does that mean it doesn't work?

Gates: No, it works fine. Better than that goddam pre-release version of Vista, in fact.

Hu: So why do you dislike it so much, Mr Bill?

Gates: Well, those damn hippies just give it away.

Ballmer: It's basically, well, communistic.

Hu: (Shocked) Ah, now I see. We are totally opposed to communism too, Mr Bill. How much will you charge for 500 million Vista licences?

Read the whole thing.

April 26, 2006

Great Job, Nepal!

The recent events in Nepal which culminated with the restoration of the parliament and the announcement of a three-month truce by the Maoist rebels are very encouraging. The manner in which huge masses of Nepalis protested and essentially forced everyone claiming to be in charge to take notice of their wishes is heartening.

Not only did King Gyanendra make uncharacteristic concessions, but the Seven Party Alliance (which was in charge of the agitation) too had to reject the initial offer of King Gyanendra (installation of the Prime Minister) in the face of overwhelming opposition from the people.

The supposed torch-bearers of democracy (India, the US, and the EU) showed themselves in poor light by expressing glee over King's initial offer and indicating that SPA would do well to accept it. In the end, to their credit SPA listened to the voice of the masses, instead of jumping over themselves to please the democratic powers.

Equally heartening is the pragmatic step by the Maoists to help this people's movement along, instead of squabbling over the finer points of their agenda. In fact, they should continue this process of gradually joining the mainstream political scene and present their vision fairly and peacefully to the people.

The iron hand with which the King ran the country in the last four years destroying all the institutions of public opinion was pernicious and out of place in the 21st century. In the end, his rein was ended in the only way which could have lasting ramifications - by the force of mass protests.

All this euphoria shouldn't however screen the great task ahead. Indeed, the real work begins only now. It is rather easy to achieve good will of people when your opponent is a monster. Preserving that good will after you are in power is the difficult part. So the Nepali political leaders, who successfully led the people to check the power of the King, now need to provide a significantly better alternative if the King is to be kept at bay in the short run, and if there is to be any improvement in the lives of much-suffered people of Nepal in the long run.

April 20, 2006

Wisdom for the Day.

Self-image is the key to happiness.

April 19, 2006

A Biological No-brainer!

Catching sight of a pretty woman really is enough to throw a man's decision-making skills into disarray, a study suggests.

I, for one, am not surprised.

Update: This beautiful verse by Scott Aaronson lends a poetic touch to the above phenomenon. I learned of this from Amit.

April 18, 2006

India Lose in Abu Dhabi....So?

India lost the first of the two one-days against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. After the loss, I found myself wondering, oddly enough, so what?

I ran through some possible answers. May be it would have been nice to to win the first ever game on this ground. Well, on second thoughts, who the hell cares. We can't win the series now. Big deal. Any game against Pakistan is a do-or-die game. Really? Defeat takes us off the steam. Captain thinks otherwise.

Seriously, it doesn't matter that we lost. Simple reason: we play again tomorrow. We play five more one-days within the next month (in West Indies). We keep playing except for a couple of months in the summer.

As in any issue, the opposing groups assume opposing stands. Players don't want to play so much. ICC keeps on scheduling more and more games. And critics take all kinds of positions, as in here and here.

But I guess, the conventional wisdom is that it's bad. I am not so sure.

Well, what's "bad"? Bad for cricket? How can playing lot of cricket be bad for cricket? Bad for cricketers? Tough luck. It's their job and they are paid more than they could want. If some teams want, they can come up with systems to rotate key players.

No, it's not bad for any of those reasons. The strongest argument would be that it's bad for the interest in the game. I did not worry too much that India lost only because I knew that we play a lot. Not winning a game is not the end of the world.

But I am not so sure that this is bad either.

As I read somewhere scarcity is strength. But strength for producers. On the other hand abundance is strength for consumers. Eventually producers in this case will realize that.

But till such time, as a consumer, I am quite happy that India play almost throughout the year. That way, I can pick what games I really want to follow. Basically, the costs involved in following cricket will drop. I can't really complain about that, can I?

April 16, 2006

Dhoni Moves up to the Second Place.

As I wrote yesterday India moved into the third position in official ICC rankings. In the rankings for batsmen, Dhoni moves into the second place (no prizes for guessing the first, Ponting). This is a great reward for a batsman who truly has the potential to become a great. Oddly enough Yuvraj and Dravid dropped one place each, moving to 9th and 11th spots respectively.

In the bowling department Pathan is in the 4th position (moving up one) and Harbhajan in the 7th, moving up a remarkable six places.

Good times for Indian cricket!

April 15, 2006

India End on a Winning Note.

India completed their whitewash of England with a typically comfortable chase. With that we extended to 16 the number of consecutive successful chases. Though our winning streak was broken in Jamshedpur owing to excessive experimentation, this series turned out to be a very satisfactory one.

We continued to make the opponents appear pretty ordinary. While there is some merit in the warning that Indians are having it easy right now (playing at home or close to home against lacklustre opposition), it must be remembered that none of our recent opponents was a weak team.

Sri Lanka and South Africa came as the second best in the world, and Pakistan and England are very competent teams. With the exception of South Africa, we demolished the opponents (Sri Lanka 6-1, Pakistan 4-1, and now England 5-1). By any standards this is a remarkable turnaround for a team which was struggling in the one-days and dropped to 8th place in the official rankings. We moved to third position now.

This is not to imply that everything is alright with the team. We have a long way to go to pose as a serious contender for the world cup, but it is a process and we are making good progress.

April 14, 2006

Dhoni - A True Match-Winner.

That is Geoffrey Boycott's assessment as we approach the end of the ODI series against England.

India, though, have emerged from the series with a few more positives, chief among them a superstar in the making called Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His elevation in the ODI batting order has brought out aspects to his character I hadn't thought he possessed. He has proved to be a true match-winner, who can bat anywhere in the order, and who thinks his way out of a situation. It helps, of course, that he has the Bollywood looks and the attitude to become a real pin-up boy for Indian cricket. Heck, he's got the looks, the talent and the brains, and provided he doesn't let any of it go to his head, he will be a true superstar.

Incidentally, Dhoni will be sitting out the last game in Indore.

Vintage Jon Stewart Moment.

This is an awesome report from Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As with many things from that show this one is exceedingly funny, but makes a very forceful point as well.

Well Jon, as a member of the cynical knee-jerk reactionary media liberal ivy-league Taxachussetts elite, I can see how you would find a discrepancy between the words "last throes" and "12 year insurgency".

That's just more of your western linear left-to-right letters-in-consecutive-order syllable-based banner reading. The true message was there, you just had to read the letters in anagram form as it was intended. "C'MON I LIED. SO SCAMPISH."


Alice, Off the Page.

Update: I had to remove the article due to copyright issues. Please email me if you want the article.

I read this wonderful essay, Alice, Off the Page, by Calvin Trillin in memory of his wife Alice, in the New Yorker (March 27). I am not of a particularly sentimental deportment, and it is not often that these kinds of accounts move me. But this is an exception.

I never heard of this Calvin Trillin. And when I came to this article while turning the pages of New Yorker, it was supposed to be just one cursory glance and onto more interesting stuff. But each sentence kept me wanting to read the next, and soon I realized that I was reading something special.

He starts with his wedding in 1965 and takes us through all the important events in their marriage, till her death on 2001. Alice was diagnosed with cancer in 1976, but survived after a surgery and radiation therapy. But since 1976 they lived with the dreaded possibility of a recurrence. The story is about her strong desire to live on the one hand, and her refusal to be drowned in the fear of death on the other. How she managed to preserve every aspect of her personality under immense stress and contributed to a happy home is very impressive.

Of course, there is also the husband. He frankly admits that his whole life was defined by her and his writing career was also inspired by a desire to impress her. The dedication in one of his books reads "I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice." He also says he never really figured out how he could get her.

The essay is amusing at places, inspiring throughout, and most importantly it is touching. It is a bit long, but I have no doubt that it is a highly rewarding read.

Again, you can read it here.

April 13, 2006

Kudos to Bangladesh.

Australia just scrapped through on the final day to win the first test against Bangladesh by 3 wickets. Bangladesh deserve high praise for the way in which they dominated the first half of this match and gave Australians a run for their money.

True, they could have batted a little better in the second innings. True, if Mashrafe Mortaza did not drop Ponting (97 at the time) just before lunch (with 23 more to get) may be the story could have been different.

But none of this takes anything away from them. They played exceedingly well and should be confidently looking forward to the second test.

But probably Bangladesh cricket is experiencing a bad case of deja vu. They had this macth in their grasp and must be feeling rotten that they let it slip. Again. I am sure they remember Multan, 2003. It was one wicket then, and Inzamam.

It is 3 wickets now, and Ponting. I hate to say this, but Ponting showed again why he is the best batsman in the world now. He is scoring hundreds at will (8 hundreds in last 10 test matches) and seems truly invincible. Today's 100 is particularly valuable.

Irrespective of the result (and never mind the repeat of a close defeat) Bangladesh deserve full credit. They need not feel like undeserving intruders at this level any more.

April 12, 2006

A Silver Lining.

The Mumbai High Court lifted the ban imposed on dance bars by Maharashtra government last year. As I wrote at the time, the ban was a highly disturbing act. So naturally I am delighted by this ruling.

Inept and handicapped as our courts may be, it is a matter of great comfort and hope to see such decisions. It means that government actions are not arbitrary and people have the power to question those actions and win redress.

April 10, 2006

More Brilliance from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh continued their domination of Australia on the second day snaring six Aussie wickets for only 145. That they held a complete sway over the batsmen is clear from the fact that Australia took all of 52 overs to score these 145 runs. The run rate of 2.78 is a rarity for the aggressive Aussie batsmen on the worst of days.

Match maintained its unreal posture till Australia were reeling at 93/6. The the inevitable Australian comeback started, this time with out-of-form Gilchrist. Still Australia have much to do in this match. They still require 83 runs to avoid the follow-on.

It is too early and probably foolish to make any predictions. Nevertheless let me do just that. Conceding the very real possibility that Australia will end up winning this one, one has to say Bangladesh have a great chance to stage arguably the greatest upset in test cricket history. They will first need to take the remaining four wickets quickly. Most important thing will be how they bat in the second innings. That may very well determine this game. If they can get a sizeable lead and add substantially to it, they are in business. Australia will struggle under pressure against spin in the last innings (I think even if they have a chance Bangladesh should not enforce the follow-on).

I will keep my fingers crossed!

Remarkable Performance by Bangladesh.

Probably not even many cricket fans know that Australia is touring Bangladesh right now. Well, they are. Ricky Ponting is even presenting his hitherto unseen humble and nice self.

However, none of that would have prompted me to blog. What in fact prompted me was the brilliant batting by Bangladesh on the first day of the first test. They actually ended the day at 355/5 in 88 overs. 355 runs in a day! They lost only five wickets and scored at more than 4 per over. Mind you, Australia is playing their full strength. Only McGrath is missing. But then he has been missing a lot lately. You will never believe Warne's figures: 20-1-112-0 (5.6)!! I was following the initial half of the day on Cricinfo and I could not believe what I was seeing. They maintained a run rate of more than 5 for a long time. When the second wicket fell, the score was 238 in 50 overs!

Kudos to Shahriar Nafees for a brilliant hundred (138) and Habibul Bashar for an equally brilliant 76. Their 187-run stand is the highest ever in tests for Bangladesh.

Latest Update: Bangladesh started Day 2 well. They are playing at 379/5 in 100 overs.

April 9, 2006

India's Winning Streak Broken.

Unfortunately the Guwahati one-dayer is washed out ending India's winning streak. However, our non-losing streak is still alive. Here is the list of longest such streaks.

Nice Quote.

It may be easy to lie with statistics, but it is a lot easier to lie without them.

April 8, 2006

A Pernicious Proposal.

The Union Government's proposal to reserve 27% seats in central government educational institutions (IITs, IIMs, Central Universities) for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) is appalling. This proposal, if implemented, will make almost half the seats in these educational institutions filled based on the basis of caste, and not merit (22.5% seats are already reserved for Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes).

I am not opposed to reservations as a principle. In India there was (is?) a systemic denial of opportunities to certain classes of people on the basis of their caste. This is a fact no one can deny. As such this represented a deep-rooted sickness in the society and many sound theories that held for a healthy system needed to be modified to cure this sickness. It is true that opportunity to pursue higher education should be given solely on the basis of merit, just as it is true that a human being should eat nutritious and wholesome food. But when a man or woman is sick, that general principle should be suspended temporarily. Similarly, when a society is sick, as India was 60 years ago, it was imperative that some general principles were modified to regain health. As long as a college principal or a factory manager denies me a chance because of my caste, it makes sense to implement reservations.

Reservations then are an eminently temporary fix. Moreover, their existence can be justified only on the basis of a systemic denial of opportunities.

When we got independence in 1947 and wrote a constitution, certain castes were deemed to have suffered unspeakable injustices and we as a nation agreed to take steps to rectify those injustices. The idea was that these castes would join in as equal players in society after a finite period of such steps.

Nehru wrote,

So these external props, as I might call them, the reservation of seats, and the rest — may possibly be helpful occasionally, but they produce a false sense of political relation, a false sense of strength, and, ultimately therefore, they are not so nearly important as real educational, cultural and economic advance which gives them inner strength to face any difficulty or opponent. [Link]"

A cruel joke on our society, which would be funny if it were not so tragic, is that far from achieving the said equality, the class of "backward" castes kept increasing with increasingly sophisticated classification - subcastes, sub-subcastes, groups of castes and so on. Now we reached a point where reservations became an end in themselves. Pandering to these "backward" people became the main political tool of the rulers, and claiming "backwardness" became fashionable among the subjects. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we pursued the policies of reservation.

The question is: are the Other Backwards Castes facing any systemic denial of opportunities that justifies this proposal? The answer is definitely "No". I am not claiming that there is no systemic denial of opportunities. Surely it is still widespread in parts of the country and steps need to be taken to address that. This proposal will not only fail to achieve that, it will further the spread of the rot that is eating away the education system in India.

This is an extremely well-argued article on this issue by Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

David Gower on Yuvraj.

David Gower writes analytically on Yuvraj's batting style.

As a batsman he is oozing confidence and aggression. He has that high back lift that reminds me of Brian Lara and he is actually batting better than Brian Lara at the moment.

The back lift always gives a signal to bowlers, especially when it is as high as Yuvraj’s. It basically means ‘I’m coming after you if I possibly can’. Once the bat is that high to begin with all the attacking shots are options and the batsman is indicating that he is looking to score runs first and only if absolutely necessary will he bring the bat down for a defensive shot. By contrast, those with low back lifts always find themselves comparatively short of time when they suddenly decide to attack, more so with the cross batted shots.

There are no such problems for Yuvraj but it is his driving that impresses most, even if it was one drive too many that cost him his wicket on Thursday.

Mostly, he plays on the up through the line of the ball with the top hand and front elbow as high as that back lift which starts the whole process. As such he delivers the bat beautifully to the ball, opening the face less than most left handers, many of whom, including myself in days long gone by, tend to play the ball squarer on the off side.

April 7, 2006

Longest Winning Streaks in ODIs.

As I wrote earlier, India now hold the record for the longest winning streak while chasing. Another important streak is also assuming interest - longest winning streak. India is right now on a winning streak of 8 matches.

Not surprisingly Australia lead with 21. Top three positions are:

Australia - 21
South Africa - 12
West Indies - 11.

But the next 19 places are all held by streaks of lengths between 8 and 10.

India's best performance before has been also 8 - twice. Once in mid-1980s and the other time in the world cup 2003. So the first step is to better that. Winning the present series 7-0 will take our streak to 11 and put us in the third position. Then to Abu Dhabi.

April 6, 2006

India Break the Record.

India beat England in Kochi to make it their 15th successive winning chase. This breaks the record of 14 by West Indies 20 years ago, and we also clinch the series with three games to go.

This is a remarkable achievement and will stand for a long time. It is particularly heartening because Indians were considered poor chasers just a few years ago.

India on the Verge of a Great Record.

India did very well to restrict England to 237. We are just one decent batting effort away from a great record - the longest successful chasing streak in One-Day cricket. Very exciting!

April 5, 2006

Playing Seriously is No Fun?

I play badminton regularly. I have a friend who plays with me. He is good but most of the time, he does not take the game seriously. So he makes lots of mistakes and often they turn out to be decisive. When I urge him to more attention and cut down on mistakes, his standard reply is: I am not playing to win; I am just playing for fun.

This type of temperament is very common. But when I think about it, I find it a bit odd.

Why do we play games? (I am not concerned here with professional players.) In my view, there are two basic reasons. Firstly, people play games for physical or mental exercise. Secondly, and more importantly, people play for fun. In other words, people play because they enjoy playing. In fact, play is often deemed the jolly part of life.

So we play for fun. Naturally "fun" is not easy to quantify and different people have different ways of maximizing it. The attitude of my friend, which is very common, implies that playing to win (or playing seriously) is not fun. This is what I find perplexing. This attitude dismisses winning. But paradoxically, it increases the value of winning. It does so by making "winning" an extraordinary feat achieving which involves lot of effort, nullifying the fun aspect.

When I play, I am eagerly trying to win. However, winning is not an end in itself. Winning is not even the primary goal. Primary goal is to play as well as I can. I can not have fun if I know that I am not playing as well as I can. I am totally accounting for varying skills here. I myself is not particularly good at many games. That is why winning is not the holy grail. If so, playing with a better player is meaningless. Yet you can always play as well as you can. If that is the aim, then with whom you are playing is irrelevant. In fact, playing with better players is good because that is how one improves.

April 4, 2006

Lopsided Priorities of Indian Railways.

This article in the International Herald Tribune gives a glimpse of the efforts of Indian railway to woo and retain upper class passengers.

A few minutes after the Lucknow-bound [Shatabdi] express leaves Delhi, men in black suits, bow ties and baseball caps walk through the executive-class rail car, press their hands together in greeting, and - with theatrical politeness bordering on sycophancy - bow down to present every passenger with a red rose, wrapped in cellophane.

It is a gesture which leaves the passengers perplexed. No one can decide what to do with the flowers, most of which end up stuffed under the arm- rest.

The roses are the opening gambit in an all-out assault of hospitality on the first-class traveler. A few minutes later, individual thermos flasks are distributed at every seat, damp towels are offered to help wipe away the grime of the station, newspapers in Hindi and English appear, individual packets of cornflakes come on a tray with milk, snacks of potato-and- cashew cutlets follow, bananas are offered from a wicker basket, fresh fruit juice is poured.

This is perfectly understandable. Railways face a very real threat from the mushrooming low-cost airlines, and this threat pertains only to those passengers traveling in upper classes of trains. So there is a very strong incentive to improve the service.

I have always thought that the Indian railways is one government sector which is doing alright. Trains are dependable in that we can plan months ahead and things generally work out as planned. Moreover traveling in trains is a culturally vivid experience. All this is not to say that there is no room for improvement. On the contrary, there is an immense scope for improvement. However, in my opinion, it makes more sense to focus on improving the experience of middle or lower class travelers and the infrastructure.

It is true that upper class travelers generate lot of revenue. But in the long run it is pointless whether those travelers have a nice time in the trains or not. However comfortable a train journey is, it can never better a plane journey, for the simple reason that a plane journey takes far less time. Chennai to Mumbai Second AC fare is around Rs 1500 and First AC fare is around Rs 2600. On the other hand, one can fly for less than Rs 5000. It is conceivable that some one, pressed for time, opts for the (only slightly more expensive) plane journey. As plane fares fall further relative to upper class train fares, passengers will prefer planes more regularly no matter what. Railways will eventually have to look to substitute the revenue coming from upper class travelers.

On the other hand, of course, there is no incentive to improve the conditions for middle and lower class travel. These travelers have no other option but to use trains for long distance journeys. But the fact that railways is a monopoly means that we need to think outside the incentives-profit-free market box.

April 3, 2006

Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions.

I came across this very nice quote while looking at "In Defense of Globalization" by Jagdish Bhagwati.
Road to hell is paved with good intentions.

(This expression has been in use for hundreds of years and is often wrongly attributed (apparently) to Samuel Johnson.)

It is possible to imagine the context in which Bhagwati uses this.

Causing harm to the poor countries cannot have been the intention of Oxfam [a British NGO], yet the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Oxfam knows a little, but not enough, about trade policy, I am afraid, and I have been moved to remark, not just in this instance, that mission creep, even by non-creeps, is often not a good idea. Their overreach subtracts from the great good that they have done when they concentrate on what they do best.

I am sure he goes on to present arguments for his comments later in the book. But I am generally wary of such beautifully pithy expressions because they have the the potential of convincing the reader without providing any evidence. In this instance, the author is making very strong statements about Oxfam and it is essential that ample evidence is provided to justify those statements. Even if one proves that road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, it does not follow that good intentions of Oxfam lead to hell. For, A implies B does not mean B implies A. In other words, even if road to hell is paved with good intentions, not all roads paved with good intentions lead to hell.

Let me stress again that I am not saying that no evidence is provided. This statement is made in the first chapter and I am pretty sure he goes on to explain later on in the book. I only made some general comments here.

Economics is Not a Zero-Sum Game.

I came across this very nice comment on globalization. It was made in the discussion following an article in The New Republic (on the recent French protests).

While its tone may suggest insensitivity and the arguments may seem simplistic, I do believe it captures the essence forcefully (and beautifully).

For all the anti-globalization nuts out there, take an
international-economics class at your local community college and spare us of your stupidity. The world is made up of developed and un-developed countries. The only difference between the two is the system of governance, the market, and the education level. There is no physical barrier to prevent Zaire from becoming as rich and as powerful as, say Brazil.

When investors from 1st world countries put money into 3rd world countries, they are elevating them and developing their market and increasing their knowledge and living standards. Are the investors doing it for selfish-reasons? Of course, but the side effect is that the poor kid who was wallowing in mud is now wallowing in a factory. While factory jobs may not be desirable to us, it's very desirable for them. Eventually, a generation or two of time will result in the worker being employed by a computer chip manufacturing firm. There is a progression towards prosperity. Otherwise, what's the alternative - send cash to them every year around Christmas and feel smug about yourself? If the world were made up entirely of educated engineers and scientists and entrepreneurs, we'd be on Pluto by now. Somewhere out there right now in the Saharan desert is some bedouin with a mind to rival Einstein or Oppenheimer and it's being wasted herding some stupid goat because his country sucks. That's what globalization is all about, not exploiting workers.

April 1, 2006

Highlights of Second One-Day.

Watch them here.

The Other Side of Fight Against Terrorism.

This is an illuminating article in the Washington Post describing how much of the so-called fight against terrorism is a sham in Russia.

Recently two young college students from the Chechen capital of Grozny -- Musa Lomayev and Mikhail Vladovskikh -- were accused by the police and the prosecutor's office of all small, previously unsolved acts of terrorism that had occurred about six months before in one of Grozny's residential areas. As a result, Vladovskikh is now severely disabled: Both his legs were broken under torture; his kneecaps were shattered; his kidneys badly damaged by beating; his genitalia mutilated; his eyesight lost; his eardrums torn; and all of his front teeth sawed off. That is how he appeared before the court.

To get Lomayev to sign -- and he did sign confessions for five acts of terrorism -- they inserted electrical wires in his anus and applied current. He would lose consciousness, and they would pour water on him, show him the wires again, turn him around backward -- and he would sign confessions that he belonged to a gang with Vladovskikh. This despite the fact that the two defendants were first introduced to one another by their prison torturers.


This is how we create our "Islamic terrorists" -- but we are no longer allowed to write openly about it in Russia. It is forbidden for the press to express sympathy with those sentenced for "terrorism," even if a judicial mistake is suspected.


The plight of those sentenced for "Islamic terrorism" today is the same as that of the political prisoners of the Gulag Archipelago. They receive long terms -- 18 to 25 years in strict security camps in Siberian swamps and woods, with virtually all communication with the outside forbidden. Even the Red Cross is not admitted.

Russia continues to be infected by Stalinism. But it seems to me that the rest of the world has been infected along with it, a world shrunken and frightened before the threat of terrorism. I recall the words of one torture victim at his trial: "What will become of me? How will I be able to live in this country if you sentence me to such a long prison term for a crime that I did not commit, and without any proof of my guilt?"

He never received an answer to his question. Indeed, what will become of all the rest of us, who tolerate this? What has become of us already?

While it may be true the same amount of official grotesqueness does not fester the more transparent and liberal parts of the world, it is naive to suppose that things are broadly fine anywhere in the world. Many things come to mind which support this conclusion - Guantanamo bay, crimes of Indian military in Jammu and Kashmir and police brutalities in Naxal-dominated areas in India.

Some people may argue that this is an unavoidable consequence of the fight against terror. I do not find that argument convincing. The extent and nature of these cases reveal that they are not just the result of over-eager or over-cautious authorities. They are a result of authorities seeking short-cuts to appear successful; they are a result of authorities misusing their power to pursue some personal agenda; they are a result of authorities trying to cover their incompetence in getting the real criminals.

There is a certain clarity about what terrorists do: they use violent means to achieve their ends and every sane person in the world rightly condemns them. What governments do in many cases amounts to the same thing. What makes this state-terrorism (wherever it is practiced) particularly loathsome is that governments are legally sanctioned the use of violent means to achieve some prescribed ends, but they overreach their authority. This makes a criticism of their actions more complex and hence more daunting. Unfortunately they get away with it often.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]