Saturday, September 8

Net Neutrality - dont let those money grubbing locusts get their hands on the net!

Read and weep. Fight for net neutrality. I dont really care but as soon as you put in different levels of charging, then you end up with people who are rich having better access to information. If nothing else, knowledge the net is free and should be free.

If you wish, charge more for fatter pipes. So people with more money can get faster data by fatter pipes!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

US backing for two-tier internet
The US Justice Department has said that internet service providers should be allowed to charge for priority traffic.

The agency said it was opposed to "network neutrality", the idea that all data on the net is treated equally.

The comments put the agency at odds with companies such as Microsoft and Google, who have called for legislation to guarantee equal access to the net.

The agency submitted its comments to the Federal Communications Commission, which is investigating net access.

Several US internet service providers (ISPs), including AT&T and Verizon, have previously said that they want to charge some users more money for certain content.

This has particularly become an issue with the rise of TV and film download services.

A similar debate is ongoing in the UK.

One web

The Justice Department said imposing net neutrality regulations could hinder development of the internet and prevent ISPs from upgrading networks.

The agency said it could also shift the "entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers".

"Regulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities," said Thomas Barnett, the department's antitrust chief.

The agency's stance is contrary to much of the internet community that believes in an open model for the internet.

Net neutrality advocates argue that a two-tier internet would allow broadband providers to become gatekeepers to the web's content.

Providers that can pay will be able to get a commercial advantage over those that cannot, they say.

In particular, there is a fear that institutions like universities and charities would suffer.

Last year, Sir Tim Berners-Lee the inventor of the web rallied against the idea of a two-tier internet.

"What's very important from my point of view is that there is one web," he said.

"Anyone that tries to chop it into two will find that their piece looks very boring."

Now they tell me: First kiss can make or break a couple's relationship

The New Scientist website is reporting on a report which says that the first kiss may make or break a couple's relationship!

NOW they tell me!

Some quotes

Some views verged on the predictable: women, for example, placed more emotional importance on a kiss, valuing kisses during and after sex, and throughout a relationship.

The men tended to see kissing as a means to an end – sex – and placed less importance on kissing as a relationship progresses. Just over half the men said they would have sex with someone without kissing, compared with 15% of women. And more men than women said that a good kiss was one with tongue contact, where the partner made moaning noises.

But Gallup says the first kiss a couple share could make or break the relationship. In a separate survey within the study, 59% of men and 66% of women reported on occasion finding themselves attracted to someone, only to lose interest after kissing them for the first time.

But the last line was best. I tried to understand it even after reading it 5 times but gave up. I am now looking for a kiss! :)

"The complicated exchange of information that occurs during a kiss may inform evolved, unconscious mechanisms about instances of possible genetic incompatibility," Gallup says.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

How can you NOT like dogs? these cabbies apparently!

I am a confirmed dog lover and have written about the bizarre situation where dogs are not considered to be good.

but this seems to be a bit weird, lord only knows where these cabbies get their religious instruction from but sure as hell, come on, refusing to carry a blind man and his guide dog? What happened to your kindness and mercy for the unfortunate?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

11 mistresses at the same time? Big Sajda fellow for him!

A yahoo emoticon is a bowing fellow, also called as a Sajda fellow. We use it to signify that we are not worthy, or whatever the other person said has trumped everything else, etc. etc.

Now this Chinese mayor has been arrested for corruption. Nothing bad in this, I have already talked about this before. But the impressive fact is that he was shopped by 11 of his mistresses.

I quote some interesting snippets!, lol

Many powerful Chinese men keep a mistress, known in Chinese as an er nai (second breast). Indeed, Pang's liking for female company had earned him the nickname "Zipper Mayor".

There have been startling reports of corrupt officials abusing their positions to get women – media reports this week said 90 per cent of the country's most senior officials punished for "serious" graft in the past five years had kept mistresses.

Last month, a senior provincial official was executed for killing his mistress with a car bomb. During the trial in 2000 of Xu Qiyao, the head of the Jiangsu province Construction Bureau, he was found to have had relations with more than 100 women, including a mother and her daughter.

Lin Longfei, the former Communist Party secretary of Zhouning county in Fujian province, was sentenced to death for corruption after it was discovered he kept 22 mistresses.

Last year, the mistress of a building contractor was jailed for six years for arranging the "rescue" of her lover from police, who were questioning him over alleged corruption.

The sacking of the former finance minister Jin Renqing last month was linked to his connection with a "social butterfly", although the official line was that he quit for "personal reasons".

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

What to do when a legal opponent doesnt recognise the court, the charges or the country?

An American court yesterday announced that Iran has to pay $2.65 billion in damages for the 1983 Hezbollah suicide bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon which killed 241 people.

But the problem is, Iran does not recognise the court, the country, the charges and did not even bother to defend the case. So what do you do? where are you going to get the Iranian Assets from?

I am sure there are better financial minds than me who can help dig out the assets, but here are some thoughts.

No country is totally isolated, they have to do some trading somewhere. In other words, they have to play some Iranian monies somewhere outside the Iranian firms and Iran to pay for imports or some Iranian monies which are due to Iran which are sitting in some non Iranian bank/company or country.

I wonder whether it is possible to go after these sums of money? So company XYZ in say Germany has operations in USA and is purchasing equipment from or selling equipment to Iran. Now I wonder if company XYZ's assets in USA can be sequestered in lieu of the monies which is legally Iran's?

Worth considering, how about using the Alien Tort Law?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

What does the Al Queda want? An Update

Some time AGO (poke to TBS!), I analysed what Al Queda actually wants from its public announcements here. Given yesterday's announcement, I need to add that Al Queda now wants all Americans to convert as the BBC reported. I quote:

Instead, he tells the American people that they have failed to persuade the Bush administration to stop the war in Iraq.

"You made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war," the speaker in the tape says, according to the transcript obtained by ABC News.

"You permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you... to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan".

The speaker tells the American public that there are two ways to end the war in Iraq: "The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you."

The second way, he continues, is to reject America's democratic system and convert to Islam.

"It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interest of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations".

"I invite you to embrace Islam," the speaker says.

Curiously even, all the Al Queda websites were simultaneously taken down and the video was not posted yesterday on there at all but at Al Jazeera TV Channel. Which confirms a long held suspicion that the government of the world want this to continue and allows them to monitor them. Makes sense, this is a good honey trap, let those apprentice fundo's come to these websites and foam away, the government monitors them and when it moves from foaming to doing something, catch them.

There are downsides to it, of course, that they cannot catch everybody, but still, the fact that there have been no attacks the USA is one example. Also we cannot stop the lone ranger attacks. Secondly, despite a frighteningly large number of jihadi's running around in the UK, we only had very few attacks. But why show the hand by taking down the websites? curiouser and curioser?Mind you, the brothers do know about surveillance, but their techniques are sort of cold war age. I would say that we have about an decade lead on technology on these jihadi's at this moment.

And he had his beard dyed. Getting frisky in our old age, OBL? Be careful, you might violate some law of obscenity and this would happen to you. Now that would be poetic justice :)

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Full transcript

"All praise is due to Allah, who built the heavens and earth in justice, and created man as a favor and grace from Him. And from His ways is that the days rotate between the people, and from His Law is retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed. And all praise is due to Allah, who awakened His slaves' desire for the Garden, and all of them will enter it except those who refuse. And whoever obeys Him alone in all of his affairs will enter the Garden, and whoever disobeys Him will have refused."

"As for what comes after: Peace be upon he who follows the Guidance. People of America: I shall be speaking to you on important topics which concern you, so lend me your ears. I begin by discussing the war which is between us and some of its repercussions for us and you."

"To preface, I say: despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and is army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able - by the grace of Allah, the Most High- to change the direction of its compass. And in fact, the subject of the Mujahideen has become an inseparable part of the speech of your leader, and the effects and signs of that are not hidden."

"Since the 11th, many of America's policies have come under the influence of the Mujahideen, and that is by the grace of Allah, the Most High. And as a result, the people discovered the truth about it, its reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally and it was bled dry economically, even if our interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives, despite the differing intentions."

"And for your information media, during the first years of the war, lost its credibility and manifested itself as a tool of the colonialist empires, and its condition has often been worse than the condition of the media of the dictatorial regimes which march in the caravan of the single leader."

"Then Bush talks about his working with al-Maliki and his government to spread freedom in Iraq but he in fact is working with the leaders of one sect against another sect, in the belief that this will quickly decide the war in his favor."

"And thus, what is called the civil war came into being and matters worsened at his hands before getting out of his control and him becoming like the one who plows and sows the sea: he harvests nothing but failure."

"So these are some of the results of the freedom about whose spreading he is talking to you. And then the backtracking of Bush on his insistence on not giving the United Nations expanded jurisdiction in Iraq is an implicit admission of his loss and defeat there. "

"And among the most important items contained in Bush’s speeches since the events of the 11th is that the Americans have no option but to continue the war. This tone is in fact an echoing of the words of neoconservatives like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Richard Pearle, the latter having said previously that the Americans have no choice in front of them other than to continue the war or face a holocaust."

"I say, refuting this unjust statement, that the morality and culture of the holocaust is your culture, not our culture. In fact, burning living beings is forbidden in our religion, even if they be small like the ant, so what of man?! The holocaust of the Jews was carried out by your brethren in the middle of Europe, but had it been closer to our countries, most of the Jews would have been saved by taking refuge with us. And my proof for that is in what your brothers, the Spanish, did when they set up the horrible courts of the Inquisition to try Muslims and Jews, when the Jews only found safe shelter by taking refuge in our countries. And that is why the Jewish community in Morocco today is one of the largest communities in the world. They are alive with us and we have not incinerated them, but we are a people who don't sleep under oppression and reject humiliation and disgrace, and we take revenge on the people of tyranny and aggression, and the blood of the Muslims will not be spilled with impunity, and the morrow is nigh for he who awaits."

"Also, your Christian brothers have been living among us for 14 centuries: in Egypt alone, there are millions of Christians whom we have not incinerated and shall not incinerate. But the fact is, there is a continuing and biased campaign being waged against us for a long time now by your politicians and many of your writers by way of your media, especially Hollywood, for the purpose of misrepresenting Islam and its adherents to drive you away from the true religion. The genocide of peoples and their holocausts took place at your hands: only a few specimens of Red Indians were spared, and just a few days ago, the Japanese observed the 62nd anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by your nuclear weapons."

"And among the things which catch the eye of the one who considers the repercussions of your unjust war against Iraq is the failure of your democratic system, despite it raising of the slogans of justice, liberty, equality and humanitarianism. It has not only failed to achieve these things, it has actually destroyed these and other concepts with its weapons - especially in Iraq and Afghanistan- in a brazen fashion, to replace them with fear, destruction, killing, hunger, illness, displacement and more than a million orphans in Baghdad alone, not to mention hundreds of thousands of widows. Americans statistics speak of the killing of more than 650,000 of the people of Iraq as a result of the war and its repercussions."

"People of America: the world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of you being afflicted with disappointment."

"And here is the gist of the matter, so one should pause, think and reflect: why have the Democrats failed to stop this war, despite them being the majority?"

"I will come back to reply to this question after raising another question, which is:"

"Why are the leaders of the White House keen to start wars and wage them around the world, and make use of every possible opportunity through which they can reach this purpose, occasionally even creating justifications based on deception and blatant lies, as you saw Iraq?"

"In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation."

"And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn’t present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld. And even more incredible than that is that Bush picked him as secretary of defense in his first term after picking Cheney as his vice president, Powell as secretary of state and Armitage as Powell's deputy, despite their horrific and blood history of murdering humans. So that was clear signal that his administration - the administration of the generals- didn't have as its main concern the serving of humanity, but rather, was interested in bringing about new massacres. Yet in spite of that, you permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you - with your full knowledge and consent- to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Then you claim to be innocent! This innocence of yours is like my innocence of the blood of your sons on the 11th - were I to claim such a thing. But it is impossible for me to humor any of you in the arrogance and indifference you show for the lives of humans outside America, or for me to humor your leaders in their lying, as the entire world knows they have the lion's share of that. These morals aren't our morals. What I want to emphasize here is that not taking past war criminals to account led to them repeating that crime of killing humanity without right and waging this unjust war in Mesopotamia, and as a result, here are the oppressed ones today continuing to take their right from you."

"This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice. The entire world came out in unprecedented demonstrations to warn against waging the war and describe its true nature in eloquent terms like "no to spilling red blood for black oil," yet he paid them no heed. It is time for humankind to know that talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them. "

"So in answer to the question about the causes of the Democrats' failure to stop the war, I say: they are the same reasons which led to the failure of former president Kennedy to stop the Vietnam war. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn't be any cause for astonishment - and there isn't any- in the Democrats' failure to stop the war. And you're the ones who have the saying which goes, "Money talks." And I tell you: after the failure of your representatives in the Democratic Party to implement your desire to stop the war, you can still carry anti-war placards and spread out in the streets of major cities, then go back to your homes, but that will be of no use and will lead to the prolonging of the war."

"However, there are two solutions for stopping it. The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you. This is our duty, and our brothers are carrying it out, and I ask Allah to grant them resolve and victory. And the second solution is from your side. It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interests of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations."

"And with that, it has become clear to all that they are the real tyrannical terrorists. In fact, the life of all of mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations, yet despite that, the representative of these corporations in the White House insists on not observing the Kyoto accord, with the knowledge that the statistic speaks of the death and displacement of the millions of human beings because of that, especially in Africa. This greatest of plagues and most dangerous of threats to the lives of humans is taking place in an accelerating fashion as the world is being dominated by the democratic system, which confirms its massive failure to protect humans and their interests from the greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives."

"And despite this brazen attack on the people, the leaders of the West - especially Bush, Blair, Sarkozy and Brown- still talk about freedom and human rights with a flagrant disregard for the intellects of human beings. So is there a form of terrorism stronger, clearer and more dangerous than this? This is why I tell you: as you liberated yourselves before from the slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism, you should liberate yourselves from the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system."

"If you were to ponder it well, you would find that in the end, it is a system harsher and fiercer than your systems in the Middle Ages. The capitalist system seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of "globalization" in order to protect democracy."

"And Iraq and Afghanistan and their tragedies; and the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes; and the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa: all of this is but one side of the grim face of this global system."

"So it is imperative that you free yourselves from all of that and search for an alternative, upright methodology in which it is not the business of any class of humanity to lay down its own laws to its own advantage at the expense of the other classes as is the case with you, since the essence of man-made positive laws is that they serve the interests of those with the capital and thus make the rich richer and the poor poorer."

"The infallible methodology is the methodology of Allah, the Most High, who created the heavens and earth and created the Creation and is the Most Kind and All-Informed and the Knower of the souls of His slaves and the methodology that best suits them."

"You believe with absolute certainty that you believe in Allah, and you are full of conviction of this belief, so much so that you have written this belief of yours on your dollar."

"But the truth is that you are mistake in this belief of yours. The impartial judge knows that belief in Allah requires straightness in the following of His methodology, and accordingly, total obedience must be to the orders and prohibitions of Allah Alone in all aspects of life."

"So how about you when you associate others with Him in your beliefs and separate state from religion, then claim that you are believers?!"

"What you have done is clear loss and manifest polytheism, And I will give you a parable of polytheism, as parables summarize and clarify speech."

"I tell you: its parable is the parable of a man who owns a shop and hires a worker and tells him, "Sell and give me the money," but he makes sales and give the money to someone other than the owner. So who of you would approve of that?"

"You believe that Allah is your Lord and your Creator and the Creator of this earth and that it is His property, then you work on His earth and property without His orders and without obeying Him, and you legislate in contradiction to His Law and methodology."

"This work of yours is the greatest form of polytheism and is rebellion against obedience to Allah with which the believer becomes an unbeliever, even if he obeys Allah in some of His other orders. Allah, the Most High, sent down His orders in His Sacred Books like the Torah and Evangel and sent with them the Messengers (Allah's prayers and peace be upon them) as bearers of good news to the people."

"And everyone who believes in them and complies with them is a believer from the people of the Garden. Then when the men of knowledge altered the words of Allah, the Most High, and sold them for a paltry price, as the rabbis did with the Torah and the monks with the Evangel, Allah sent down His final Book, the magnificent Quran, and safeguarded it from being added to or subtracted from by the hands of men, and in it is a complete methodology for the lives of all people."

"And our holding firm to this magnificent Book is the secret of our strength and winning of the war against you despite the fewness of our numbers and materiel. And if you would like to get to know some of the reasons for your losing of your war against us, then read the book of Michael Scheuer in this regard."

"Don't be turned away from Islam by the terrible situation of the Muslims today, for our rulers in general abandoned Islam many decades ago, but our forefathers were the leaders and pioneers of the world for many centuries, when they held firmly to Islam."

"And before concluding, I tell you: there has been an increase in the thinkers who study events and happenings, and on the basis of their study, they have declared the approach of the collapse of the American Empire."

"Among them is the European thinker who anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union, which indeed fell. And it would benefit you to read what he wrote about what comes after the empire in regard to the United States of America. I also want to bring your attention that among the greatest reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union was their being afflicted with their leader Brezhnev, who was overtaken by pride and arrogance and refused to look at the facts on the ground. From the first year of the Afghanistan invasion, reports indicated that the Russians were losing the war, but he refused to acknowledge this, lest it go down in his personal history as a defeat, even though refusal to acknowledge defeat not only doesn't do anything to change the facts for thinking people, but also exacerbates the problem and increases the losses. And how similar is your position today to their position approximately two decades ago. The mistakes of Brezhnev are being repeated by Bush, who - when asked about the date of his withdrawing of forces from Iraq - said in effect that the withdrawal will not be during his reign, but rather, during the reign of the one who succeeds him. And the significance of these words is not hidden."

"And here I say: it would benefit you to listen to the poignant messages of your soldiers in Iraq, who are paying - with their blood, nerves and scattered limbs - the price for these sorts of irresponsible statements. Among them is the eloquent message of Joshua which he sent by way of the media, in which he wipes the tears from his eyes and describes American politicians in harsh terms and invites them to join him there for a few days. Perhaps his message will find in you an attentive ear so you can rescue him and more than 150,000 of your sons there who are tasting the two bitterest things: "

"If they leave their barracks, the mines devour them, and if they refuse to leave, rulings are passed against them. Thus, the only options left in front of them are to commit suicide or cry, both of which are from the severest of afflictions. So is there anything more men can do after crying and killing themselves to make you respond to them? They are doing that out of the severity of the humiliation, fear and terror which they are suffering. It is severer than what the slaves used to suffer at your hands centuries ago, and it is as if some of them have gone from one slavery to another slavery more severe and harmful, even if it be in the fancy dress of the Defense Department's financial enticements."

"So do you feel the greatness of their sufferings?"

"To conclude, I invite you to embrace Islam, for the greatest mistake one can make in this world and one which is uncorrectable is to die while not surrendering to Allah, the Most High, in all aspects of one's life - ie., to die outside of Islam. And Islam means gain for you in this first life and the next, final life. The true religion is a mercy for people in their lives, filling their hearts with serenity and calm."

T"here is a message for you in the Mujahideen: the entire world is in pursuit of them, yet their hearts, by the grace of Allah, are satisfied and tranquil. The true religion also puts peoples' lives in order with its laws; protects their needs and interests; refines their morals; protects them from evils; and guarantees for them entrance into Paradise in the hereafter through their obedience to Allah and sincere worship of Him Alone."

"And it will also achieve your desire to stop the war as a consequence, because as soon as the warmongering owners of the major corporations realize that you have lost confidence in your democratic system and begun to search for an alternative, and that this alternative is Islam, they will run after you to please you and achieve what you want to steer you away from Islam. So your true compliance with Islam will deprive them of the opportunity to defraud the peoples and take their money under numerous pretexts, like arms deals and so on. "

"There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling only 2.5%. So beware of the deception of those with the capital. And with your earnest reading about Islam from its pristine sources, you will arrive at an important truth, which is that the religion of all of the Prophets (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them) is one, and that its essence is submission to the orders of Allah Alone in all aspects of life, even if their Shari'ahs [Laws] differ."

"And did you know that the name of the Prophet of Allah Jesus and his mother (peace and blessings of Allah be on them both) are mentioned in the Noble Quran dozens of times, and that in the Quran there is a chapter whose name is "Maryam," i.e. Mary, daughter of 'Imran and mother of Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both)? It tells the story of her becoming pregnant with the Prophet of Allah Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both), and in its confirmation of her chastity and purity, in contrast to the fabrications of the Jews against her. Whoever wishes to find that out for himself must listen to the verse of this magnificent chapter: one of the just kings of the Christians - the Negus - listened to some of its verses and his eyes welled up with tears and he said something which should be reflected on for a long time by those sincere in their search for the truth."

"He said, "verily, this and what Jesus brought come from one lantern": i.e., that the magnificent Quran and the Evangel are both from Allah, the Most High; and every just and intelligent one of you who reflects on the Quran will definitely arrive at this truth. It also must be noted that Allah has preserved the Quran from the alterations of men. And reading in order to become acquainted with Islam only requires a little effort, and those of you who are guided will profit greatly. And peace be upon he who follows the Guidance."

You cannot manage what you cannot measure - National Statistics in the UK

Interestingly enough, in all my years of following national accounts and economies, I have never come across any country who is happy with its national statistics. They are invariably wrong or lacking in some place or other. Whether it is actual and deliberate falsification as in China, or incompetence or complexity such as in India, too much spin in the UK and many other European countries, too fragmented as in the USA, or none as in Saudi Arabia and many other countries, we always have had problems.

But the problems in the UK are quite curious, given that we have the longest history of collecting and producing national statistics. National Statistics are vital for managing the country, knowing who is doing well and who isnt, who is getting stuff and who isnt, who is producing stuff and who isnt, who is watching what where, and so on and so forth.

Recently, there have been 3 issues with National Statistics in the UK. The first is the fact that the New Labour emphasis on control, performance management and funding by statistics meant that a blizzard of statistics needed to be produced and people started managing to numbers rather than common sense and objectives.

Second problem was the propensity of New Labour to "spin", so you have had situations where bad statistics would be released to be buried in a fast moving news day such as a major accident/death. The fact that it worked a bit in the short term but destroyed trust in the long term is something that the country will suffer for a long period of time. Nobody trusts the national statistics even if they are accurate.

And then the final problem was the rather ill-judged desire to move away from London to some godforsaken grotty tiny place in Wales. All for a very good reason, too much concentration of government in one city, London, meant that it was costly as London is very expensive, government investment was lopsided and control was lopsided as well. So given the increase in technology, blah blah blah, a decision was taken to move government departments outside London into smaller locations around the country.

But unlike the department of works and pensions resources, national statistics require specialised professional knowledge, and I speak as an ex Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, you dont want to work outside where rest of your peers are. More importantly, the British are notoriously difficult to move once they have purchased their first home.

So to get new, highly qualified, professional and specialised blood into the organisation from the local catchment area of Wales was very difficult. End result? Total chaos in the department, people revolting, resigning, refusing to move, unable to hire people, etc. etc. And because this is a civil service job, you cannot pay more to cover the downside. Stiffed!.

So now comes this report in the Independent that seems to aim to resolve the first two issues at least. I quote:

First Issue

"One of the strengths [of the new arrangements] is that it will allow people to check objectively whether departments are meeting their promises and hitting their targets or not ... Government sets targets for its performance and there needs to be an independent audit of that. I believe it will be part of the board's work to enable Parliament and public to make judgements about these things". However he clearly regrets that the existing system of "pre-releasing" official statistics to ministers ahead of their opposition counterparts and other MPs has not yet been reformed, a matter of "intense controversy" to which he may return.

Second Issue

"The board will become operational next April. In the most far-reaching reform in decades, Sir Michael pledged all of the figures produced by the state – from hospital waiting lists and school league tables to crime and economic data – would be subject to an independent assessment of whether they offer an "accurate, comprehensive, and coherent picture", building on "established quality and integrity". It is essential, he added, that such a review be completely open and that he and his board should directly report to Parliament. "Without transparency, we'll have diminished strength.""

As for the third issue, I understand that the migration has been stopped and is currently being rethought. Best of luck!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Friday, September 7

the law of unintended consequences strikes again

This is a news story but let me lead you on a journey. The Journey starts from the USA where the cost of energy is way too low. So when the cost of gas went up through the roof, instead of trying to improve the fuel efficiency of its vehicles (a spectacular stupid measure just to save the bacon of the big 3 American car manufacturers and the tragic part is that it wont, their goose is cooked, their products suck, are too expensive and the spectacular mismanagement of the universal health provision and pension funds will sink them), the idiot president decides to go for bio fuels.

Now the idea is simple, convert basic food grains such as corn and rapeseed into fuel like what Brazil has been doing for a long period of time. Ok, so that's a good idea and to make sure that sufficient quantities are available and distributed, they decide to subsidise it a bit more.

So what happens? people rush to grow more corn and rapeseed and then less of the other food grains. Another issue, the cost of feeding cattle with grain goes up as well. Add in the impact of global warming, floods, drought, water shortage, lack of agricultural credit, bad infrastructure...., and you arent surprised that the cost of wheat has jumped 60% since January.

Now let me take you down a different street. The amount of money which we spend on food is relatively static. The ratio between wealth and food consumption/cost is not direct. In other words, you might become richer but you wont spend the same increased proportional amount.

This is because there is a limit to what you can eat and drink. you could increase the quality, you can go outside to eat, you can improve the quality of wine, but this flattens out after some time. Unfortunately, this works on the flip side as well. You can get poorer but you will still need a certain amount to eat, any less and you head into malnutrition and starvation.

So while rich countries such as USA can subsidise their bio fuel efforts, while the price rises in England for wheat and milk will rarely impact us as proportionally, the cost increase is tiny, for the great majority of the world's population who live below the poverty line and in the developing countries will get hit very badly. You ask about poor people in UK/USA/Europe?

Well, are they really poor? The majority of "poor" people in the west have their own homes, have their own cars, washing machines, televisions, microwave and have good meals, in fact, their problem is excess calories and fat. The poor people in the emerging countries do not have any assets, and rarely have sufficient meals on a daily basis.

Simplistically speaking, if the price of a loaf of bread made out of wheat goes up from 1 $ to 1.6 $, and you purchase 1 loaf per day, and you earn say 10 $ per day, the % increase is relatively small compared to somebody out in Zimbabwe who earns 1$ per day. Mind you, the Zimbabwean guy will be considered rich and very lucky that he can get a loaf of bread.

Which brings me to the news item. A senior UN official Jacques Diouf, Director General of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that the rise in the prices of milk, wheat, corn, etc. will lead to social unrest.

Let this be a warning, dont muck around with food, if you cannot purchase an iPhone for your daughter for christmas, you can go buy a SonyEricsson or a Motorola or swear at Apple and purchase an iPhone on ebay.

When you dont have sufficient quantities of food and your daughter is lying there with a distended stomach, you riot and revolt. Governments have toppled, revolutions have broken out and murder mayhem have happened.

The market is badly out of kilter and the international food stocks are dangerously low. Given the ever present problem of food aid, cost of food etc. etc., it is high time that the United Nations create food banks and maintain controlled prices or food aid for the poor. But not till this current US administration is in power.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Pakistan 'prostitutes' beheaded

Here's another brilliant piece in the annals of Pakistani History. Prostitutes beheaded for being SUSPECTED of being prostitutes. And what about the filthy men who visited them? You know something?

Between them pushing the women into burqa's, in to kitchens, pregnant, barefoot, no education, no business, no visibility, no nothing and they are personally leading their people into either being a flock of snot running illiterate moronic men or extinction. Not so much of a problem if the latter considering the gene pool but the former leads one to worry. If these taliban treat all women as broodmares, and only you donkeys mate with them, then all you end up are with hinny's?

And the saddest part is that far too many people will agree with this step.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The strange case of Chinese executions

Now here's an interesting observation if a bit ironic. China, along with Saudi Arabia, Iran and USA usually end up inhabiting the top part of the list of countries where executions happen.

I have seen emails from right wing americans float across my in-box spitting on public executions of criminals in Iran. Not very sure what they are objecting to. Are they objecting to the execution or the fact that its happening in public? If the latter then its silly because that's obviously missing the wood from the trees. But I am digressing.

Many NGO's and Human Rights Activists have been on this case for a long time, and China obviously is in the cross hairs. Which is the reason why the China Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese state is now stating that, "Vice president of the Supreme Court of China Jiang Xingchang said on Thursday that since January 1, the number of death penalty cases has continued to decrease. Last year there was the lowest number of the death penalty cases in ten years. "


"Jiang Xingchang said that the reform of the capital punishment approval system has been recognized by the people and has become common knowledge in various judicial departments and people's courts. In recent years, the number of death penalty cases with a two-year delay of execution has been equal to or greater than the number of death penalty cases with immediate execution.

Jiang Xingchang said there has been significant improvement in controlling the standards of the death penalty. The Supreme Court has paid closer attention to evidence; and is more careful to ensure fair judicial procedures.

"There should be serious consideration of and standard procedures on whether or not a criminal should be sentenced to death," said Jiang Xingchang."

All very nice and good, but on the same day, this also comes out.

"A letter written by the disgraced former head of China's drug watchdog Zheng Xiaoyu shortly before his execution in July is being used to warn local government officials against corruption.

Zheng's letter titled " Posthumous Writings of Remorse" was read to prosecutors in Bozhou city, Anhui Province, at a routine meeting recently to encourage the legal officials to draw lessons from the case and maintain an honest work ethic, Friday's Procuratorial Daily reports."

As long as the Chinese state looks at the death penalty as a measure of retribution, punishment and a way to teach lessons, the death penalty will keep on being applied. And as you would have surmised, I am not in favour of the death penalty at all. The day our legal system is proven 100% accurate, just and fair, I will agree. :)

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Some random thoughts about Hinduism

An email reply to a friend on a mailing list when he was talking about how Democracy took root in India because of the spirit of free inquiry and debate in Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhism, yes, but not Hinduism. Here is what I wrote back to him.

Actually, I am not that impressed by that Amartya Sen argument either. What free debate and inquiry? The examples he quotes are not appropriate at all.

We do not debate. Period. We do not have a concept of itjihad or interpretation related to a baseline. We do not have debates because our religion/philosophy is highly stylised and individualist. We also have the concept of destiny and the concept of maya. Between these two, what debates are we talking about? If we were indeed good at debates, then by process of elimination, there would be a single variant of Hinduism. The fact that we don't means that we did not have a debate. We simply do not have a civilisational history of open debates between intellectuals as you would see in Christianity or Islam. We let different strands be, you want to worship Vishnu? sure, I am going to worship that stone as a representation of ...., duality of life? i am going to write a hymn and sing. If you dont like it, do write your own. The flip side of this was the richness of thought, very wide and very deep strands of widely different philosophy but no debate. So Hinduism is more like a very thick cylinder of multiple strands which thickens and grows as time passes unlike say Islam which is more like an inverted pyramid which keeps on wanting to return to the point but keeps on splitting and dividing and growing into an even bigger base.

The other factor to consider is that Hinduism's development was always very tightly connected with the state. An independent theological or even philosophical framework never arose like we have seen in the monastery system of Buddhism and Christianity or the madrassah system of Islam. The funding for the intelligentsia and theologians (as opposed to temple dwelling priests) almost always came from the king. And that constraints thinking. Examples of kings who encouraged debate are extremely rare. The Muslims, Christians and Buddhists did not rely on their funding on the kings, more on trade or proletariat funding, hence were able to debate, discuss and have heretical thoughts! :)

As for Democracy, the very fact of maya and destiny means that democracy took easy root. Mind you, if tomorrow another political system came, that will also take root. Simply because we work on 2 different planes of existence. Another reason why Hinduism survived the arrival of Islam and Christianity and will keep on surviving. Which is also why I hate this tendency of people to start defining what Hinduism is and what the rituals should be or what traditions are right....

ah! well, some idle imaginings on a Friday!

have a nice weekend folks



All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Far Right is ahead of the socialists in East Germany

The Spiegel is reporting that the SDP (the socialists) are now behind the far right in the east German state of Saxony. Remember what I had said before?

I quote

But on Thursday, the party hit a new low. A survey in the eastern German state of Saxony shows that were voters to head to the polls on Sunday, more people in the state would mark the box next to the neo-Nazi party National Democratic Party (NPD) than would vote for the center-left SPD. The poll, carried out by Forsa, has 9 percent of those surveyed supporting the NPD with just 8 percent for the SPD.

And now with Germany already being the targets of Islamist terrorism, the signs are not good that the far right will start getting into a rampage again. We have unfortunately seen this before!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Another small skirmish in the new great game in Turkey

I am sure you didn't even notice the fact that now Iraqi Oil is now flowing through the port of Ceyhan in Turkey. See this report.

This is something that the Americans and Europeans desperately want. If they can manage to extract oil from the Middle East and export through Turkey, it kills a whole flock of birds with one stone.

  • It removes the bottleneck of the Persian Gulf as a threat to oil shipments.
  • It brings Turkey firmly into the western alliance
  • It removes Russia as the main supplier of oil/gas for Europe and provides a way to get middle eastern and central Asian oil/gas into Europe outside Russian soil
  • It allows the Kurds to have a great new distribution channel which does not go through Shia or Sunni territory!
  • It will remove the Southern Iraq vulnerability to the oil pipelines, currently all Iraqi oil is sent out from southern Iraq and Basra
  • It will make it easier to attack Iran as there is no threat to oil flowing.
  • It also allows the west to put the squeeze on Syria
  • It allows for better control over the Caucasian countries
Interesting days ahead, my friends, interesting days ahead.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Another wonderful step in the Zimbabwean Magic Kingdom

So here's the situation. The official exchange rate to the dollar is say 10. The unofficial exchange rate is 10,000. You are friends with the moron corrupt thief of a President. So he signs a letter stating that the central bank will give you dollars at the official rate of 10. So what do you do? You take the dollar and pay 10 to the central bank. Then you sell the dollar in the open market for 10,000. And repeat.

But the economy is collapsing, the main dollar earning industries of tobacco, agriculture and mines are collapsing, dead, or taken over. When they are not, they do not have electricity, water, raw materials or anything. They cannot import equipment or raw materials because they cannot afford it, they arent friends with the moron president and his gang of robbers. So no exports and that means no dollars.

So the central bank devalues the local currency. Will that help? of course not, it just means that instead of the dollar costing 10, it now officially costs 100. What's the street price? well, that's gone up correspondingly and is now 30,000.

See what the BBC has to say: One US dollar now buys 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars on the official market, having previously earned 250 Zimbabwe dollars. However dealers said that on the illegal market, $1 was buying 250,000 of the Zimbabwean currency

How funny and amusing for us, how sad for all the Zimbabwean allies and other assorted idiots who think of the Great Thief Mugabe as the great white shining hope of anti-imperialism.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Thursday, September 6

In Saudi Arabia, the laws of economics can only be avoided just that long and no longer

I wrote before about Indian Investments in Egypt, and about the abayas used in Saudi Arabia being made in India, and now comes a news report that Saudi Arabia is waking up to the fact that it is just a rentier economy, living off the oil and not actually adding any value.

As the author says, "Saudi's are spectators of other's efforts" and I further quote

It is a fact — and most of us know — that the shomakh is made in England or Switzerland, that prayer mats are imported from China, that our coffee pots — dallah — are also made in China and our incense burners (mabkhra) are made somewhere else by hands other than ours. I must stress here that I am certainly not against trade and exchange, but it does seem that when it comes to things that we like to emphasize as part of our culture and lifestyle, we ought to be able to make them ourselves.

This reminds me of something that happened in Egypt. A few months ago there was a report of Chinese-made Egyptian pharaonic souvenirs and how Egyptian workers found them to be a threat to their livelihood. But the competition, which was admittedly tough on the Egyptian workers, meant that they would lose part of their income because the Chinese products were cheaper.

Haven’t we been here before? Once again, it is the mentality that is putting us down, the mentality of being a consumer, a person who is offered the goods on silver platters, a person who relies on his wealth to last him forever, and does not feel the need to budge an inch in order to work for himself. Now our concern should be how to wake up from this state. Or are we awake but just unwilling to act? Don’t we feel that we are gradually being made to face a different economic reality?

The whole unemployment issue from which Saudi Arabia is suffering, is proof that our oil wealth only helped us to a certain extent, but now reality has dawned. Finally we are reaching some kind of realization that perhaps Saudis can accept jobs they once thought were beneath them. Honest labor was shunned because Saudis thought that there were others who could do it. Things have at last begun to change, albeit slowly.

I think this is a good effort and Saudi's are waking up to the fact that the oil will not remain forever. At some point in time, they will have to justify their existence. More importantly, as and how the oil becomes rarer, their ability to chart their own course will be further proscribed. If all that you do is to sit and earn from the oil, then what stops somebody else from kicking you out? And who is going to protest and protect you? Remember that!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Muslim Ambassadors to Sweden demand legal protection for the Prophet Mohammad

I was laughing myself sick when I read this news story. Apparently 20 ambassadors from Muslim Countries are going to to the Swedish Government and demand a change in the law to protect Prophet Mohammad. I quote from the Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Sotouhi, "Muslims need legal protection against the desecration of the Prophet Muhammad, maybe something similar to the protection enjoyed by Jews and homosexuals."

I dont believe this, but it seems to be true. I wish I was a fly on the wall and I am sure the Swedish Foreign Minister will be keeping an old stony face when listening to these idiots, lol. The idea that Gods and Prophets require protection from humans is so amusing.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Update: 7 September, as the update goes, the ambassadors are not going to demand for changes. Obviously saner counsels have prevailed.

This was the best quote, "Reinfeldt said that he had "explained how Swedish society works and that we don't have elected representatives making editorial decisions", adding that "this is an open country, a tolerant country".

And these 20 ambassadors are so stupid that they needed to be told this basic fact. Who did appoint these morons who do not know this basic fact? Oh! sorry, bigger morons than them obviously! And there is something so pavlovian about all this.

The way to deal with a labour shortage is to raise wages and improve working conditions!

Check out the commentary on the Economist website, I couldnt have written it better.

“LABOUR shortage” is one of the most nonsensical phrases ever coined. Real shortages happen outside the market economy: armies run short of ammunition; sailing ships may lack wind. But with six billion people on the planet, labour is not in short supply. What “labour shortage” means is that employers can’t find workers with the right skills at a price they like. Similar shortages are reported of Rembrandts, lobsters and nice houses in London.

Nonetheless, the news that British farmers are complaining of a “labour shortage” is excellent news. For the past five years, eastern European workers have been pouring into Britain—perhaps as many as a million Poles, and hundreds of thousands of other nationalities, legal and illegal. The result has been a triumph of European integration. The diligent new arrivals have boosted economic growth in Britain, and many have gained money and know-how to help rebuild home countries ruined by communism.

The solution for British farmers is simple: compete. They need to offer their seasonal workers better pay, living accommodation and other treatment. As Marina Lewycka’s new novel “Two Caravans” illustrates so poignantly and amusingly, the bottom end of the agricultural labour market is a cesspit of scams, abuse and squalor. Workers are paid below the minimum wage, overcharged for cramped and dirty accommodation, ripped off for bogus “agency fees” and transport costs.

The farming lobby wants the government to ease the “shortage” next year by bringing in thousands more workers from Ukraine under a special scheme in which a temporary work visa comes tied to a particular job. That, the farmers explain, gives them “certainty” that their workers won’t bunk off half way through the harvest.

That is an odd argument: the best way of encouraging workers to stay put and work hard is to treat them properly, not to use schemes more reminiscent of the imperial days of bonded labour and coolies. Britain and other EU countries should allow Ukrainians to compete in the western labour markets—but as full-fledged participants, not as a reservoir of uncomplaining low-paid workers for a noisy, influential but actually peripheral bit of the economy.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Christian University groups - can non Christians join?

Here is a classic tale of two rights crashing into each other. The first right is the right of association. In other words, this is the right which you have to form groups that you like and as long as the group is not advocating anything illegal, go for it. But on the other hand, there is a right not to be discriminated against.

So far so good. Take the first right. I want to form a gentleman's club. So I form it. That's my right, no? Well, ummm, not fully. Because if I want to keep the women out of it, I will be violating the non-discrimination laws/right. But it becomes more and more complicated. If I want to form an Alcoholics Anonymous group, i can form it, but would I be forced to allow a wine lover into the group? How about a Christian group? Do I have to allow Muslims, Hindu's and the worst bit, athiests into the group? Just what will a Hindu do in a Christian Group?

But as it so happens, and I quote from this report

CUs at Birmingham and Exeter universities and their respective student guilds over claims of discrimination.

Last year, both Christian societies had their bank accounts frozen and were banned from using student union facilities for failing to amend their constitutions to allow people of other faiths and beliefs into membership and leadership roles. Both Christian unions retaliated with threats of legal action.

See here and here for the guidance given by the Equality Challenge Unit. I have to admit, as a libertarian, this very idea of having an Equality Challenge Unit raises my hackles. This is a classic governmental overkill for something that can be easily done by sitting around a beer/coffee and having a pragmatic chat.

But no, we have to push forward with a gigantic governmental body and spend obscene amounts of money on something that really doesnt need one. Next thing you know, a bloody conference, a UN Treaty and international NGO's have formed like parasites and sucking on the taxpayer's tit like there is no tomorrow. Discrimination has to be fought but the legal system already provides that guarantee!

Anyway, read and weep on the inability of our societies to manage themselves in a commonsensical manner.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Only Bengali's will appreciate this joke, I am afraid

Very amusing, I was laughing fit to burst.

A is for "Aaffice". This is where the average Kolkakattan goes and spends a day hard(ly) at work. If he is in the Government he will arrive at 10, wipe his forehead till 11, have a tea break at 12, throw around a few files at 12.30, break for lunch at 1, smoke an unfiltered cigarette at
2, break for tea at 3, sleep sitting down at 4 and go home at 5. It's a hard life!

B is for "Bhision". For some reason most of the Bengalis don't have good bhision. In fact in Kolkata most people are wearing spectacles all the time. The effects of this show in the city.

C is for "Chappell". This is the Bengali word for the Devil, for the worst form of evil. In the night mothers put their kids to sleep saying 'go to bed, or Chappei will come and take you away.'

D is for "Debashish". By an ancient law every fourth Bengali Child has to be named Debashish. So you have a Debashish everywhere and tying to get creative they are also called Deb,Debu, Deba with variations like Debnath and Deboprotim thrown in.

E is for "Eeesh". This is a very common Bengali exclamation made famous by Aishwarya Rai in the movie Devdas. It is estimated that on an average a Bengali uses eeesh 10,089 times every year. (That's counting eeesh and other eeesh-ish words).

F is for "Feesh". These are creatures that swim in rivers and seas and are a favourite food of the Bengalis. Despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right. If not he will say 'eeesh what feeesh is theesh!'

G is for "Good name". Every Bengali Boy will have a good name like Debashish or Deboprotim and a pet name like Shontuda, Chonti, and Dinku.While every Bengali Girl will be Paromita or Protima as well as Shampa, Champa and Tuki. Basically your nickname is there to kiil your good

H is for "Harmonium". The Bengali equivalent of a rock guitar. Take four Bengalis and a Harmonium and you have the successors to The Bheatles!

I is for "lleesh". This is a feeesh with 10,000 bones which would kill any ordinary person, but which the Bengalis eat with releeesh!

J is for "Jhola". No self respecting Bengali is complete without his Jhola. It is a shapeless cloth bag where he keeps all his belongings and he fits an amazing number of things in. Even as you read this there are 2 million jholas bobbling around Kolkata- and they all look exactly the

K is for "Kee Kando". It used to be the favourite Bengali exclamation ill eeesh took over because of Aishwarya Rai (now Kee Kando's agent is trying to hire Bipasha Basu).

L is for "Lungi". People in Kolkata manage to play football and cricket wearing it. Now there is talk of a lungi expedition to Mt. Everest ..

M is for "Minibus". These are dangerous half buses whose antics would effortlessly frighten the living daylights out of Formula 1 race drivers.

N is for "Nangtoe". This is the Bengali word for Naked. It is the most interesting naked word in any language!

O is for "Oil". The Bengalis believe that a touch of mustard oil will cure anything from cold (oil in the nose), to earache (oil in the ear), to cough (oil on the throat) to piles (oil you know where!)

P is for "Phootball". This is always a phavourite phassion of the Kolkattan. Every Bengali is born an expert in this game. The two biggest clubs there are Mohunbagan and East Bengal and when
they play the city comes to a stop.

Q is for Queen. This really has nothing to do with the Bengalis or Kolkata, but it's the only Q word I could think of at this moment. There's also Quilt but they never use them in Kolkata.

R is for "Rabi Thakur". Many years ago Rabindranath got the Nobel Prize. This allows everyone in Kolkata to frame their acceptance speeches and walk with their head held high and look down at Delhi and Mumbai!

S is for "Sardarjee" whom Bengalis are very envious of because he is born with a semi-monkey cap on.

T is for "Trams". Hundred years later there are still trams in Kolkata. Of course if you are in a hurry it's faster to walk.

U is for "Ambrela". When a Bengali baby is born they are handed one.

V is for "Violence". Bengalis are the most non-violent violent people around. When an accident happens they will shout and scream and curse and abuse, but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1979.

W is for "Water". For three months of the year the city is underwater and every year for the last 200 years the authorities are taken by surprise by this!

X is for "X mas". It's very big in Kolkata, with Park Street fully lit up.

Y is for "Yastarday". Which is always better than today for a Bengali.

Z is for "Jeebra", "Joo","Jip" and "Jylophone".

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Heard of Ants in Pants on the wedding night but this is ridiculous

BRANDON, FL (NBC) -- Kevin and Gail Gued were attacked by dozens of stinging ants in their honeymoon suite at the Country Inn & Suites in Brandon.

Kevin Gued says the ants started biting him as soon as he crawled between the sheets.

When he and Gail pulled the covers back they discovered hundreds of ants.

The hotel offered to move the Gueds to another room, but the couple declined and left.

They say all they want is for the Country Inn & Suites to pay their medical bills.

"We're just frustrated because I have bites all over my body, we're supposed to be going on our honeymoon, and I just don't feel that we were treated fair," said Kevin.

The hotel manager says that the ants were likely stirred up by construction crews working in the lot next to his building, and insists that his business doesn't have a bug problem.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The joys of BBQ's, London, South Africa and Oz

I love my BBQ, I love barbequeing and there is nothing better I like than to cook for friends and family, sitting outside in the garden, large hunks of meat and off we go! Too bad I am in England where the wet and miserable weather means that BBQ's are more hits and misses than reality. My daughter calls a BBQ as a Babaque, since Baba cooks!, lol. So if you are ever in town and are free and the weather is fine (big ? there!), here's an open invite! :)

But here comes two reports about BBQ's. The first from the Nobel Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who talks about a BBQ as one of the national ethos items, a cause for unity and something that draws the country together. I quote,

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu has become patron of South Africa's national barbecue day, declaring that the shared love of sizzling sausages over an open flame was a strong unifying force between blacks and whites in a still divided country.

The title "Patron of National Braai Day" – using the Afrikaans word for barbecue by which all South Africans refer to barbecues – added to the numerous honours bestowed upon the man regarded as South Africa's moral conscience."

Sounds lovely, what a great country, to have a national BBQ day!, I love the food in South Africa, the kind of meat they make is absolutely brilliant. Many a pleasant hour I have spent in the environs of Santown in Jo'Burg chomping my way through great hunks of meat! :)

but move over to the other side of the world to Australia where the great backyard is disappearing due to the pressures of population in the country and it took a Pom to point this out. This means that the great tradition of BBQ'ing is slowly disappearing which is a bit of a shame!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Zimbabwe - now the bakeries are running out of wheat to make bread

See this report from the Guardian. The main bakery is now going to shut down its shop in Bulawayo. And the Naked Emperor Robert Mugabe is still being feted by his fellow kleptocrats and autocrats in Africa, given a free pass by the assorted liberals (see the number of column inches devoted to Zimbabwe or Congo in the various newspapers), the people who can do something are discredited by their stupidity in Iraq, and the United Nations is running around like the usual headless chicken. All this while this grotesque thief of a leader is running the country into the ground.

Read and Weep.

Zimbabwe's food crisis deepens as leading bakery forced to shutCris Chinaka and Nelson Banya in Harare
Thursday September 6, 2007


Zimbabwe's main bakery said yesterday that bread shortages would worsen after closing one of its biggest outlets due to a lack of wheat, deepening a food crisis which a UN agency said was "acutely serious".

The closure followed the government's recent admission that it could not afford to pay for wheat from Mozambique.

Amid an economic crisis with runaway inflation and chronic food and fuel shortages, Robert Mugabe's government had planned to buy 36,000 tonnes of wheat from its neighbour to ease the bread shortage.

Lobels Bread, the country's biggest bread producer, has only two days' supply of wheat and has been forced to cut daily production to 40,000 loaves from 200,000 loaves in May, Lemmy Chikomo, the firm's operations director, told state media.

Mr Chikomo said that Lobels had shut its bakery in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second biggest city, on August 25 and had sent home hundreds of workers at its main factory in the capital, Harare.

"Flour availability has deteriorated, and this has forced us to use our strategic stocks since May. Now we are only left with two days' supply," he said.

Officials from the state-owned Grain Marketing Board, which is responsible for managing national wheat and maize stocks, were not immediately available for comment. The World Food Programme's Zimbabwe representative, Kevin Farrell, said it was seeking an additional £50m to deliver grain to southern districts, which are suffering most from the shortages.

Mr Farrell said a visit he made to the region showed the situation was getting "acutely serious".

"We aim to have, for distribution, just about 300,000 metric tonnes and we have about 60% of that, including pledges and donations," he told reporters after receiving a $3.5m (£1.75m) donation from the Canadian embassy in Harare.

Critics accuse Mr Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of mismanaging the economy and destroying the agricultural sector through his government's seizure of white-owned commercial farms.

The seizures, which began in 2000, saw some of the country's most fertile land handed over to black people without farming skills and led to a drop in agricultural output in a country that once exported food to other parts of Africa.

Mr Mugabe accuses the west of sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy in retaliation for the seizures and working with the opposition to oust him. The economic crisis has worsened in the past three months, with the government imposing a price freeze on many consumer items to try to control inflation, currently above 7,600%.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Charity - Some uncharitable questions

Charity is pretty good. If you have the money to spare, whether 1 Euro or 1000 Pounds or 10000 Rupees or 1 million dollars, it is considered to be pretty good! But some questions arise.

1. Why is charitable giving tax deductible? A case can be made for both sides. The yes side says that you need to give financial incentives to people to give more and if you give £1 in tax rebates so that you get £3 back, so then it is a good deal for the tax payer, assuming that the charity is for the public good (and not for terrorism funding!) The no side says, this is detracting from the charitable business itself, if a person is determined to give charity, then the foregone tax savings should be thought as charity as well. Many people use charity as a tax saving instrument anyway!

2. What is charity to be spent on? Do you want the charity to be spent on an opera house? Or on providing free lunches to poor children? Do you want the charity money to be spent on constructing a huge sports stadium in London or the money will be better off used in Congo for feeding the starving children there? If you are ok with Congo, what about rehabilitating child soldiers? Or what about providing an opera house in Congo? Where is a good place?

3. Should charities advertise? Is charity a demand led business or supply led business? I sit down watching TV and I find advertisements for funds from Save the Children. Surely giving charity is my business, why are the charities pushing and advertising for funds? And why are they using charitable funds to ask for more charitable funds?

4. Should charities be professional or amateur? Many charities are professionally run, specially the large ones. They have full fledged operations, supply chains, factory operations, sales and distribution, advertising and public relations, you name it. Look at OXFAM and Christian AID. Are they companies or are they amateur operations? If they are professional companies, why are they getting tax benefits? And should charities have professional managers? or should bumbling amateurs be the right person to drive them?

5. Should donors be able to specify where and how money can be spend? I give money to Oxfam but specifiy that Oxfam can only use the money in Liberia. I give money to my alma maters but specify that the money has to go to a Library rather than scholarships for poor students. I also specify that the Library should be called after myself, The Bhaskar Dasgupta Library of Pretentious Learning and obnoxious charity.

6. Can the government be charitable, such as using the Lottery money? When the money is raised by a morally suspect activity such as lottery (which is nothing but legalised gambling on a probability event), can that really be used for morally good purposes? This is how a lottery works. In Nazi German concentration camps, there used to be a lottery of bread. Every camp of say 100 people would put aside a certain bread amount, say 100 grams which would sum up to 10 loaves of bread. The winner of the lottery would get 1 Loaf of bread (1 kilo) , the 9 remaining loaves (kilo's) was used by the commandant, the guards, the dogs and was used to pay for painting the gas chambers and the gardners. Still think lottery money is good money? What about capitalism money? can you use that aid money in communist cuba? How about Big Pharma charity? Can you use them for research funds in poor country? Knowing how grasping they are? How about technology funding from the evil Microsoft empire? Or how about funding from Bill Gates for malaria research?

7. Shouldnt Charities be transparent about why and who they are funding? You know how the Government of India provides information on foreign charitable giving to India? Here's the latest report. An extract from the report says,"The list of foreign donors is headed by the Gospel Fellowship Trust India, USA (Rs. 229.15 crores), followed by Gospel for Asia, USA (Rs 137.18 crores) Plan International, UK (Rs. 111.18 crores) Foundation Vincent E Ferrer, Spain (Rs 104.23 crores), and Christian Aid, UK (Rs 80.16 crores)." Curiously, the Gospel trusts do not have much of a web presence. Given the sheer importance and sensitivity of proselytisation in countries like India, do we need to be careful? Do we need transparency? Do we need public accounts of where and how charities are spending their money? What is a good amount of monies spend on administration compared to funds actually spend on the objective/recipient? 10%? 20%? or the usual 50%?

8. Can you reject charity money? When a certain Prince of Saudi Arabia offered $10 million to NY as charity after 9/11, the most almighty row broke out and the Mayor had to return the money. Tainted money? There has been no whisper of wrong doing about the Prince. He is the majority shareholder of another iconic American firm, the Citigroup. So it is fine for him to be the largest shareholder of the largest American financial firm measured in hundreds of billions of dollars but it is not ok for him to give $10 million?

Here's a fascinating article in the NYT of today which sparked these questions.

September 6, 2007
Age of Riches

Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity

Eli Broad, a billionaire businessman, has given away more than $650 million over the last five years, to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish a medical research institute, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and to programs to improve the administration of urban schools and public education.

The rich are giving more to charity than ever, but people like Mr. Broad are not the only ones footing the bill for such generosity. For every three dollars they give away, the federal government typically gives up a dollar or more in tax revenue, because of the charitable tax deduction and by not collecting estate taxes.

Mr. Broad (rhymes with road) says his gifts provide a greater public benefit than if the money goes to taxes for the government to spend. “I believe the public benefit is significantly greater than the tax benefit an individual receives,” Mr. Broad said. “I think there’s a multiplier effect. What smart, entrepreneurial philanthropists and their foundations do is get greater value for how they invest their money than if the government were doing it.”

It is an argument made by many of the nation’s richest people. But not all of them. Take the investor William H. Gross, also a billionaire. Mr. Gross vigorously dismisses the notion that the wealthy are helping society more effectively and efficiently than government.

“When millions of people are dying of AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum,” he wrote in his investment commentary this month. “A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.”

Elaborating in an interview, Mr. Gross said he did not think the public benefits from philanthropy were commensurate with the tax breaks that givers receive. “I don’t think we’re getting the bang for the buck for gifts to build football stadiums and concert halls, with all due respect to Carnegie Hall and other institutions,” he said. “I don’t think the public would vote for spending tax dollars on those things.”

The billionaires’ differing views epitomize a growing debate over what philanthropy is achieving at a time when the wealthiest Americans control a rising share of the national income and, because of sharp cuts in personal taxes, give up less to government.

Familiar Recipients

A common perception of philanthropy is that one of its central purposes is to alleviate the suffering of society’s least fortunate and therefore promote greater equality, taking some of the burden off government. In exchange, the United States is one of a handful of countries to allow givers a tax deduction. In essence, the public is letting private individuals decide how to allocate money on their behalf.

What qualifies for that tax deduction has broadened over the 90 years since its creation to include everything from university golf teams to puppet theaters — even an organization established after Hurricane Katrina to help practitioners of sadomasochism obtain gear they had lost in the storm.

Roughly three-quarters of charitable gifts of $50 million and more from 2002 through March 31 went to universities, private foundations, hospitals and art museums, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Of the rest, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for half on the center’s list. That money went primarily to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries. Valuable as that may be, it also meant that the American public effectively underwrote several billion dollars worth of foreign aid by private individuals, even though poll after poll shows Americans are at best ambivalent about using tax dollars in such assistance.

In contrast, few gifts of that size are made to organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and America’s Second Harvest, whose main goals are to help the poor in this country. Research shows that less than 10 percent of the money Americans give to charity addresses basic human needs, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and caring for the indigent sick, and that the wealthiest typically devote an even smaller portion of their giving to such causes than everyone else.

“Donors give to organizations they are close to,” said H. Art Taylor, president and chief executive of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “So they give to their college or university, or maybe someone close to them died of a particular disease so they make a big gift to medical research aimed at that disease. How many of the superrich have that kind of a relationship with a soup kitchen? Or a homeless shelter?”

Philanthropists like Mr. Broad say that looking at philanthropy solely as a means of ameliorating need is too narrow. “If you look historically at what Carnegie did with creating a library system and the Rockefellers in creating Rockefeller University, I think it does a lot more for society than simply supporting those in need,” Mr. Broad said.

About 2 percent of the money Mr. Broad has given away through his two foundations over the last five years, or $15 million, went to support organizations like the United Way and the United Jewish Fund, which serve needy people as well as the middle class. The foundations also have given money to groups that help homeless children, and the International Rescue Committee.

Still, Mr. Broad dedicates his biggest gifts to areas he thinks lack government support, like the $25 million he gave to the University of Southern California last year to found an institute for integrative biology and stem cell research, or the tens of millions he dedicated to complete the new Disney concert hall in Los Angeles.

Like many major philanthropists, Mr. Broad said he considered such gifts an illustration of the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The argument is that simply taking care of the poor does nothing to eliminate poverty and that they will ultimately benefit more from efforts to, say, find cures for the diseases that afflict them or improve public education.

As for Mr. Gross, despite his uncharacteristically fiery criticism of what he calls “philanthropic ego gratification,” some of the large gifts he and his wife, Sue, have made are not so different from those made by other billionaires. He has given millions to a local hospital, for example, and for stem cell research.

And in 2005 the couple gave roughly $25 million to Duke, Mr. Gross’s alma mater.

But the Duke gift illustrates Mr. Gross’s priorities. The money is almost exclusively for scholarships.

“Universities have their own thing going — they want to build infrastructure and endowments and perpetuate their system, which isn’t necessarily in the social interest,” Mr. Gross said. “Scholarships get a little more down to the ground level.”

Taking Aim at the Tax Code

The investor Warren E. Buffett also voices strong feelings about how donations are used.

When Mr. Buffett pledged $30 billion to the Gates Foundation, he included a little-noted requirement that the foundation spend each increment of the gift he hands over, in addition to its own annual legally mandated spending. If Mr. Buffett transfers $1.3 billion of stock to it, it must spend every nickel within a year.

“I wanted to make sure,” he said, “that to the extent I was providing extra money to them, it didn’t just go to build up the foundation size further but that it was put to use.”

The Gates Foundation’s work is largely international, although a portion of its spending supports efforts to improve urban education and access to college, so Mr. Buffett’s money is unlikely to be used to address basic needs in this country.

“I think the government ought to make sure that all the people here who drew short straws have a decent minimum,” Mr. Buffett said. “We moved toward that with Social Security, but we could go a lot further now.”

He does not regard his gift as charitable and expects no tax benefit from it, in part because he has credit for past donations that he has not used.

Rather, he calls his sister, Doris Buffett, the “real philanthropist” in the family. Ms. Buffett runs an organization, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, that helps the needy pay for college, medical expenses, mortgages, glasses and cars.

Mr. Buffett recently has brought attention to himself as a critic of inequities in the nation’s tax system, which offers the wealthy better tax breaks for charitable giving than it does the average taxpayer. Deductions for charitable giving can be claimed only by the fewer than half of all taxpayers who itemize, and those falling in higher tax brackets get bigger deductions for cash gifts.

The charitable deduction cost the government $40 billion in lost tax revenue last year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, more than the government spends altogether on managing public lands, protecting the environment and developing new energy sources.

Rob Reich, an assistant professor of political science and ethics in society at Stanford, goes so far as to say that the tax code promotes inequities through the breaks it provides for charitable giving.

Take schools. The Woodside Elementary School in Woodside, Calif., where the median family income is $196,505, raised $7,065 a pupil in 1998 from charitable contributions to a foundation it created, according to Professor Reich’s research. Across the San Francisco Bay, a similar foundation to support the Oakland Unified School District, where the median family income is $44,384, raised $138 a pupil that year.

In effect, the government is subsidizing a system that enhances inequities between poor and wealthy public schools, Professor Reich said.

Raising Questions

Legislators, regulators and others are asking more questions about exactly what charities do with the money they are given.

“When foundations, corporations and individuals give money to the opera,” said Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee who represents a district in Los Angeles populated largely by young working-class immigrant families, “my folks are very unlikely to benefit from those forgone tax dollars that could have been used for health care, for after-school programs for kids, for help in getting access to college education.”

Yet Mr. Becerra himself is a beneficiary of one of the country’s wealthiest charities, Stanford, which has a $15.2 billion endowment and gave him a scholarship. “There is no way my parents could have afforded for me to go there without the generous financial aid the university gave me,” he said.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Grover G. Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform lobbies for lower taxes, suggests taxing nonprofit hospitals that cannot demonstrate that they provide significant care for the poor.

“I’m not aware of anything they do that a for-profit hospital doesn’t do in terms of providing free care,” Mr. Norquist said.

Like other billionaire philanthropists, Thomas M. Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems, has given his largest gifts to his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1999, he donated $32 million for a computer science center bearing his name, and he pledged $100 million this year to support basic research that he hopes will reduce dependency on carbon-based fuels.

But when the university suggested using some of that gift to put up another new building named for him and hire new professors, he said no.

“I told them to use the basement of an existing building and some of the really smart people they already have,” Mr. Siebel said.

Attracting philanthropic support to fight substance abuse is one of the biggest challenges in fund-raising, but Mr. Siebel has donated more than $15 million to the Meth Project, an organization he created. “I think we’ll save a lot of lives in the end,” Mr. Siebel said. “Isn’t that what philanthropy is supposed to be about?”

He has also given the Salvation Army more than $18 million over the last six years, mostly to support services for the homeless. He said he gives to the organization because of its low administrative costs and lack of frills.

“When I first started doing this, I made a contribution to some organization, Harvest something or other, I think, that was working on homelessness,” Mr. Siebel said. “The next thing I knew, I got a plaque in the mail and an invitation to an awards ceremony.”

He added: “I never gave them another nickel. What were they spending money on plaques for?”

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!