Friday, September 19, 2008

Home made terror on a platter

If the fall of Lehman Brothers & the bomb blasts in Delhi weren't enough, there was more drama unfolding since Sunday in the form of Christians being attacked & churches being vandalized in Karnataka. Bajrang Dal activists have claimed responsibility for these shameful attacks, justifying themselves by saying that forcible conversions were being carried out in these churches.

For those not in the know, the Bajrang Dal is a youth organization of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Some say they look out for the best interests of the Hindu community in India while moderate Hindu groups accuse them of using violence in their war against Islamist fundamentalists. Even former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP has reportedly criticized them. The BJP (one of India’s big 2 political parties, having been the previous central government) has very strong ties with the VHP & the Bajrang Dal. Come Valentines Day and Bajrang Dal activists are out in their full force as they threaten couples and beat them up for going against our Indian values as well as attack shops selling Valentines Day cards. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind of their involvement in the Gujarat carnage (an article on this can be found elsewhere in this blog). I just came across a couple of articles that talked about Bajrang Dal activists being involved in bomb making accidents, the latest one as near as the 24th of August 2008. Sinners or saints, you decide.

Back to the topic at hand, the state convenor for the Bajrang Dal, Mahendra Kumar, has said that New Life (one of the churches that were attacked) was into conversions, which was why they had acted against them. And yet their leaders roam around threatening to make further attacks if the conversions continue. The BJP Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa says that action will be taken against those who attacked the churches but they should also desist from conversions. These attacks on Christians have begun only since the BJP has come to power in Karnataka in the last couple of months. The issue of conversions is a constantly simmering topic in India but these unprovoked attacks are despicable.

The most saddening part of these attacks is that these hooligans attacked at the Adoration Monastry in Mangalore where there were 10 cloistered nuns. Cloistered nuns shun the outside world and pray for the world. How is it possible that nuns who don’t meet people from the outside world are involved in conversions?
Mangalore is a wonderful little city which you fall in love with almost instantaneously.These attacks have understandably shaken the city & the damage can’t be undone. The BJPs policy of divide and rule albeit on the basis of religion is not new to them and in fact has been highly successful for them. Its time we take a decision on who we vote to power. Do we want a Congress led government which has numerable faults of its own? Or do we want a BJP government that is going to turn friend into foe and neighbour into hater?

Petroeuro vs Petrodollar

Heres a very interesting forward that I am pasting in its entirity. Im not sure how true it is but it certainly does answer a lot of open questions that have been hanging around for years.
The Voice (issue 264 -) ran an article beginning, ' Iran has really gone and done it now. No, they haven't sent their first nuclear sub in to the Persian Gulf . They are about to launch something much more deadly -- next week the Iran Bourse will open to trade oil, not n dollars but in Euros' This apparently insignificant event has consequences far greater for the US people, indeed all for us all, than is imaginable.
Currently almost all oil buying and selling is in US-dollars through exchanges in London and New York . It is not accidental they are both US-owned.The Wall Street crash in 1929 sparked off global depression and World War II. During that war the US supplied provisions and munitions to all its allies, refusing currency and demanding gold payments in exchange.
By 1945, 80% of the world's gold was sitting in US vaults. The dollar became the one undisputed global reserve currency -- it was treated world-wide as `safer than gold'. The Bretton Woods agreement was established.The US took full advantage over the next decades and printed dollars like there was no tomorrow. The US exported many mountains of dollars, paying for ever-increasing amounts of commodities, tax cuts for the rich, many wars abroad, mercenaries, spies and politicians the world over. You see, this did not affect inflation at home! The US got it all for free! Well, maybe for a forest or two.Over subsequent decades the world's vaults bulged at the seams and more and more vaults were built, just for US dollars.
Each year, the US spends many more dollars abroad that at home. Analysts pretty much agree that outside the US , of the savings, or reserves, of all other countries, in gold and all currencies -- that a massive 66% of this total wealth is in US dollars!In 1971 several countries simultaneously tried to sell a small portion of their dollars to the US for gold. Krassimir Petrov, (Ph. D. in Economics at Ohio University ) recently wrote, 'The US Government defaulted on its payment on August 15, 1971 . While popular spin told the story of `severing the link between the dollar and gold', in reality the denial to pay back in gold was an act of bankruptcy by the US Government.' The 1945 Breton Woods agreement was unilaterally smashed.The dollar and US economy were on a precipice resembling Germany in 1929.
The US now had to find a way for the rest of the world to believe and have faith in the paper dollar. The solution was in oil, in the petrodollar. The US viciously bullied first Saudi Arabia and then OPEC to sell oil for dollars only -- it worked, the dollar was saved. Now countries had to keep dollars to buy much needed oil. And the US could buy oil all over the world, free of charge. What a Houdini for the US ! Oil replaced gold as the new foundation to stop the paper dollar sinking.Since 1971, the US printed even more mountains of dollars to spend abroad.The trade deficit grew and grew. The US sucked-in much of the world's products for next to nothing. More vaults were built.Expert, Cóilínn Nunan, wrote in 2003, 'The dollar is the de facto world reserve currency: the US currency accounts for approximately two thirds of all official exchange reserves. More than four-fifths of all foreign exchange transactions and half of all world exports are denominated in dollars. In addition, all IMF loans are denominated in dollars.'Dr Bulent Gukay of Keele University recently wrote, 'This system of the US dollar acting as global reserve currency in oil trade keeps the demand for the dollar `artificially' high. This enables the US to carry out printing dollars at the price of next to nothing to fund increased military spending and consumer spending on imports. There is no theoretical limit to the amount of dollars that can be printed. As long as the US has no serious challengers, and the other states have confidence in the US dollar, the system functions.
'Until recently, the US-dollar has been safe. However, since 1990 Western Europe has been busy growing, swallowing up central and Eastern Europe .French and German bosses were jealous of the US ability to buy goods and people the world over for nothing. They wanted a slice of the free cake too.Further, they now had the power and established the euro in late 1999 against massive US-inspired opposition across Europe , especially from Britain - paid for in dollars of course. But the euro succeeded.Only months after the euro-launch, Saddam's Iraq announced it was switching from selling oil in dollars only, to euros only -- breaking the OPEC agreement.. Iran , Russia , Venezuela , Libya , all began talking openly of switching too -- were the floodgates about to be opened?Then aero planes flew into the twin-towers in September 2001. Was this another Houdini chance to save the US (petro) dollar and the biggest financial/economic crash in history? War preparations began in the US But first war-fever had to be created -- and truth was the first casualty. Other oil producing countries watched-on.
In 2000 Iraq began selling oil in euros.In 2002, Iraq changed all their petro-dollars in their vaults into euros. A few months later, the US began their invasion of Iraq .The whole world was watching: very few aware that the US was engaging in the first oil currency, or petro-dollar war. After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, remember, the US secured oil areas first. Their first sales in August were, of course, in dollars, again. The only government building in Baghdad not bombed was the Oil Ministry! It does not matter how many people are murdered -- for the US , the petro-dollar must be saved as the only way to buy and sell oil - otherwise the US economy will crash, and much more besides.In early 2003, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela talked openly of selling half of its oil in euros (the other half is bought by the US ). On 12 April 2003, the US-supported business leaders and some generals in Venezuela kidnapped Chavez and attempted a coup. The masses rose against this and the Army followed suit. The coup failed. This was bad for the US .In November 2000 the euro/dollar was at $0.82 dollars, its lowest ever, and still diving, but when Iraq started selling oil in euros, the euro dive was halted. In April 2002 senior OPEC reps talked about trading in euros and the euro shot up. In June 2003 the US occupiers of Iraq switched trading back to dollars and the euro fell against the dollar again. In August 2003 Iran starts to sell oil in euros to some European countries and the euro rises sharply. In the winter of 2003-4 Russian and OPEC politicians talked seriously of switching oil/gas sales to the euro and the euro rose. In February 2004 OPEC met and made no decision to turn to the euro -- and yes, the euro fell against the dollar. In June 2004 Iran announced it would build an oil bourse to rival London and New York , and again, the euro rose. The euro stands at $1.27 and has been climbing of late.But matters this month became far, far worse for the US dollar.
On 5th May Iran registered its own Oil Bourse, the IOB. Not only are they now selling oil in euros from abroad -- they have established an actual Oil Bourse, a global trading centre for all countries to buy and sell their oil!In Chavez's recent visit to London ; he talked openly about supporting the Iranian Oil Bourse, and selling oil in euros. When asked in London about the new arms embargo imposed by the US against Venezuela , Chavez prophetically dismissed the US as 'a paper tiger'.Currently, almost all the world's oil is sold on either the NYMEX, New York Mercantile Exchange, or the IPE, London's International Petroleum Exchange.Both are owned by US citizens and both sell and buy only in US dollars. The success of the Iran Oil Bourse makes sense to Europe , which buys 70% of Iran 's oil. It makes sense for Russia , which sells 66% of its oil to Europe . But worse for the US , China and India have already stated they are very interested in the new Iranian Oil Bourse.If there is a tactical-nuclear strike on - deja-vu - `weapons of mass destruction' in Iran , who would bet against a certain Oil Exchange and more, being bombed too?And worse for Bush. It makes sense for Europe , China , India and Japan-- as well as all the other countries mentioned above -- to buy and sell oil in Euro's. They will certainly have to stock-up on euros now, and they will sell dollars to do so. The euro is far more stable than the debt-ridden dollar. The IMF has recently highlighted US economic difficulties and the trade deficit strangling the US-- there is no way out.The problem for so many countries now is how to get rid of their vaults full of dollars, before it crashes? And the US has bullied so many countries for so many decades around the world, that many will see a chance to kick the bully back. The US cannot accept even 5% of the world's dollars -- it would crash the US economy dragging much of the world with it, especially Britain .To survive, as the Scottish Socialist Voice article stated, 'the US , needs to generate a trade surplus to get out of this one.
Problem is it can't.'This is spot on. To do that they must force US workers into near slavery, to get paid less than Chinese or Indian workers. We all know that this will not happen.What will happen in the US ? Chaos for sure. Maybe a workers revolution, but looking at the situation as it is now, it is more likely to be a re-run of Germany post-1929, and some form of extreme-right mass movement will emerge...Does Europe and China/Asia have the economic independence and strength to stop the whole world's economies collapsing with the US ? Their vaults are full to the brim with dollars.The US has to find a way to pay for its dollar-imperialist exploitation of the world since 1945.. Somehow, eventually, it has to account for every dollar in every vault in the world.Bombing Iran could backfire tremendously. It would bring Iran openly into the war in Iraq , behind the Shiite majority. The US cannot cope even now with the much smaller Iraqi insurgency. Perhaps the US will feed into the Sunni v Shiite conflict and turn it into a wider Middle-East civil-war.However, this is so dangerous for global oil supplies. Further, they know that this would be temporary, as some country somewhere else, will establish a euro-oil-exchange, perhaps in Brussels .
There is one `solution' -- scrap the dollar and print a whole new currency for the US . This will destroy 66% of the rest of the world's savings/reserves in one swoop. Imagine the implications? Such are the desperate things now swimming around heads in the White House, Wall Street and Pentagon.Another is to do as Germany did, just before invading Poland in 1938. The Nazis filmed a mock Polish Army attack on Germany , to win hearts and minds at home. But again, this is a finger in the dam. So, how is the US going to escape this time? The only global arena of total superiority left is military. Who knows what horrors lie ahead. A new world war is one tool by which the US could discipline its `allies' into keeping the dollar in their vaults.The task of socialists today is to explain to as many as possible, especially our class, that the coming crisis belongs purely to capitalism and (dollar) imperialism. Not people of other cultures, not Islam, not the axis of evil or their so-called WMDs. Their system alone is to blame.
The new Iranian Oil Bourse, the IOB, is situated in a new building on the free-trade-zone island of Kish , in the Persian Gulf . It's computers and software are all set to go. The IOB was supposed to be up and running last March, but many pressures forced a postponement. Where the pressure came from is obvious. It was internationally registered on 5th May and supposed to open mid-May, but its opening was put off, some saying the oil-mafia was involved, along with much international pressure. ........................... In 2007 Crude was traded around 60 usd. Everyone know dollar was getting weaker and weaker day by day. Then US with the help of their two NYMEX & IPE exchange started rising the price of crude by Future trading on crude( called speculation). Today crude is around 140 usd. It means whole world who were paying 60 usd, now paying 140 usd, means demand of dollar increase to 230% and dollar started rising again.Even OPEC recently that in hike og crude, 60% contribution is due to speculation (Future market). Moral of story is USA has & will go to destroy any nation to keep itsmonopoly of dollar in world.

Strange are the ways of this ......

Strange are the ways of the world. Its only Friday morning and boy has it been a tumultuous week already. Worldwide there’s panic in the global markets as Lehman Brothers tanked after announcing huge losses last week & Merrill Lynch got bought over by a rather opportunistic Bank Of America. This after Merrill Lynch has written down over $40 billion dollars in assets in the last one year, according to the BBC. Of course John Thain’s (Merrill's chairman and chief executive) role in strengthening Merrill Lynch over the past few years ensured that they had people interested in buying them when the going got bad. Lessons to be learnt from Lehman Brothers’ mistake of believing they couldn’t go wrong. Add to that the $85 billion rescue package that the American government was forced to give their largest insurance player – AIG, in return for a 79.9% stake.

Wasn’t America the country that just bailed out their largest mortgage companies Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae in a deal that according to Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moodys, lies between $ 25 – 50 billion? Wasn’t America the country that’s spending billions in their continued invasion of Iraq? Wasn’t America the country that promoted capitalism? How can a country claim that anything goes in the quest for profits but if you make bad decisions we are going to come and bail you out? More importantly, how long can they afford to keep saving financial institutions that are in a sticky spot because of their own stupidity? One benefit that could possibly arise out of all this mess is that people might start becoming smarter to the risk exposure that they face when dealing with financial institutions. But that’s a miniscule gain for what looks to be far from a small price that is being paid.

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday I was reading about Lehman’s advanced announcement of their terrible last quarter results. Now there is no Lehman Brothers. Merrill has been bought over. Talks are on between Morgan Stanley & Wachovia to save the former. Strange are the ways of the world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Terror in our backyards

13th September - It was a lazy Saturday night & I had planned on doing well nothing. A pizza, a movie, an hour of button mashing with Burnout Legends. Or some UFC fights. Or an episode of SHIELD. Listening to some B.B. King. Not groundbreaking plans but enough to satisfy a worn-out-from-a-long-week guy. Until I got a call asking me if I had heard about the blasts in Delhi.
With NDTV (one of India’s leading English news channels) being based out of Delhi, they were probably the first ones on the spot and had disturbing footage of people being carried away from the sites. The 5 bombs that exploded in Karol Bagh, Connaught Place, Greater Kailash-I and Barakhamba Road within a span of 25 minutes took 30 lives & injured over 90 people. These are places where a lot of shopping goes on especially on weekends. What’s scary is that these were the places that I used to frequent when I was in Delhi last year. Watching people carrying bodies to ambulances with blood pouring from them was something that made me shudder. And then I realized that could’ve been me. I could’ve been a nameless person being carried away on national news which thousands of people watch their televisions in disbelief. It could’ve been any one of my friends who are from Delhi or who are working in Delhi.
Did the terrorists succeed in instilling terror in all of us that evening? Yes they did. Will we live in the shadow of the bomb blasts that are occurring with alarming frequency across India? Yes we will. But will we give up hope and look at the TV and wonder how could it happen to us, why us? Nope. Will we just stay cooped up in our homes afraid of what will happen to us if we step out? No we won’t. We Indians are a strong bunch. Resolute. It’s going to take more than bombs and threat mails to dislodge us. Cause in India, whatever happens, the show must go on. And that’s what makes us so special.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Whatsinamess ?

Theres a refreshing honesty about bachelors. The only untidy houses Ive been to are bachelor pads, which means that anything goes in terms of messiness and clutter. That of course implies clothes (hiding the text book your host so deperately was searching for to study for tomorrows exam) in piles everywhere, cigarette butts strewn all over the floor, beer bottles here and there, unwashed dishes in the sink and if your host is old school - girly magazines. Ask your friend if you can use his computer and chances are that 9 times out of 10 you will find a folder on the desktop filled with the latest movies, music and porn (in no specific order). The threat of a parent visit means that all the clothes get shifted as a lump and thrown into the cupboard (leading you to find the book your host needed for yesterdays exam....), cigarette butts are hastily swept off, rapid fire dishwashing occurs and the bottles are hidden behind a pile of unopened text books. And for some strange reason your host dont seem to know which subjects these textbooks are meant for even though his exams are going on.... Often characterised by long hair, stubble and a general air of dishevelness, bachelors are often appreciated by other blokes of course for their 'look' and general carefree attitude to the boring things of life.

Turn your attention to any relative's place and all you can think of is spic and span tables, ashtrays without a speck of ash on them, perfectly arranged nick nacks etc etc. The curtains always look like they have just been washed, the dishes like they have been cleaned so thoroughly that no germs could possibly be alive and the dishes served for dinner even if they are home made are always always perfect. Undoubtedly the maid at the house must be thinking
to herself - Madam is making me work extra hard for the money she pays me, hmmph! Its just that sometimes you feel to yourself - Why does it have to be so perfect? Wouldnt it be wonderful to go to your relative's party and find the main dish doesnt have salt in it or that they forgot to repair the generator which means that everyone has to sit in the party in the dark or with as much illumination as a handful of candles can provide? Why is it that the older we get, we feel this necessity to fool people into believing that we have the perfect house with perfectly trimmed lawns and perfect kid with the class topping grades and ..... Do we have to eliminate all traces of bachelorness in us ?

Pirates of the New World

Ever since I picked up my PSP Ive been going through various game review sites to help me decide what games I need to pick up next. My limited salary and the price of the games (ranging from Rs 750 to Rs 1500, the exchange rate being $1 = Rs 45, you do the math) meant that I can pick up a new game once a month. I was at Landmark (a large retail chain that stocks everything from books to perfumes to music players to consoles) and in the process of deciding which game to pick up when I started talking to this total stranger about PSP games. He was suggesting a couple of games to me when he asked me "Why dont you mod your PSP and pick up the pirated ones?" "Havent got around to doing that" I replied instictively before he left. And then I thought to myself - Since when did piracy become such an accepted norm.

We can all pretend that it doest exist but the honest fact is that it is rampant everywhere. In India everybody freely downloads mp3s and movies. So do I. We dont have a facility for buying our music online (like the itunes system) and even if we did I doubt too many would do so. I like most others of my age group have seen more downloaded movies on my laptop than I have in theatres. This despite getting my laptop just over 2 years back. Its filled with around 20 gb of mostly downloaded music. And I have a bunch of downloaded movies. Its not that I dont go to a theatre and watch movies and make sure the producer gets his moneys worth. But say I want to watch one of my all time faves The Fast & The Furious on a sunday afternoon. I havent found the DVD in any of the large retail shops Ive searched in. If I were to pop into a tiny shop selling pirated DVDs Im a 100% sure I would find the movie and its 2 sequels as well. Moser Baer is doing a lot to fight piracy the smart way - price movie DVD so cheap that people wont mind spending 100 bucks if its a movie they like. Still I dont think we will ever get close to eliminating piracy in all forms. And as long as you & I keep thinking - Hell, as long as people arent copying my software/music/movie content for free, why should I bother?", we wont keep moving towards a pirate free world of the digital kind.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


The Indian 2 wheeler industry is going through some wonderful times. Now only do we have Yamaha's R1 & MT-01 on sale here (for the price of a Skoda Ocatavia,Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla but still ....) but Suzuki has lined up the iconic Hayabusa & Gixxer for launch this year, Honda is launching a couple of bikes above 800cc this year and Kawasaki is bringing out its magnificent Ninja 250 soon. KTM's launches are around the corner and Ducati is already here with some gorgeous & jaw droppingly expensive bikes. All of which are out of my reach.

However Yamaha's new beautiful & expensive R15 is a bike that is a landmark achievement for Indian bikers. Priced almost twice as much as bikes with a similar engine capacity, the bike brings with is exquisite styling & features that makes your bike feel like yesterdays hit. I wasnt really taken up by the bike after watching its ad but that was until I popped into the Yamaha showroom to check out the prices of the bike. And boy is she a royal beaut.

Of course its not all picture perfect, there are only 2 colours on offer right now. A nice blue and a very ordinary black. Apparently a new red colour has been added to the range. I had suggested on that Yamaha could probably look at introducing more colours especially in their special anniversary edition scheme that they released the R1 in recently. In fact there is a guy in Bangalore with an R15 in those colours. Damm neat. Also lower down the torque isnt killer which means some of the opposition 150s might be quicker off the block but the bike is an angel while handling and has rock solid stability. And can just about outdrag a Pulsar 220 which was the erstwhile king of the hill.

The Pulsar220 may epitomise the cream of the current crop of Indian bikes but with its body styling too similar to all the other countless Pulsars on the road the stand out value is not really there. A proverbial victim of its own success. If anyone from Bajaj Auto is reading this, please give your flagship bike some distinctive styling to make it special. Because thats what the R15 does, its turns heads. It brings a smile to your face. You look at it and wish you could have one. And at the end of the day thats what a flagship bike should do.

To PSP or not to PSP

To be honest Im one of those half gamers. Someone who will sit down and enjoy a good game of Quake or NFS UG on my computer occassionally but not really sit down and play for hours everyday. Of course this wasnt the story 10 years back when I spent hours playing classics like Age Of Empires, Cricket 97, each edition of the FIFA & NBA series and what not. Of late Ive been thinking that I should get a PS3 or a XBOX360 but it would be a big waste if I were to have to have got them cause I wouldnt have played it more than half an hour a day. So I was mentally prepared to get myself a PS2 when a friend of mine got her brother a PSP which got me researching ....

And in less than a week I picked up a PSP Slim Lite along with God Of War & Justic League Heroes. Not only are the games fun and totally enjoyable, I also use it as a music player & to check my mail. My only grudge is that the speaker volume isnt enough to hear music if Im in the next room like my phone but it serves its purpose well i.e. provides good sound while playing a game.

Which means that my monthly stack of auto mags is lying unread by my bed as the PSP is slowly replacing them. Not totally but it is eating into my reading time at home. I wonder if i can take the PSP to office to kill time when I have no work so I can keep reading my auto mags & get my daily dose of bashing super villains .....

Rock On

No 2 ways about it - you just have to watch Rock On. The movie which stars the talented and debuting Farhan Akhtar, the intense Arjun Ramal, the energetic Purab Kohli and the subdued but strong Luke Kenny as members of a band Magik. The movie deals with friendship and how life changes people. This is a rare Indian movie that is both powerful and heart warming. Strongly written characters, excellent music and absolutely wonderful technical work makes this movie a rare gem and a must watch.

The main reason I love the movie is that in many ways, Rock On is a movie that is going to have each one of us question ourselves by asking - What are you going to do with your life ? Are you going to eventually grow up and live life as everyone wants you to ? Or are you going to live your dream ?

Its easy to let life dictate what is going to happen to you. You complete your education , have a good job in hand. You enjoy life for a few years with your friends, you get married, you settle down, become a parent, struggle to balance work and your family and before you know it your kids have grown up and they are off to college. And the cycle continues while somewhere along the way you lose your dreams & aspirations and become who life wants you to become.

Many Indian movies understandably make money on the basis of the pulling power of their lead actors. Make no mistake about it, Rock On is not just about its actors or music. Its a wonderfully shot movie that highlights just how important the technical crew of a movie are. Brilliant camerawork & lighting make the movie so much more effective. In fact you probably would love the movie even if the camerawork and lighting were in the typical Bollywood style. But the work done in Rock On gives it such an amazing touch its impossible to miss. Sample the screen shots below to know what I mean.

For all you people out there who arent from India, I would suggest you wait for a while until the movie comes out abroad with subtitles. This is a movie that is a tribute to how far Indian cinema has progressed and what we can do given the will of producers. Hats off to my now all time fav Bollywood movie - Rock On and to the message it gives us - Live Your Dream.