Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Green Ideas Of My Favorite Journalist

The journalist I admire the most is Thomas Friedman, columnist at the New York Times, and bestselling author of "The World Is Flat."

Earlier his writings on globalization, free trade and competition in an ever closely connected world attracted international acclaim. These hopefully affect US and worldwide policy in a major and positive way. Now a lot of his emphasis is on green energy, conservation and ways to reduce dependence on oil. I couldn't agree with him more, including on the need for higher and permanent taxes in the US on gasoline. This will discourage excessive consumption, fund alternative energy R&D and can offset other taxes.

Today his OpEd in the New York Times talks of how much we have already lost by failing to curb oil consumption through a $1+ per gallon gas tax over the past six years. Read his article since he puts things so much better than I can. The opportunity to lower demand for oil in the US could have significantly lowered crude oil prices which are currently hovering around $95 a barrel. After all, the US consumes a fourth of the world's oil at a time when supplies are increasingly constrained so slight global shortages make prices spike up. If our own reduced oil consumption lowers prices we benefit not just ourselves but also most of the rest of the world that imports oil.

Of course Friedman has been talking about a lot more than simply taxing gasoline and looking at crude oil imports. You can see his many writings on going green through his NYT columnist page (now available online for free in a welcome change of NYT policy.) It's still not too late. Friedman obviously hopes that his views can influence the Democratic presidential candidates who can then follow the right policies after the next elections (don't expect Bush & Co to do anything meaningful in their remaining time.)

I doubt any leading candidates including Hillary and Obama will advocate a higher gas tax in their campaigns, and they'll be wise to avoid this. It's too risky and unlike Friedman I've less faith in the ability of the average voter to think straight on this. Still, it's what the President and lawmakers do after the election that matters, and people like Friedman may yet become a decisive influence. Let's see.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Daylight Saving Follies

I've never liked this Daylight Saving Time. The twice yearly disruptions are not worth the claimed 1% of energy savings (through less lighting) or the other purported benefits listed in a website tracking its history and rationale. Moreover, our power usage - and potential savings - on lighting is dropping as we switch to fluorescent bulbs that consume a fourth of the power of conventional incandescents.

Still, the maximum benefit of this time shift is during the height of summer. I tolerate the switches on the first Sunday of April and the last Sunday of October because it's at least in synch with most of Europe. But now George Bush slipped in a three week extension of this Daylight Savings Time in his Energy Policy Act of 2005 that took effect in 2007. So for three weeks this year we moved out of whack with Europe, causing problems on some international flights, plus other headaches like needing to install patches on computers and electronic gadgets. I don't expect the change to do any good either. Most of us turn on our lights on getting up in the morning in late October and late March so the benefit of "extra" light in the evenings is exactly zero.

Then there's the whole irony of the politics of distraction. An effective energy policy should include measures like higher mileage standards, higher gasoline taxes, or funding research and development of renewable energy sources. Instead the Bush administration comes up with meaningless "solutions" like moving the hands of our clocks out of step with other countries. Though a minor irritant, these actions also fit the "go it alone" GWB approach typified by his rejection of the Kyoto protocol and the invasion of Iraq.

There's one possible relief. In the 2005 Act the Congress retained the right to revert to the earlier Daylight Saving Time schedule if the changes prove unpopular or don't result in the expected savings. I'd like this reversal as soon as possible. To be forced to get up in the dark in the years ahead and be reminded of Bush is adding insult to injury.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Right's Best Hope Is -- The Far Left?

Instead of sticking to my boring centrist stance let me project our past and upcoming presidential elections from the Right's standpoint.

The credit for our GWB's 2000 presidential victory goes largely to Al Gore himself. He gave the election to us by distancing himself from that Bill Clinton. Of course Ralph Nader, Jeb Bush's operatives in Florida and our Republican appointed Supreme Court gave some crucial support.

But in 2004 it was Howard Dean and his enthusiastic supporters who really helped our cause by forcing Kerry to veer sharply left to counter Dean in order to win the Democratic primaries. Thereafter Kerry never recovered enough ground to win the face-off with GWB. Our Karl Rove of course brilliantly helped in painting Kerry as a flip-flopper when he tried to return to the center.

The same dynamic may work this time around. Polls may not look too bright for our 2008 hopefuls, but it's still early. Democratic polls show Hillary pulling ahead of her rivals, but the General Election polls show her in a statistical dead heat with our Rudy Giuliani. Our far left and liberal friends may again come to our aid. They already see Hillary as too much of a centrist, and our labelling her as "calculating" has influenced many impressionable women and some men.

The New York Times and Jon Stewart's Daily Show are also helping us by regularly sniping at her and promoting Barack Obama. Just look at NYT's Maureen Dowd who is one of Hillary's fiercest critics and an Obama loyalist. Among her numerous efforts here's her nice attack of September 30 which cleverly lumps Hillary with GWB, and another piece of October 10. Even Paul Krugman who's been a thorn in our side has been undermining Hillary - the man has his uses.

Obama for his part was brilliant on the Jay Leno show on October 17, lobbing carefully rehearsed barbs while making them sound spontaneous. And they think Hillary is calculating! For example when asked if Hillary had taken an insurmountable lead he correctly pointed to how the Iowa polls outcome can change everything, then added "This is not a first time a leader has declared 'Mission Accomplished' and been proven wrong." In one stroke he portrayed Hillary as overconfident and lumped her with GWB. The enthusiastic young Leno audience exploded in laughter and applause.

Of course, Hillary is actually cautious and even paranoid about the primaries, and has never said or implied that she's sure about being nominated. But Obama has learned from our Karl Rowe and Dick Cheney - don't worry too much about being factual, and you can get a lot of mileage from inaccurate implications. Useful guy, this Obama. He can either weaken Hillary so Rudy (or maybe another GOP nominee) can beat her, or if he actually secures the Democratic nomination he'll be so much easier to beat. But Shhhhh, make sure to call him a tougher opponent to encourage Democrats to vote for him.

So take heart, Republicans. An enemy's enemy is a friend. Have faith, including in the liberal and far left factions. After all, they helped the American people choose our current President a second time. Why not this time around as well?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rubina's Openers At The New York Times

Interesting things have happened since my last post, many of them to do with daughter Rubina. First, she had knee surgery in mid-August and can now largely manage without crutches. More happily she started work as a graphics editor on contract basis at The New York Times on September 4th.

A couple of days earlier she moved into a shared Manhattan apartment in the hip (as I now know) East Village side. It's a 5th floor walk-up so it was pretty brave of her opting for it after the knee surgery, but she managed fine and it's no longer an issue. Helping her move into that (unfurnished) apartment turned out to be easier than I thought. The biggest challenge in Manhattan seems to be to secure a suitable apartment - it's almost like applying for a job, with loads of paperwork. She has two nice room-mates, each having a decent bedroom and good common spaces, so that's worked out well.

But back to the NY Times: as a graphics editor Rubina is a reporter who plans and very often herself makes the pictures (other than photographs) that accompany news stories. It is interesting work and rounds out her journalism experience. And a picture is better than a thousand words..... They didn't waste time utilizing her. In the two weeks since she started Rubina has already had four pieces of her work appear in both the print as well as the online editions.

Here are links to three of her works (the fourth appeared in the September 18 print edition on page A24 but we can't find the URL. It compares and contrasts Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan with that of John Edwards and Barack Obama - so it's useful and interesting, even more so to me.):

- Her first graphic in the paper on September 5 which describes the dichotomy (and commonalities) on Iraq assessment between the two wings of the Bush Administration. It appeared in gray in the newspaper and orange online. It's more text-heavy than her other ones will be... You can see it by clicking "multimedia" after first clicking here.

- Her first credited graphic published on September 9th in Sunday Business. It's on Second Life. Pretty simple, but it involved some reporting because she had to find all the items, take pictures (screen shots), edit them and do some other research. Click on "multimedia" to see "A Luxurious Second Life" but after first clicking and getting to the article here.

- A census snapshot capturing some interesting features of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut states that appeared on September 18th.

In sum Rubina is having a good time, being productive, gaining experience and making us happy in the process. By the way, I'm writing this from Paris, two days before Anita and I return to the US. Enjoyable city with nice people who are more polite to English-only speakers than I'd been led to expect.

Friday, August 17, 2007

So What Would You Pay Our Lawmakers?

I don't want to influence your initial reaction so I'll reserve my comments till you see this email I've received multiple times. (The US context and debates in the press are similar. For those unfamiliar with India, $1 = Rs 40, i.e., a US dollar is worth 40 indian rupees, and a "crore" equals ten million, i.e., a one followed by seven zeroes. Also, an MP is elected every 5 years, and is like a cross between a US Senator and a Congressman.) Here goes:


I want to be an MP in India....

Salary & Govt. Concessions for a Member of Parliament (MP)
Monthly Salary: Rs. 12,000
Expense for Constitution per month: Rs. 10,000
Office expenditure per month: Rs. 14,000
Traveling concession (Rs. 8 per km): Rs. 48,000
(e.g., For a visit from kerala to Delhi & return: 6000 km)
Daily DA TA during parliament meets: Rs. 500
Charge for 1 class (A/C) in train: Free (For any number of times) (All over India )
Charge for Business Class in flights: Free for 40 trips / year (With wife or P.A.)
Rent for MP hostel at Delhi: Free
Electricity costs at home: Free up to 50,000 units
Local phone call charge: Free up to 1,70,000 calls.

TOTAL expense for a MP per year : Rs. 32,00,000
TOTAL expense for 5 years : Rs. 1,60,00,000
For 534 MPs, the expense for 5 years : Rs. 8,54,40,00,000 (nearly Rs. 855 cores)

Do they really deserve this? And they are elected by THE PEOPLE OF INDIA , by the largest democratic . process in the world, not intruded into the parliament on their own or by any qualification. This is how all our tax money is been swallowed and price hike on our regular commodities....... Think of the great democracy we have.............


Here are my comments - let's look at all these numbers another way:

Rs. 855 crores is Rs. 8.55 billion even if you accept all these aggregations.

India's population is 1.13 billion.

So all the MPs put together cost an average indian less than Rs. 8 or under 20 cents for 5 years.

Another way of looking at it: So we spend Rs. 1.6 crores per MP every 5 years. How much do candidates spend to get elected? Counting all the major candidates per contest I'm figuring it's between Rs. 10 and 100 crores.

The media plays up the same kind of story here in the US as well. It becomes big news when the lawmakers vote themselves a salary increase, and their health benefits are criticised as being too generous. Instead, I'd argue that it is better to pay Congressmen and Senators handsome salaries and benefits, say $1-2 million a year each. The total tab will come to $1 -2 billion annually, which is miniscule compared to the multi-trillion dollar federal budgets and decisions that Congress votes upon. Then lawmakers are less likely to be bought over Abramoff style with pettty bribes like games show tickets or rides in private jets.

This is one reason why I found the You-Tube CNN debate questons posed to democratic presidential candidates so inane. Candidates were asked if they'll be willing to accept minimum wages as their presidential salary if elected. Couldn't CNN choose any better questions in the final 30+ to air, when they had received almost 4,000 entries? If we want good, smart, enlightened leaders for our president, why would we pay them the lowest wage?

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mixed Feelings About Democrat YouTube Debate

Did you watch the Democratic presidential CNN/YouTube debate on June 23?

The positives were that it was an interesting new format and Anderson Cooper did a good job of (sometimes successfully) trying to get candidates to stay on topic and answer the questions asked. To the latter point he sometimes asked a good follow up question to get the candidate to clarify an earlier answer. It was also appropriate that the front runners got to answer more questions and get more speaking time, while the second-tier got their due. Another plus was that some of the questioners were present in the debate to react to the candidate responses.

The negatives partly related to the choice of the final 39 questions picked by CNN out of the 3000+ submissions. Several of the 39 questions were indistinctly mumbled or of poor sound quality, or hard to see as in the case of a guy using poster slides. When broadcasting nationally CNN should throw out all the videos with poor audio or visual quality. Especially since none of those questions were knockouts in content either.

Also, some questions were plain stupid even if they were designed to put candidates in a spot. A guy asked if the candidates would be willing to be paid the minimum wage (implying it was too low) if they were elected President. The candidates answered politely, though the response in my head was, "Listen, turd, why should the person with the wisdom, talent and abilities to lead the whole nation be paid the lowest wage of any American?" I guess I'll never win political office. :-) Another hollow question, this a follow-up by Anderson on wasteful practices - how many candidates flew in for the debate by private jet? Yeah, big deal. With their crush of activities and so much at stake they should be wasting long hours (not to mention security implications) catching commercial flights. Yet one more question - did candidates send their children to private schools? If they have millions, why shouldn't they?

So who did best? I was most impressed by Hillary's direct, intelligent and realistic answers that did not sound canned. I already like her and am not a neutral judge. Most CNN and MSNBC commentators reflect my view though 11 of the 12 focus groups polled by CNN felt Obama did best (one plumped for Richardson.) Obama did have some very nifty lines, speaks well and keeps his composure. May be that's why he's so popular with the younger (and the Hillary-hating) set who are easily swayed and lack maturity. :-)

I was pleasantly surprised by Biden even if he's lagging too far behind in the polls to matter. Edwards did okay in spite of some platitudes and stump lines (e.g., his son of a mill worker spiel.)

Anyone have different perceptions? The Republic CNN/YouTube debate is on September 17.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lead Foot Drivers Or Light-Headed Politicians?

I've always deplored using traffic enforcement as a way to raise revenues rather than ensuring safety and smooth driving conditions. Unfortunately it happens all the time. Ever noticed how the traffic police seem most active in issuing tickets when traffic volumes are low and driving conditions are good? In other words, when the conditions for driving fast are the safest?

Many of the traffic police either have quotas or financial incentives for issuing more tickets, though they try not to disclose this. That's why there's the "gotcha" mentality that makes me (and I'm guessing a majority of you) think negatively about speed cops.

Now look what these Virginia politicians have done. The Republicans opposed measures like a 1 cent increase in gas taxes to fund state highway projects, and instead pushed for raising revenues through draconian traffic penalties, like charging drivers at least $1,050 for going 20 miles over the limit. The main proponent of this legislation, State Rep. David Albo (R) is the senior partner in a law firm dealing with traffic offenses, which should experience a nice uptick in business.

Oh, and it's not just Republicans to blame. Democrat Governor Tim Kaine fully went along with this idea. Now that the new law took effect on July 1st, there's been a public outcry. There's pressure on lawmakers to call a special session to repeal the new provisions. Tim Kaine is opposing it - so far. All the state lawmakers face elections this fall. If those among them who voted for the new penalties get re-elected, Virginian drivers will lose a lot of my current sympathy for them.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Scooter Pardon Musings

I have mixed feelings about how the Plame-Wilson-Libby affair has played out. The Libby pardon is hardly a surprise. GWB and Co. have done much worse in the past, and with the current 26% approval rating no longer have much of a reputation to protect. And one good shield deserves another. They owe it to their henchman to shield him from the consequences of shielding them from exposure.

I think about four aspects of the case.

First, it's about those who lash out at Bill Clinton for deploring the pardon because of his own rash of pardons near the end of his presidency. The two acts are different because Clinton didn't pardon anyone who was covering up for him or his administration.

Second, despite my occasional digs at Republicans it shows there are plenty of decent and straight ones around. Special prosecutor Fitzgerald and federal judge Walton are both Republicans and proved they're no hatchet men. Fitzgerald probably gave VP Cheney a break by not compelling damaging testimony from him under oath, but has been upstanding on the whole. Judge Walton didn't give Libby any undue breaks and it can even be said his sentence was on the harsher side.

Third, Libby may not be that bad a guy and one can empathise with his situation. He was put on the spot and lied or obstructed the investigation to protect the boss out of a sense of loyalty. He sacrificed himself knowing he could go to prison and no one would bail him out. (Oh, wait. )

Lastly, just like in that Clinton impeachment drama, probably too much has been made out of this case. The motive in exposing Plame wasn't revenge as much as an attempt to discredit Wilson's revelations by painting him and his wife as anti-GWB partisans. What was the damage done by outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent? Probably only that she could never do a covert job again.

So can't it go this way: the Administration and the CIA say to Plame "oops, we're so sorry about goofing up on this. Here's $5 million (or $10 million) and a promotion to compensate you for our gaffe." End of story. Valerie's quite a babe and will improve the image of the CIA, so to speak. Those who feel taxpayers shouldn't pay so much for the Administration's mistakes should look at the billions of dollars of overspend on no-bid Iraq / Katrina contracts and other wastages inherent in the government. Also the special prosecutor's activities have cost more than this amount.

So in sum, while the Plame leak and Libby pardon affair confirms the seamy side of GWB-Vice politics, it's not that big a deal as to unduly exercise us.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Hillary Update; My Take On Bloomberg

I'll be honest. I started out liking Hillary in large part because she is Bill Clinton's wife, and the "Two For One Deal" logic worked for me.

But as I see her in debates and news coverage of her positions, I like what I hear (so far at least.) She listens to the questions and gives thoughtful answers with a good mix of overview and detail, and that are not motherhood and apple pie generalities. The matters on which she prefers to be silent (Imus, Scooter Libby pardon) are ones where she's resisting playing to the gallery which goes to her credit. So I don't find MSNBC's labeling her an "artful dodger" as fair when she chose to avoid scoring cheap political points by playing to the influential Democrat left. I hope she maintains enough of a lead to be not forced to pander.

Talking of leads the latest democrat nomination polls shows her widening it a bit. Even the latest one by the tricky Fox News for June 26-27 shows Hillary:Obama:Edwards at 42:19:10 up from 36:23:12 on June 6-7. This is with Gore running, and without Gore the Hillary:Obama: Edwards numbers are 47:21:13 on June 26-27, versus 41:26:15 on June 6-7.

The general election polls also show Hillary now leading all the Republican contenders, though some leads are very slender and within the margin of error.

There has been some speculation in the comments following my earlier post of June 15th about how Michael Bloomberg as a third party candidate can change the dynamics. I went out on a limb there to give him under 1 in 50 odds of making President, and under 1 in 5 of spoiling it for the Democrat nominee. If anything, I think he'll help Hillary by splitting the votes of the centrists who (irrationally) hate her. Anyone think differently?

If I were Bloomberg, I'd jump into the fray only if both Giuliani AND Hillary did not secure their respective party nominations. That's because with a farther left Democrat and a farther right Republican squaring off, a centrist like Bloomberg would become more appealing to the mainstream. As I've said I think well of Bloomberg and can see myself supporting him in that eventuality, or even in preference to Giuliani. Just so long as polls show that Bloomberg voters are not throwing away their vote like those Naderites or Perotists of old.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sheena's Mexico Trip And Pictures

Our elder daughter Sheena has always been rather adventurous and fearless, and has some unusual interests.

For example she was very interested in chess while in school and at college, and became quite profficient at it and its bastardized American variant, bug-house. She'd organize or attend all sorts of chess and bug-house tournaments where nerdy boys were the overwhelming majority of participants.

When we were in Las Vegas 10 years ago, to my consternation she wanted to do bungee jumping off a rickety looking steel platform way up in the air. They dropped you from a height equivalent to an 18-storey building down to within 6 ft off the ground. I had to really strive to overcome my fear of heights to check out everything and bungee jump before she did. I was secretly petrified before my first jump, but she chuckled and giggled her way through the whole experience.

But Sheena's favorite game for the past few years has been ultimate frisbee. Though she plays it for fun, she's become quite good at it, and has been outside of the US six times to play in tournaments (twice to Europe, three times to Mexico and once to Canada), aside from inumerable outings within the US. The last time she went on the Memorial Day weekend three weeks ago to San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Her team won the first prize (though I'm sure she'd have enjoyed it immensely even if they came last.)

She sent me the link to the pictures in this tournament. She's included all pictures of hers including those with formidable expressions (beating those when she's arguing with me. :-) ) So you can glimpse the competitive spirit that sometimes lurks beneath that innocently smiling face. She's the one in the last picture in the red tee shirt, beating the other girl to the frisbee.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hillary Rising - For Now

Hillary has widened her lead over Obama 39%-25% in the latest NBC/WSJ poll compared to 36%-31% in April. Or a more modest rise to 39%-19% according to American Research Group as compared to 39%-22% last month.

As significantly, she's also beating Republican hopefuls in polls, leading Giuliani 48%-43% after trailing him 42%-47% a couple of months ago.

A lot can of course change between now and 2008. Hillary may go back down, or on the other hand be able to further soften the hostility of the anti-Hillary crowd and win more support.

She's managed to stay pretty much on a centrist message except for her May 25 senate vote against Iraq War funding (like Obama) to appease the left, where it may have been political suicide to vote otherwise. That was a symbolic vote anyway since funding was approved 80-14.

I was intrigued when Paul Krugman mentioned in the middle of his column in the NY Times that she had received large contributions from the drug and the health insurance industry. Is she going to sell out on the vital issues of (a) government negotiating drug prices, and (b) universal coverage? But all indications presently are that she's firmly committed to both.

Let's see how it all plays out. Anyone care to predict how things will stand in say, Sept-Oct '07 so we can compare notes at that time? It's risky business, but I'll venture she'll widen her lead very slightly among Democrats for the primaries race and tip over 50% in the general elections polls keeping the same 6% margin as more of the "unsure" people make up their minds.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In Defense Of Paris Hilton

The vast majority of the vociferous minority demanded that Paris Hilton serve her full jail time "like the rest of us would" for driving on a suspended licence and a public-pandering judge obliged them in this Paris Hilton saga.

The "vociferous minority" I'm talking about are the self-righteous indignants on the left and the right. They're the type who demanded Don Imus's head despite his apologies over his "nappy headed ho's" comment, or made those furious calls to the FCC about Janet Jackson baring her breast at the '04 Superbowl. They demand their pound of flesh and condemn any leniency in jail time or special treatment for Paris because she's a celebrity.

Here's why I disagree with them:
  • Celebrities may give more to the community, so factoring this in during sentencing for minor offenses can be justified. Even Paris with her lavish and vacuous lifestyle provides us with news and entertainment. (Not to mention her widely circulated '03 sex tape that's the first thing I associate with her. I haven't seen it but it couldn't be bad.)
  • Being a celebrity comes with it's own problems, like lack of privacy, chases by the paparazzi, getting accosted by obnoxious fans or publicity seekers, etc. So why grudge them a little consideration (again for minor offenses) that makes up for this downside?
  • Jail time IS much harder for celebrities. So a jail stay is a far stiffer punishment for Paris who is used to an ultra luxuriant and protected lifestyle, than for a run of the mill offender where the "inside" is not much worse than the outside.
  • Want to make sentencing uniform for all in minor cases? Then how about something like a 45 day jail term or $2 million in fines. Then ordinary offenders go to prison while rich celebrities pay a hefty sum into the city coffers that benefits the community.
  • Paris' licence should arguably not have been suspended in the first place. Her blood alcohol level in that earlier incident was at 0.08 which is exactly at the new threshold, down from the 0.10 of a few years ago. I think most people would have contested this borderline result but she didn't because the trial have been too much bother. So in a way this is a case of reverse discrimination.

By the way, Rubina and her friends were wondering why people like Mel Gibson or Paris get caught driving drunk when they can easily afford to be chauffered around.

The recent music video about Paris in jail is quite funny. Shouldn't she get time off for providing all this entertainment? If she doesn't, she'll likely get off on June 26th after serving 23 days.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rubina's First AP Story

How many of you know that the first capital of the US was Philadelphia and that George Washington operated from there as the first President? It may have been in my sub-conscious somewhere but I'd have flunked an open-ended quiz show question on this.

No more. Just last Friday I dropped off Rubina in Philadelphia for her summer assignment with AP (Associated Press) and she started work four days back on Monday.

So we were pleasantly surprised to learn that her first story while at AP about slaves owned by George Washington has already been published nationally:,1,6593195.story?coll=sns-ap-nation-headlines,,-6692506,00.html

The story has been published in papers in Australia and China as well. Typing her name (Rubina Madan) in Google News gets the full list.

We're proud of her. At this time I don't even mind that she thinks well of Obama. :-)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Betrayed By My Daughter

Rubina just laughed at the pain and anguish she caused me.

It began last July when she was home and about to go to Columbia University. I found that our US Senator from Connecticut (CT), Joe Lieberman was trailing 45% to 55% in the Democrat primary polls, behind a Ned Lamont whom I'd never even heard of.

Rubina and I both liked and respected Lieberman as did much of CT, and Rubina as a college undergrad had been in touch with him. He had national stature, been Al Gore's running mate as VP in the 2000 Presidential election, and was briefly Democrat Presidential candidate for 2004.

But he had supported the Iraq War and as a Democrat had often reached across the aisle and worked with Republicans and George Bush. So the liberal Democrats were out to get him.

Many Democrats had been wrong about the war so I didn't think Lieberman should be ousted for that reason. Plus, I had rather liked his ability to shed partisanship and work with Republicans on several issues. CT is a small state and for the first time I felt our vote mattered.

"Lieberman needs our help" I told Rubina, "so let's register to vote." She nodded and we went together to Danbury City Hall for the purpose. I switched from Independent to Democrat (the only way I could vote in the Democrat primaries) and Rubina registered as a Democrat. "At least two more votes for Lieberman" I thought with some satisfaction as we left.

You can guess what happened next. That night Rubina said she liked some things about Lamont and wasn't so enthusiastic about Lieberman. To my increasing mortification over the next few days she switched to Lamont despite my admonitions and arguments. Why don't children listen to their parents? We went to the Democrat primaries voting together on August 8 to neutralize each other's Lieberman - Lamont votes, with her laughing at my reproachful looks on our way in.

Lieberman lost those primaries 48%-52%, but won the general elections in November as an "Independent Democrat" with sizable Republican support. That time I helped Rubina process her postal ballot since she had gone to Columbia. Like digging my own grave I said in my email and she responded with "ha ha."

And now it is Hillary versus Obama. Rubina told me last week that two of her friends were Obama state campaign coordinators, one for Illinois and the other for Georgia. We argued semi-seriously after I looked heavenwards and said "what's wrong with them?" This time I'm not sure if Rubina's all for Obama or merely defending her friends.

I don't think Obama is that bad, but he is likely to force Hillary more to the left during the Primaries so that she is weakened for the general election. Much like that Howard Dean created trouble for Kerry & Co. in 2004. If Obama were to actually win, I'd probably prefer Giuliani though I've reservations about him.

But whether it's sour grapes or not I'm now beginning to think that Obama in the race is not that bad. That's because John Edwards is now firmly to the left, so Obama and Edwards may divide the anti-Hillary votes that can work to her advantage. She will still have to deal with all the anti-Hillary sentiments in the general elections, but enough people may change their perceptions in time to understand her and start liking the poor dear...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fox Outfoxed In Falwell Death Debate?

The (ultra-)liberals and I think differently on many issues, but distaste for Sean Hannity types is not one of them. Hannity, for those who don't know about him, is the pompous and obnoxious host of "Hannity and Colmes" program on Fox News, who is the toast of the right-wingers, the narrow-minded, the Creationists, the Bushies and the Evangelicals (all these terms describe the same group of people. :-)) His sparring partner on the show is poor Alan Colmes who generally offers fairly weak rebuttals (by Fox design, I'm sure) meant to reflect the leftist view.

Well, following religious idealogue Falwell's recent death, the atheist Christopher Hitchens basically said "good riddance" about him and "Hannity and Colmes" brought him to defend such mean spirited comments. Hannity (like Bill O'Reilly, another Fox host) generally manages to beat down guests who hold views different from him. But Hitchens seems to have withstood his attacks quite well and land in some choice comments of his own. All without raising his voice like Hannity does.

My daughter Rubina sent me this link covering the exchange on YouTube. Hope you can see this before Fox compels YouTube to pull it.

By the way, Fox insists it is "Fair and Balanced" and not a right-wing / Bushy apparatchik. Then how do you explain or justify this show being called "Hannity and Colmes" when the names should be switched per alphabetic order?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Crime And (Low) Punishment

The Columbia Journalism graduation ceremony on May 16 was long as each of the 250 students walked up to receive their diplomas, and we had settled back into a kind of semi-stupor after our own Rubina was done.

The sudden loud applause and standing ovation of one student towards the end of the ceremony took us by surprise. Then I guessed who it was. Rubina later confirmed that this girl was indeed her friend (only four days apart in age and living a few blocks away from Rubina) who some weeks back had been brutally raped and tortured for 19 hours by an ex-convict. Among the horrible things he did to her (not all made public) was slitting her eyelids and leaving her to die by setting her apartment on fire (to cover up any clues) with her tied to her futon bed. The attacker's subsequent arrest was carried by many papers in follow up of the initial story.

This brave girl was hospitalized for weeks and we're glad she could attend her graduation. But note this - her attacker had spent just 8 years for nearly kiling a neighbor by shooting the victim four times. He had a long rapsheet even before that and was considered dangerous at the time he served his full sentence and had to be released. The reason for that paltry eight year sentence? That's the maximum penalty that can be imposed in New York for attempted murder.

While in prison this guy would throw his faeces at the guards and attack other inmates. Such activities could not be grounds for lengthening his sentence. All they did was prevent his release on parole. After he eight years he had to be turned loose, and even his activities could not be monitored, say by requiring him to disclose his whereabouts or wear an electronic ankle bracelet.

There are many similar stories - this is just one that affected Rubina's friend. New York laws seem particularly soft on offenders but I'd want tougher provisions across the country.

I differ from the liberals (many in my own family) who in my view over-emphasize reform and rehabilitation over meting out justice and having a criminal repay his debt to society. When we talk of (or hope for) rewarding good and punishing evil in the after-life, why not start here on earth? There are also deterrent effects of stiffer penalties though statistics can be presented either way by partisans to draw different conclusions on issues like capital punishment.

Here are some measures I'd support:

  • All states should have the death penalty, even if it's only for the most heinous and vicious crimes/murders and when there is no doubt at all about guilt (not just "beyond reasonable doubt.") There should be an ultimate penalty for the likes of Dahmer and Bundy.
  • There should be truth in sentencing - not these provisions that allow a convict sentenced to "life" or hundreds of years to get out in twenty or less. And what's all this about "concurrent sentences" where the additional punishments are meaningless?
  • Convicts considered dangerous at the end of their sentences can be allowed to be monitored in their activities and the community informed about them. This can be done by laws analogous to those passed for sex offenders.
  • Inmate-on-inmate crimes should be vigorously investigated and offenders punished just as much or more than if they were committed outside prison. Why should the weaker prisoners be victims of things like prison rape while the worst offenders thrive at the top of the food chain? With modern technology it should be possible to monitor every move of every prisoner so these Oz-like goings on don't ever happen. And don't tell me this violates privacy.
  • Prisons are for punishment, not for coddling prisoners. They should earn their upkeep instead of limbering up in gyms and watching TV. Yes, the system should aim to rehabilitate as well and find honest jobs when convicts get out, but inmates should have a strong disincentive to return.
  • Don't use tender age as a basis for imposing lighter sentences unless the offender didn't fully grasp what he was doing. If a 16 year old brutally murders someone he should get the same sentence (including death) as a 30 year old. One can almost argue that if he has become such a monster at 16 he's likely to become worse later.
  • Same as above largely goes for mental retardation or childhood abuse.
  • Reform / abolish the system of trials by jury (more on this in a subsequent post.)
I probably disappoint those who lauded my reconciling with a former school bully. But simple bullying by adolescents is not comparable to the crimes I'm talking about here.
At the same time I'd like to see:
  • Strict gun control and stringent penalties for violations of such laws
  • Due process and safeguards for the accused. Those at Guantanamo for instance should certainly get legal representation and humane treatment. Also the innocent caught in the net should be speedily cleared, and generously and expeditiously compensated for their hardships.
A tough crime policy was a crucial plank that helped Bush Sr. beat Dukakis in 1988. Remember those Willie Horton Ads? Since then it has receded as an election issue. I wonder if it will resurface in 2008.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Graduate(s)

Yesterday my parents, Anita and I attended our younger daughter Rubina's graduation from the Columbia School of Journalism. Amidst the fun and revelry I found almost all of Rubina's classmates that we met to be remarkably pleasant and friendly. They were bright as I expected of Columbia students, and (from all the hugs enthusiastic hugs exchanged) had warm family ties.

Columbia may have done a good job profiling and selecting the right people into the program but is there also a self-selection dynamic at work here? Journalism is typically a tough career with lousy pay. So it may attract people for whom money is less important, and have a sense of idealism or a passion for sharing their news and views. So could such profession/schools attract more of the "nicer" types? This is analogous to the Anita's belief that school teachers tend to be nice people. Not that all journalists or media are ethical or objective by a long shot. Think Fox News. While in public service in India I saw a couple from The Indian Express (one of whom's now a bureau chief) who concocted news to make sensational headlines and try extorting favors.

So I do have some concerns about the type and nature of media coverage. But at least these graduating students show that many people of good caliber and outlook are entering and sustaining the profession in the US and abroad.

Here are some pictures of the graduation and related events (click left for more.) I'm glad my parents could attend this graduation ceremony - their first in the US. Rubina's in most of them, with a couple of our family (sans Sheena who is in Austin.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

See No Bullying, Hear No Bullying

Today I saw a post on the blog of my good friend, schoolmate and best selling author David about how and why there was no bullying in our own elementary-to-high school in Darjeeling:

I want to set the record straight from my first hand experience. But let me first say that David is an extraordinarily amiable and popular person so that's why he was neither the bully nor the victim. He also sees the bright side of everything and bullying often occurs covertly so he could miss seeing it. Finally he was two years behind me in school so his cohort may have had very different experiences, though somehow I doubt it.

Through my six years in this school I saw plenty of bullying. For me personally it worsened from the sixth grade till the tenth and then plateaued almost till I graduated. Segregating the students into three "divisions" as David mentions (the "primary", "lower" and "upper" divisions) doesn't really help much because bullying also occurs among peers. Plus, a 9th grader can still be targeted by an 11th grader, or a 6th grader by an 8th grader, and so on. Most US schools as well as those in other places are split completely into elementary, middle and high schools that mirror the divisions we had within our school. That hasn't stopped bullying here.

The boys in our school closely followed an "honor" code against "sneaking" and social ostracism followed for anyone breaking it. "Sneaking" (akin to snitching) meant reporting to the authorities (teachers or our "father" priests) anything improper done by a fellow student, whether it was breaking rules, or harming another student, including by bullying. I now see press coverage of a similar taboo against reporting anything to the police among large swathes of the US African American community, which exacerbates black on black crimes.

Anyway, this anti-"sneaking" code made it very easy for bullies to thrive without detection by our well-intentioned authorities. I was a good target because I was (a) thin and nerdy, so not good at defending myself, (b) tall, so a bully did not seem to be picking on someone smaller, and (c) neither very submissive, nor pleasant like David. The "headboys" or "prefects" had no punitive role. They'd at most stop something happening under their noses so bullies simply operated elsewhere.

Bullies came in various shades and stripes. In my 10th class a particular classmate came almost every day to step on my toes and grind his heels into them, daring me to retaliate. He also took pleasure in bending my fingers back from the knuckles till they were injured enough to make it hard for me to write - for days. Others sometimes noticed what was happening but didn't want to get involved since he was a "tough" guy. The couple of times I tried to fight back ended in disaster (picture the comic character Sad Sack getting pounded by the Sarge.)

Two years after high school I finally hit my post-pubertic stride, gained 50lbs and became a "big ape" in classmate (now wife) Anita's words. (Why didn't that happen 4 years earlier?) But my past experiences affected my attitude to this day. As a college upper-classman I opposed the then-brutal practice of physical "ragging" or "hazing" of incoming freshmen. In my days as a law enforcer in the IAS I had the local "gundas" or tough guys booked or "processed" by the police with an intensity that surprised those around me. I saw them as extensions of our own school bullies. I'm still apt to look for bullying behavior and counter it if I can.

I recounted my experiences to a couple of ex-schoolmates recently and half-jokingly referred to my school tormentor of yore as "Biff" from "Back To The Future." Happily though, when this person and I re-established contact some years ago, my notions of getting even with him vanished (slowly!) and we maintain friendly contact.

We NorthPointers have a wonderful school that we're very proud and happy to be part of. I have a lasting bond with it and fellow alumni. But bullying is widespread and no place is immune from it. It can occur close to us without our being aware of it. And here I haven't even talked of bullying through mental abuse (like in "Mean Girls") that is even more pervasive. All of us should be looking out for it and preventing it (yes, including the current authorities at our school.)

Mothers Gone Wild

The phone rings off the hook in our home today as it is Mother's Day. Mother's day wishes come pouring in for my wife and mom (happily for us my parents are staying with us at this time.) But neither my mom nor we have two dozen children. It is just that Mother's Day (and Father's Day) has gone beyond a time for kids to express appreciation for their parents to a time when everyone is expected to wish people close to them for being parents.

The campaign has probably exceeded all expectations of Hallmark, which is rumored to have started this day to boost their business and now has all sorts of cards for "third party" senders. Am I one of the few who thinks this has mutated to an over-generalized practice (isn't that what Christmas and New Year greetings are for?)

But at least I find this preferable to those automated birthday greetings via email. Here a general request goes from a sender to all people on the address list to enter their birthdays and contact particulars into a data card so that those people can get this "birthday" spam on their birthday and then be expected to individually thank the sender for her/his automated greetings. I consider filling up such requests as an invitation to dig your own grave so you can be shot and buried in such birthday spam. So if anyone who has sent such a request to me has been bothered that I haven't responded, please understand that I (and others like me) are equal opportunity decliners. Much as I may love and care for you I've never filled such a request.

Talking of this increase in the number of special days I was joking with someone who thinks as I do. We're wondering if it will be a good idea to have a Kid's Day so that we can all congratulate each other for having a mother and a father (till cloning makes this a less universal process.)

But back to Mother's and Father's Day. Can we take back the day and have it restricted to a special child-to-own-parent communication? Probably not as these ritualizations tend to have a momentum of their own. I just returned a call today to a business associate. After the initial hello's the first words out of my mouth were good wishes to his wife (whom I've met once) for Mother's Day...

Friday, May 11, 2007

In Defence Of Hillary From Two Criticisms

This last weekend we were dining out with friends and the talk turned to why one of them, a Democrat / Independent so disliked Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. She said she not only found Hillary to be "calculating" but more than that she couldn't forgive her for sticking with "that creep" Bill Clinton after what he did with Monica. I happen to like the creep but that's beside the point. I'll just talk about these two observations without any broader discussion of preferences regarding the candidates.

I had read about this last criticism (mainly by women) in news articles but it remains beyond me why Hillary's act of forgiveness is held against her. The critics say she isn't doing it for love but out of convenience or to further her ambitions. How do we know? A person wronged has to weigh all the factors before deciding what to do, but since when do we supplant sympathy with scorn for her? Aren't commitment to marriage and forgiveness supposed to be virtues? Few would ascribe Hillary's "failure to act" at that time as a result of a weak will - she's proved herself plenty tough in that department. I personally think better of her for having faced all the pain and public humiliation with grace and dignity, and recovering from it all.

The other criticism about Hillary's "calculating" nature was also echoed by our younger daughter recently. I find nothing wrong with a leader (or person) being calculating if that means coolly assessing what can work best and considering all the odds and options before deciding how to proceed. It does not mean being unscrupulous or throwing away one's values or changing course only out of expediency. I don't believe Hillary is guilty of any of these last three. Yes, Hillary may well act with her head, but why should that be considered to preclude her from having a good heart? Here's a post from last night of a Hearst columnist that says a lot of things for me aside from commenting on the most recent polls showing an uptick for Hillary after the first Presidential debate (though polls of course keep changing and it's way too early):

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Indian Courts - Gere'd For Change

Here's an aspect of the Gere drama that I haven't seen covered anywhere. What can be done to prevent a bigoted or incompetent or just plain publicity hungry judicial official among thousands in one part of India from hassling celebrities in any other part of the country?

When protests and demonstrations were staged following Richard Gere's playfully tangling with Shilpa Shetty at an AIDs awareness gathering, I was embarassed as an Indian but not particularly bothered. After all there will always be the ultra conservatives and whackos in a country of a billion plus. Their right to free speech even if distasteful to me and contrary to majority view is an affirmation of our democratic values.

But it is very different when one magistrate (or subordinate judge) sitting in Jaipur issues arrest warrants and initiates proceedings for something that occurred in Delhi. The merits of the action aside just because media footage is aired in some place should not give the local judiciary the authority to summon or proceed against people who were never within their physical jurisdiction. For interstate occurrences there should be a clear single jurisdiction court. That way you need to only depend on the good sense and judgement of that court instead of being hostage to the whims or shenanigans of any one of the thousands of courts.

The required long term remedy needs legislative action by Parliament perhaps in consultation with the Judiciary and they should get to it. They can include some other pressing reforms like rolling back this rash of public interest litigation into this effort - but that's for a separate discussion.

Meanwhile, the additional chief judicial magistrate who acted against Gere and Shetty is Dinesh Gupta who has since been transferred out of Jaipur to a small little town.

That is a good step but - as we were repeatedly told in government while I was part of it - a transfer should not be taken as any punishment. There should be some official proceedings to discipline this judge and affect his career and service records, That will deter similar actions by others. But the judiciary tends to be protective of its own and I wouldn't hold my breath on this happening.

The superior courts should also take "suo motto" (on their own) notice and quash the groundless proceedings without requiring the defendants to jump through further procedural hoops.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

NRA: Give benefit of doubt - and guns - to terror suspects

This news item about NRA opposing a proposed ban on sale of guns to terror suspects initially surprised me:

But then I began to understand their logic. Simply because someone is a suspected or would-be terrorist is no reason to deny him something as essential as an assault weapon or hand gun. One should be considered innocent till proven guilty, say, by actually committing a rampage a la Cho Seung or offering other compelling evidence.

Simply appealing a refusal and clearing one's name before a terror suspect is allowed to buys firearm would cause so much hardship. Imagine living for some time without having a firearm for target practice or shooting deer, rabbits, or pesky anti-terrorism agents who come snooping around to investigate your involvement in terror activities. A day without guns is one day too many, as compared to lives lost to protect the second amendment.

NRA urges you not to overreact to the VA Tech or other campus shootings. Or to the study ( that found that guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than to kill in self-defense. I don't know what the NRA stand would be on the authorities being alerted the moment a terrorism suspect buys or tries to buy a firearm. I won't be surprised if they cite the gunowner's right to privacy to oppose such notifications.