Sept 11: The Looking Glass War

Some events have the power to imprint themselves on one’s memory. One morning about four years ago, my roomie Wayne knocked on the door at the ungodly hour of 6 AM to say “you may want to watch this.” In the living room, the TV was on. His mother had called from the east coast to tell him to turn on the TV. From then on to about 2 PM I stood transfixed watching the towers fall down. If I hadn’t had to teach that afternoon, I would have been there the whole day.

A few days later I wrote a piece for Tehelka (not available anymore, I notice) which I call the Looking Glass War. Not too bad even though I say so myself. 🙂

Missing in action since 1945

What is the real story behind the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose? Why should we–60 years after the event–care about what happened? Who was he and does it really matter?

I think that there is a deep mystery and the solution of that mystery may have profound implications in our understanding of our own history. Only recently I have started to learn something of the issue and I wrote about it last month. Desh Kapoor recently pointed me to a site that could serve as the starting point for educating ourselves about who Bose was and the mystery surrounding his disappearance: Mission Netaji: Missing in Action Since 1945.

Where do they come from?

A few days ago, I plugged in a gizmo to this blog which keeps track of where the visitors of this blog come from. Here is the Clustermap for this site. Currently the site lists about 2800 visits in the last 5 days.

I am surprised to note that the US counts for the largest number of visitors to this blog. One solitary dot (1-9 visitors) for Canada; none from Mexico (Carlos Munos, I thought that you would visit your old officemate’s blog occassionally); a few dozen from the South American continent; moving east across the Atlantic, the UK and the western European countries are well represented (hi Marita, Ville, Courtenay, Alexis, …); the whole of Africa has a few dozens, which I find surprisingly high; more people from the Middle east visit than from Africa; I note a few Pakistani visitors even; then comes India, which I guess accounts for about 20 percent of the visitors — this I find really surprising because I thought visitors from India would outnumber others, c’est la vie; then the far east sends a few, including some from China; I note Singapore especially; moving east and south, I note that Australia and New Zealand (hi Gordon) send a few.

Well, that is about it. There was no real point to this post. Just a bit of curiosity.

Update: Navin says he is the big dot in London. Hi Navin. Jyoti says she is the BD in Texas. Hi Jyoti.

Puzzler #1

OK, if you thought that this blog has no mysteries associated with it, you are wrong. Here is a mystery for you to ponder. About a year and a half ago, I made an offer on this blog: I will send a gmail invite to anyone who emails me a request. I made it clear that sticking a comment at the end of the post asking for an invite will not get a response from me. One has to email me.

People started posting comments asking for gmail invites. Then I edited the post with additional wording in big bold red type saying don’t post a comment, just email me. Now I get about 10 requests a week posted as comments, most of which I delete and only keep the odd one for demonstration purposes.

Now here is the puzzler: what do you think these losers who post a comment asking for a gmail account are going to do with it anyway, considering that they lack basic reading comprehension skills and have the intelligence of a doorknob?

The KGB and Indian Democracy

It’s not surprising but it is still news to me that the KGB attempted to steer the Indian ship of state. I grew up hearing rumors of the CIA doing all sorts of nasty things around the world, of course. The KGB, as the other spy in the real life adaptation of the Mad Spy Versus Spy, was as active I conjectured. Clearly India had enough commies crawling around for the KGB to find willing agents. So when I read (via The Acorn) the TIMESonline of the UK report that KGB records show how spies penetrated the heart of India, I was a sadder but wiser man:

A HUGE cache of KGB records smuggled out of Moscow after the fall of communism reveal that in the 1970s India was one of the countries most successfully penetrated by Soviet intelligence.
A number of senior KGB officers have testified that, under Indira Gandhi, India was one of their priority targets.

“We had scores of sources through the Indian Government — in intelligence, counter-intelligence, the defence and foreign ministries and the police,” said Oleg Kalugin, once the youngest general in Soviet foreign intelligence and responsible for monitoring KGB penetration abroad. India became “a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government”, he added.

Continue reading “The KGB and Indian Democracy”

From ‘Nehru Growth’ to Productivity Surge

It is common knowledge that the Indian economy which was securely imprisoned since independence in 1947 has undergone a radical transformation and has seen a departure from its dismal 3 percent “Nehru Growth” to a more respectable 6 percent and more since the 1980s. There is little room for debate on that fact. What observers appear to disagree on is what were the factors that led to the transition from the “Nehru Growth” to the present.

Very broadly speaking, here is a thumb-rule I use to figure out what factors led to the Indian economic growth 1980s onwards. List every policy—domestic, international, industrial, education, health, banking, etc—that Nehru and his descendents imposed on the economy. Systematically reverse the policy and as you do so, you see the economy accelerating. In other words, if your goal is to create a set of policies that would ensure economic stagnation and deepening poverty of a large economy, the shortest route for you would be wholesale adoption of all the Nehruvian policies. Conversely, the quickest method of figuring out what to do to for economic growth, is to take any component of the Nehruvian policy prescription and apply the reverse.

To the extent that Nehruvian policies have been reversed, India’s economy is prospering. If the economy has not attained its potential growth rate yet, it is because not all of the mindless Nehruvian (but I repeat myself) policies have been discarded yet. I have no doubt that the nation will become slowly wise eventually. How many hundreds of millions will suffer poverty in the meanwhile is a question that is best not contemplated.

What got me thinking about the “Nehru Growth” rate is a recent paper in “IMFstaffpapers: A journal of the IMF” by Rodrik and Subramanian “From ‘Hindu Growth’ to Productivity Surge: The Mystery of the Indian Growth Transition.”
Continue reading “From ‘Nehru Growth’ to Productivity Surge”

Banning Plastic Bags

“What about the morons?”

“Ah. Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, and therefore cats bark. Or that all Athenians are mortal, and all the citizens of Piraeus are mortal, so all the citizens of Piraeus are Athenians.”

“Which they are.”

“Yes, but only accidentally. Morons will occasionally say something that’s right, but they say it for the wrong reason.”

That piece of dialog is from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. Earlier in the dialog between Belbo and Casaubon, Belbo claims that “there are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics” and that a normal person is “just a reasonable mix of these components, these four ideal types.”

I am persuaded that politicians in India are not normal people in the sense Belbo means it. They are an unreasonable mix of the ideal types, mostly moronic. What got me thinking about this was the ban on plastic bags that is scheduled to go into effect in Maharashtra next week.

Here is what happened. End of July saw not only unusually heavy rains – a cloudburst, actually – in Mumbai, but also record high tides. Mumbai, never having an efficient storm drainage system, succumbed to massive flooding and millions lost property and hundreds died as well.

Now comes the moronic reasoning. You see garbage everywhere in the streets in Mumbai. Garbage has plastic bags. Uncollected garbage lying in the streets can block drains during a storm. So ban the plastic bags around the state of Maharashtra to avoid flooding in the city of Mumbai.

If you will permit me a brief digression at this point. You may ask, why are we ruled by morons? Sweetheart, we are ruled by morons and cretins because the vast majority of us are morons and Continue reading “Banning Plastic Bags”

Charity begins at home, privately

… no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651

Earlier this month life for those who were unable to leave the city of New Orleans before hurricane Katrina struck turned decidedly Hobbesian. Take away the basic necessities of life from a bunch of people – water, food, shelter – and soon enough the struggle for existence reveals nature red in tooth and claw.

One can have all the political freedoms guaranteed by an enlightened constitution. But when survival is at stake, the law flows out of the barrel of gun, and if the gun is missing, knives and fists will do. The thin veneer of civilization is not sufficiently strong to withstand the primal drive for survival at any cost.

They dragged out the national guard to keep the desperate poor trapped in New Orleans. In a sense, it was no longer part of the United States of America. It was a Third World country and the people of that place had to be kept out of the US just as other intruders are. And like the Mexicans dying in the desert trying to cross into the US or the Chinese suffocating in the holds of illegal ships, the poor of New Orleans also died in the floods.


The government of the US and its various agencies failed in their duty, of course. The Bush’s ineptitude runs surprisingly deep. But Bush and his buddies are not idiots. They will make even more money as a result of the tragedy. They will pour billions in the re-construction of the city and all the contracts will be awarded to Bush’s cronies.

They did that in Iraq. They bombed the country with huge expensive bombs (paid for by the American taxpayers). Then they gave fat contracts to Bush’s friends’ firms – they made a killing again. Hundreds of billions have already been spent in the needless war in Iraq.

For the cost of the Iraq war, global hunger could have been eradicated. Perhaps malaria, that awesome killer in the tropics, could have been tamed. But the military industrial complex wanted blood.

There is always enough money for bombs. But never enough for the poor people in need. For the poor, charity is recommended. The US said it would accept foreign aid. As far as I can tell, the US does soak up a lot of aid every day by borrowing two billion dollars a day from the rest of the world. A little more would not hurt the world.


Anyway, the Indian government in a gesture of grand magnanimity pledged $5 million for the US Red Cross for relief efforts. It also prepared to send an Air Force plane loaded with thousands of blankets and tens of thousands of meals. Good gesture.

Let me see. Five million dollars would buy lots of food and clothing for the people in need. But money is fungible. It can buy guns or it can buy butter. Of course, $5 million would not buy very many Patriot missiles – only five Patriot missiles, if I have my missile price correct. In an average night, they did shoot hundreds of those during the bombing of Iraq. Five more or less would not have significantly changed how much area was destroyed and how many people killed.

I think that in effect India contributed to the cost of five Patriot missiles fired in Afghanistan or in Iraq. Of course, India helped out in Afghanistan also by donating a fleet of buses which were probably destroyed by the missiles. Nice isn’t it: pay for the missiles, pay for the reconstruction.


I am totally against the government of India sending public funds to the US as charity. Charity, in my opinion, should be private and not public. Each one of us has to decide for ourselves how much and to whom we will extend our help in time of need. A private citizen has the obligation and the right to give from his own resources as much as he wishes to the charity of his choosing. The government of India – or any other government – should not be in the business of charity.

The government of India should have trusted the people of India to make the necessary sacrifices to send the resources to the people of New Orleans. The Prime Minister, too, has the right to write his own personal check to whoever he wishes. But he should not be so generous with other peoples’ money.

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