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“Unstable and malfunctioning – pick two” December 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history.

Bhutto is gone. Sad and scary, not because she was a great leader of the peoples but given our reduced expectations of democracy from poor (and/or Islamic) countries, her absence is destabilizing for Pakistan and the region.

Thats one of those famous pictures (best size I could find 😦 ) from India-Pak history shot when Z. A. Bhutto was in Simla to negotiate the Simla agreement. (If Rajiv was in politics at the time (1972), he would have been in this picture too).

Read this interesting account of Benazir: the girl who mesmerised Shimla.

Much similarity there – I. Gandhi and Z. Bhutto on one hand and R. Gandhi and B. Bhutto on another. Father-Daughter/Mother-Son – all political assassinations [Details ]. In the latter case, both were assassinated during campaign rallies just days before the elections . Everybody in the picture faced unnatural and violent deaths.


Just realized that Z. A. Bhutto without the somewhat prominent hair on the behind of his head bears some resemblance to Nehru !

And what a blessed neighborhood India once again finds itself in – Burma, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal – none of them even have a stable, functioning, democratic government. Sri Lanka is struggling big time. Is it just Maldives and Bhutan then ?

There is the popular CMU motto – work, sleep, social life – pick two.

Or as Dani talks of the impossibility theorem – “democracy/national sovereignty/global economic integration” – pick two.

Similarly, I think in much of the non-OECD world, you can’t have it all in one government- stable/democratic – pick one.

In South Asia, its more like “Unstable and malfunctioning – pick two”.

More Pakistani history pictures here.


LTTE suicide bomber video footage December 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, videos, weird.
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Warning : This is a very graphic footage, not of the run up to or of the aftermath but of the event itself.

Among the many reasons to watch this video is the quality of the footage. No, don’t get me wrong, I am talking not about how very graphic and of clear quality the video is, which it of course is. What I am referring to is that they have footages from several cameras that capture the several stages (time slices) leading up to the actual detonation. And what you will note is how its not at all trivial to guess until the very end as to who the suicide bomber actually is. In fact I imagine those who watch too many movies will likely do worse in discerning what is actually happening (unless this caveat of mine makes you discard your first guess.)

This is not to make a spectacle out of death. The reason I am making an ‘exercise’ out of this video is so we can take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of the law enforcement and security forces and imagine how hard their job is.

Video link. It is mirrored here as well.

As an aside, I think to myself how there are so many things in life to give your life to – art, science, public service, loved ones etc. But what is there in whose service one should give her/his life away ?

P.S : The AP has a related story here.

In the gulf November 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, rant.

Joy links to this article from the Times, a case of a French teenage boy raped by some natives and now the case getting complicated and in the process exposing (yet again !) the UAE authorities. The article has other gems such as “United Arab Emirates law does not recognize rape of males, only a crime called “forced homosexuality.”. The boy’s mother has started this website called – boycottdubai – where she says :

To all the Pakistani, Filipino, and Indian mothers who were expelled from Dubai to their countries of origin with their little children, wounded in their hearts, flesh and minds. This web site is open to all the mothers of the world united in the same Combat.

You know, there is such a thing called “resource curse” – and nowhere in the world is this more evident than the hell hole called ‘middle-east’ ( at least much of it !)

In many “ordinary” societies that are not resource-dependent, governments tax citizens, who demand efficient and responsive government in return. This bargain establishes a political relationship between rulers and subjects. In countries whose economies are dominated by natural resources, however, rulers don’t need to tax their citizens because they have a guaranteed source of income from natural resources. So this relationship between rulers and subjects breaks down. More insidiously, those benefiting from mineral resource wealth may perceive an effective and watchful civil service and civil society as a threat to the benefits that they enjoy, and they may take steps to thwart them. As a result, citizens are often poorly served by their rulers, and if the citizens complain, money from the natural resources enables governments to pay for armed forces to keep the citizens in check. Countries whose economies are dominated by resource extraction industries tend to be more repressive, corrupt and badly-managed.

Am sure there are many amongst us who will rise to defend things that happen there – judicial/legal systems, treatment of expatriates, other religious denominations and simply basic human rights. These are usually (and rightly) the favorite causes of the left and is it not then ironic that its the Indian left (or even the left in general – smart and mostly well intentioned – individuals not including politicians) that finds common cause with the rogues out there (while their children study in the Harvards and Oxbridges of the world). (my previous post explains this).

I actually feel bad for the many millions of Indians – mostly from Kerala/Karnataka – who have to go there to work because they are unable to find sufficiently remunerative options in India and who would otherwise not consider that an option. From an earlier NYTimes article

Plagued by chronic unemployment, more Keralites than ever work abroad, often at sun-scorched jobs in the Persian Gulf that pay about $1 an hour and keep them from their families for years. The cash flowing home now helps support nearly one Kerala resident in three. That has some local scholars rewriting the Kerala story: far from escaping capitalism, they say, this celebrated corner of the developing world is painfully dependent on it.

“Remittances from global capitalism are carrying the whole Kerala economy,” said S. Irudaya Rajan, a demographer at the Center for Development Studies, a local research group. “There would have been starvation deaths in Kerala if there had been no migration. The Kerala model is good to read about but not practically applicable to any part of the world, including Kerala.”

Actually but for the global economy powered by fossil fuels, most countries would rather let them just be – have an economic embargo and sit put ! (Tom Friedman gets it right once a while.). Geographical isolation (in place of Australia perhaps) would be an added bonus.

If this post was too much to take, you can perhaps stay on the topic but read something with a much lighter tone.

Random stuff now October 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, geo-politics, intellectual, science, statistics.
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Why very soon you will be seeing an influx of more and more Romanians into India. (Clue: Not Yana Gupta’s fortunes, Ba-llywood’s affair with east Europeans and all that)


Arnold Kling’s very quoteworthy (and hence unquotable – I don’t know what part to quote) article about Masonomics.


And Op-ed in the NYTimes about why Iraq might have to be broken to keep it united. This paragraph sums up the trilema of a united Iraq.

Iraq’s minimalist Constitution is a reflection of a country without a common identity. The Shiites believe their majority entitles them to rule, and a vast majority of them support religious parties that would define Iraq as a Shiite state. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs cannot accept their country being defined by a rival branch of Islam and ruled by parties they see as aligned with Iran. And the Kurdish vision of Iraq is of a country that does not include them.

Truly, for the countries that were supposedly carved out from the British Empire with a stick on beach sand as Winston Churchill was sunbathing one evening on a Southern beach, perilous future awaits.


On the emerging evidence for the effects of birth order.

Yeah, I know that environmental  factors matter and all that. I also know that just yesterday I promised not to link to empirical social science studies whose conclusions are either contradicted the next day or entirely discredited or are suspect because they are not reproducible independently. And know too that for most people which study one trusts depends so much on one’s prior belief about how things ought to be. And certainly bet that there is at least one person who has time to read the article.

Aid to Africa September 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, geo-politics.

A hard-hitting speech from Ugandan journalist with his thesis asking people to

…to look beyond the media’s stories of poverty, civil war and helplessness and see the opportunities for creating wealth and happiness throughout the continent. Most important, he says, the solution to Africa’s problems is not more aid.

My favorite phrase from the speech – “cartel of good intentions”. Much beauty there. And pray, why does Uganda with a population about one-twentieth that of India’s achieve with 333 members of parliament !

Another journalist, similar sentiments here.

To be sure, there is no consensus on what really works for economic growth and does not. But of course, there is the other question of whether consensus (either way) isn’t rather over-rated in such issues.

Assorted links now September 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, geo-politics, policy, science.
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Some really abstract thought today –

But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.”

Now, where do we go from here ?

What percent of our ancestors were women? It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.

Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.

So what, you ask ? How does this morph into a theory of gender differences ? Its fairly complicated to explain right away, so catch this piece for a summary. Better still, catch this entire speech transcript for more details.


Bill Clinton now has a new book Giving, “an inspiring look at how each of us can change the world.” More on that.

I was reading the description over at Amazon (above link) and found this piece interesting.

Heifer International, which gave twelve goats to a Ugandan village. Within a year, Beatrice Biira’s mother had earned enough money selling goat’s milk to pay Beatrice’s school fees and eventually to send all her children to school—and, as required, to pass on a baby goat to another family, thus multiplying the impact of the gift.

Thats a cool business philanthropy model there !


Some in the Chinese media has interesting (and amusing) things to say about India and its defence forces.

The Indian army is undoubtedly the most active armed force in Asia today, allegedly stationing forces in Tajikistan, establishing surveillance stations in Africa, sending aircraft carriers to Bay of Bengal for exercise, etc. Indian army makes it to the military news almost every day, yet the outside world knows so little about it

That was informative, if true. But where did this come from ?

It (the Indian Army) has top weaponry, but before a battle, its solders pray to their gods without exception; it has 1.3 million personnel in service, but you seldom run into one wearing military uniform in the cities; it is like a melting pot, but servicemen of different religious sects stare at each other when they meet.





Dividing Iraq August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history, india.
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If there was the internet, the online commentators/bloggers out in 1947, there would have been an endless stream of articles talking about the possible consequences (perils ??) of partitioning India, much like this article warns against dividing Iraq into 3 countries, or at least into a “federation of three ethno-religious regions is that it would provide a solution to the ongoing conflict between these groups.”

A final reason to be skeptical of plans to partition Iraq is that they suffer from the same fundamental issue that has plagued the broader Iraqi reconstruction effort—the inability of foreign occupiers to centrally plan liberal democratic, economic and social institutions. Historical efforts to partition countries and regions (e.g., Israel, Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and so on) have generated benefits, but they have also generated significant unintended consequences that could not have been foreseen at the time of the initial interventions. There is no reason to believe the partitioning of Iraq would be any different.

Weirdly, the writer does not mention the Indian subcontinent in that list.

We (rightly) talk of how the British may have played a role in the lingering Kashmir dispute, or even in the post-partition riots by hurrying through with the partition (with much help our own leaders who were increasingly getting impatient). Sometimes I think we still go away lightly, just wonder how much worse it could have been. (of course, this is just a thought, such lines of arguments can often cloud real issues)

My previous posts on the subject : Comtemplative in India in 1947 and Iraq in 2007 and quasi-speculative in Why partition may have been the best thing happened to South Asia.


Assorted links again August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, education, geo-politics.
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Funniest movie review ever. Ever. Ever !! :))


For several years now, I have seen and heard people mention about how IIMB ends up interviewing (and hence admitting) a rather different sample of students compared to the other IIMs. Very often there were those who only got an interview call from IIMB (not from L, K or I either). Not very surprising, now that we know that while IIMB does use Class X/XII criterion, IIMA does not. Well, we would of course to hear from the other 4 IIMs to be sure, but this puzzle will soon be unravelled.


From a NYTimes article on India’s growing defence might.

Determined to build a domestic arms industry, India is requiring foreign suppliers to make a sizable portion of any military goods in this country. In the case of the jet fighter contract, the successful bidder must produce goods worth half the contract’s value in India. So, the American companies have been busily pairing up with locals.

So far, most partnerships are little more than agreements to collaborate on future projects. In February, Raytheon and the electronics division of the Indian giant Tata Power signed such an agreement. The same month, Boeing signed an accord with an Indian engineering firm, Larsen & Toubro, to develop new projects. And Northrop Grumman has signed on with Bharat Electronics and Dynamatic Technologies, both of Bangalore, to investigate joint opportunities.

Very smart ! This is the advantage of being in a competitive market – with billions at stake, you are in a strong position to negotiate terms.


Oh, oh !

Mr. Marshall’s sagging pants, a style popularized in the early 1990s by hip-hop artists, are becoming a criminal offense in a growing number of communities, including his own. Starting in Louisiana, an intensifying push by lawmakers has determined pants worn low enough to expose underwear poses a threat to the public, and they have enacted indecency ordinances to stop it.

Here is more :

Following a pattern of past fashion bans, the sagging prohibitions are seen by some as racially motivated because the wearers are young, predominantly African-American men. Yet, this legislation has been proposed largely by African-American officials.

From the Times.


Meanwhile on the Dal (lake) August 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics.
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Once every while you see news that makes you real happy.

On the pavement under the poplars men labour over charcoal grills; their children dart across the road to clients with plates of kebabs, rotis, and rose-coloured, yogurt-laced Kashmiri chutney; a girl about 20 walks by in — God forbid — jeans, her head uncovered; another, older, caught in the traffic, blares the horn from the driver’s seat of an economy car; a dark, thin youth, who lives with 14 others from Bihar in a room in downtown Srinagar, sells coconut slices from a steel tray he holds aloft and says he has been coming here for three years and makes twice the money he did back home; and all along the waterfront businesses are open.

Most of the hotels occupied by security forces for years on the Dal are open to tourists. Open also are the Queen’s Lap, Monalisa, Young Monalisa, Young Fairy Queen, Neil Armstrong, and hundreds of other such interestingly-named houseboats built for vacationing British administrators in the days of the Raj.

The Dal is Wi-Fi, the first lake to provide wireless connectivity in the world, or so says the promotional literature.

Although the last line there is most certainly not true, the fact that a community as battered by violence, bloodshed and hatred as Srinagar could even muster that optimism is heartening.

More balance in fighting terror July 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, politics.

This post is about this whole business of terror and fighting it and will only tangentially refer to Mr. Haneef’s case. therandomizer has raised some interesting points and the commenter on his post has taken the time to educate readers. If you have time, consider reading them before going ahead with this post – sort of sets the background for what I write here.

In late 1999 the Indian Airline plane was hijacked and a demand was made for the release of the terrorists. Those were troubled times, soon after Kargil. While this demand was being considered, thousands of family members of the over 200 passengers were on the streets in Delhi demanding that the terrorists be released and whatever ransom was demanded be paid. The government gave in and since then the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh is often made fun of for having ‘escorted’ terrorists to Qandahar to secure the release of the hostages.

What if the government had not given in ? Its hard to say what would have happened. There were suggestions that we do an Israeli type operation and send in commandos. And there were suggestions saying don’t give in, lets see what will happen. The commando operations don’t always work ( see what happened in Beslan, Russia) and even if they do, rarely do we avoid at least some casualties. How will governments cope with the aftermath ? Let us sit and watch policy is of course not practical because we have no idea what is the worst case scenario. Given that the Taliban knows that India is not in a position to do any hot pursuit/invade Afghanistan, they could have afforded to blow up the plane. Or maybe they wouldn’t, but we did not know then. (nor do we know now)

Why am I raking up a seemingly unrelated incident as we talk of racial profiling and the non-battleground aspect of the War on terror ? This is to illustrate that this war is heavily loaded against nation-states and their law enforcement agencies. As the popular cliche goes, the terrorists have to be successful just once while the law enforcement has to be correct every single time.

Take another example of 9/11.

One of the attackers involved in 9/11 apparently took flying lessons at a Florida training school. Apparently FBI had him on the suspect list for some reason and was aware of his activities in Florida, but they did not take action. Now imagine –

He was apprehended and his activities investigated. the media is informed and the left-wingers in the media step in and defend his right to learn to fly a plane and accuse the FBI and the Bushies of racial profiling and the like. The right-wingers demand tough action.

What actually did happen – nothing. He managed to get his lessons and be a party to the events of 9-11. Now the left-wingers accused the FBI of sleeping in the face of evidence or worse, of deliberately letting this through because Bush wanted to attack Iraq anyway. The right-wingers, as always, think the one can never be tough enough. They accuse the government of protecting the rights of the accused and in the process compromise the right of the general public to a safe society.

Thirdly, how many people in the days following 7/7 paused to remind yourselves of the unfortunate but immense naivete of that Brazilian man running away when challenged in the subway station only to be shot by nervous officers ?


In both the above cases, I am not really talking of the facts. We have no evidence either way about FBI’s attitude or the plans that the hijackers in the Indian Airlines plane had just in case the Indian government called their bluff. All we know is the attitude that we, as people completely unaware of the complexities of anti-terrorist investigation, demonstrate.

It is no secret that the human brain contains within it numerous biases of different kinds ( read this document please ! ). These biases are well on display in the attitude of the public to make judgments. Here we have some examples –

a) Hindsight bias – evaluating past decisions made using evidence not available at the time of making decisions.

b) Selection bias – blaming the government for that rare terrorist event, while not taking into account the fact that for several years there were not any. Surely it was not because the terrorists did not try. You thus pick the evidence that support your hypothesis.

c) Just as often that you find white Westerners alarmed by innocuous events such as the brown man with the camera, you also find brown people overplaying the race card and at every available opportunity. I don’t know what kind of bias this is, but it is one anyway.

d) Profiling is a part of life. We all do it, all the time especially in the absence of complete information. Institutional mechanisms such as law enforcement, insurance and credit card companies (age), self-defense (Indian women don’t undertake night journeys sitting alongside male strangers – remember that male stranger has a human rights too ), street-side bargaining (if you are in good clothes, you are quoted a higher price), that must make such decisions involving incomplete information must engage in some kind of profiling.

As for this whole hullabaloo about Islam and terrorism, another case of confusing conditional probabilities ! Probability of A being a terrorist given A is a Muslim versus Probability of A being a Muslim given A is a terrorist are two different things. The general public’s lack of understanding of ‘simple’ probabilistic reasoning and its relevance to decision-making is further evidence for the need to compulsorily teach probability and statistics in high school.

In the light of all this, why are we expecting a system that is crime free, terror-free, has no profiling of any kind in its institutions, that is rich, healthy, that has no disadvantaged minorities and no aggrieved citizens of any kind, that is not the subject of envy and jealousy? The presence of these humanrights-wallahs and Jhola-wallahs of course helps check the excesses of the state, but taken to an extreme degree is perhaps the biggest impediment to fighting terror – be it Islamist/Marxist or counter-insurgency operations.

It helps to remember that of the millions of brown folks traveling through US and European airports everyday – and once perhaps in 6 months you hear a case of unfair treatment which makes some of you go on and on about racial discrimination. Personally, I think they are doing an incredible job.

It helps to remember that the law enforcement has a tougher job than most of us do – technology and special laws make their job slightly easier. On the other hand, terrorists have an easier job than many of us do and our technology and public vigilance go some way towards making their job harder. The number of terror incidents is a delicate equilibrium between how tough it is to catch them and how easy it is for them to get us. Mighty hard to have that equilibrium around zero.

P.S : On Haneef’s case, my position is that from the facts coming in Aussies have indeed majorly screwed it up – whether that is simply paranoia about security in a country that is yet to see its first terrorist attack (they lost several in Bali a few years ago) or religious profiling of the invidious nature is something I am not sure of.

Assorted stuff July 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, geo-politics, humor, politics, weird.

Here again now – with every passing day my ability to discern Onion-kinda news from real news is being lost. I don’t know if its Onion that is gotten that good or the world thats gotten that weird.

Consider these 2 gems :

Looks like the dogs, my last hope so far, have lost it 🙂

US military proposals over the decades. Incredibly funny, innovative.

I can’t imagine the once scientific advisor to the Vajpayee and now President and soon to be a former president Dr. Kalam presenting such suggestions. ( or his reactions on being presented such suggestions by his sub-ordinates )




This article underlines the now familiar theory that terrorism is a mostly educated/ruling class enterprise. The following part stands out :

There is also an argument that Asians who go in for a technical degree often don’t get oriented to any history or social science and so are more vulnerable to odd explanations of the world they may encounter later. Then the information explosion exposes young sharp minds to all kinds of propaganda…

‘Modernity’ in our societies is now limited to acquiring degrees and is just a way of enslaving one to the fruits of technology without imbibing the spirit that is central to ‘modernity’ — acknowledging the right of all citizens on this planet to co-exist as equals.

Of course this is just a theory, there is no data to support this yet. But if at some point some such relation is established, we will come back to rue our education system. Liberal arts education is a marathon, a long term investment – its hard to point out at the end of a history/sociology/psychology course and pin point at the end of it about the value added. It accrues over a period of time that few policy makers have a vision to comprehend or care enough to act on.


My understanding of politics ( which may be cast as naive given my claim ) is that almost every vote should be a conscience vote. I think the (faulty but for want of a better alternative) premise of democracy is that MPs are representatives of the people first, the party only later. I find it amusing that  politicians are criticizing the call for ‘conscience vote’ as being inappropriate. Does it imply that when MPs vote they are supposed to suppress their ideas and just toe the party line ? I know there is a problem with indiscriminate voting but so is the idea that someone can belong to a particular party – how can you find a handful of smart guys that agree ( not appear to agree) on every major issue ?

Meanwhile, I continue to think that Abhishek Manu Sanghvi has the worst job in the world. More BS from him from here :

Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Singhvi joined issue with Shekhawat and dismissed as “misapplied and inapposite” NDA’s plans to seek a conscience vote in favour of Vice-President Shekhawat in the presidential election as had happened in 1969. According to him, “1969 was a case when the ruling party was itself divided and conscience vote was sought because of the division.” To buttress his argument Singhvi claimed that this time the ruling UPA “was completely united and all constituents had signed the nomination papers for Pratibha Patil”.

Uh, so ? That argument is about as valid as saying :

1969 presidential election is different from 2007. That was the 20th century, we are now in a completely new century. So …

The problem is that either he has to be really stupid or has to make statements that make him look stupid anyway.

Assorted stuff now June 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, economics, geo-politics, history, humor.
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Are you the first born in the family ? Find out. ( in a kinda round about way ofcourse 🙂 )


About what it is like to be a baby. This simple extract itself is enlightening :

So what is it like to be a baby? According to Gopnik, it’s something like attending to everything at once: There’s much less of the reflexive and ignored, the non-conscious, the automatic and expert. She suggests that the closest approximation adults typically get to baby-like experience is when they are in completely novel environments, such as very different cultures, where everything is new. In four days in New Guinea we might have more consciousness and lay down more memories than in four months at home. Also, she suggests, it may be something like certain forms of meditation — those that involve dissolving one’s attentional focus and becoming aware of everything at once. In such states, consciousness becomes not like a spotlight focused on one or a few objects of attention, with all else dark, but more like a lantern, shining its light on many things at once.


Problem from the 1920s : How do you get people to pay to listen for radio ? If you pay to listen to the radio, I can listen anyway. The classic free-rider problem. Today the solution is obvious, but it was not always so.



The first sentence of this article. Its interesting how sentences like that have to read at least twice to make sense of them. I very often end up constructing, inadvertently sentences like them in my own writing. They don’t seem unusual until ofcourse you come across someone else’s prose.



Rice questions the great Indian hypocrisy.

Remember MMS’s gem on NAM :

Non-alignment is a state of mind, to think independently about our options, to widen our developmental choices.


Those hammer and sickle days June 24, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, image, videos.
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Million things about the June 4th, 1989 I did not know. All the million things can be found in this brilliant documentary. The most famous picture associated with the massacre apparently happened 2 days later.

More pictures here. Linked from IndiaUncut.


I have a fetish for reading about (and visiting some day) relics like these :

Also known as the Tagansky Underground Command Center, the 75,000-square-foot facility was built 200 feet below ground level as a communications complex meant to survive a U.S. nuclear attack on Moscow. Work on it began in 1952, when Stalin was still Soviet dictator, and it went into service four years later. The site was in operation through the 1970s, with a staff of 2,500, of whom 1,500 could be on duty at any one time. In the event of a nuclear war, it would have been sealed, with enough stored food for three months, and systems to purify the air. A planned 1980s renovation was abandoned as tensions between the Soviet Union and the West eased, and the site was declassified in 1995.

That is now a museum !


Circa 2002 : I used to hum/sing this song during some really boring classes at KREC, Suratkal, while dedicating it to some of the professors. 🙂

UPA round up ! June 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, image, media, politics, weird.

The Indian Express does it twice in a row – either someone out there has a great sense of humor or just plain poor web design skills/presence of mind. What is the purpose of this picture ?


Look you guys at the Express – you are still my favorite newspaper, but don’t work hard to erode that goodwill. Also its not like you have to have some picture there. Its okay if your photographer ( Anil Sharma in this case ) just had a bad day, we all do every once a while.On second thoughts, in the light of what Ms. Patil has to say, this picture seems only naughty.


And then ofcourse there is the Indian Government’s statement in the story alongside :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that ‘it is extremely difficult for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country which is regularly sending its elected representatives to the state Assemblies and the sovereign Parliament’.

[ Emphasis mine. ]

Pray ! Is it supposed to be read thus :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that (unfortunately) ‘it is extremely difficult (even though we would love to) for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country…..

Again emphasis mine.

Some self-respecting government this !


I came upon this old article written by Mani Shankar Aiyer back in Nov 1997. Its mostly about Chidambaram. After all that written, they are now colleagues – Chidambaram, one of the senior most ministers and Mani in a ministry that most blog readers will not recall. Some thick skin there, Mani. That last line of the article alone is ordinarily sufficient to see the irony. ( Not to speak of the article title itself )

Remember Yogi Berra’s – Its not over until its over ?

Dispelling weird notions June 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india, littlerockers, weird.

On late June 13, 2006, a friend (call her Ms. A.) and I were talking late into the night (5 am, so morning really ) when she mentioned she had an interview the next day and must hang up. I told her that her preparation for the interview was done already, implying that her conversation with me the day before the job interview was sufficient interview. When pressed, I explained an even earlier instance of another friend (call him Mr. P. ) with whom I spent most of the night prior to his job test chatting. Mr. P eventually made the job inspite of what he thought was his ‘abysmal preparation’. I, of course was merely joking when I narrated this to Ms. A but she got the job. This became something of a legend and somewhat well-known among my friends.

Last week another friend (Mr. R ) who had heard of this mailed me saying he would like to speak with me the next day. I was amused at the request because R would generally call in without any such prior notice, as friends mostly do. It turns out that Mr. R was trying to be lucky because he had an interview the day after and a phone call with me seemed like a reasonable preparation to do.

Incidentally, I had had a long day, my phone was off and we never got to speak. R had his interview and the day after even got his offer !! He then called me and as we were discussing how the interview went, he mentioned that he had tried to reach me and I never answered the phone.

Oh, am I glad he got the job. For three reasons – a) well, obviously he is a friend and I wish him well. b) the outlandish superstition ( well, thats redundant – afterall all superstitions are outlandish ) that a conversation with me was necessary to ace an interview was dispelled. And finally, had Mr. R not got the offer, a however small but non-negative, non-zero portion of the blame would have been attributed to me. :p

Well, I have a few job interviews coming up in the next few weeks. I intend to stack up further evidence against the above notion – so I will try to get a job without talking to myself ( which I kinda admit will be hard ).

In the meantime, if you have a job interview coming up, try not talking to me the night before. Ofcourse, don’t try so hard that the opposite superstition takes root. Instead, lets do a controlled experiment where a random half of you call me and another don’t initiate contact. If we have a sufficiently large sample, we can get some cool results and publish a research paper 🙂

Follow this link to read more on why much of probabilistic reasoning has to be acquired and there is nothing innate about it.

P.S : Today is also my second computer’s 5th birthday, my KREC classmate ( now at IIMK) Summit Chauduri’s 27th.


If this were the only evidence available, there would be sufficient grounds to declare MMS as being out of his mind. That picture is somehow symbolic of what MMS would do when the Red Army marches into Arunachal Pradesh.

Former Foreign Secretary suggests a possible response to the Chinese :

New Delhi has to respond firmly to China’s strategic containment of India. We should invite Ministers from Taiwan and establish joint mechanisms to promote economic ties with Taiwan, in line with the policies followed by many South-East and East Asian countries. New Delhi should also facilitate wider publicity for the Dalai Lama’s views on the Sino-Indian border. Strategic ties with Vietnam should be strengthened with military supplies, including Brahmos and Prithvi missiles and a Plutonium Research Reactor.

If the current government does any of the above, I will …er…stop blogging on economics. 😀

Maps !! June 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history.
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I wrote about my love for maps in an earlier post. Alas ! someone is actually concerned about it :-). Here is this amazing blog with some really imaginative…er.. imagery.

One of those interesting things you can do with maps ( and graphs ) is to leave stuff unlabelled and see if people get it. With maps at least its easier and the easier it is to get it, the better the map is.

Favorites :

– Sometimes you wish the world were like this. If you don’t get it, read more on that map here.

– So many folks in so many place would rather the world were like this. More on that one.

And if you don’t like these, there are a whole bunch here. Imagination rules !

Imagine what all these maps will do to our study of history and geography !! Even those never enjoyed in their present form ( and I am not one of them ) would probably jump ship.

And this indeed the “Oops, I did not know of the day.”

Nevertheless, at the Conference of the Western Occupying Powers of Germany in London (from January 14 to February 25, 1947), the Netherlands officially requested the annexation of 1.840 km² of German territory. …

The concluding statements of the Germany Conference in London on April 23, 1949, awarded only very small fragments of German territory to the Netherlands – about 20 fragments, typically smaller than 1km² and totalling no more than 69 km². Most of these were returned to Germany in 1963 and 2002. In fact, the ambitious Dutch annexation plans of 1945 have resulted in only one formerly German area now still under Dutch control: a small area called Wylerberg (in German; Duivelsberg in Dutch) close to the Dutch border city of Nijmegen, measuring no more than 125 hectares.

These Europeans are chilled out guys – been there, done that. They ain’t gonna go to war over such a tiny piece of land, uh 🙂

India – We, the imperialists May 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india.

Imagine your neighborhood shop telling you –

“Well, I know you want X and are willing to pay for it. However, I can only give you Y. Others may be willing to give you X, but you shall not have it because I am your neigbour.”

Now, replace ‘shop’ with Indian ‘Government’ and you being the Sri Lankan Government.

India’s National Security Adviser may require a gentle reminder that when he is talking about Sri Lanka, he is talking about a sovereign country. How else do we interpret these statements :

He said after meeting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi that ‘we are a big power in the region. We don’t want the Sri Lankan government to go to Pakistan or China. Whatever may be their requirement, the Sri Lankan government should come to us’. However, he said, “India will not provide weapons with offensive capablities to Sri Lanka.”

What pretensions then about criticizing others countries for their imperialist intentions/policies and the like ! Okay, okay, I know its all pandering to the DMK and other pro-LTTE factions within Tamil Nadu. But then, the language !! How about tomorrow’s papers having statements like – “I was misquoted by the press”/”My comments were taken out of their context”.

Assorted links today May 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, geo-politics, science, weird.

An interesting article about how circumstances and quirks of history endow some of us with unique legacies :

Whenever Russian and American relations look discouraging, which is very often lately, I think about my infant daughter’s late great-grandfathers. In the second World War, one great-grandfather on her American side was a scout for an armored division that raced across France into the heart of Germany, while on the other side of Europe, one of her Russian great-grandfathers was an artilleryman in the Red Army, plodding west against the same enemy. They never met each other, but the cause they fought for is worth remembering this Memorial Day, as both sides again gin up another predictable cycle of tension and suspicion.

Think about how interesting that infant daughter would sound when she relates her legacy. Not that someone should get any credit for that, but such happenstances make some of life’s stories more interesting (to some of us) than others.

The rest of the article is interesting to those interested in 20th century history.


How to lose some pounds ? Remove half of your brain, apparently it does not affect much else 😉

The operation known as hemispherectomy—where half the brain is removed—sounds too radical to ever consider, much less perform. In the last century, however, surgeons have performed it hundreds of times for disorders uncontrollable in any other way. Unbelievably, the surgery has no apparent effect on personality or memory.


Ants build roads. Another example of incredible diversity and brilliance of the natural world.

Army ants tired of potholes take one for the team, throwing their bodies into rough spots to make a smoother road for their sisters, British researchers reported on Sunday. They found that army ants of Central and South America match their own bodies to the size of the hole they want to plug. Several may plunge together to fill in bigger holes, they report in the journal Animal Behaviour. …”When it comes to rapid road repairs, the ants have their own do-it-yourself highways agency,” Franks said in a statement.”

Ofcourse, don’t tell the Bangalore Municipal corporation folks.


And finally, how crackpot are you ?

Assorted links March 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, geo-politics, humor, image, movies.
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Went out with my colleagues for a movie yesterday – my first in a theater in America and 4th ever. The movie – Pan’s labyrinth. An Oscar winner for Art direction, it is some amazing work. But appreciating technical brilliance is different from waiting for the screen to light up enough to be able to see the time.


This particular image shot during the construction of the Empire State Building in NYC is an American icon. You can see several related images here.


On the recent “invasion”, by the Swiss Army, of Liechtenstein, country most have not heard of :

Because Swiss politicians are giving the army increasingly less money, economical means must be found to keep the troops occupied. Shoes being cheaper than ammunition, the rank and file just keep on marching. Switzerland may not have the most powerful army in the world, but it does have the most stalwart marchers. If the planet ever runs out of oil, our soldiers will be the last ones moving.

In the same article, some cool sarcasm. Is George Bush listening 🙂

Invading Liechtenstein was admittedly a foolish thing to do, but at least the Swiss Army has shown it knows how to bring a failed military action to a happy conclusion. You just turn around and sneak back home as quickly and quietly as you can before anybody notices. And the next day you call on the head of the foreign territory and offer a formal apology.

Can you imagine what it must be a citizen of a country whose population is less than a million, which has no political, economic clout, that people don’t talk good or ill of, has had no army for the last 150 years ( but is one of the richest countries in the world ) ?

Washington Post on why international graduates are America’s greatest exports. Bryan Kaplan on America’s foolish ( but not foolish enough, read why) policy of treating international students.

If you want to get a U.S. student visa, you’re supposed to demonstrate “nonimmigrant intent.” As one immigration lawyer puts it: “the student must have ‘nonimmigrant intent’ – that is, an intention to return to their home county and not remain in the U.S.” In other words, our laws try to make people go away after they finish their studies.


U.S. policy, in contrast ( to erstwhile Soviet ) , is moderately less brutal, but stupid beyond belief. It says, in effect: “We’ll invest in you – as long as you agree to contribute as little as possible to our economy once you’re done.”

Quick links today February 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, humor, india.

I know someone who could have written this article, but given the name and age, I figure its not the friend I know :-).

Same topic, but this time it gets dirty – you have to see it to believe it.

And then, the role reversal . You get to see all kinds of people in one day – its a big world 😀 .


What is your bathing style – pick one.


Taking on doctors yet again 😉 :

Nobody pretends medicine is easy, but if there’s one thing we ought to be able to rely on, it’s that the doctors looking out for us are doing more than playing hunches. We take certain medicines because they work, right? We go into the operating room for certain procedures because they’ll make us well, don’t we?

Well, maybe. More and more, however, doctors are making the unnerving case that no matter how reliable a drug or other treatment appears to be, too often there’s simply little hard evidence that it would make a long-term difference in a person’s quality of life or prolonged survival. Obviously, drugs are tested rigorously to show that they are safe and effective before they are approved by the U.S. and other developed countries. But a clinical study is not the real world, and just because a drug leads to a statistically significant improvement in, say, cholesterol levels doesn’t guarantee that the desired effect–a healthier heart and a longer life–will follow. Often your doctor is left to make prescription decisions based at least in part on faith, bias or even an educated guess.

I don’t know how to get through this without offending atleast one group of doctors out there. If I say, the above is surprising the doctors might ask me to name one thing that we are really really sure of and suggest that I am naive to have not known this. On the other hand, should I say the above is just a fact of life that we live with, then I risk being admonished for disrespecting a profession that is based on rigorous science. Nevertheless, I lean on the latter.


India and China have per capita carbon emissions of 1.19 and  3.2 (as of 2003) tonnes. The rich countries average about 15. What then happens when we get there ? I don’t know. Do I worry about global warming ? That debate has blood stains over it – the blood of demagogues on both sides – and I claim ignorance, stay away. But I might well be accused of hypocrisy here. Afterall the same is true of evolution/I.D, free market Vs. collectivist societies. Yet, those are favorite topics. Why ? Perhaps because climate change is one of the most boring ( to me ) topics out there. I can’t imagine talking on the topic for more than 2 minutes. ( No disrespect to climate scientists. )

Most interesting article and then something else.. February 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, geo-politics, india, videos.
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Excellent article on the subject in a long time. Funniest part :

He pointed out that it took the U.S. 15 years after World War II to learn to think seriously about the security of its weapons. Before that, weapons did not have combination locks, let alone complex electronic security codes. Now, most weapons will not detonate even if given the codes unless they are at their designated targets. He recalled that a friend who had a role in developing the weapons told him that one day in the late 1950s, he got off a plane at an air base in Germany and saw a military aircraft on the tarmac with a bomb beside it guarded by a single soldier. In those days there were not locks and codes. The man strolled over and asked the soldier what this was. The answer: “I believe it is a nuclear bomb, sir.” When asked what he would do if someone started to roll the weapon away, the soldier replied that he would call his superiors for instructions. A further enquiry established that the phone was some 300 meters away.

In this 3 minute video, Columbia economist ( and a likely future Nobel Economics winner ) Jagdish Bhagwati has some interesting things to say on the success of Indians in America and why he took up the US citizenship after several years of being a green card holder.

A 2 minute short video again – Nobel Laureate Economist Gary Becker talking about average behavior and idiosyncratic behavior. Nail on the head ! [ Useful for those under one of these categories ]. I wrote about averages in one of my earliest posts.

Any guesses about the US Navy phone bill ? Clue : From this chart it appears that its larger than the entire military budgets of all but top 30 countries.

To dr. or not to dr. February 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, geo-politics, humor, india, politics.
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“We thought everybody in their right mind ought to get a Ph.D.”

That’s google-mom, I mean, Sergey Brin’s mom. As I enter into the millionth phase of the battle within – trying to answer the question about whether I should go for a Ph.D. or quit and seek out a corporate position, I see obviously unsolicited suggestions 🙂 coming from everywhere – people in the media first and now celebrity moms :D.

Its a bit like the Iraq insurgency – a few months ago I thought that the question was settled – no Ph.D. for me – I thought that the daily battle between the Shias and Sunnis within was nearing the end, that the “insurgency was in its last throes“, until I shot the lawyer…..uuh….. hmm…I mean that metaphor just spun itself out of control.

In the end though, I hope I have a reason for what I decide to do, for I can’t get away by just saying that “the ball was not coming on to the bat and the odd ball kept low.” As I despondently look forward to confidence building measures, peaceful settlement through bilateral talks, my right to self-determination, early resolution of this vexed dispute, issue, matter, idea, theme, thought, CNN-IBN reminds me that there are more important things in life.

Until then I agree to disagree with myself. Sooner or later, when the ice melts I expect a thaw in my relations. With myself. And then I hope all outstanding issues, including the core issue that of Ph.D, will be amicably resolved. Ofcourse, without re-drawing the map.

Beyond belief January 14, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics.
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Thats ofcourse lot of cruelty.

At the new base, I stayed put for three weeks. Then one day, we heard that a rebel group was on its way to attack our village. I tightened the bandage around my shin, picked up my gun and followed my squad to ambush them. We killed most of the attackers and captured a few whom we brought back to base. “These are the men responsible for the bullet holes in your leg. It’s time to make sure they never shoot at you or your comrades.” The lieutenant pointed at the prisoners. I was not sure if one of the captives was the shooter, but any captive would do at that time. They were all lined up, six of them, with their hands tied. I shot them in their shins and watched them suffer for an entire day before finally deciding to shoot them in the head so that they would stop crying. Before I shot each man, I looked at him and saw how his eyes gave up hope and steadied before I pulled the trigger. I found their somber eyes irritating.

The problem is that it comes from a 11 year old child who was recruited as a soldier in the civil war in Sierra Leone. He then found his uncle who was willing to repatriate him. He says :

About a month or so later at Benin Home, Leslie told me it was time for me to go live with my uncle. I was happy, but I was also worried about living with a family. I had been on my own for years and had taken care of myself without any guidance from anyone. If I distanced myself from the family, I was afraid that I might look ungrateful to my uncle, who didn’t have to take me in; I was worried about what would happen when my nightmares took hold of me. How was I going to explain my sadness, which I was unable to hide when it took over my face, to my new family, especially the children?

Geo-predictions January 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, humor, india.
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Use the 1,2,3,4,5 counter in the left side middle of this page to see how the world will look in the future.

India and Pakistan must solve Kashmir soon enough because 100 million years from now, its going to be much more complicated.

India in 1947 and Iraq in 2007 January 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history, india, politics.

To say I am not impressed by the TOI would be an understatement after having started an Orkut community that goes by the name TOI sucks. But lets give credit where its due. This is quite a cool collection. [ although their choice of Sushmita Sen, Jessica Lal case etc. is debatable ]

This collection infact is better.

India in 1947 reminds me of Iraq of today – centuries of being ruled by minority rulers ( Muslims ) that were intermittently despotic and reasonable, when India finally won independence, the only reasonable solution seemed to be the partition. Over 1 million died and another million went missing and a short war ensued in 1947. Iraq faces the same situation, only this time the minorities are the Sunni sect within Islam.

Carry this comparison a little farther, the prospects that you see for Iraq today – violence, bloodshed, civil war – are exactly what was predicted for India then. [ Read this excellent article about how even in 1967 the West didn’t give India a chance for survival ] Considering it all, India hasnt done all that bad a job maybe. **Unsure**. There is already a talk to ‘India-Pakistan-Bangladesh’ style partition of Iraq into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Iraq.

Here is what I wrote on this topic on Jan 30th, 2005.

Was reading this blog by an Iraqi about the elections. Am sometimes wondering how it might have been in India around 1947. The partition brought so much of pain, blood, chaos and it really wasnt unthinkable that we get into some real mess that has since befallen colonies that suddenly found themselves having to manage and learn democratic norms and institution building.

What prevented India from slipping into the abyss ? That too an India whose political unity came only as an inadvertent consequence of British consolidation and the independence movement that ensued, even though cultural and economic unity had always existed. Is it due to the political class of those years which was largely virtuous and incorruptible ? Is it that they were really careful about how they should handle things in the light of new found independence compared to those of today who have made democracy their greatest weapon ? Is it that the nationalism that the Independence movement generated hadnt yet become more of a token as it seems today ? Infact why didnt the death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 ( infact 57 years to this very day ! ) barely months after Independence further lead us into chaos ?

Our first elections were in 1952. How would things have changed if we had elections soon after the partition in 1947 or the British insisted on conducting elections before packing off – this is something that seems to be happening in Iraq at the moment. If the US forces walked out today, a civil war is only a formality. But we managed to have a smooth transition from 1948-1952 ( ofcourse noting that the partition was in 1947 ). I am ofcourse NOT at all a supporter of US occupation but now that they made the mess, they own it !

How could India – a country of 250 million with diversity larger than anything that Iraq comes close to keep itself together as a pseudo democracy until 1952 without a constitution until 1950 ( ofcourse we did have an interim constitution I guess ) ? And how did we imbibe democracy in what was essentially a feudal society even after 1952 ? Was it Nehru and his charisma and his incontestible integrity ? When you look at the Iraq today with its fledgling democracy, that or perhaps something much more complicated India was around 1947.

Before we get too involved in similarities between Iraq of today and India of the yesteryears, we must realize the big difference here. Iraq wasnt liberated by an indegenous independence movement unlike India – the process of liberation didnt unite the country, only divided it. It didnt even throw up any leaders with a nation-wide appeal.

All said and done, in retrospect you feel good about India and how it handled it all. We owe a lot to our political class of that age – Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalchari, Maulana Azad, Shastri, Rajendra Prasad.

Ofcourse today, we live inspite of our political class, not because of them.

Love, Kashmir and the value of life January 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, life, science.
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1. BBC has quite a brilliant presentation here on the Kashmir Problem – all the solution scenarios, stakeholders and the likes. Click on each of the 7 maps on the top of the page and read through.

2. Paul Kedrosky has a challenge. He asks :

Physicist Richard Feynman once said that if all knowledge about physics was about to expire the one sentence he would tell the future is that “Everything is made of atoms”. What one sentence would you tell the future about your own area, whether it’s entrepreneurship, hedge funds, venture capital, or something else?

What is my area ? I dont know – data mining, statistics, speech processing. I will sidestep that question for the moment ( and maybe forever 🙂 ). But one thing I have lately been realizing is that almost everything is ( and needs to be ) negotiable because almost everything has a price. Unfortunately, even human life, as this article points out :

You have 100 doses of a vaccine against a deadly strain of influenza that is sweeping the country, with no prospect of obtaining more. Standing in line are 100 schoolchildren and 100 elderly people.

The elderly are more likely to die if they catch the flu. But they also have fewer years left to live and don’t get out enough to easily spread or catch the disease. The kids are more likely to act like little Typhoid Marys, sneezing virus over anyone they encounter, and have almost their whole life ahead of them. But they’re also less likely to die if they get sick.

Whom do you vaccinate?

And almost everything has a price because you have to give up something to get something else. A fundamental reality of life is scarcity – expect it in the worst places.

3. Falling in love – Misattribution effects.

Social Psychologists A. Aron and D. Dutton used a natural setting to induce physiological arousal in their test of the Two Factor Theory of Emotion. In their study, an attractive female experimenter asked male passersby to complete a brief survey. She intercepted potential subjects either at the end of a bridge or on the bridge itself. The footbridge used was long, narrow, and spanned a deep ravine. Following the survey interview, the experimenter gave the subjects her telephone number in case they had further questions. The dependent variable in this experiment was the number of telephone calls received from the subjects after the experiment.

The theory predicted that more subjects would call if they were interviewed on the bridge itself. By being in a state of arousal (due to the bridge height) at the time of the interview, it was predicted that subjects would misattribute their physiological response as an attraction to the experimenter. This is exactly what was found. Approximately 50% of the male subjects telephoned the experimenter if they were interviewed on the bridge while approximately 15% of the subjects interviewed on the side actually called.

Not ofcourse to suggest that this is always wrong and misleading or that there is a right way to fall in love. But its good to be aware of the possibilities.

On accidents, chaos, taste and the Middle-east December 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, statistics, weird.
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1. Have a hard time believing studies like this.

The study, which looked at 100,000 North American drivers’ records from the past six years, puts Libras (born September 23-October 22) followed by Aquarians (January 20-February 18) as the worst offenders for tickets and accidents.

Not because I am a libran and happen to be an exception to the above, but because there has to be some reason for the these patterns to turn out.

2. And whats this now.

IT is a truism of American life that we’re too darn messy, or we think we are, and we feel really bad about it. Our desks and dining room tables are awash with paper; our closets are bursting with clothes and sports equipment and old files; our laundry areas boil; our basements and garages seethe. And so do our partners — or our parents, if we happen to be teenagers.

This is why sales of home-organizing products, like accordion files and labelmakers and plastic tubs, keep going up and up, from $5.9 billion last year to a projected $7.6 billion by 2009, as do the revenues of companies that make closet organizing systems, an industry that is pulling in $3 billion a year, according to Closets magazine.

I not only cant believe that home-organizing products is a $ 7.6 billion industry but also that this article that talks about – an anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds, and that messy closet owners are probably better parents than their tidier counterparts in response elicits so many comments from people talking about how organized (or not) they are.

The best one ofcourse is someone who reads about the merits of chaos and comments

Thanks. There goes my New Year’s resolution. Please tell my wife.

3. Whats really new about his study ?

Dr. Lee said that the study showed that the experience of taste involved not only the sensation of a blend of ingredients, but also the “top-down” influence of expectations. Previous research with brain imaging had shown that expectations could change the
trace of activity of people’s brains when tasting drinks.

Parents of young children know this instinctively. When giving him cod liver oil as a nutritional supplement, Dr. Lee said, his mother called it “syrup.” In the spirit of blind testing, other parents choose not to create any bias at all. They answer, “What’s in this?” with, “Just try it, you’ll like it.”

Yes, my dad did exactly that, albeit less successfully because anything I eat must pass the smell test. I dont eat anything new without first smelling it – solid, liquid, paste, dry, whatever be it.

4. Wow, this is exactly what Sadiq and I were discussing the other day.

Many people write as if the sectarian warfare in Iraq was caused by coalition intervention. But it is surely obvious that the struggle for mastery has been going on for some time and was only masked by the apparently iron unity imposed under Baathist rule. That rule was itself the dictatorship of a tribal Tikriti minority of the Sunni minority and constituted a veneer over the divisions beneath, as well as an incitement to their perpetuation. The Kurds had already withdrawn themselves from this divide-and-rule system by the time the coalition forces arrived, while Shiite grievances against the state were decades old and had been hugely intensified by Saddam’s cruelty. Nothing was going to stop their explosion, and if Saddam Hussein’s regime had been permitted to run its course and to devolve (if one can use such a mild expression) into the successorship of Udai and Qusai, the resulting detonation would have been even more vicious.

The concept of a nation state is new to the middle-east where the borders are quite arbitrary -too coarse when they should be much finer. Those borders are anything but natural – as in countries within Europe or states within India. Lot of blood will be spilt and a few million will be dead and it will be decades before we see stable democratic nation-states in that part of the world.

Read this article on how Arabs are really really different from the west or even for the matter the east.

India and China as imperialist powers November 23, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india.
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I havent been posting too much on geopolitics as I would have been say an year ago. Looking through my article archive and the broadcaster blog archive, I see a gradual change in my kind of articles that interest me. Once in a while however, I come across some interesting ideas and viewpoints on geo-politics that I cant wait to put up here. Here is one.

Its impossible to know what it must have been to have lived in 17-18th century Europe when most nations set off to acquire colonies and justify the need for them as millions of people were exploited materially and otherwise. What did the media say, were there competing theories or arguments against colonialism, did the public really bother at all etc. The best we can do is to search for some such similar analogy today. Raja Mohan offers one comparing European colonialism to what India and China are doing in Africa – maintain ties with nations with questional credentials merely for trade purposes and import raw materials and either export them as finished products or for domestic consumption. He says :

Western activists argue, not entirely accurately, that the unfolding rivalry between China and India is similar to the scramble for Africa among rival European colonial powers in the 19th century. Irrespective of the analogy, India is certainly competing with China for oil and mineral resources in Africa. New Delhi might be way behind Beijing; but it is on the same road.

The criticism of China and India is sharpest for supporting the government in Sudan, which is facing flak on the human rights front. Beijing and New Delhi, with their huge investments in Sudan’s oil fields, have no desire to sacrifice their energy interests to compel Khartoum to change its behaviour. Support from China and India has undoubtedly emboldened Sudan to defy the international system. The same is true in Burma, where both countries are competing for influence.

Ofcourse, he himself emphasizes, its not a perfect parallel or a case of history repeating itself. But he has a point nevertheless.

Food for thought – WW II November 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history.
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So its about the food too !

The Wages of Destruction
, by Adam Tooze is really fresh look at Nazi Germany. In an interview with Adam, he says :

However, there is no doubt that when the Third Reich invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 it did so in pursuit of not one, but three loosely coordinated programmes of mass murder: a mission to destroy the politically dangerous Jews of the Soviet Union; a long-term programme of colonization accompanied by the “removal” of virtually the entire native population – the so-called Generalplan Ost; thirdly, an immediate programme for death through starvation of the entire urban population of the Soviet Union, numbering approximately 30 million people, to release food for German use.

Meanwhile, in early 1942 the food supply had emerged as an overriding preoccupation. The Hunger Plan of 1941, intended to remove the urban population of the Soviet Union from the food chain had been only a partial success. Germany now faced a severe shortage of grain and was forced to impose deep ration cuts even on the Wehrmacht. It was in this context that plan 1 (Judeocide) and plan 3 (general genocide through redistribution of food) converged. Goering and the Agricultural Ministry, now led by the sinister Herbert Backe, demanded a dramatic reallocation of grain and meat within the Nazi Empire, towards Germany. And it was in this context in the early summer of 1942 that Himmler happily agreed to accelerate the killing of the 2 million strong Jewish population of occupied Poland as a vital contribution to freeing up food for use by the Wehrmacht.

Those who still believed in the 1930s in a prosperous and secure future for Germany under an Anglo-American umbrella were simply naïve. Conquest and racial struggle were the only true routes to prosperity and security. Armaments were the means to that end. Hitler chose war in the autumn of 1939 because in light of renewed economic difficulties, he no longer believed that he could win the arms race with Britain and France. It was now or never. And he chose to escalate the war in 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union for the same reason. In the end of course the balance of force prevailed and Germany went down to defeat. But the remarkable thing surely is how close to success Hitler came.

Quite amazing, there is stuff about the WW II that is still coming out into the open, over 60 years after the last shot was fired/ first atom bomb was dropped.

Us and them ? October 8, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, ideas, india.
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I didnt know about this.

Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped by Sunni Muslim insurgents in Baghdad on Jan. 7, 2006.Over the next 82 days, she had closer contact with Sunni insurgents than any American who has lived to tell the tale.

In her last hours of captivity this man told her: “Forget about the council. You can’t talk about the women or the children. You have to say you were in one room the whole time. Everything is forbidden. You must forget it all.”
She couldn’t. This is her story.
I am going to follow that story for sure.

Here is something more interesting, more controversial. I linked to that from, well, here. The link points to a post by an American anthropologist who spent some time in the Middle-east and his impressions on how Arabs are really different people. I think these are very interesting perspectives. And yeah, dont miss the comments section.

But, quite an intrigue that the author of this post is linking to a song from Omkaara when he is making a statement about the Arabs. This weird thing apart, I was really thinking if I really relate to the dance sequence or song at all, being brought up in so different a part of India. Besides, its been a while since I watched movies at all – and Hindi movies – well, perhaps 3-4 in the past 2 years. Maybe thats why.

The Arab way of life, is more than just Islam I believe. Even if Islam there were replaced by a religion compatible with their tribal code, things might as well be the same. Reminds me how Naipaul’s comments on how the first victims of Arabic colonization was infact the rest of the Islamic world. I also see that Indian muslims probably have more in common with Indian culture codes than with Arabic variety, although admitting that might be a sacrilege to some.

Done with you Mr. Tharoor October 8, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india, rant.
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Just fed up of Shashi Tharoor. In the coloumn named after him, he has been repeated dealing with the same ideas – diversity, multi-lateralism and the usual fluff. I dont disagree except that it does not have to be there as often as he puts it up. Is he being paid to tell us things we already know, that are obvious and that are being emphasized day in and day out by all and sundry

His ideas reminds me of Nehru’s grandiloquent and utopic ideas. Tharoor might take the comparison with Nehru as a compliment ( has authored Nehru’s biography afterall ), but I wouldnt concur. Just few examples : here, here, here, here – thats one out of nearly 5 articles- the same theme. I am sure this man would be one of the most boring speakers to listen to for it appears he has already said everything he wants to say and now he is only going to repeat himself. Contrast him, for instance, to Ramachandra Guha !!

I remember reading his “The Great Indian Novel”, am glad that was library book. I would hate to spend money of 200 odd pages telling me just this – “Indian democracy/pluralism/tolerance is an example to the world”. So wouldnt really rate him highly as a writer either.

Lets have a man of action up there as the secretary general. Men of words should go back to their pens. (hmm, maybe myself included ). Besides, what afterall has the UN served us asks Shenoy.

In the line of fire, literally September 27, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, humor, india, reminisces-1990s.

Yes, we can do with some humor in our news reports.

Going by the tensions and the rhetoric that keeps exacerbating, President Bush will certainly have his work cut out in refereeing this contest on Thursday over dinner and one wonders whether instead of breaking the Ramadan fast with the traditional dates, which precedes the Ifthar dinner, Musharraf and Karzai may end up flinging them at one another!

Humor, potshots and subtle sarcasm is something I regularly find in western media but unfortunately rarely back in India, which if not bland tends to border on polemics and/or lengthy tirades. The reporter in this case is a Srilankan-American reporter, Aziz Hannifa who happens to one of the editors at India Abroad, a North American daily owned by the folks over at rediff.

Here is ‘Musharaff’s lie nailed’ – again by Aziz Hannifa.

In the context of the above and the below (!), I wonder if naming the book as “In the line of fire” is prophetic or reminiscent on the part of Gen. Mushraff !

In a related article and excellently article written at that by Indian Defence expert K. Subrahmanyam, Musharaff comes out as a joker. For a military general/politician/head of state, Musharaff actually speaks so much that he might soon be at risk of being ignored. Subrahmanyam asks :

If India was preparing for an offensive action and this move was undertaken as a countermeasure, why was this charge not made earlier when the then Pakistani foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, visited India in June 1999? Why did it not feature in the conversations of the director-generals of military operations? Why did not Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif raise the issue in his conversations with Atal Bihari Vajpayee? The general claims it was a great victory for his army. Why then is it that the officers and men of the Pakistan army who fought valiantly and got killed did not get the decent burial that was their due? Why were their bodies abandoned on Indian territory? There is no precedent in the history of warfare of a victorious army behaving this way. Why did Pakistan not own up to this victory? Why was it not advertised to the great pride of the Pakistani people till this book was published?

For those who have followed Subrahmanyam’s writings ( like my schoolmate and friend of nearly 2 decades Rajaram ) will know that he never really lets you down. More on him here and here.

Update : A related memory now that I mentioned Subrahmanyam and Rajaram in the same breath is from May 27th, 1998. We along with a few ( or rather most ) of our classmates were waiting at the Brahmavar busstand to take the bus to school. As we were standing there, we were going through a cutout from a recent Times of India op-ed article from Subrahmanyam that Rajaram had gotten along that discussed the implications of the Indian nuclear tests in the sub-continent. The next day Pakistan tested its nuclear device.

“We dont need the army” August 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india.
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If what is said here is true, then ….it is not surprising since Nehru was always bitten by that idealism bug. One of his illustrious contemporaries, Bernard Shaw is to have said – “If you’re not an idealist in your 20s you have no heart, if you’re an idealist in your 40s you have no brain”.

So why then did we need the Police Mr. Nehru, we are afterall a non-violent people, law abiding, honest and incorruptible people !

The Kashmir war saved the Indian Army from being scrapped, seems strange? Well, a biography of Major General AA “Jick” Rudra of the Indian Army by Major General DK “Monty” Palit claims so. According to the book, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru blew his top when Lt General Sir Robert Lockhart, the first commander in chief of India took a strategic plan for a Government directive on defence policy.

“Shortly after independence, General Lockhart as the army chief took a strategic plan to the prime minister, asking for a government directive on the defence policy. He came back to Jick’s office shell-shocked. When asked what happened, he replied, The PM took one look at my paper and blew his top. ‘Rubbish! Total rubbish!’ he shouted. ‘We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is ahimsa (non-violence). We foresee no military threats. Scrap the army! The police are good enough to meet our security needs’,” the Daily Times quotes the book as saying.

According to the book, Jick believed the Kashmir war saved the Indian Army.

“General Sir Douglas Gracie had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army and he and General Lockhart daily exchanged information about refugees traversing Punjab in both directions. One day in late October 1947, Gracie mentioned that he had had reports of tribesmen massing in the area of Attock-Rawalpindi. Both men knew that cross-border raids from Pakistan had been mounted against Poonch. Kashmir was not a part of the dominion of India and Lockhart felt that the tribesmen posed no threat to India. He did not pass on the information to the ministry or general staff,” the paper said.

“When confronted by Nehru three months later, he admitted this and added that he may have been remiss. Nehru turned to him and asked the general if his sympathies were with Pakistan? Aghast, Lockhart replied, ‘Mr prime minister if you have to ask me that question, I have no business being the commander-in-chief of your forces. I know that there is a boat leaving Bombay in a few days, carrying British officers and their families to England. I shall be on it’,” it added.

According to the biography General Lockhart called up his Military Secretary Jick Rudra the next day, January 26 1948, and suggested he start looking around for a successor since he had resigned from his post.

I condemn ur condemnation ! August 13, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india.
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Does this cartoon from the irrepressible Slate remind you of a certain man in uniform who calls himself the chief executive ?

Oh Stalingrad ! August 5, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, history.

Wars make our history books bloody, but bloody interesting. We have always heard of the Battle of Stalingrad. Today somehow I read much of its detailed description and would definitely rank as one of the most interesting reads of recent weeks. Its ironic that stories of death and destruction make interesting reading and become unputdownables or in the internet world – unscrolldownable/un-Alt-F4-able/un-back-buttonable !

On a somewhat related note, I feel the most exciting region of the world since the 1500s has been Europe – voyages of discovery, renaissance, music, art, science, mathematics, industrial revolution, war, destruction – everything that mattered happened in Europe !

Read the detailed account of the war here.

Or some excerpts :

Amid the debris of the wrecked city, the Soviet 62nd Army anchored their defense lines with strongpoints in houses and factories. Fighting was fierce and desperate. The life expectancy of a newly-arrived Soviet private in the city dropped to less than twenty-four hours. Stalin’s Order No. 227 of July 27, 1942 decreed that all those who retreated or otherwise left their positions without orders could be summarily shot. “Not a step back!” was the slogan. The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close co-operation by tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery; and ground-attack aircraft. To counter this, Soviet commanders adopted the simple expedient of always keeping the front lines as close together as physically possible. Chuikov called this tactic “hugging” the Germans. This forced the German infantrymen to either fight on their own or risk taking casualties from their own supporting fire; it neutralized German close air support and weakened their artillery support. Bitter fighting raged for every street, every factory, every house, basement and staircase. The Germans, calling this unseen urban warfare Rattenkrieg (“rat-war”), bitterly joked about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living-room.


Fighting on Mamayev Kurgan, a prominent, blood-soaked hill above the city, was particularly merciless. The height changed hands many times. During one Soviet counter-attack, they lost an entire division of 10,000 men in one day.


Nevertheless the fighting, especially on the slopes of Mamayev Kurgan and inside the factory area in the northern part of the city, continued as fiercely as ever. The battles for the Red October steel factory, the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory and the Barrikady gun factory became world famous. While Soviet soldiers defended their positions and took the Germans under fire, factory workers repaired damaged Soviet tanks and other weapons close to the battlefield, sometimes on the battlefield itself.


The encircling Red Army units immediately formed two defensive fronts: one facing ‘inward’ to defend against breakout attempt by the surrounded Germans, the other facing ‘outward’ to defend against any relief attempt.


Hitler promoted Paulus to Generalfeldmarschall on January 30, 1943 (the 10th anniversary of Hitler coming to power). Since no German field marshal had ever been taken prisoner, Hitler assumed that Paulus would fight on or take his own life. Nevertheless, when Soviet forces closed in on Paulus’ headquarters in the ruined GUM department store, Paulus surrendered.


Only 6,000 of the 91,000 German prisoners of war survived their captivity and returned home. Already weakened by disease, starvation and lack of medical care during the encirclement, they were sent to labour camps all over the Soviet Union, where most of them died of overwork and malnutrition. A handful of senior officers were taken to Moscow and used for propaganda purposes. Some, including Paulus, signed anti-Hitler statements which were broadcast to German troops. General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach offered to raise an anti-Hitler army from the Stalingrad survivors, but the Soviets did not accept this offer. It was not until 1955 that the last of the handful of survivors were repatriated.


The battle of Stalingrad was the largest single battle in human history. It raged for 199 days. Various scholars have estimated the Axis suffered 850,000 casualties of all types among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies: 400,000 Germans, 200,000 Romanians, 130,000 Italians, 120,000 Hungarians were killed, wounded or captured. In addition, and as many as 50,000 turncoat Soviets were killed or captured by the Red Army. According to archival figures, the Red Army suffered 478,741 men killed and 650,878 wounded (for a total of 1,129,619). These numbers; however, include a wide scope of operations.


In all, a total of anywhere from 1.7 million to 2 million Axis and Soviet casualties resulted from the battle, making it by far the largest in human history.

Oh Stalingrad !

Why partition may have been the best thing that happend to South Asia July 30, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, ideas, india.

Aswin, commenting on one of my previous posts here, said :

I loved the article about the pain of the Partition. It was very well written. But I do believe that the Partition was the best thing to happen.

There might be a couple of stray incidents once in every year when 200 people get killed. But one needs only to look at Iraq now to see how many people can get killed with sectarian violence.

Even with the Hindus and Muslims separated out into two separate countries, we have Ayodhyas and Godhras arising every now and then. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if the entire population of pakistan and bangladesh were also part of Hindusthan.

Every war in this world has been a war of religion or ideology. If there were majority christian states or majority muslim states in india, believe me, there would be wars in India.

The only reason 25-30 states in india are co-existing peacefully is because the majority is Hinduism everywhere.

My response to Aswin’s comments to my own post here went thus :

i agree aswin.

there was a time I thought otherwise. Now I think the partition was a surgical failure or rather surgically incomplete.

Natasha in reply to my comment says :

yea “surgically incomplete” ..maybe Kashmir should have been part of the majority muslim nation .. it would have been a lot better if partition hadn’t happened in the first place..we are all the same underneath it all, you know some time in the not too distant future we will reach a point when Hindus may not be the majority in India, then what ???do we split up again??

I respond to Natasha in this post.

yea “surgically incomplete” ..maybe Kashmir should have been part of the majority muslim nation ..

On the surface of it, yes. I do not confess to knowing all the many details of those times. Historical evidence is conflicting on what really happened. But going by other examples of those times – for eg: Nizam of Hyderabad (Muslim) insisting on remaining independent inspite of Hindu majority population, India simply moved troops into Hyderabad and forced accession to India. Another example is of Junagadh – which you may read in detail here where a plebiscite was held which determined accession to India ( muslim king fled to Karachi with most of the kingdom’s assets).

But how Kashmir might be solved after the events of 50 years is quite another question I wont go into here.

Natasha then says :

it would have been a lot better if partition hadn’t happened in the first place.

I disagree, as strongly as I possibly could. What could have happened had there not been a partition would be very very hard to argue and impossible to ever verify. Here is a hypothesis.

Assuming a unified India, with 1.5 billion people, one-third of which would be islamic concentrated in east and the west. A likely situation then would have been that over time, muslims from the muslim-majority regions of the present Indian states (Bihar, UP, AndraPradesh, Gujrat ) may have moved to areas comprising what is now Bangladesh and Pakistan.

I am suggesting this from my brief readings of the models of segragation that happened ( and continue to happen ) in the United States among whites and blacks. Thomas Schelling won the Nobel prize for this contribution. Quoting Marginal revolution from here.

Tom showed how communities can end up segregated even when no single individual cares to live in a segregated neighborhood. Under the right conditions, it only need be the case that the person does not want to live as a minority in the neighborhood, and will move to a neighborhood where the family can be in the majority. Try playing this game with white and black chess pieces, I bet you will get to segregation pretty quickly. Here is a demo model for playing the game.

Ofcourse, Schelling is talking about migrations within cities, one that is largely over a smaller area. But a large scale migration of similar nature is not entirely ruled out. I would love to see the demographics for countries with such a significant minority ( over 30% ), especially if Islamic.

One might argue why this is not happening now in Kashmir – why dont Indian muslims migrate to Kashmir, the only significant muslim majority region in today’s India ? Well, we know why – its not legal – outsiders cannot buy property in J&K. I am sure one of the reasons for this is to disallow changes in the region’s demographics – skewing them further in favor of the majority religion or diluting the muslim majority. Both of these scenarios would encourage secession – former by fuelling islamic nationalism and latter due to insecurity among muslims of being swamped by millions of Hindus from the rest of the Indian state.

Therefore, unless the hypothetical unified state granted such special status to the vast muslim majority regions as we have granted Kashmir ( hard to enforce) , there would have been a migrations that would further skew demographics – make what is India more Hindu and make what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh more muslim, this migration would likely have happened. Even if 10% of who are now Indian muslims moving over across the ‘border’ would significantly change the situation because such movements cause polarization and change compositions on both sides ! Even if we assume that no such movements ever happened, a combined population of nearly 450 million muslims ( 162 (pak) + 144 ( Bdesh ) + 140 (India) ) would have weilded considerable power to enforce different judicial systems, Islamic law and the like. The polarisation would have been immense. We know of no other region in the history of the world that would have faced a polarisation of this nature ( religious ) and scale ( hundreds of millions ).

We are already seeing a problem here. What then would have happened ?

1. Best case scenario – Czechoslovakia style peaceful separation

I will not elaborate on this one – you may read the details here.

2. Worst case scenario – Civil War

This is everybody’s guess – Iraq, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the list goes on – nothing less than a civil war would ensue. Infact, we almost had one in 1947 itself.

When I think or rather read of the 1947 partitiion riots which ironically killed more than the entire tally during 200 odd years of struggle ( organised and otherwise ) against Colonial rule, I think we got away pretty cheap. A full-scale civil war in the 1950s in the hypothetical unified India would have been far worse – more people would have died than in the current low intensity and somewhat localized conflict over Kashmir. Simply thinking about the number of people involved, I think the partition of 1947 ( and a relatively peaceful one at that, atleast relative to what it might have turned out to be ) was one of the best things to have happened to the region.

And if the argument is that before the British came we were one nation, well, no, we werent really a nation at all. Even if Asoka and Akbar’s empires extended over a region as large as that of the hypothetical unified India, the argument doesnt hold because :

– they lasted only a few years.
– they were different periods in history – smaller populations, no concepts of nation-states and no nationalism
– they were held together not as democracies
– empires were too centralized and got weaker as we moved away from the capital.

Natasha then says,

we are all the same underneath it all,

Oh, I wont comment on this one. Barring rare exceptions, geopolitics and international diplomacy doesnt ever work on the basis of anything but national interests – that demands cold logic. Its not because there is something wrong with emotions and superior about cold logic, its just that when you are handling aggregate phenomenon involving millions of people and handle conflicts of interests and clash of objectives on such large scale, cold calculations work better. At any time, the current global order is a strategic equilibrium and we are at the margin ( because some wars always going on ! ). I believe that as of 1947, Pakistan had a stronger moral case on Kashmir than India did – but that doesnt matter here.

The two countries are more different than we think and over the past 50 years have only grown wider apart. There is peace whereever there is because the costs of war are higher and cooperation – trade and cultural – is more beneficial. No country is out here doing a favor to anyone else. We are better off not applying our skills at handling personal and familial relationships to those governing such macroentities as nation-states.

Besides, try telling this to the terrorists !

And finally, Natasha’s comment :

you know some time in the not too distant future we will reach a point when Hindus may not be the majority in India, then what ???do we split up again??

Even at the current rate of population growth, muslim population wont not surpass Hindu population for another 700 years ( I read this in IE editorial about 6 years ago – I hope to find a quote, if you do, please leave a comment ). Now even if India had a 5% total minority population ( as would have happened had 95% of the muslims migrated to Pakistan and Bangladesh), it would have taken over a couple of thousand years I guess – assuming nothing else changed – i.e. assuming Hindus wouldnt be alarmed – which itself would be an unjustifiable assumption.

Besides, its completely futile to even look that far. I hate analogies to put across my point, but okay, one last time 🙂 . Its like saying how can we afford to use petrol and deisel when it will be exhausted in 150 years – a much smaller time-frame. So these words dont contribute meaningfully to the argument at all.

Natasha, my feeling is that you feel the way you do because of all the baggage associated with the word ‘partition’ and how much we have heard and read and watched works ( books, movies etc. ) based on the Indian experience. Two things though : (a) it neednt have been that bloody ! (b) there is nothing wrong in living as two (or three) separate nations if that promotes the common good – as it happened in Czechoslovakia.

That brings me to the other question – how then would be explain that India itself hasnt split up into a few pieces since afterall each of the states have different cultures etc. ? I guess I should keep my thoughts ( not answers ) on that question for a different post.

From peacenik to a fatalist July 28, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, india, life.

I accidentally came across this post – A message for our times.

An excerpt here that comes from someone whose family was directly affected by the events :

my mind keeps saying it is time to look a “paki” in the eye and feel our real feelings. we are one people, torn asunder, still bleeding. time to heal. time to be intelligent and strong. not with guns. but with ourselves.
once upon a time there was undivided india. today we are pakistan, india, bangladesh. three nations, could one day be three great nations. if we are truly independent india, let’s free ourselves of our baggage. here’s to all of us.

I left behind a comment ; the comments section is moderated and I am not sure if it will show up etc. I am therefore reproducing my comments to that post here.

I do feel sorry for the tragedies that have beset you in your personal life but I must add something else too.

There hasnt been a single time in history where there has been no conflict/war in some part of the world. As long as there is scarcity of resources, as long as there are different ideologies, there will be conflict. Very sad but mostly true.

How many nations do we know that have the diversity that we in India have and at this scale ? Liberal western style democracy presupposes certain homogeneity in demographics and a certain standard of living ( most importantly educated liberal mindset) – everywhere else it has failed – except in India. ( Even America is largely christian and of European descent and doesnt have the baggage of a few thousand years as India does – 150 years after slavery abolition and 40 years post-segregation the African-Americans who are still struggling …but hopefully they will be better off in a few decades )

That we have managed to live as a nation with unfavorable demographics and so much potential for unrest and mischief is one of the wonders of this century. Nobody in 1947 even gave us a chance. I see dark days ahead if nothing much changes.

Yes, I have gone from a peacenik ( 14 months ago ) to being a fatalist after Madrid, London, Delhi, several times in Egypt, Varanasi, Bangalore and Bombay. And a very angry one at that. I am posting this comment here – one that puts on record my pessimism – hoping that I can return sometime later to find that I am wrong. I am not worried about 140 million Indian muslims; I am worried about 140 million people who are largely uneducated and who are refusing to reform, who are attracted by distant causes before attending to their own problems at home and of a neighbour who couldnt be a happier witness to this.

140 million people of any religion or mixture of them showing these symptoms are a cause for concern.

Football becomes a metaphor – II July 16, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, sport.
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Continuing from my previous post – here is an example of how different commentators around the world are looking at Zidane’s headbutting act and this is some way again brings out essential differences in national cultures.

France – philosophical reflection, idealism, larger than life :

In France, psychologists appeared on talk shows to ponder his motivations. Fear of success? Fear of failure? Childhood trauma? Even before Zidane spoke out, the iconic French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote in the French press of the “suicide” of a “demigod,” calling Zidane a “super-Achilles” who was humanised by a headbutt instead of a vulnerable heel.

Many intellectuals saw a certain grandeur in Zidane’s act — a gesture of tragic or existential revolt against the huge weight of expectation the world had thrust upon his shoulders.

In England – stiff upper lippish reaction

Some commentators have not been so keen to overlook the transgression –seeing in Zidane’s act the morality of the vendetta, an outdated sense of honour and machismo that has oppressed women for millennia.

Mick Hume of the Times of London bridled at the suggestion that the headbutt was anything but an act of thuggery.

“It is a sign of the strange times how many big moral debates now seem to be about the antics of footballers. Apologists for Zinedine Zidane have wasted the week trying to read some higher meaning into his assault, claiming it as a righteous blow [against] racism, colonialism and Islamophobia,” he wrote.

Finally Americans : “This has got to help us lead happier, more fulfilling lives”

Soccer coaches in American suburbs — a world apart from the rough immigrant neighbourhood in Marseille where Zidane grew up and learned the sport — have held talks with kids about how to deal with anger on the field.

Football becomes a metaphor – I July 16, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, geo-politics, sport.
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We, from the east and the middle east, see Europe and America as one and the same thing – and use a single word for both – “The West’. We couldnt be more wrong. ( I wrote a post about this before. )

This article without much intention ( and seemingly using Football as a metaphor ) brings out the differences that exist.

…In Europe, of course, the vernacular is a very different one. It is, in general, that of a Continent that saw too many of its own cut down on the battlefield in the 20th century to see in military heroism anything but a destructive illusion. For Europe, peace is a core value; Americans see the world another way.


The United States is a young country still hungry for grand undertakings, whether military or not. Europe is an old Continent wary of where such undertakings lead; witness Iraq. Absent the Cold War, which bound them through a shared threat, it is natural enough that these two sensibilities should diverge.


Read more here.

How did this happen ? June 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, geo-politics, history.
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“In 1450 A.D., India and China together accounted for 75% of the World GDP. America wasnt discovered and Europe was primitive. In 1950, Europe and the US accounted for 75% of World GDP and India and China made for a paltry 7%. In 500 years, the tables had turned. And now, its turning again…”

Exciting lecture by Clyde V. Prestowitz, Jr., President, Economic Strategy Institute (ESI), Washington D.C. – you can listen to it here.

Also perhaps read this article here – by Clyde again.