Sunday, December 30, 2007

Homage to Mr Common Sense

[Note: not entirely my own... customised/changed it from a mail which was going around]

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Mr. Common Sense. Mr. Sense had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in history, and the hype of a globalised free world.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound and reliable life policies, e.g.,

  • don't spend more than you earn,
  • quality of life is more important than branded 'life-style',
  • "home" is more precious than the "address"
  • responsibility comes before rights,
  • sharing resources (ranging from ideas to car-pool) is the essence of sustainance of a society...

    His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but grossly mis-interpreted ideologies started proliferating the media and minds. Mr. Sense declined even further when:

  • parents started becoming the "career managers" of their off-springs, instead of letting them find their own calling,
  • brand labels started started appearing outside - and not inside - the products,
  • the concept of "economic growth" started replacing - contradicting - the reality of "economic development",
  • people started believing that "greater common good" actually emanates from "self-interest", and
  • the "international commuinity" accepted 'extraordinary rendition' as a norm of life on the planet...

    Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the "rights" became contraband, religion became businesses/politics, and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

    Common Sense was preceded in death
  • by his parents, Truth and Trust,
  • his wife, Discretion,
  • his daughter, Responsibility, and
  • his son, Reason.

    He is survived by two stepbrothers: "My Rights", and "I'm a Whiner".

    Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone...

  • Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    What is "Global" in "Globalization"?

    Pankaj Ghemawat's blog has some interesting - and revealing - statistics about Globalisation.
    (for those who are not in the know, Pankaj Ghemawat is a Prof at Harvard Business School, and currently on sabbatical with IESE, Barcelona)

    In one of his posts, Globalization Myth vs Reality, he mentions:

    "...most types of economic activity that could be carried out within or across national borders are actually still concentrated domestically... of all the capital being invested around the world, how much is foreign direct investment by companies outside of their home countries?... The fact is, the ratio is generally less than 10% and, while it may be pushed higher by merger waves, has never reached 20%."

    He goes one to put some statistics on key parameters of cross-border activities - telephone calls, long-term migration, university enrollment, stock investment, and trade as a fraction of gross domestic product (GDP) - look at the blue bars in the diagram below. "they fall much closer to 10% than the levels close to 100% that one would expect if one took the gurus of globaloney at their word."

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    and what are the figure shown by the green bars?

    "... 400 respondents to a poll about globalization levels on came up with the responses summarized in green in the chart... Note the systematic tendency to overestimate globalization levels, and by a wide margin: the responses (the green bars) averaged 30% versus real values (the blue bars) that averaged 10%. And to aggravate matters, respondents with more than 10 years’ experience actually are farther off the mark than ones with less experience!

    So perhaps, "Globalisation" is not so global, as the hype around it show.... Or as Pankaj Ghemawat puts it:

    "...managers assume the world to be more globalized than it actually is..."

    However,, there is one parameters, which Ghemawat seems to neglect in his analysis:

    The movement of the most unregulated commodity - currency/Forex - across borders

    Bank of International Settlements' Triennial Central Bank Survey of Foreign Exchange and Derivatives Market Activity in 2007

    Daily "turnover in traditional foreign exchange markets increased by 71% between April 2004 and April 2007 to reach $3.2 trillion."

    $3.2 trillions/day!!!

    ... Which is quite a global activity, considering that according to WTO's International Trade Statistics 2007:

  • the entire inter- and intra-regional annual merchandise trade in 2006 was $11.8 trillions (of this around $6.5 trillions was intra-regional trade - i.e., only $5.2 tillions of trade accounts for annual international merchandise trade)

  • add $2.8 trillions which is the value of world exports of commecial services

    ..and the value of entire annual world global trade in merchandise and commercial services turns out to be $9 trillion....

    Or in other words, global trade of Forex in 3 days exceeeds the annual global trade of goods and services!!

    A couple of years back, I had made a post on this global trade - Living in a Global Casino - and how it differs from other trade activities:

    "The FX market also differs from investments in goods and services, in that speculators make money from money alone. No jobs are created and no services provided. The losers are often those least able to pay the price - the poor and marginalised who are the victims of financial crises triggered by (a) "capital account convertibility", normally a condition for loans by the international financial institutions, and (b) the rapid withdrawal of funds from emerging economies by speculators."

  • Thursday, December 06, 2007

    Caste-Discrimination: From Subliminal to Sublimated

    Maybe we should have a taxonomy of caste-discrimination... I realised this when exposed to two very different expressions of caste discrimination through the news-items during last few days.

    One instance was the stray news items which occupied much media attention - and headlines - in the past week about the ban on the Hindi film Aaja Nachlein UP - and Punjab and Haryana.

    The reasons were these two lines in a song:

    "mohalle mein kaisa maramar hai,
    Bole mochi bhi khud ko sonar hai"

    [roughly translated: what turmoil is happening in the community; even the cobbler claims to be a goldsmith]

    Following a furore and the ban, these lines were removed from the song, and the Mayavati govt in UP lifted the ban... So did Punjab and Haryana (subsequently lifted). Depending where one is sociologically located, the furore was natural or exaggerated... But the indignation that some some/many felt was the implications hidden in these lyrics: that, if the mochi/cobbler (a Dalit/ untouchable occupation) tries to become like a sonar/goldsmith (who can be a schedule caste, a Devednya brahmin, or from the merchant class, sarraf, etc., but "above" the mochi in the caste hierarchy), this is a cause of social turmoil...

    In any case, the director of the film, Anil Mehta, clarified:

    "... We never meant any offense to anyone... When we were readying the lyrics, we had nothing derogatory in mind. If the idea had struck us, we would never have kept the line in the first place...If you look at the spirit of the film, it isn't about discrimination. It's about the participation of people from all walks of life."

    Most likely - at least, I am sure - he was being genuinely honest. These lines were not intended to hurt anyone's sensibilites and sentiments... They did!

    This is not the first time, I have experienced this subliminal force which blurs the boundaries between a conscious cultural expression and the unconscious discriminatory motif.

    I recall that Kolkata airport used to have an open "smoking zone/area" in the arrival lounge. Some months back they shifted it to en enclosed "smoking section" (even that does not exist now). Needless to say, the enclosure for smokers was like a gas chamber - claustrophobic, with an exhaust fan that would not work, and hot and humid. I overheard one of the smokers grumbling:

    "...we have no choice now. We have become schedule castes."


    ...which is both instructive and worth introspecting: about the innocuously subliminal nature of discrimination, about the innocent pervasiveness of caste-hierarchy (and barriers) in our popular imagery and language... about how it is so very easy for our conscious acts/words to get influenced by our historical-cultural programming... (which may go back to embedded childhood memories of being by friends and called a "bhangi" or a "chamaar", etc...

    The other instance reflected the other end of continuum - conscious, blatent, and one which sublimated caste-discrimination into a socially acceptable "spiritual" value.

    In a country, which banned "untouchability" in its constitution, and banned "manual scavenging" in 1993, the State Information Department of Gujarat publishes a book, written by the chief minister, Narendra Modi. Excerpts:

    "Scavenging must have been a spiritual experience for the Valmiki caste... At some point in time somebody must have got enlightenment in scavenging. They must have thought that it is their duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods."

    Or watch this video:

    To a somewhat lesser extent, one finds similar motif of sublimation in this TV ad:

    Behind such imageries and descriptions, however, lurks the living reality of the "Life Inside a Black Hole" (Tehelka Magazine, Issue 47(4), Dec 08, 2007), which can be too stark and unsettling for common human consciousness to live with - And thus, the attempts to mask it, discount it, trivialise it...

    Excerpts from the article:

    "What is the weather really like inside a manhole? What happens to the shit, piss and other waste flushed down by 18.02 percent of the billion- plus population?... At least 22,327 Dalits of a sub-community die doing sanitation work every year. Safai Kamgar Vikas Sangh, a body representing sanitation workers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), sought data under the Right to Information Act in 2006, and found that 288 workers had died in 2004-05, 316 in 2003-04, and 320 in 2002-03, in just 14 of the 24 wards of the BMC. About 25 deaths every month. These figures do not include civic hospital workers, gutter cleaners or sanitation workers on contract....

    ...In Delhi, it is a humongous many-mouthed subterranean creature — a network of 5,600 km of sewers with about 1.5 lakh manholes,... which consumes 2,781 million litres of the sewage Delhi generates daily... It is indiscriminately fed a wide range of objects that causes clogs — condoms, sanitary pads, nondegradable thermocol, a variety of plastics, industrial sludge, kitchen waste, toilet cleaning acids, medical waste (syringes, blades, even placenta), glass shards, household gadgets, construction debris....

    ...Entering the narrow, dark drain, the worker pushes his only weapon, the khapchi — a spliced bamboo stick — to dislodge the block... It is then that a sudden blast of putrid sludge — besides methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide — assaults the person. “Even if we manage not to swallow the toxic muck, it manages to enter our bodies.” Odourless and colourless, the carbon gases can cause suffocation. If the worker survives the initial ordeal, he crouches inside and loads the sludge into leaky metal buckets or wicker baskets for his team to haul out. Depending on the clog, the entire operation could take up to 48 hours. “We often work after midnight. When people sleep, the flow in the sew- ers is lesser, and our work does not disturb road-users,”...

    ...The CEC’s 2005 survey of 200 DJB manhole workers found that... 91.5 percent of them (were)from suffering injuries and 80 percent suffering eye infections. The survey found that diseases like leptospirosis, viral hepatitis and typhoid were common....

    ...Not surprisingly, most of the workers die before retirement. Owing to loss of appetite and inevitable alcoholism, many men shrink to half their size if they work 20 years. The average lifespan of a manhole worker is about 45. And if a worker does not die inside a manhole, the civic body does not offer any monetary compensation for illnesses/deaths owing to occupational hazards. In Delhi, permanent workers get a monthly “risk allowance” of Rs 50..."

    The CEC (Center for Education and Communication) also reported that among those who worked in the manholes:

  • Few workers in age group 50-59; most die before retirement

  • 35 percent illiteracy

  • Monthly wage for daily wagers Rs 2,950

  • More than 40 percent of workers are not permanent though more than 90 percent of them have been working for more than five years continuously

  • 60 percent of workers enter manholes more than 10 times a month

  • Acute illnesses:
    - eye irritation (79%),
    - upper respiratory tract irritation (57%),
    - difficulty in breathing (38%),
    - skin rash (60.5%),
    - cut and injury (91.5%).

  • Chronic illnesses:
    - fatigue (76%),
    - watering/burning of eyes (36%),
    - cough (72.5%),
    - skin irritation (41%),
    - skin roughness (36%),
    - skin rash (45.5%),
    - lower backache (27%)

    Hardly the life-conditions for "spiritual enlightenment" or experiencing the "yeh suhana mausam" (this lovely weather)!.... And if one wants to move out/up to the metaphorical state of a sonar, wouldn't that be natural?

    Maybe that is why we need to map caste-based discrimination on a contunuum of Subliminal to Sublimated...

  • Monday, December 03, 2007

    Let's Kidnap a British Citizen!...

    Of course, one knew about "Extraordinary Rendition" - or to quote from wikipedia, about:

    "Extraordinary rendition and irregular rendition are terms used to describe the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another, and the term torture by proxy is used by some critics to describe extraordinary rendition by the United States, with regard to the alleged transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture."

    Or according to Amnesty International, it:

    "...refer to a variety of practices by the US authorities involving transfers of individuals from one country to another, without any form of judicial or administrative process such as extradition. These practices, usually carried out in secret, include transferring "war on terror" detainees into the custody of other states, assuming custody of individuals from foreign authorities and abducting suspects on foreign soil...

    ...Some victims of "rendition" have later turned up in official US detention centres, such as Guantánamo Bay. Others have simply "disappeared" after being arrested by US agents or turned over to US custody.

    It has been reported that the CIA, often using covert aircraft leased by front companies, has flown individuals to countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Most of the states to which the USA transfers these individuals are known to use torture and other ill-treatment in interrogations. It is alleged that states which are known to practise torture have been specifically selected to receive detainees for interrogation and that detainees have been threatened by US interrogators that they will be sent to such states.

    It has also been reported that victims of "rendition" transferred to US custody from other countries have been held in US-run secret detention centres outside US territory..."

    In fact, this June, BBC Channel 4 telecasted the documentary "Kidnapped to Order" made by Stephen Grey - among those kidnapped were also women and children (often from the family of a suspected terrorist). According to an interview with a CIA official in the documentary, of the 35,000-40,000 people who were kidnapped, at least 85% were innocent!!!
    (Click here to watch/download the film)

    All such "extraordinary measures" were/ are justified in the context of the "extraordinary time" in the post-911 era and "War on Terror"...

    But apparently, in the scheme of things, the "extraordinary measures" are actually ordinary acts of an Empire... And so last month:

    "America has told Britain that it can "kidnap" British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States.

    A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

    The admission will alarm the British business community after the case of the so-called NatWest Three, bankers who were extradited to America on fraud charges. More than a dozen other British executives, including senior managers at British Airways and BAE Systems, are under investigation by the US authorities and could face criminal charges in America.

    Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the "extraordinary rendition" of terrorist suspects.

    The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington..."

    This admission was made by Alun Jones QC, representing the US government in a British court:

    "The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared... If you kidnap a person outside the United States and you bring him there, the court has no jurisdiction to refuse — it goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s.”
    (click here to know about bounty hunting

    Of course, this news item is apparently/perhaps (and hopefully not) only the tip of the iceberg!!!