Monthly Archives: June 2013

India and China

Open any newspaper or magazine, or click on an blog or news site. There will be an article comparing India and China, even Amartya Sen seems to think that China’s  swift decisive decision making is better than India’s democracy.  These articles seem to follow a set pattern. It usually goes like this, first paragraph pays lip service to India’s democracy, followed by a slow sad head shake about China’s authoritarian regime.  Then in paragraph two, we are treated to a plethora of statistics showing how China is leaving India in dust, across several key indicators.  The article usually ends with a grudging admiration of the  strong arm tactics of China’s one party rule.

What is the purpose of these articles? Why compare apples to oranges?  China and India are nothing alike. The only similarities that I can see are their massive size and antiquity of their respective civilizations. Is this a subtle hint of what the opinion making elite think the future should be like? Is it my imagination, or do I sense a grudging admiration for China and its tactics.  Is China being held as an example to be emulated and India as a sad cautionary tale?

Looking at the statistics on paper, China does seem to be better off than India, right this moment. India’s flaws and shortcomings are out in the open, for everyone to see, but how much do we really know about China?  Can we trust the data that the Chinese government allows to get out?

I take all the projections about China with a grain of salt, since the  past is not the best predictor of future and history is not a linear regression. After all the tortoise did beat the hare.

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Caturday Kittehs

h9669E212

Lol by two_kittehs

She was Nutritious and Delicious

I called Jenny

LoL by: two_kittehs

I made this lol a while ago, in response to the annoying Jenny Craig commercial, have you called Jenny yet?

The Die is Caste

NYT is now  outsourcing their  vacuous analysis on the Opinion Pages to op-ed contributors from Bangalore, no less.  Tom Friedman beware, your competition has arrived. Ms Sankaran’s column in a nutshell, nobody I know of speaks of uncomfortable stuff like caste or caste discrimination, ergo its no longer a relevant factor.  Also, it makes me sad that others, not as enlightened as I am, are using caste when deciding who to vote for.

Lavanya_Sankar

In a country where everything from your name to what you eat, to whom you can marry, depends on caste, I would be extremely surprised if it was not a dominant factor in electoral politics.  Her personal experiences are hardly representative of all of urban India. Perhaps she should actually talk to the the cooks and  gardeners she  refers to in her column before she presumes to speak for them.

In today’s urban India, this land of possibility, separated from rural India by cultural and economic chasms, it seems reactionary even to speak of caste. Certainly it shouldn’t — and usually doesn’t — come up at work or at play or in the apartment elevator.

A quick Google search with the  word caste, came up with multiple stories from Indian newspapers  with caste in the head lines.  Even when it is not in the headlines, caste provides the subtext for almost everything in India.  So much for her claim that newspaper headlines don’t obsess over caste anymore.  Even if explicit mentions of caste had disappeared from headlines in the English language newspapers what exactly is that supposed to prove?  Does it mean, that if something is not in headlines, it does not happen? Caste-based discrimination is the reality of life for far too many Indians.    Although, truly reprehensible practices around who you can touch and share food with may be dying out in the urban areas out of sheer necessity.  The opportunities that are available to you depend to a great extent on your caste.   Since caste and class usually go together, abject poverty is the fate of many at the bottom of the caste ladder.

The reality of the caste system in India is many layered and greatly differs from her simplistic Cliff notes variety description,

Traditionally, Indian society was divided into four main castes. At the top, Brahmins, as priests and teachers; second came the Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers; third, Vaishyas, who were merchants; last, Shudras, the laborers. And below them all, the Dalits, or untouchables, called Harijans, or “children of God,” by Mahatma Gandhi (for indeed, who isn’t?).

You have all kinds of flexibility the higher up in the caste ladder you are, for example any profession is open to you if you are Brahmin, but not so, the lower on the ladder you are.  In addition there is a lot of regional variation in the caste hierarchies.

When Ms Sankaran, or any other upper caste Indian has a priest who is a scholar of Hindu scriptures but is not a Brahmin  officiate at a religious ceremony, I will buy her tall claim, that caste is irrelevant.  Also, if caste is irrelevant, why is every mention of Mayawati followed by her caste descriptor?

Politics is where caste has gotten a surprising new lease on life. After money and education,
democracy is, of course, the third powerful force transforming Indian society. But Indians, it turns
out, are passionate about the caste of their politicians. Nearly half of the voting population of even
a highly educated city like Bangalore considers caste to be the No. 1 reason to vote for a candidate.

To get a new lease on life, you need to be dead or dying, caste and caste based discrimination is alive and well in India and twenty years of relatively weak economic reforms have not done much to change that dynamic.  Politics is one arena where lower castes  can affect the outcome  due to their sheer numbers.  Like many urban Indians of her class she is not happy with the results.   By the way how exactly can a city be educated? Does it go to college?

Democracy gives power to people who previously had none. But, like race, caste can shift political
discussions from present-day merit to payback for historical injustices.

Shorter Ms Sankaran, those uppity Dalits are making me uncomfortable. Caste based injustices are hardly in some distant past to be described as historical.  But no matter, the lower castes should just get over it, according to Ms. Sankaran. Also,  merit and privilege go hand in hand. It is hard to excel at school when you don’t know where your next meal will come from.   She makes her biases crystal clear in her next paragraph

Six decades of democratic statehood have attempted to correct the imbalances of the past through
“reservation” — job and education quotas for the so-called backward castes, like the Dalits. This
program has been effective, in a fairly hit-or-miss fashion. Some say that nearly all university seats
are reserved for lower castes, effectively blocking Brahmins from higher education.

She ends with this gem

So that is the fascinating conundrum of Indian society: on one hand, caste is losing its virility as
India opens up opportunities and mind-sets, while on the other, the forces of democratic politics
ensure that it will thrive and never be forgotten as a crucial social index.

Caste is a male? Who knew? In any case, this male does not require Viagra. Tough luck Ms Sankaran, you can be rest assured that people will continue exercising their franchise in a way that protects their interests whether or not it meets your approval or hurts your tender feelings.  Caste based politics is a reality in Indian politics and it is not going away, unless the underlying issues of caste discrimination are addressed.   Politics in India is dirty and messy and caste-driven,  and reflects the society.

P.S.  Why  is NYT publishing this drivel?

Austerity Cat Returns!

Austerity for thee but not for me

austerity cat returns

LoL by: two_kittehs

Austerity cat was on the ICHC/lolcats voting pages this weekend.  ICHC has made it slightly difficult to reach the voting pages, there is no link on the front page any more.  If you want to vote for my lol it can be found here  and it is also on voting page 4 of lolcats, right now.

Austerity cat made his first appearance here.

Zen Kitteh has achieved Purrvana

 

image

Wish I could be so relaxed.

Star Trek Into Darkness

The review as promised.   After seeing the 2009 Star Trek reboot my hopes for this latest Trek movie were not high.  The reboot had major flaws, including but not restricted to an utterly unconvincing villain. This latest movie addresses that flaw to some extent.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain is definitely an improvement over Eric Bana’s villain.  Unlike the tattooed and bald Bana, Cumberbatch has a head full of hair and nary a facial tattoo in the movie and even his motivations and actions make more sense. I mostly blame the director and the writers for this sad state of affairs and not Bana.

I definitely liked this movie far better than the last one but it is not without flaws.  The movie was a thrilling ride until the last thirty minutes.

WARNING: Spoilers follow

Khan_Trek
Photo:Paramount Pictures

The movie begins with the Enterprise docked under water.  Kirk and Spock are trying to save a planet by ignoring the Prime Directive.
The special effects were beautiful.  Anyway, getting back to the plot, this results in Kirk losing command of the Enterprise and his rank, but don’t worry he will get both back in less than 10 minutes.
There is an attack on Star Fleet Archives in London, a huge explosion which destroys the building and its surroundings. It involves Cumberbatch and his blood, and a Star Fleet official with an ailing daughter. Immediately the Star Fleet high command summons a  meeting in its San Francisco head quarters. Both Kirk who has been demoted to commander and Spock are present. Star Fleet must be awfully small if a recently demoted captain is a part of a high level meeting.  The meeting takes place in a room with lots of windows. Was Dick Cheney’s bunker unavailable? Any how, there is another attack, through the aforementioned windows  and most of Star Fleet big brass is eliminated including Kirk’s mentor Pike. Was it Abrams intention to make Star Fleet look like a joke? This crew doesn’t seem capable of tying its shoelaces, let alone undertake interstellar travel.

Meanwhile, Kirk has already figured out who is responsible for the attacks, it is one of Star Fleet’s own, a cadet named John Harrison. Harrison is none other than Cumberbatch. Who has already beamed back to an abandoned outpost in Klingon space.

Miraculously the Admiral who has convened the meeting escapes, I found that highly suspicious. More about that later. He reinstates Kirk as Captain and gives him back the Enterprise and sends him on highly secretive rogue mission to destroy Harrison.  Enterprise is to be outfitted with top secret weapons. Haven’t we seen this before, an overreaction to a terrorist threat? And I don’t mean in real life, but in Trek, in Deep Space Nine, to be precise.
The rest of the movie is about the pursuit of Harrison who is not really Harrison, and bringing him back to earth to stand trial. Kirk soon figures out that things are not what they seem and both Harrison, and his on-board weapons specialist are not who he thought they were. Even his cargo of weapons is not what it seems. The weapons specialist turns out to be the Admiral’s daughter and Harrison is Khan. The admiral is who he says he is, but his intentions are far from honorable, as are his tactics. When Kirk figures that out, with help from his crew mates namely Scottie and Spock, he changes his mission from destroying Harrison/Khan to bringing him back to earth to stand trial.

The chase initially leads him and the Enterprise crew to Kronos where they encounter Harrison, who saves them from hostile Klingons, and relents to being taken a prisoner.   He reveals his true identity while on the Enterprise and we find out the reason why he agreed to come back with them. We learn from Khan about the diabolical motivations of Admiral Marcus, who shows up in a huge ship, snarling, right on cue.  Original Spock also makes a two minute appearance who tells the New Spock that Khan is a bad man, a very very bad man.

After many chases, firefights and fist fights, we have a final confrontation between Spock and Khan. Is it a battle of wits? Which one might have expected, since these two are supposed to be the brainiest men in the alpha quadrant. No, its a fist fight on what seems like a floating construction platform, where Khan goes from invincible to popsicle in a matter of minutes.  How and why? Ours is not to question why but wait for a sequel to be explained why. I am hoping, that they also explain why Khan’s blood is magical.

Khan was an iconic villain in the original series, and the movies made thereafter. Since I have not seen either the movies or the episodes in which Khan makes an appearance, I don’t really get the significance of Harrison really being Khan. Is he supposed to be extra scary because he is Khan?

As for how an open society can retains its openness and its values, in face of the threat of  terrorism, was handled far better in DS9, in the two part story, Homefront and Paradise Lost. It also had an admiral who goes rogue because he thinks that people around him are too soft to handle this new threat.  The movie raised interesting questions relevant to the post 9/11 world but then degenerated into mindless and mind numbing summer fare. The cast, including Cumberbatch  did an excellent job with the flimsy material they were given. The story did not utilize the characters of Dr McCoy, Scottie and Chekov well.  If there is a sequel I hope that they are used for more than providing comic fodder. I for one thought that attempts at comedy were lame. Which is a shame because both Pegg and Urban, the actors playing Scottie and Bones, seem capable of much more.

We need a story worthy of this crew and the franchise. All in all a missed opportunity. Though it did provide a good hour and half of  thrilling ride that  transports you to a world of possibilities.

Grade: B

Credits (h/t : NYT Review)

Directed by J. J. Abrams; written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof, based on “Star Trek” by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production design by Scott Chambliss; costumes by Michael Kaplan; produced by Mr. Abrams, Mr. Kurtzman, Mr. Orci, Mr. Lindelof and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes.

WITH: John Cho (Hikaru Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison), Alice Eve (Carol), Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike), Simon Pegg (Montgomery Scott), Chris Pine (Capt. James T. Kirk), Zoe Saldana (Nyota Uhura), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr. Leonard McCoy), Peter Weller (Starfleet Admiral Marcus) and Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov).

GOP Outreach to Immigrants Continues

While the Senate began the debate on comprehensive immigration reform bill today, the GOP led Congress voted to defund the President’s Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which gives a temporary reprieve to immigrants who arrived here illegally when they were children. To paraphrase the President, please proceed GOP Congressional representatives.

ETA: Since this will never pass the Senate, what was the purpose of this pointless exercise?

Surreal Kitteh is Surreal

Dali_kitteh

Lol: by two_kittehs

Surrealist Kitteh looks like my orange tabbeh, Inji. Does she has a long lost brother in Rushya? Zarathrustra, the mews to great artists, even has the same white chin and white gloves and sockses!  I lubs this kitteh and his blog. Best use of Photoshop that I have come across.