Friday, December 29, 2006

About 2006 : A Season of Realizations

As I sat down - I am having a long christmas holiday like everyone - and started thinking what I learnt in 2006, both from public events and my private life, I realised it has been an unique year. Many things I realized, not just because they happened now - most probably because I came face to face with reality now.

Things like:

Monetarism: Milton Friedman died, therefore focusing minds on his legacy and thoughts. Also, interestingly, the house price led boom continued in UK, though it slowed a bit in US. But Bank of England's refusal to raise interest rates significantly pointed a potential danger in the way things are working now, post-Friedman. Alan Greenspan allowed the dotcom bubble to form and bust - causing misery for common men. The current czars also taking the same route, this time with house prices fueled by easy credit, and if and when it bursts and interest rates goes up to a rational level, lots of people will get hurt. and, then comes the eye opener, globalisation and monetarist thinking may result in this economic pain being spread worldwide, american consumer's lack of forward thinking may make a lot of people in Thailand [or elsewhere] go bankrupt, as the decision makers will be able to shift a large part of the problem on other countries.

Nationalism: The biggest enemy of human freedom and progress during last two centuries have been - yes, not communism as conventional wisdom has dictated - but Nationalism. This psuedo classification of human beings has caused untold miseries, created situations conducive to war or led to war, justified exploitation of men by men, limited the scope and reach of scientific progress and allowed evil men to prosper. This is the doctrine which allowed a set of people to think that they are better than others, be it the americans now, or the british in the 19th and 20th century, or the ethiopeans in somalia. Without nationalist blindness, the whole business of war may not be sustainable. Without the excuse of nationalism, the whole structure of economic exploitation will stand exposed, and appear to be what it is - economic exploitation. Without nationalism, democracies will be fairer, and markets, more efficient. So, if the human civilisation has to progress from where it is today, if this is not the end of history, nationalism should be rooted out from the civilisation. Globalisation, sadly, isn't the answer - being a first generation traveller in the global world, I know this personally. Nationalism is licensed to prosper, continually prepped up by media, taught in schools, and ingrained in culture. It wont go away unless and until a superior value system starts getting propagated. However, do have hope - human beings are capable of superior thinking.

Unilateralism: A military solution isn't enough for iraq, that's the end of year realisation of american experts. This sublimely contradicts the neo-con notion of the role, responsibility and power of america in the post-cold war world. America is an over-rated power, measured solely in terms of its power to destroy. Unfortunately, leadership does not come solely from the power to destroy and punish. To be the sole superpower and control the destiny of the whole world needs to come from a moral power, the ability to lead, create and give. On those terms, America can not operate alone, nor does it have the resources or abilities for the job. Death to unilateralism may have to wait a few more years, when the micro-nuclear powers will emerge, but this is an interesting turning point.

I am sleepy. More later.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

War, war, war

The recent theory among those who know is that democratic countries dont fight wars with one another. Really?

Well, my history may be weak, but it is not about history. It is more about political science - about what you call a democratic country. Also, about statistics - score keepers are not always engaged in sports fields. There are other things too, but let's keep the big thing until later in the discussion.

So, if you really start tabulating, you may not find a democratic country attacking another in recent history. Well, yes, count out the Greek City States, they were different types, and there were no newspapers [or electronic media]. Also, dont talk about remote islands and Africa and Asia - you dont know which is a democracy and which is not.

Yes, at the outset, it looks like a credible theory. Not set in stone like the free market monetarist staff, a bit woozy-fuzzy like Bible, but will pass. So, Britain wont fight an war with America, or France, or Italy. Germany .. well, Germany is a bit suspect, as George Bush says that it is a big job to bring democracy in Germany!!

And, these neo-con days [I learnt the word 'ex-con' from tabloid newspapers and 'neo-con' from the editorials of the most hardnosed types], theory means practise. So, the application of this theory means that democratizing middle east will eliminate all wars from the region. Or, for that matter, Korean peninsula. Or, Germany - okay, that was a 'bushism'!

So, how do you democratise Middle East? Not by throwing out the sauds, but by.. another Bushism - bringing it on! Fighting an war! This is the mystery of sorts - if democratic countries dont fight wars with democratic countries, why does democratic countries fight war with other types of countries?

The reasoning that it is always the undemocratic types which start it sound very feeble. Well, no reasoning - at least the human ones - apply to Israel, as you would notice they have even violated the mother theorem by attacking Lebanon, another democratic country. But even counting them out, it is America who started wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq!

Well, The Economist will say - it is america's responsibility to fight wars for democracy. And, it is - yes, you get it now - more about economics than about politics. War now has a pure economic logic - if we say that countries which has strong economic ties, with companies going cross border, banks having businesses, investors investing in respective stock markets, dont fight each other, it will be more appropriate. In fact, this is rather counter-historical, as a prosperous country doing trade with other countries used to be 'takeover' targets. Today, if the country is part of global suppply chain, and as long as it plays by the rules, it is unlikely to be attacked.

Playing by the rules is the difficult part though. Even democratic countries may make mistakes here. Even democratic countries - if they dont follow the rules, it will be quite like old times, a witch-hunt in the international media for the 'coercive' country, a war-crimes trial and some hangings and death sentences.

Gandhi, in a rare moment of humour, said - western civilization will be a good idea. The whole modern civilization stands on this principle of war - the rightness of strength, the freedom of the powerful. It is about these well-spun myths about democracy, and the callous remote-control wars, it is about the unjust violations of rights of innocent people - that propels our cars and keeps our lives running. If one's concerned about blood diamonds, half of every dollar is blood dollar! Every truth is a half-truth. And, in the backdrop of this whole economic and political confusion - the only living half-hope comes from History - the cookie always crumbles!

Yes, always.

About 2006 : 1

2006 is over. Well, almost – though terrorists, geniuses and newspapers don’t sleep, or at least don’t have Christmas holidays. We may still have a bomb in London, a cloned man [or woman – but they are more difficult to clone] or a new big fad, to end the year. But, for me – I am looking forward to a nice week’s lay-off, and the year for me is over.

A terrible year for me, personally! I lost my mother, the person I loved most and who influenced me most. No other achievement could erase that pain. While I recount, I could not make myself to think of a happy moment. There were lots of personal milestones, yes, but none registered with happiness – the great sorrow overrode my soul and inserted a tear in every moment that I lived.

So, what happens at 00:00:01am on 1st January 2007? Nothing – I wouldn’t forget a thing. It will be one moment versus my whole life, that way. But, it will be a new start, a new me – an endeavour again, without a guide this time.

But, before that, I wanted to post my notes for 2006 – not just personal, but on whatever happened to the world, and to people I know, and here is the first note.

Here are a few 2006 lists:

First, keeping with the mood, a list of prominent deaths:

P W Botha of Apartheid fame (or infamy), died in obscurity, largely forgotten

Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, who overthrew the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvatore Alande, shot the president and then ruled the country with scant regard to human rights or democracy. Was never put on trial despite several attempts, and maintained important friends, including Lady Thatcher

Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of Kuwait, after a 30 year reign which saw prosperity, an invasion from Iraq and a rebuilding of Kuwait

Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslav President and Serb leader, died while on trial and awaiting verdict at the Hague, for Genocide and Crimes against Humanity

Naguib Mahfouz, Author and Humanist, a Noble Laureate – widely respected and admired, Mahfouz was an icon of modern day Egypt

John Kenneth Galbraith, economist and one of the great post-war Keynesians

Milton Friedman, economist, the leading light of Chicago school, a friend of Augusto Pinochet, the inspiration of Reaganomics and a hate figure for the Keynesians

Kenneth Lay, former Chairman of Enron, an icon of American Management and a whipping boy for corporate scandals – died while on trial and awaiting justice for the Enron scandal

Ray Noorda, former Chairman of Novell Inc., and a pioneer in Computer Networking

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Leader of Al-Queda in Iraq, died in an American Ariel raid, probably betrayed by some of his comrades

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nudges, Banter and Amnesia

When Gandhi was shot, a point was proved. Violence is better, more powerful than non-violence. Did he not say – Hey Ram – his final, poignant realization of this ever-so-apparent truth?

There were many such moments in history. Many things were proved. As if these apparent truths needed any witness or proof. Like, human beings are animals. They do better with violence than non-violence. They thrive in war rather than peace. They are selfish beings. They innovate, because they are greedy. They are thieves and rapists, and only an ever-increasing police force can keep them in control. They are naturally amoral, so they must be taught religion in schools and at the courts to be kept in line.

Did I question any of that? Not a chance. In fact, we are living at the highest stage of civilisation – one of conformance – and this is supposed a last a thousand years. Thousand years – no, probably more – last time we heard of a thousand year civilisation, those guys were a little too rash.

Nowadays, it is much simpler to live. I am not mentioning about electricity, air-travel and Internet shopping. Those are already historical. There are no speed cameras on the road to progress. I am talking about the conformance revolution, when falling in line is the fashion, conventional wisdom is so highly regarded, and there is only one kind of man – economic.

Gone are those bunny-heads who thought economics is an anglo-saxon pollutant on civilisation! Gone and vanished, not to be heard of. A piece of stone is preserved in New York’s Museum of Modern Art to remind our children what we stoned them to death with.

Oh, some questions are still acceptable. Purely academic ones, those who do not challenge the fundamental principles of our great thousand year civilisation. Like, what we used to stone the heretics. Lot of people say, a hammer. A hammer and sickle on Russia – to kill freedom of thought. Another hammer in Mexico killed the heretic who questioned the logic of conformance. Another hammer still broke the Berlin Wall. Ok – hammer accepted – probably it was a hammer, and see how open we are to criticism.

But hands up again. Why do you say economics is at the centre of progress? How do you know GDP growth rates indicate whether a country is better off? Why do you think a musician creates great music looking at the royalty he will earn on his album? Or great innovations can only happen when there is IPR protection? Do you think humanitarian aid is enough for Darfur? Do you think Israel has the right to invade Lebanon whenever they wish to? Do you think Nuclear weapons make the world a safe place? Do you think we have at least 50 years before the earth becomes too hot to handle?

Good question. Next question? And, next? And, next? We are running out of time.

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