November 30, 2006

The identical size of all American currency bills is noted often. United States is the only country which issues its bills of all denominations in the same size and color. Probably not for too long now, it appears.

November 29, 2006

782 Days, 2 Hrs, 29 Min, 11.8 Sec.

That is how much more time Bush will be the president as I write this. Of course, almost 30 seconds passed after I wrote that! Came across it in this quite nice article of Hendrik Hertzberg in New Yorker.

November 27, 2006

A Close Look at Israeli Peace Offer.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech, supposedly offering a "hand of peace" is seen as a grand gesture by a peace-loving nation willing to make great concessions for peace. Accordingly, any refusal or coolness of Palestinian leadership is seen as another proof of their unwillingness to work for peace.

A closer inspection, with a touch of humanity, however reveals a more nuanced picture. Admittedly, the offer is a welcome one and has the potential for some kind of settlement. Yet it is important to appreciate why a Palestinian may not be that delighted with this plan.

First, the tone of the speech smacks of insensitivity to Palestinian tragedy brought about by the Zionist doctrine. Olmert, following Ben-Gurion, says that Israel is willing to settle for a "Jewish State without the entire land of Israel" for the sake of peace.
The international circumstances ... at this time, allow you and us to take a courageous step, which involves the need to make painful compromises and forgo those dreams which were part of our national ethos for so many years, and to open a new chapter offering hope for a better life for all of us.

We, the State of Israel, will agree to the evacuation of many territories and communities which were established therein. This is extremely difficult for us, akin to the Parting of the Red Sea, but we will bear it, in exchange for true peace.

There is a clear suggestion here of making a great sacrifice. Yet it is ludicrous to even compare sacrifices being demanded of Israelis and Palestinians.

The speech also has its liberal share of condescension. Olmert promises to "significantly diminish the number of roadblocks, increase freedom of movement in the territories, facilitate movement of people and goods in both directions, improve the operation of the border crossings to the Gaza Strip, and release Palestinian funds for the purpose of alleviating the humanitarian hardship which many of you suffer" in case of a positive Palestinian response. In other words, if Palestinians refrain from fighting injustices those injustices will promptly stop. Talk of putting the cart before the horse.

With regard to the the numerous "constructive" offers there are hints apt to cause alarm to many Palestinians. For one thing, there is no mention of a ceasefire in the West Bank. Perhaps typically Israeli army killed a 55-year old woman in West Bank today. Moreover, Olmert emphasizes that he intends to stick to the framework in Bush's letter of April 2004 to Ariel Sharon. This letter is an example of how solutions are being sought by the powers that be with total disregard of the aspirations of Palestinians. In it Bush quite calmly states,
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.

In other words, because the various Israeli crimes of the last few decades have created a whole new reality let us just take it from there. It is too inconvenient to address the issue of those crimes.

Unless one views issues in their proper historical and human contexts it is easy to fall into the trap of cleverly-enunciated political propaganda.

W. as Wooster.

This is a funny piece in New Yorker with Bush as Wooster and James Baker (who leads the Iraq study group) as Jeeves. It does not have a whole lot of content but its portrayal of Bush as utterly at a loss is hilarious. The imitation of Wodehouse is also quite nice. For instance, quoting from famous poets.
“Yes, sir. So Dr. Kissinger keeps insisting. And yet, as the Bard would suggest, ripeness is all.”

“What are you talking about?”

“ ‘King Lear,’ sir. A play by the late Mr. Shakespeare.”

I wonder if this is partly influenced by the very British "I say, why all the glum faces."

Hat Tip: Baskar.

November 23, 2006

Ankur - A Review.

There is a big class of Hindi movies which are enjoyable largely for reasons that have nothing to do with scientific cinematic values. Consequently these rarely cause remark outside India. There is also a smaller class of movies which are enjoyable because they are truly "good". "Ankur" is a member of this smaller class.

Made in 1974 by Shyam Benegal, it is the story of Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi) and Surya (Anant Nag) set in the backdrop of rural India beset by feudal oppression. Surya is the young son of a wealthy landlord. He is married off to a minor girl and sent to take care of the family property against his wishes of pursuing a B.A. Though he is sad about these events, once in the village he quickly adapts to the authoritarian control that is expected of him. Lakshmi and her deaf-moot drunkard husband Kishtayya (Sadhu Meher) attend on Surya. In due course Surya is attracted to Lakshmi though she snubs his advance. But after Kishtayya leaves the village in shame after he is caught stealing, she gives into her master. A short affair follows until Surya's wife Saru (Priya Tendulkar) joins him. Lakshmi becomes pregnant and Surya begins to fear the loss of his reputation. He demands that Lakshmi abort the child, but she refuses. Meanwhile Kishtayya returns and accepts her pregnancy. In a gripping last scene symbolic of the oppression of lower classes by landlords, Surya savagely beats Kishtayya. More detailed plot and character descriptions here.

The movie brilliantly juxtaposes two generations of landlords, and how the "ankur" (seed) for the collapse of the system is laid in the second generation. The first one, represented by Surya's father, operated in a society which accepted its authority blindly. More importantly, the landlord himself gave enough concessions to forestall any dissent. This is portrayed by Kaushalya who is the mistress of the father. Surya's father does not try to disown Kaushalya and her son, but gives them some land and continues to help them at every juncture. Surya's mother accepts this arrangement. This is symbolic of the earlier generation. The injustices were always there; but during this generation they were accepted without any rebellion by the victims and the perpetrators refrained from "crossing the line".

The second generation represented by Surya hastens the collapse of the system. The first sign of deviation appears in the form of the formal education that Surya receives. This teaches him to intensely hate his father for what he considers a betrayal of his mother. He is exasperated by his mother's acceptance of that betrayal. Another deviation is the superficial disrespect that Surya shows the caste system: he sees no problem in eating food made by Lakshmi (he does this even before he is attracted to her). But in the final analysis these supposedly progressive habits turn out to be deeply hypocritical. Finally he breaks the unwritten code between the oppressor and the victim by refusing to own up to what he has done.

The ankur for the future rebellion is shown through many incidents. The loudest one is the very last scene of the movie when a boy, who sees the inhuman beating of Kishtayya by Surya, picks up a stone and throws it at the glass window of Surya's house breaking it.

Surya's father (and his generation more generally) did not think that what he did was wrong. His sole concern was to preserve his wealth and reputation. He genuinely did not believe that his acts constituted any sort of "injustice". For this reason it was very easy for him to care for his mistress. On the other hand, getting formal education and "seeing the world" taught Surya (and his generation more generally) something about injustices. They did not however give him the strength to be just and resist the attractions of injustice. So after committing the injustice he could not own up to it. This naturally led to the collapse of the system after his generation.

Shabana Azmi was truly amazing in the movie. Her brilliance could be felt throughout the movie. She was more than complemented by her co-stars. Sadhu Meher won a deserved national award for the best actor. Shabana Azmi won the first of her many best actress awards.

November 22, 2006

This is a great op-ed by Pankaj Mishra in International Herald Tribune. He starts with the deplorable restrictions placed on Tenzin Tsundue by the Indian government during the visit of Chinese president and questions the direction of so-called "progress" by India and China. His main attack is against India.
Upholding business interests above all in its foreign policy, as in its domestic policy, China at least appears to be internally consistent. The gap between image and reality is greater in the case of India, which claims to be the world’s largest democracy, with an educated middle class and a free news media.

And yet fundamental rights to clean water, food and work remain empty abstractions to hundreds of millions of Indians, whose plight rarely impinges on the news media’s obsession with celebrity and consumption. The country’s culture of greed partly explains why a woman is killed by her husband or in-laws every 77 minutes for failing to bring sufficient dowry.

Pundits in India deplore, often gleefully, American excesses in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and the inadequacies of the American news media in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But the Indian news media has yet to carry a single detailed report on the torture and extrajudicial killing of hundreds of civilians in Kashmir over the last decade.

As I wrote a few days ago India can not spend its way to greatness. Until we develop systems to ensure the participation of the underprivileged in country's progress, India can not truly claim to have achieved greatness. As Mishra writes,
Free markets and regular elections alone do not make a civil society. There remains the task of creating and strengthening institutions - universities, news media, human rights groups - that can focus public attention on the fate of the powerless and spread ideas of dignity, compassion and generosity.

November 21, 2006

Israel's Illegal Settlements.

A report by an Israeli advocacy group, using official Israeli documents, shows that 39% of the land used for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians. An article to this effect appeared today in New York Times, which obtained an advanced copy of the report.

The report also says that 54% of the land is "state land".
The maps indicate that beyond the private land, 5.8 percent is so-called survey land, meaning of unclear ownership, and 1.3 percent private Jewish land. The rest, about 54 percent, is considered “state land” or has no designation, though Palestinians say that at least some of it represents agricultural land expropriated by the state.

Israel has thus no legitimate claim over more than 98% of the land it is using as settlements. Any argument justifying this based on the need for security is ridiculous. Settling Jews in the middle of Arabs is a peculiar way of establishing security.

New York Times has done well to publish this story. At least indirectly it is suggested that Israeli actions are illegal.

The report does not include Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed and does not consider part of the West Bank, although much of the world regards East Jerusalem as occupied. Much of the world also considers Israeli settlements on occupied land to be illegal under international law. International law requires an occupying power to protect private property, and Israel has always asserted that it does not take land without legal justification.

Majority of Palestinians hate Israel not because they are anti-semitic. There is no historical evidence for that. They hate Israel only because of what they see as an active Israeli policy to appropriate their lands and drive them away. In the face of numerous Israeli actions, I for one am not surprised they feel that way.

Update: Here is the report issued by Peace Now. It concludes that:
For many years the state of Israel has been seizing thousands of dunams of private Palestinian land in order to construct settlements. The claim by the State and settlers that the settlements have been constructed on state land is misleading and false. The vast majority of settlement construction was done against the law of the land and the Supreme Court ruling and therefore unauthorized.
On a moral note this report paints a picture of the Israeli state acting in “daylight robbery” of Palestinian land and handing it over to Israeli settlers. The State has been taking advantage of the weakened status of the Palestinians in order to steal their land.

November 19, 2006


This is a really nice article in the Hindu by Bhikhu Parekh. Of late one can easily notice a strong desire to become an economic and military superpower among privileged Indians. This desire might have been there always, but only recently there are indications that it is realistic. The enthusiasm about the nuclear weapons, the self-congratulations about economic progress attest to this. As Parekh writes, by its very nature this desire is very elitist and embarrassing. It is elitist because it does not consider India's underprivileged (its fulfilment is altogether independent of any improvement of the living standards of India's poor) and it is embarrassing because it reveals a subtle second-handedness.
As Condoleezza Rice put it with a shrewd understanding of India's driving ambition, the U.S. will "will make you great." Some of our leaders and most of our media enthusiastically welcomed this patronising and even perhaps offensive remark. Hardly any of them bothered to ask how greatness can be given by others, and whether a country that acquires it in this way does not remain perpetually mortgaged to them.

I feel troubled by this vision, for several interrelated reasons. First, it is born out of fear and frustration: fear of being bypassed by history and overtaken by China, frustration at being ignored or patronised by others. It is other-determined, and does not spring from our own autonomous choices based on a careful assessment of the available alternatives.

He also rises a valid point about India's middle class. In my own experience I found an average middle class Indian to be totally devoid of any intellectual curiosity. The newly, and often easily acquired, prosperity is only exasperating this situation. The concerns which animate them are what restaurants to dine in, what cars to buy, what clothes to wear, what cell phones to buy etc.

Unlike most western societies in which middle classes played a socially and culturally revolutionary role, ours remain intellectually superficial, culturally dilettante, and politically apathetic to the plight of their underprivileged countrymen. Recent surveys suggest that the reading habits of most of them remain disappointingly shallow. Few read serious literature even in their own languages or patronise the arts, and many of them find even the newspaper editorials and the declining group of serious columnists intellectually challenging.

As a country we can not "spend" our way to greatness. We have regain or reawaken our character and this has nothing to do with how much salary a call center employee gets or how many nuclear weapons we have.

November 17, 2006

Apartheid in 21st Century.

There is an article in today's New York Times about the ubiquitous presence of road blocks and check points on most roads used by Palestinians in the West Bank. It talks about the hardships caused by this to ordinary Palestinians who are already facing untold miseries by the illegal occupation of their land by Israel. Palestinians are truly a tragic people.

I wrote the following on this issue on a different occasion. I think this is a good time to post it here.

A Political and Geographical Background

In 1946 there were about 1,240,000 Palestinians and 600,000 Jews (through extensive immigration encouraged by Zionist organizations) in the area that now forms the state of Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The land ownership was 92% Palestinian and 8% Jewish.

In 1947 UN proposed a partition plan after a bitter and acrimonious debate (a plan opposed by Britain) by which Jews got 56% of the land and Palestinians 44%. This plan was opposed by most Arab states in the region and war ensued. Israel emerged victorious and 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land and 400 villages were destroyed. State of Israel was formed in 1948.

Israel occupied all the remaining Palestinian land after the Six-Day war in 1967. The occupation continues to this day, in spite of International condemnation (always exclude Israel and the US). UN has passed more than 60 resolutions criticizing Israel, but to no avail. Almost 40 UN Security Council measures criticizing Israel were vetoed by the US, in each instance, the US vote being the only dissenting one.

These numbers pale in comparison with any in the case of so-called rogue states. One questions the worth of a UN resolution when not backed up by the might of the most powerful military in the world.

Since 1967 Israel effectively controls the whole of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. After 1994 Oslo accord, the Palestinian National Authority was formed and was mandated to have security-related and civilian control of Palestine urban areas and civilian control over Palestine rural areas. However some parts were reserved for complete Israeli control. For the most part the Palestine region still is occupied .

Israel is Practicing Apartheid against its Palestinian Population

There are about 3.8 million Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza.

Israel practices policies toward them which can be construed unambiguously as apartheid.

What is Apartheid?

The United Nations in 1973, in response to the brutal apartheid then prevalent in South Africa adopted the "International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid" making it a crime against humanity. In it was set forth what constitutes apartheid. Some of the obvious features are:

--Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person:

(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups;

(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or

(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;

--Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;

--Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

--Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;

Full document can be found here.

More than 70 countries subsequently signed it. Major Western countries and Israel however refused to sign. The United States refused to accept that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Systematic Oppression

Israel practices the most egregious form of ethnic and religious segregation in OPT. Most of the data below is taken from "Witness in Palestine" by Anna Baltzer.


These are barriers manned by Israeli soldiers and/or border police used to monitor the movement of Palestinians. Most of these checkpoints are NOT on the Green Line (the border Israel and OPT), but in the interior between Palestinian towns and villages. These hinder people going to work, school, hospital etc. Because of these checkpoints routine commutes take hours for Palestinians. Also many of these are closed during nights making it impossible for people to attend to emergencies.

This is a DAILY feature of Palestine life.


These are unmanned concrete or earth mounds to prevent Palestinians from using their vehicles on certain roads, forcing further delays.


The habitation and transport in OPT are segregated. There are mostly different roads for use, with Israeli roads unhindered and built for fast and luxurious driving, while Palestinian roads are often dilapidated. There are also different colored license plates for Israeli and Palestinian vehicles to easily spot them. In time of checks, Israeli vehicles pass on on one side of the road while all Palestinian vehicles are stopped and searched.


These are exclusive Jewish colonies inside OPT. There are currently 450,000 settlers living ILLEGALLY in internationally-recognized Palestinian land. Of these 250,000 are in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem. From its inception, Israel did not express insistent desire to occupy Gaza. But it always wanted to control all of Jerusalem (not just its assigned part of the historic city) and the West Bank.

At the same time as the much publicized evacuation of 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza Strip in 2005, 13,000 new settlers moved into new and expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

International Law prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49). Yet, Israel spent roughly $430 million in a recent year ($2000 per person) to encourage Jewish citizens and businesses to move to OPT by offering financial incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies etc.

The Wall

The Wall Israel is building ostensibly for security provides the best illustration of real Israeli intentions and the sick impotence of International system.

The Wall will separate 34.4% of Palestinians from each other or their land. Moreover, the Wall is being built not on the Green Line. More than 80% of the Wall is in the interior of OPT trapping 274,000 Palestinians between the Wall and the 1967 border.

In July 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the construction of the Wall is illegal. Israel subsequently rejected this ruling insisting that the wall is necessary for its security.


More than 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners are held in Israeli prisons. Around 10% of them are "administrative detainees": they can be held without charge or trial, indefinitely. Around 40% of the adult Palestinian male population has spent time in Israeli detention. According to Amnesty International, torture, brutalization and humiliation of Palestinian prisoners are widespread and systematic.

Note to American Taxpayers

The United States provides upwards of $5 billion aid to Israel every year, amounting to $15 million a day. Israel is also the only country receiving US aid that is not held accountable for how the aid is spent.

November 15, 2006

Iraq War Debate.

Over the last couple of months the debate on Iraq war in the US has quite perceptibly entered an "intellectual closure" stage. The physical state of affairs and the prospects for the future (or the lack thereof) have become noncontroversial, with hardly any substantial disagreement. Thus denied the opportunity to debate the future, the intellectuals have turned to the past. And there seems to have emerged a general trend of theorizing on the reasons and historical circumstances that led America to war. This is to provide a sort of historical summary of this misadventure of American foreign policy and mark the culmination of the intellectual preoccupation with it.

Most of this preoccupation has been with the merits or demerits of the Bush policies of preventive war and democracy building.

There are those who lament the fact that there was never any credible opposition to the concept of preventive war. They point out quite correctly that while this concept may have been championed by the neo-conservatives, on the whole the liberal establishment went along with it. That remains largely true even today. Much of the criticism has only come in the form of complaints about the ineptitude of the conductors of the war. The proponents are merely "irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name".

There are those who find fault with the "newly" aggressive streak in American foreign policy. They find both political establishments party to this fondness for muscularity. They urge a return to an ethical conduct of foreign affairs where the aspirations and idiosyncrasies of each nation are taken into account. They find that the aim of building democracy by force is fundamentally contradictory recalling what Eisenhower wrote: “Global war as a defense of freedom: Almost contradiction in terms.”

And of course we have the neoconservatives themselves who after providing much of the intellectual rationale for the war, are now terribly disappointed that the ludicrously inefficient Bush administration brought disrepute to their brainchild.

In my impression this debate is a good example of misrepresenting motives. Rarely, if ever, is it pointed that America went to war primarily because it claimed that 1. Saddam was building nuclear weapons and 2. Iraq had a role in 9/11. Only after it became clear that both these reasons were spurious did it slowly start circulating that the US was desirous of a democratic Iraq or that Iraq presented at least a long term (if not a short term) threat. This historical fact can not be overemphasized.

To be sure there were many individuals who thought war was a good idea as a preventive strategy or as part of democracy building. These individuals naturally ascribed their own motives on the administration. But it has to be remembered that officially professed motives were quite different. Bush administration was in charge of the war, not the multitude of intellectuals who thought their own ideas were being implemented.

Isolated acts do not carry the weight of convictions. Invading Iraq may be a part of a variety of convictions (bringing democracy there, liberating people from a crazy dictator, securing oil fields, securing America etc), but that does not mean that the act of invading Iraq should draw cheers from people holding different convictions. It should draw cheer only from those people who share the conviction of the people who actually started the war and who are in charge of the war.

The approval of Iraq war for any reasons other than those given by the administration (weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda link) is logically erroneous.

November 12, 2006

Ballot Measures.

Aside from the satisfactory Democratic victories in this midterm elections, various ballot measures turned out very well. There were many results which were pleasantly surprising.

Stem cell initiative in Missouri:

This measure is to some extent symbolic. It does not allow any new methods of research. It merely allows any stem cell research to be conducted that is permitted under federal law.
It also allows any cures or therapies that may result from the above research to be performed on patients. So in a sense the success of this initiative now brings Missouri on par with the level of federal acceptance of stem cell research. Still it is a major victory considering that a No vote would have banned any kind of research and nipped in the bud some exciting new research labs in the state.

The campaigning for this initiative was very eventful and attracted wide the attention. There was the Michael J Fox ad in favor which drew insane reaction from conservative radio hosts and some ads against by some popular people like Jeff Supan, the star St Louis Cardinals pitcher. I personally thought that this would work against McCaskill (the Democratic Senate candidate) as many conservatives will turn out to vote against the initiative and her. Exactly opposite seemed to have happened.

South Dakota law on abortion ban:

The legislature of South Dakota passed a law baning abortion in every case except when the life of mother is in danger. Some wise people decided not to go to court against this law, but to put it on the ballot. It turned out to be a brilliant move. The voters soundly rejected the law. It was a very important result. This would have turned the clock back on fight for basic human rights.

As (registration required) ironically "pro-life" supporters are really "anti-life" as they try to deny women a legitimate right and thereby forcing on them untold miseries of death by crude abortions or of unwanted motherhood. According to a World Health Organization estimate, 110,000 women worldwide die each year from such illegal abortions and up to six times as many suffer injury from them.

Minimum wage measures in many states: One very happy outcome of the elections is the very convincing victory for measures to raise the minimum wage in 7 states. This confirms clearly how voters think on this issue.

Now coming to a few not so happy results:

Gay marriage ban: Results on this also confirmed how voters feel on this. Except in Arizona all other seven states which had this on the ballot rejected it.

In Michigan voters comfortably approved scrapping affirmative action in university admissions and government hiring.

November 11, 2006

US Vetoes UN Resolution Condemning Israel - Again.

A resolution was proposed today by Qatar in the Security Council condemning Israel for the murder of 18 Palestinians and as expected the United States vetoed the proposal. US vote was the only dissenting one. Britain, Denmark, Japan, and Slovakia abstained. The proposal also called on Israel to end its occupation of Gaza.

This is almost the 40th time in the past 35 years that US has used its veto power in the security council to reject any measure that is critical of Israel. This latest instance is particularly egregious. The whole world condemned the reckless killing of innocent civilians. Even Israel admitted the mistake and apologized. But the United States somehow thought that condemning them for this or calling on them to end the illegal occupation of Gaza is not "even-handed characterization", in the words of John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN. That is in fact true. There can not possibly be any even-handed characterization or a stand not biased against Israel, if one is to be factual. Such are the facts.

The point is that US or Israel do not give a damn about Palestinian lives. If they are lost it is only due to an unfortunate error. Well, there have been too many errors. More than 60 have died in the last ten days. Many of those alive, children who are suddenly left orphans and adults who lost their children, will suffer emotional damages for years to come. There are real people killed and real lives destroyed. This hardly makes an impression on the forces that are causing this mammoth human catastrophe.

And the world has been trained to look away. Everything can be explained and even justified with clever public relations tricks. Even mercilessly killing thousands of people and perpetuating violence in the name of peace. Israel says it has to kill terrorists. So they will attack their hideouts.

But in Gaza there is no place that isn't near residences, that is free of children and mothers, of unemployed people who fill the alleys and of young people without hope. Everyone sees everyone else, everyone helps everyone else to the best of his ability. Because there is no other way out. [Link]

It is incredibly ridiculous to believe that Israel can achieve peace and security by their current policies. What will be the reaction of a passionate and weak individual amid this destruction of everything he cares for by an all too powerful state. He is amazingly defenseless against it. It is only natural that he will seek vengeance in a cowardly and self-defeating manner. It is a most evident moral truism that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. This sequence of violence has to stop. But who should take the first step. Obviously the side which is overwhelmingly stronger and which systematically tries to control the lives of the other side while illegally occupying their land.

That however will not happen unless the most powerful country in the world stops lending it uncritical support and refrains from hypocritical vetoes at the UN.

Update: I just read this article No one is guilty in Israel by Gideon Levy. It stresses the real issues forcefully and demands that responsibility must be taken by "flesh-and-blood human beings" for the killings of Palestinians. It also laments the "yawning indifference" of Israeli society.

November 10, 2006

"Who's Rumsfeld?"

This is an interesting article in the New York Times. It is not often that one hears stories of pleasant encounters between American troops and Iraqi people. In this one some American soldiers intrude on an Iraqi home and use it to watch for the insurgent activity in the area. The host is gracious inspite of the forced intrusion.

He gives the the news from the midterm elections and Rumsfeld's departure. Soldiers do not seem to be interested in it. One even asks "who's Rumsfeld?". This exchange between the host and a soldier is revealing.

[The host] pointed at the young marines before him, smoking on his couches, drinking his hot, sweetened tea. “These soldiers, in Iraq, they make freedom?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sergeant McKinnon said.

“What kind of freedom?” he asked.

He had been talking about the living conditions in the province since the night before, when the marines appeared at his door.

There are almost no schools, he said. There is almost no medicine. There is little food, and no electricity except from generators. The list went on. No water. No work. Violence. Abductions. Beheadings. Explosions.

His son-in-law had been kidnapped by insurgents seven months ago, he said, and a note the insurgents left said he was abducted for being friendly with American troops. He has not been seen since.

In Baghdad, he said, Iranian-backed death squads were killing Sunni citizens. The country was falling apart.

“You like freedom?” he asked the sergeant. “This kind? This way?”

“No,” Sergeant McKinnon said.

“I think you and I and many people do not like freedom in this way,” he said. “I believe this. I am sure.”

“It is wrong, the American Army coming here. It is wrong.”

This gives an idea how even Iraqis not driven by hatred for America feel about this war.

November 9, 2006

Democratic Victory is a Victory for Democracy.

I am extremely happy with the results of the midterm elections. For one thing for the last three years I developed an intense aversion to Bush and the ideology that animated his administration. I do not refer here to the much discussed incompetency and recklessness which are abundantly clear. Rather my issue is with their philosophy, be it the notion of preventive warfare, religious insanity, or tax cuts to the rich. So I am pleased personally that there is a rebuke to the party, though it can not be read as a rebuke to the philosophy.

This brings me to a crucial issue. This election was about the Bush administration's conduct of Iraq war, not Iraq war per se. There is hardly any discussion in this country about the abstract principles behind Iraq war. The discussion is only about the appalling ineptitude of the people who are running it. That is the only reason for the widespread discontent. Except for a few rare exceptions politicians on both sides embraced the war (however reluctantly) and failed to raise relevant questions as is clear now.

However, I looked forward to the election because I was curious to find out if there is any meaning to the process of democracy. In these days of manufactured consent, it is becoming easier for a small band of dedicated vested interests to influence outcomes by veering the public consciousness away from substantive issues. I thought if Karl Rove and others could do that again this year, then that leaves a pretty grim picture of American democracy. That would have shown that there is no relation between what you do in the government and what happens in the elections. But fortunately my worst fears did not materialize. And the general sentiment could not have been more emphatic. That is why I am glad about the election results.

And that is why I think this is a victory for democracy, as much as it is for the Democrats.

November 8, 2006

Well, it appears that I emerge once in a very long while and make some desultory remarks only to disappear again. To some extent I have been caught up with one thing or the other (mostly one specific thing). But equally importantly everytime I ventured to put something down I was hindered by an assortment of doubts and equivocations. This has as much to do with the particular topic under consideration as with a general and probably alarming inability to attain certainty. It is not yet the case that I have overcome all my existential predicaments. That however, I now think, is not a prerequisite to express one's opinions. I shall do so more frequently henceforth. Or at least the reason for not doing so will not be my predicaments.

I started with the intention of commenting on the unequivocal and gratifying Democratic victory, but instead went on about my equivocal frame of mind. I will return to comment on the elections soon enough.

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