Monday, August 30, 2010

Chilean tragedy: price of a human life

The grainy images brought a sigh of relief. It showed a bunch of Chilean miners buried nearly two thousand feet below were alive and  in good spirits given this could very well have been their grave, and for some before the ordeal is over, it could still be. Trapped in a small space breathing the stale air, sparse food, little water, and no light showcases to what extent we risk our lives to want for a better life. Most of the world does much care except watch it on TV as it makes good TV.  They will watch Beck rally, even participate in it rather than empathize with their plight. Same is the case of the millions uprooted in Pakistan.

It will take two to three months not weeks or days to get them. The human and psychological tool is incalculable. Even if a few perish, all they will get is a lump sum payment of a few thousand dollars. That's it. There will be no rallies, no taking back the country, no bringing back the honor.

Most nation in US and by default some parts of the industrialized world is now obsessed with an errant hurricane that could dent up the east coast. The damage could be catastrophic, it could be minimal. Impeding doom is much more thrilling than being buried in the earth. With all the technology in man's possession, drilling ocean floors. It will take more time to get to the miners than it did to breach the BP Oil well, there is something wrong with that.

Meanwhile 40 odd people live in dim lighting with a camera, sparse ration, and attitude to see through three long months. There is nothing anyone can and will do about it. There are ways to get to them faster, but why? These are no VIPs, they are just ordinary miners. Their life is worth less, anyone else could have fared better, and there in lies the rub.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pakistan: the next forgotten nation

Africa has long been the lost continent. But the events of the past week, and the generic apathy demonstrates that Pakistan is soon becoming the next lost nation. Almost a fifth of the country is underwater, displaced and in risk of disease, amongst sweltering heat and humidity. Nearly a $1 Billion of aid is needed, but not much has trickled in. In the end, not much will trickle in.

Why is this apathy? Well, the rich particularly in US who are most generous in the world, think Pakistan is a terrorist state, and in general, they are right. It may not be state sponsored, but the mismanagement in general, means anarchy prevails. So the ones who will loosen their purse strings, the ones who will have benefits, the ones who will go door to door to get the aid - pretty much don't care when it comes to Pakistan.

Pakistan - the land of the pure, is filthy, unruly, waterlogged, hungry and disease prone right this second.  Not much of the richer Muslim brothers are doing anything much either. What can do against the wishes of Allah? Why help if that is what God wanted?

Mismanagement here will single handedly change the course of history. Extremist elements are pitching this calamity as a signal from Allah, that he despises people who help the infidels (read: Americans) and more of the ruin is to follow.  So their recruiting tool: join us, we pay, we provide a brotherhood, we provide a focus, and we on the side of Allah. Pretty compelling right? Well, from an unemployed youth's viewpoint, whose home got uprooted, whose family is in tatters, and there is no sustenance - this is the perfect storm.  Many a future extremist will be born in the next few weeks and months, thanks to this crisis in Pakistan.

Even if the liberal rich did show any apathy, it will not be received well or reciprocated, the die has been cast one way or the other. There in lies the conundrum.

Meanwhile, welcome to the next forgotten nation. "Paak" (pure) is soon under the threat and the  risk to become "naa-Paak" (impure). 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To have a mosque or not have a mosque, thats the ?

So they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero, not near it, pretty much at it. And almost everyone in New York is up over arms about it, at least 5 to 3. Anti-defamation league on one end, Mayor Bloomberg on the other. The Mayor says,"We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands.." if we did not do this. Others argue the World Trade Center Ground Zero cite that it should be left alone as a grand graveyard honoring the dead, but the real estate is too enticing for any such noble gestures. There is money to be made here, a lot of it.

The proponents of the minority argue such an opposition goes against the very nature of our immigrant mentality and tolerance. Really ? Our history suggests as waves of different Europeans, then Asians, then Mexicans came such issues always flared up. Even the Jewish community with all its clout is not integrated into the society. We truly tolerate each other for fulfillment of our capitalistic dream. There is no kumbaayah of any sort. Birds of the same feather flock together, and they hate the other birds unless getting along means overall survival. We only care about us!

Now, the country allows for the freedom of religion and faith. Using those rules nothing should prevent the Mosque from being set up. In defence, they say the emams are moderate: he espouses peace. In the end of the day, the question is not about the emam, but about how the community embraces United States. Speaking from experience, the community broadly does not espouse the kind of values the emam has, or the intellectual integrity of a Fareed  Zakaria.  They are exceptions on one end, there are several moderates who want to keep their head down and try to achieve the dream so that their relatives can too down the road in their home country or here in the middle, and the un or underemployed radicalists on the other end. For this under-employed group with rich relatives, inclusion in this Muslim community is limited to finding an unanchored Causasian women (not African American or Spanish or Asian origin), lure them with stability, money, and marry them (and almost always convert them to Islam) to use that funnel to get blood relatives entry into this country-legally of course. For what: a shot at prosperity. However, the "kaum" (Arabic for the broader society/people for Islam) must go on.  Right or wrong, that does happen, and denying it, intellectuallizing it,  is pretty much letting your heads remain in the sand.  The education levels in the Muslim world, where most of the early influence comes from, will never reach a level where such moderate behavior and enlightenment will be achevied and prevail. It is true, that most of the community if employed are peace-loving more for economic progress, but bear deep resentments to the actions in the Gulf and elsewhere (lets face it: we may not like human rights issues in China, but we can't do much about it; but we can always lord over the Gulf, we need their oil, they need our money, at least for now). It is just how it is. America will never be first, "kaum" (قوم )  will be, when push comes to shove.

Memories in that subcontinent run thousands of years, ask any Afghan or any Arab, or any Pakistani, or any Palestinian - memories run long. A country with a memory of  400 years, with tons of problems of its own, slavery to start with, racism that still lurks with us, tries to take the high road (becasue otherwise it will look bad and somehow "help" terrorist recuirting) and expects everyone will understand - well, not really.  There lies the problem and disconnect. The hue and cry is more xenophobic, but the underlying problem is bigger - it has the same patterns of distrust as the other waves but none had religion mixed in, it was pure ethnicity, this time it has religion in the center of it. There is no denying.

The country is at a 'beggars cannot be choosers' stage, they want any country which has money to  buy our debt. Well, Arabs are one of them, right behind the Chinese. In the end, the prayer room will go up, the big money from outside is on it, there will be incidents around it, but eventually life will go on. This will not stop the extremists to recruit, that is not why they hate America. There are thousand other betrayals in the past, and there is no way to make them forget that, mosque no mosque. But, I do think in the future, it is quite conceivable that the next attack at the country may in fact be have roots at this site.  Particularly if some fool tries to demolish that structrure after its commissioned and built (ask the Hindu nationalists in Ayodhya, that grudge battle is still going on). That brings the most inconvenient question of all, while praying how many people praying at this mosque will be thanking the almighty for amity, peace to the world vs. thanking those "shaheeds" (شَهيد) who brought those towers down for all those atrocities in the name of oil. It hurts even writing this thought.
The best answer is that the Ground Zero be left "as is" as a shrine where people of all faiths come and offer their prayers for the fallen (much like the Wailing Wall in another sub continent) - but that will never happen. So all this posturing will continue.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Right or left, incompetent

Supreme court drama wrapped up today with Kagan getting confirmed largely on party lines. It has become fashionable to be polarized. No one care about the people in the end. There are still over 8 million unemployed.

Issues with the right: They want to be pro-business, anti-deficit, pro-life, anti-gay, anti-tax, environment-neutral and pro-defense. Now, they are same ones who want to continue the tax cuts which added 2.3 Trillion to the long term deficit, more than wars, more than prescription drug benefit. They did it with their eyes open. They hate immigrants of all shades, although they pro-port to like the "legal" ones, but want to repeal the 14th amendment. They like guns rights, and ability to conceal them and use them, yet would not want additional law enforcement. They are pro-life but also want to take life with pro-capital punishment.  Their math and policies conflict each other, but they do not care. They want to be defenders of freedom and democracy but happy to crave to the Chinese, for buying our debt. They are the party of no ideas. One thing they do well: they are disciplined, they make no bones about liking the rich, they can channel focused hate (whether it be nations or particular races).  Silly as it seems there are no moderates here.

Issues with the left:   They want to be pro middle class, and poor, pro-gay, pro-choice, business neutral, pro-environment, pro-tax and spending programs, pro-union and anti-capital punishment. They have been around for 4 years now, and they have nothing to show for. Yes, a depression was prevented, but there are no jobs. Now, they say they like the common man, but in reality they do want to pander to the rich. They fund elections. They want to spend and think structural deficits mean nothing. They are not disciplined and have no guts to make hard choices, irrespective of mega majorities.They still are a party of bad ideas. They want to pander to unions, and immigrants, for purely political reasons. Unions have no utility in the 21st century, and it will kill progress and competitiveness in United States. Immigrants keep up that innovation engine alive, and also keep orange prices low, but in reality they just want that vote block.

Every one knows we just care about us, our constituency, our race, our people and no one else. We do not want to make hard choices. We just want to talk about them.

The truth is: we cannot sustain the deficits, we are not competitive, we are draining away money in wars that can't be won, we cannot have the same social programs in the future, we do not have the best health care for the cost, we cannot ignore the 12 million who are here illegally, we cannot continue to have a society which does not reward meritocracy.  Asia now controls more wealth than Europe and will also have more than US in less than 10 years. So, we are soon to be second rate in every way, and only we have to blame for it. Even England had woken up to that hard fact. We are still asleep on the wheel, does not matter who is driving the car, right, left, or center - we are driving us up a cliff and drive us down a deep abyss from where there is no return - just misery. We all have to take the blame for it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Disorganized chaos and idiocy called India...

I have travelled back and forth to India for over 15 years. Since 1990, it has made a lot of progress and impressive progress at that. But it strikes me for every two steps forward, the country takes several steps back somewhere else. A few have become very rich, several hundred million have more disposable wealth and hopeful than before, and then there are hundreds of millions whose plight is worse than Africas.

Disorganized chaos, lack of national pride, and just plain idiotic ways to do things is limiting their true potential.  Some of the smartest and well rounded people I have worked with happen to be from that subcontinent or first generation descendents.  Granted many came in the 90s, they tell me that US is the only place where their multitude of talents was valued irrespective of race, color or caste. I am not so certain of the race thing, but I do agree that opportunities for the folks who want to play by the rules do exist here.

Things that strike you when you visit any jor cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, several things strike you. First, no one cares about much anything. Second, the rich and the connected can get anything done. Third, law and rules are a suggestion and not many follow them. Fourth, infrastructure plain stinks - a good rain shower and the whole thing simply grinds to a halt. Fifth, the nation in general has a band-aid "this is good enough" mentalilty to everything. Perfection has no place here. And that shocks me to no extent, when you look at Taj Mahal, or the brilliant works of Ramanujan. Meritocracy is limited to schools and administrative exams, but then caste, creed, religion, last names take over.  Sixth, no one has any national pride. Religious or regional pride, yes, national pride, no. People spit, defecate or throw plastic anywhere they want.  It stems from the generous constitution of the country, where anything goes. You want to shut down the place for protest, you got it. You want to practice you religion, have multiple wives, choose to communicate in anyway, you got it. You want to divide up your state by sub regions, you got it. You want to respect every holiday there is, you got it (India has one of the fewest working days in the developing or developed world, except maybe Europeans where no one works in August). You want to have a multi-party rule, you got that too. Right or wrong, a very expansive democracy.

This is where I truly appreciate karma. If you did not beleive in God you will. More people get back and forth from home to work without getting mentally or physically unscathed, than they should. Driving here or any part of South east Asia for that matter is an experience, not for the faint hearted.  Also this uncertainty of life caused by circumstances, pollution or beliefs have created a deep need for spiritual consultants. Religion, astrologers, numerology, blind faith pervades everywhere.

India is about to host the Commonwealth Games, the published reports suggest nothing is on schedule. But the games will begin well, go one and end - they just hope the band-aid does not fall off, and most of the times it doesnt. Everyone will call it a sucecess, inspite of everything. And there lies the conundrum.

There are reasons why India will lag China forever. But that does not mean it has no hope. In fact, they are the most hopfeul and happy people amongst all polled worldwide. Also, they have the most diverse food pallete there is, no matter what anyone in the West says - they just don't get it. And wonderful traditions to top it, based on over five thousand years of institutional memory. A small amount of structure will go long way. A unifying leader will take them a long way. A proud attitude will climb any obstacles. Or else, it will be more disorganized or idiotic than ever.