Saturday, 20 August 2011

Online tutorial: How to make a profit


“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
                     ~ Gordon Gekko

This is the Age of Profit, as even a casual flipping through the economic news will inform you. Corporations can do more or less as they desire because they have a right to make a profit; and governments will usually fall over backward in their eagerness to help corporations make the said profit. If a corporation wants to take over a river, and charge people from the nearby city (who have been using the water of the river for drinking, irrigation, etc for merely the last seven hundred years) a fee to use it in the name of “resource maximisation”, you know, there won’t be any shortage of government officials and economists defending their right to do it.

Yeah, that’s to say, profit is the thing.

Now, there’s a small problem with profit. That problem is the fact that you have to actually, you know, find a way of making it. The money won’t just leap out of the wallets and bank accounts (if any) of your victims customers and into yours, so you have to finagle some way of making that happen.

Life’s a bitch.

If you are a corporation making armaments in a military-industrial complex based economy, there isn’t a problem, of course. You have a nice, captive customer – the armed forces, whether the real armed forces or the “security contractors” (what used to be called “mercenary commandos” back in the day, you know). And these days there’s a permanent market for your smart bombs and depleted uranium rounds, with the clients for your services conveniently living on the other side of the world, so you don’t have to deal with the mess your products create. Y’know, all the blood and guts.

No, it’s when you aren’t a corporation making armaments in a military-industrial complex based economy that the problems start. See, as I said, there’s the problem of how to entice money out of peoples’ pockets and into your own. And it becomes worse when you remember that fewer and fewer of those people have money in their pockets (in part because of the direct and indirect side effects of the military-industrial complex based economy – splashing around all that blood and guts does have a kind of depressing effect on earning power). So, you have to do one of two things – squeeze more money of the few people who do have enough of it to be able to spare some; or find some way to entice or compel others, who hardly have enough to survive on, to give it to you.

This is where you have to get slightly creative.

Let’s get this clear before we begin: you have to choose your source of profit. Your choices come down to three: the ultra-rich, the middle (or, in some cases, Muddle) class, and the poor*.

First of all, let’s get the ultra-rich (in most of the world, there are no plain “rich” any longer; they’ve either graduated to the ultra-rich or slipped middle-classwards) out of the way. Unless you’ve got some miracle product, which nobody from the very topmost of the field is already making, forget it. The ultra-rich know what they want.

So, your target clientele comes down to the Muddle Class and the poor. Let’s take them one by one.

The Muddle Class: The defining characteristic of the Muddle Class, above all others, is vanity. The Muddle Class is incredibly full of itself, and measures its success by – above all other things – acquiring gadgets. The more gadgets, the better, even if they don’t have any applicability – you know, that’s why they invented the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.”

The Muddle Class is also incredibly scared of the poor – both as a direct threat (which is useful if you’re selling home security systems), and, more importantly, as a sign of danger – the danger of poverty. The Muddle Class is terrified of being poor, even more than the ultra-rich is of being poor.

The ultra-rich can barely imagine poverty; it’s like a movie to them. The Muddle Class can feel the reality of poverty, just one rung below them on the ladder, and snapping at their heels. They have to keep reminding themselves they aren’t poor, even if it means going into debt to prove this. You can leverage this very well if you take a little trouble to market your product. However, you wouldn’t be advised to put too much faith in hire-purchase schemes, because the Muddle Class is on the knife’s edge these days. Better get them to take a nice easy-payment consumer loan, and when they default, it’s going to be the bank or loan company’s headache, not yours.

The poor: The problem with the poor, as distinct from the Muddle Class, is that the former doesn’t have to be persuaded to part with its money; the only question is who (you, or your competitor) benefits from it. The poor, while they do have the desire to own things, are also intensely aware that they can’t afford them. Unlike the Muddle Class, they must be compelled to part with their money, by any means possible.

In this, the local government can be an invaluable ally. Let’s be clear about this – the average local government hates the poor. They are unsightly, often obstreperous, and don’t earn enough to pay taxes. At least some pretence of hospitals and schools have to be run for them. They are often useful for votes at the time of elections, of course, but there’s always a doubt about which way they’ll swing; if the other party promises cheaper food or better streets in the ghettoes where the poor live, they might vote for it instead, unlike the Muddle Class and its fairly predictable right-wing voting preferences.  

So, given the opportunity to shaft the poor, but good, the local government will be eager to comply. All you’ll need is to drop a few words in appropriate ears and bribes funds for the proper education of government officials in what’s the best for the economy.

If you think really big, you can do this by forcing the poor to pay for a service they had got for free. For example, point out to the local government that a private fire service, maintained by user fees, will be so much more efficient than a state-run one which is paid for by tax money, and whose personnel spend most of their duty time sitting around in the fire station doing nothing but wait. Of course, the government would have to pay a certain fixed rate of money to your fire service every month in order to make it worth your while to buy and maintain all that equipment, rent premises, and so on, but it would still be more efficient. After all, being private, it’s automatically more efficient! And as for the poor? It’s true that they might refuse to pay you at first, but once you make an example of a few – letting the fires burn down a few tens of recalcitrant houses – they’ll have learnt their lesson. Especially as they probably won’t have any insurance anyway.

The problem with this approach (or with the water-privatising venture I’d mentioned) is that the poor are ingrates. You never know when a left-wing pinko commie liberal socialist political movement might make an issue of it, and ride the rank ingratitude (the so-called “popular anger”) of these poor to a victory in an election. And then you’re faced with either having to splurge enormous amounts of money to purchase a place in the new government’s good books, or – even worse – having to dig deep into your cash reserves to finance a media misinformation propaganda public education campaign designed to provoke a colour-coded revolution, which might or might not succeed. And if it doesn’t, your only choice (other than licking your wounds and crawling from the field) is to beg the military-industrial complex based economy to use some of its products to spread enough blood and guts around to end the pinko liberal commie socialist government and replace it by a more friendly one.

In all probability, then, it might be better to leave that part alone for the really big players and stick to consumer goods. Your tactics might outrage some people, but not surely to the extent of voting for a pinko commie liberal socialist government. In fact, that way you might kill several birds with one stone.

Let’s imagine you’re a car manufacturer. Now, of course, in much of the world, people are still primitive enough to use public transport most of the time. They will continue, atavistically, to use public transport, ignoring your excellent products, unless compelled to take notice of them and purchase them.

This is again where the local government comes in. Point out to the relevant officials just how effectively a huge car plant could help the local economy, how the farmland so uselessly given over to mere grain production could be so much better if it were covered in concrete and turned into factory sheds. Use the word “growth” at least once a sentence – this is very important to remember, you cannot say “’growth” too often – and point out how the illiterate farmhands will be trained in industrial production and get jobs as engineers and quality-control professionals in your factory. With a little prodding, the government will even take over the land from the farmers and hand it over to you at a low price or even practically free. Then you’re ready to start production.

Unfortunately, there’s a hurdle before you can begin selling your excellent products. That hurdle is the public transport system I mentioned. Alas, the poor, and even much of the Muddle Class, are wedded to the concept of this socialistic hangover, so blatantly against the concept of free enterprise. However, a few words in the right ears should remove the problem by allowing the public transport system to fall into decay. Obviously, this effort should begin early, while you’re still setting up your factory, so that by the time the first car runs off the production line, the buses and commuter trains will be so poorly maintained, and running so badly, that the Muddle Class will be ashamed to be seen on them. They’ll be a nice, well-primed target for your cars, which should be at the low end of the price range.

Since the Muddle Class is out of the public transport equation, then, that socialistic monster can be allowed to deteriorate further, to the extent that the poor will find it more and more difficult to use it. For instance, how can even the poor depend on going to work when commuter buses are completely unpredictable, and break down on the way? It’s then that you ought to begin pitching your cheap, cheap cars at the poor on easy-easy terms. They won’t have an option but to buy.

And there’s the beauty of the scheme – when the Muddle Class discovers that the poor are driving, not just cars, but the same kind of cars as they, they’ll try and upgrade to bigger, flashier cars. Of course, you’ll be ready with your next, and higher priced series – won’t you?

And, yeah, about those farmers you were to take on as engineers? Just slip in a clause in the fine, fine print – the finest print you can find, god damn it – that they can be dropped if you find them unsatisfactory during the probation period. Make a big production of hiring them, have pictures pasted all over the media (money well spent, I can assure you) showing them grinning happily as they accept their appointment letters, and then quietly dump them over the months, in ones and twos. Nobody, I can assure you, will make a fuss. After all, how can illiterate farmers ever make engineers?    

Yes, profit is easy to make, if you just know how.

All the best wishes for your enterprise, and please don’t push a slice of the action my way.



[*The poor translates here as people who still have some kind of roof above their heads and enough money to be able to feed and clothe themselves. It does not include the poor-poor, people so economically constrained that they might have no home, or savings of any nature, or must beg for food in order to sustain themselves. This underclass is of absolutely no use as a source of profit directly; however, by serving as a reminder to the poor of how low it’s possible to sink, they can be a source of indirect profit to you if the poor are frightened into spending money just to prove that they aren’t part of the poor-poor, just like the Muddle Class does to stay ahead of the poor. Otherwise, it’s better just to ignore them and let them die off.]
                     

Friday, 19 August 2011

The worst disaster of recent history


I've said many times in the past that the destruction of the USSR was the foremost factor that landed the world in the mess it is in today. It was a disaster for everyone, including its enemies.

1. The Empire: The fall of the USSR freed the Empire to treat the entire globe as its private colony, and that directly fed the monster military-industrial complex that is sucking the life out of the people of the US, in a way nothing has done since the Great Depression - and things can only get worse. Now, war is an industry, and the entire system in the Empire exists to feed that industry. While the youth of the US scrabbles for cover in the Afghan dirt, the suits in the skyscrapers in New York who sent them there just get richer. When the Empire collapses under the weight of operation Unending War, nothing will be left for the American people to start over with.

2. The people of the world: It's all very nice to talk of democracy, but the reality is that "freedom" has come to mean freedom to be bombed or shot by the Empire or to be made destitute by rapacious corporations, now that there's no such thing as a socialist system left in most formerly socialist nations. Even those countries which have managed to survive relatively intact have done so by bending over backward to serve the international bandit-capitalist system.

3. The peoples of the former Soviet republics, outside Russia: Freedom, you say? The freedom to be ruled over by a gaggle of despots, who have, among other things, boiled their opponents alive, bludgeoned them on the streets, and all that with the blessings of the Empire.

4. The Russian people: What has "democratic freedom" meant for the Russian people? While that glorious democrat, Boris Yeltsin, drank himself into a stupor, bombarded his own Parliament, and destroyed his army in Chechnya, the people's savings vanished, their lifespans imploded, the mafia thrived, corruption grew to almost Indian levels, and the bearded monsters of the Orthodox Church came crawling out of the woodwork to influence public policy. Prices rose to the extent that a month's salary in the eighties might buy you a cup of cappuccino now, if you're lucky. Is it surprising that the people have turned back to an authoritarian ruler who promises a measure of stability?

No, it's not.

Therefore, it's not at all surprising to me that the Russians who came to the barricades to "free themselves" back in 1991 now bitterly regret that decision.

The people of the world should never forgive them.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

This is why you shouldn't forward Internet crap


I came across this on another web page, and couldn’t resist analysing it, because it’s such a perfect illustration of why one shouldn’t re-post material from the net without a little fact-checking and analysis. Even if the author of the original article had a socio-political agenda (as it’s obvious he or she has) with which you agree, when the material is so shoddy and provably false, you’re harming your own case by regurgitating it.

First, the original article:

Question 1:

If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already,
three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally
retarded, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an
abortion?

Read the next question before looking at the response for
this one.

Question 2:

It is time to elect a new world leader, and only your vote
counts.
Here are the facts about the three candidates.

Candidate A:
Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with
astrologists. He's had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8
to 10 Martinis a day.

Candidate B:
He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used
opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C:
He is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke,
drinks an occasional beer and never committed adultery.

Which of these candidates would be our choice?

Decide first... No peeking, and then scroll down for the
response.

*

*

*

Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Candidate B is Winston Churchill.
Candidate C is Adolf Hitler.

And, by the way, on your answer to the abortion question:
If you said YES, you just killed Beethoven.

Pretty interesting isn't it?
Makes a person think before judging someone.

Remember:

Amateurs ... Built the ark.
Professionals ... Built the Titanic


Right.

For the purposes of this analysis, I won’t go into the abortion question per se (though those of you who have read me for a while know precisely where I stand on that). I will, however, point out that Beethoven actually had a single older sibling (also Ludwig) who died at the age of six days, and three younger siblings - Anton Karl, Nikkolaus Johann and Maria Margaretha Josepha. [Source]


Don't you think the author of the piece had such great contempt for the readers that he or she assumed they didn't know anything about Beethoven or couldn't be bothered to read about him on their own?

Then, I don’t know enough about Franklin Roosevelt to say whether or how accurate the information presented is, but I do know something about Churchill, and I know a lot about Hitler. Oh man, do I know about Hitler.

Well, Churchill. The only reason Churchill wasn’t hanged for war crimes is that he fortuitously (more due to Hitler’s blunders than anything he did) ended up on the winning side of the war. Unlike Adolf, who came to the war crimes game late in the day, Churchill was an opportunist from the beginning, and a war criminal from long, long back, from the days of the Great War when he was First Lord of the Admiralty and – among other things – used the quite illegal Q ship programme (armed naval ships disguised as civilian vessels), had British ships illegally fly the (then neutral) American flag, and engineered the destruction of the Lusitania by stripping it of its escort when he knew a U Boat was waiting with orders to sink it. In Iraq in 1920 he had civilians bombed with poison gas. In the Second World War he attacked the virtually demilitarised and helpless ships of the neutral French navy, watched unmoved while three million Indians starved to death in an artificial famine, fire-bombed Dresden, and had planned to use poison gas at Normandy. He had to be persuaded to put the Nazi leadership on trial instead of executing them on capture. I don’t know about sleeping till noon, but there are plenty of reasons not to vote for him. Even supporters of Churchill need to acknowledge that he, more than anyone else, was responsible for the decline and fall of the British Empire.


Ah, now the Big One, Hitler. It’s a common myth that he was a vegetarian; he was actually rather fond of sausage, meat pie and stuffed pigeon, and last I looked that didn’t count as vegetarianism. Nor was he a “war hero” in any sense of the term – his fellow soldiers called him a “rear area pig”, a regimental messenger who rarely visited the front, and his alleged exploits were retconned into his biography by Nazi propagandists at a later date. His famous Iron Cross, incidentally, was recommended by a Jewish officer. And as for his non-adulterous nature, Hitler was probably a syphilitic, and it’s certain that his niece Geli Raubal died mysteriously (probably committed suicide) after he had what we might delicately call an “inappropriate relationship” with her. So much for that.

The depths of lunacy are reached, of course, with the Titanic part of the article. That ship had design errors which were absent on other ships made around the same time, and was sunk more due to the policies of the owners (the White Star Line) than to anything else – including the decision to steam full speed ahead through Northern Atlantic iceberg territory and the lack of lifeboats. As for the Ark...it’s a myth, for dog’s sake.

One would think the person creating this article might have spent a single minute googling for the facts, but that was probably beyond him/her. But then – seeing that there are people who are willing, nay, eager, to disseminate said “information” without analysis, one can’t really blame him for taking the easy way out.

I’ve often thought that if you write a thoughtful, researched article and release it on the web, it will die out in three forwards at the outside. Write a piece of attention grabbing crap, though, and it’s going to go viral at top speed.

Like this.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Firing Blanks


This being one of the world’s two most overpopulated nations, the government allegedly wants people to plan their families.

As part of the effort to plan said families, sex education is banned – sex not only allegedly comes “naturally” and doesn’t have to be taught, but teaching kids about the birds and bees will cause them to “experiment”; as though they aren’t already, and as though the same government has taken any serious steps to ensure child marriage doesn’t happen.

The other thing the government allegedly does is to offer cash rewards and gun licences (in North India, where owning a gun is a sign of masculinity) in exchange for being vasectomised. That’s all very nice, if people actually took them up on that offer. I don’t know how many do, but I can bet the figures aren’t high.

I went to get sterilised a few years ago. After all, I have no intention of breeding and my partner and I didn't want to keep subjecting her body to hormones. I first went to a doctor I know, and asked her to recommend a surgeon. She reacted with horror: “Are you crazy? You want to destroy your manhood?”

Bear in mind that the person saying this was a doctor.

Anyway, I got the surgeon’s name out of her, and went to talk to him.

And what did he tell me? What he said was that it was "unethical" unless I was married and the father of at least two kids. So in order to not father kids I didn't want, I had to father kids first.

Does this sound like sense to you?

And we wonder why we continue to breed like flies.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Corrupt to the Core


It’s time, as they say, to pick a side.

I’ve been writing at some length in recent days on Indian politics, probably to the boredom of a fair section of my international readership – but I’m afraid that you’ll probably be reading a lot more from me on this topic, the way things are going.

Briefly, this is what’s happening:

Corruption, as I believe I’ve written in the past, is probably the single greatest evil facing this nation. It’s in fact such a problem that even the Great Indian Muddle Class has decided it’s a problem, and let me tell you, it requires a thermonuclear explosion to blast the Great Indian Muddle Class out of its self-absorption. Corruption in India is everywhere – from the very, utmost top (the husband of the President of the nation has been found guilty of it in court) to the local cop on the beat. Almost everyone in a position to be corrupt is corrupt, with a few rare exceptions – exceptions so rare that they merit special mention when someone comes across them.

The corruption is both direct (in terms of the citizen having to pay bribes to get something done, or politicians taking kickbacks from industrialists and the like to change rules to favour them) and indirect (as when politicians and bureaucrats usurp funds for their personal purposes, or go on foreign junkets at the taxpayer’s expense; or as when capitalist robber barons cheat on taxes, refuse to repay loans, and stash the funds abroad in Swiss bank accounts). Either way, the loss to the nation is so colossal as to defy comprehensible computation. You never saw so many zeroes.

This corruption, of course, is so pervasive that it has attracted its own constituency – people who benefit from it. This includes virtually everyone in a position to earn from corruption, in government or out of it, from the usual suspects (politicians, bureaucrats, judges and capitalists) to media houses and journalists who take money to slant, suppress, or play up stories according to who’s paying, and how much. Media corruption is so pervasive in India that there have been studies on how to curb it – whose recommendations have promptly been buried, never to be seen again. Corruption is simply too useful to be let go of. (As a matter of fact, for lower-level government servants, corruption isn’t just a convenience but necessary, since it’s virtually impossible to obtain a police job, for instance, without paying a substantial bribe; so the first years of the policeman’s career are spent striving to recoup the money spent for that bribe, for which he may have mortgaged his family property.)

Recently, though, there has been an upsurge of popular resentment against corruption, led – among others – by a septuagenarian ex-soldier called Anna Hazare, of whom I have written previously. Earlier this year, Hazare went on hunger strike to demand that the government pass a law establishing a “Lok Pal” (an anti-corruption ombudsman, whose authority would include taking action on corruption at all levels, including the Prime Minister – or, in this case, the unelected “prime minister”). The government agreed to discuss the matter, and promptly sabotaged it by diluting the proposed law as much as it could, keeping the Prime Minister out of its ambit, among other things.

By the way, believe it or not, as the law in India stands, you can steal billions, go to jail, and all you’ll suffer is the jail term. You won’t have to refund even a single penny of the amount you stole, and when you come out it will be waiting for you.

The standard government argument went this way – that it would not listen to an “extra-constitutional body” (the anti-corruption activists, who apart from Hazare include senior lawyers, India’s most famous female ex-cop, and others) and that Parliament was the only body that could pass laws. This was absurd on two points:

First, because this same government has no problem listening to, and cravenly obeying, a blatantly extra-constitutional authority (the dynasty which owns the ruling party), and,

Secondly, because believing that the government will make fair and loophole-free laws to prevent corruption is like appointing the fox sentry to the henhouse. It ain’t gonna happen.

The clearest proof of the government’s mala fides is its insistence on take-it-or-leave-it amendments, including keeping the prime minister out of the ambit of the Lok Pal’s jurisdiction. We’re told, on a daily basis, by the bought-off media that the so-called, unelected, “prime minister” is an honest man. If so, why should he have a problem being under the supervision of an anti-corruption ombudsman? Why should any honest person be averse to being supervised?

All right, that was a rhetorical question.

While the talks over the Lok Pal law were degenerating into impasse, the government made a desperate attempt to discredit the anti-corruption activists by producing a series of fake CDs denouncing a father-son lawyer duo (part of the activist group) as corrupt. The fakes were speedily exposed, as it happens, not that anyone was penalised for creating them.

Meanwhile, a completely different “anti-corruption agitation” was launched by the Hindunazi Right, based around a yoga guru named Ramdev. After first falling over itself to accommodate him, the government raided his protest in the middle of the night with police, mercilessly thrashed people, arrested everyone including Ramdev, accused him of corruption, and knocked him out of the anti-corruption agitation. This was probably a boon in disguise, because Ramdev was probably meant initially as a shill to divide the anti-corruption agitation, but was crushed when he began to think of himself as a genuine agitator. All that crushing him did was to leave the group around Anna Hazare as the sole legitimate anti-corruption voice in the public eye.

Goaded beyond the limits of tolerance, Anna Hazare announced a fast-unto-death from today to protest against the government version of the law. The government reacted in a fairly typical thuggish manner. It first claimed Hazare was “steeped in corruption”, accused him of “disrespecting the prime minister”, claimed he was trying to hold parliament to ransom, and then announced (through the politically-controlled Delhi police) that he would only be allowed to demonstrate for a maximum of three days, and that so long as his protests didn’t include more than 5000 people. Obviously, a three-day protest by a mere 5000 people would be nothing but a farce, and the anti-corruption agitators quite correctly refused to accept it.

Meanwhile, the owner of the ruling Congress party, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, is in America for surgery to treat some undisclosed illness (far be it from me to speculate that she is suffering from a cancer and is desperate to keep the fact hidden so as to maintain her family’s grip on the party, and has opted to be treated abroad in order to ensure the secret is kept). Her son, the Crown Prince of the nation, returned after meeting her, “spoke to” the (unelected) “prime minister”, and the final decisions were probably taken, and orders passed, at that meeting.

And so, today, Anna Hazare was arrested before he could leave for the venue of the protest. Along with him were arrested activist Arvind Kejriwal and India’s most well-known ex-policewoman, Kiran Bedi. They were all taken to the capital’s Tihar jail (ironically an institution which had been administered by Bedi earlier, and where she had made many much-appreciated reforms). They went quite peacefully, without offering any violence, and were scheduled to be released tonight - but Hazare is fasting in prison, and has refused release.

Hazare - not Kournikova


Obviously, the government doesn’t actually believe any of its own lies about how Hazare and his group are any kind of threat to democracy or parliament. It's quite openly crushing democracy

(And, yes, I know the irony of the party of the original Mohandas Gandhi's crushing peaceful democratic protest, but the original Gandhi is only a convenient excuse these days.)

What the arrests are meant to achieve is this:

First, to deprive the people of India of a focus to the protests against corruption. Without a leader, the protests will rapidly wither away, as everyone is perfectly aware.

Second, to drive home to the people that the government will ruthlessly crush any and all protests, and safeguard its (and its capitalist cronies’) right to steal and plunder by any and all means possible. 

How much success it will have in this endeavour is still to be seen. The public is predictably outraged, but hasn’t actually done anything to give any shape to that outrage. Hot air rises, and all that has appeared so far from the Great Indian Muddle Class has been hot air. Political parties from the right and the left have both done their share of screaming, but everyone knows perfectly well that this is only window-dressing; those parties are as mired in corruption as anyone else.

Let me, therefore, make a prediction: in the short term, the government will stonewall, wait for the protests to wither away, and pass laws meant to stifle any and all meaningful public protest. It will file patently false charges against the anti-corruption activists; charges deliberately meant to be transparently false, which are designed to

1.     Keep Hazare and friends so busy defending themselves legally that they have no energy or time left over for anti-corruption drives and

2.     Make an example of them so as to deter anyone else who wants to speak out against corruption.

In this context, I’d like to point out that India has no law to protect whistle-blowers, no pretence of a witness-protection programme, and that several people who have exposed corrupt deals have been murdered in recent years, one today, and that most of those cases remain resolutely unsolved.

If the people’s protests show no sign of dying down within a reasonable period, I predict that there will be some means found to divert their attention. Perhaps a spectacular “terrorist” attack will be launched on a major Indian city. Possibly an artificial war scare will be created with Pakistan, as was done back in 1986 when Sonia Gandhi’s late husband, Rajiv, then the (quite legally-elected) Prime Minister, was embroiled in corruption cases and had an activist Finance Minister, VP Singh. Gandhi had the army start an extremely provocative series of exercises on the Pakistan border, known as Operation Brasstacks, and when Islamabad put its forces on high alert, VP Singh was shifted over to the defence ministry to get him out of Gandhi’s rapidly-thinning hair. So there are precedents, and risks are minimal, since Pakistan is no longer an independent nation and will not be able to go to war without American permission, even to defend itself.

Personally, I have absolutely no hope any longer that there can be any peaceful or democratic resolution to this nation’s problems. The rot goes far too deep, and the people are either too poor and illiterate, or too apathetic and self-obsessed, to follow the Tahrir Square route to change. The ballot box is as pointless, because if we’ve learnt anything at all these past few years, it’s that whoever wins, we lose.

Pictured: what will not happen here.


Nor do I have any hopes of a successful armed rebellion from the only forces resisting the government-capitalist cabal that’s looting the country – the Maoist rebellion in the forests of Central India. The Maoists are too few and too poorly armed even to capture and hold a small town for longer than a few hours. To expect them in the current situation to stage a March on Delhi is absurd.

So, what is the solution? Is there a solution?

Not really. All I can offer is the certainty of looming disaster. Climate change and dwindling resources are already ravaging Indian agriculture, and more and more people are scrambling for pieces of a diminishing pie. As I said just over a year ago:


Today, all over India, pesticide effectiveness has decreased dramatically. The land’s becoming worked out, and there’s no fresh land to farm. While a very large part of the crops are still entirely dependent on the rains for water, irrigation projects are suffering because water tables are dropping sharply, and with global warming the extent of rainfall and prevalent rain patterns are changing very quickly indeed. What all this means is that agricultural production has stagnated and begun to fall (and farmers, unable to pay off their debts, are committing suicide in massive numbers).

Also, since the government’s policy is to follow “economic growth” (whatever that chimera may be) at all costs, including the cost of common sense, farmland is actually being expropriated to make way for factories and “special economic zones” where Indian laws intended to protect labourers don’t apply
.

Increasingly, a complete and utter collapse, an implosion, is coming, when

(f)ood riots... are only a matter of time. Crime levels will certainly escalate. Water and power supply will continue to be worse than poor. People will increasingly look for someone to blame.

At first, the blame will go to the migrant, whether from the villages or from other cities. They, it’s already being said, steal the food out of the hardworking mouths of the “son of the soil”; they are dirty, noisy, breed like rats, and take all the education and employment opportunities the natives ought to have as a birthright. Therefore, these migrants must be blocked from entering, and those who are already there have to be thrown out. We’ve already seen this in many parts of the country, especially in Bombay.

When this happens, the villages might well retaliate by blockading the cities, and cutting off food supplies, railways and roads. If the government tries to clear these blockades by force, all it will do is further alienate the rural people, something it can’t afford to do too much with the armed forces because the average Indian soldier is still a barely educated village hick. So, caught in a cleft stick, it will do nothing except make promises, which people have already learned not to believe.

The next stage in the cities will come with the creation of virtual city states, each zealously protecting itself against theft of its food, water and electricity by others. Once this happens, de facto balkanisation is only a matter of time, with each of these ministates forming its own economic policies and its own understandings with the hinterland. And once that stage is reached, the fiction of India will fully be exposed
.

With the government becoming utterly irrelevant at that stage, there will be change. What kind of change, I can’t say – certainly not all for the good. But very radical change, there will be. Things can’t remain this way.

By its actions, the government is only making sure that it is going to happen.

Further reading:

Excision of maxillary (possible) chondrosarcoma

The specimen was a 47 year old male who turned up in the clinic this morning with a complaint of a swelling in his right upper jaw that had (according to him) developed over the last month. (I'll tell you in just a moment why I don't believe that). Apparently he had the four teeth in that part of the jaw (the premolars and the first and second molar) extracted between November of 2010 and March of this year because they were "loose". He - implicitly if not in so many words - blamed his former dentist for the swelling.

This man had no significant medical history but was a tobacco chewer. This is what I saw in his mouth:



The swelling extended from the attachment of the gum to the cheek (the buccal fornix) to close to the midline of the palate. It was firm to the touch, not soft and yielding to pressure as it would have if it was filled with fluids (cyst contents or pus). I couldn't see any sign of broken roots or other remnants of the extracted teeth.

I took an intraoral X ray, but it showed nothing identifiable - the entire plate was filled with an amorphous radiopaque mass that could have been pretty much anything. More significant was what I couldn't  see, and what I should have:

- I couldn't see the bone of the jaw;
- I couldn't see the maxillary sinus;
- I couldn't see any broken tooth roots, or indeed any sign that the teeth had ever existed; I couldn't even see the sockets.

All of this - along with the tobacco-chewing habit and the history of "loose" teeth - led me to believe that the swelling was some kind of tumour which had invaded the jawbone and pushed the teeth out of their sockets. I decided on excising as much of the tumour as I could, and having a biopsy performed.

When I cut the gum (under local anaesthetic) and raised a flap, this is what I saw:



Note the large, granular object. That's the upper surface of the growth, whatever it is. I had a very difficult time separating it from the mucous membrane of the palate, which adhered to it tightly, and from the deeper tissues, to which it was also adhering (I finally found the eroded bone, far below its normal position). The final structure I removed was about the size of a large olive, and of the texture of cartilage.

The reason I don't believe the specimen's contention is that nothing that large and hard can possibly grow in just one month. It's evident he was frightened sick of what was going on in his mouth and only persuaded himself (or was persuaded) to see a dentist when his lower teeth, as I saw, began biting on the mucous membrane covering the swelling.

I don't know what the growth is, but from the consistency I think it might be a neoplasm of cartilaginous origin, a chondrosarcoma or chondromyxoid fibroma. Let's see what the biopsy report says.

After removal of the tissue (which was too large to pop into the biopsy bottle until I cut, or rather, given its consistency, hacked it into two), I was left with a gaping wound in the jaw and a smaller one in the palate. I managed to close them with two black silk sutures:



Now let's see what the biopsy report says. I'll decide on future treatment after I see it.



This was the second of three surgeries I've done so far today. The other two were much more mundane.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Der verdammte Jude, and so on.

It's when the conditions are really bad that a "strong leader" emerges, a demagogue whom the people flock to as a saviour in a world of pain, who tells them where the fault lies - in a clearly identifiable scapegoat, the Jew or the Muslim or the Communist, the liberal or the Socialist or the illegal immigrant - anywhere as long as it's a clearly identifiable group and can be easily targeted and victimised.

The people lap it up because, of course, they are glad to know that they have an identifiable enemy to target, and they will follow that demagogue to the point of ruin, and beyond.

But for the shambolic horror of the Weimar Republic, Hitler would likely never have become der F├╝hrer.  I could go on and on, but that example will more than suffice. Remember the German people voted him into power, in a perfectly democratic election.



Now that the world is a cake to be cut up and consumed by ultra-rich corporations, and the people are a despised underclass everywhere, I wonder who the next scapegoat is going to be, and when.

As to the where? That's easy.

Everywhere.

Happy Dependence Day, India

The British left us when they had sucked us dry of all they could, but we love to pretend that we "won" independence from them. And since we didn't have to pay for our independence in blood and war, but were given it on a platter, we find it easy to throw it away.

That's why we have enslaved ourselves, externally to the Americans and internally to the politician/industrialist/criminal nexus. We have thrown away our right to celebrate independence.

So, Happy Dependence Day.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Mr "Prime Minister": you are a disgrace




Dear Mr “Prime Minister”

In a few hours from now, early tomorrow morning, you will stand on the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi and speak to the nation, telling us all about our independence and the problems your government intends to solve until you come up to the same spot again next year (if you still occupy the post then), and tell us again how your government is going to solve the same problems – just as you did last year, and the year before that, and the year before.

Well, Mr “Prime Minister”, I’d like to say a few words to you.

Who am I? Nobody special. Nobody famous. I’m just one of the faceless millions. One of those who need to exist just so the rich and famous and influential can revel in how rich and famous and influential they are. After all, how will the Great Chiefs know that they are Great Chiefs, unless they can look down and see all the ordinary Native Americans?

From my position at the bottom of the same totem pole of which you inhabit a place close to the top, Mr “Prime Minister”, my voice will not reach you. Therefore, please feel free to ignore me – but I will have my say anyway. On this day of all days, the eve of the anniversary of our so-called independence, I will have my say.

So, before I go any further, Mr “Prime Minister”, let me tell you right out – you are a disgrace.

You are a disgrace, first, because you hold a position to which you were never elected. You are as aware as I am that you are not an elected leader – that you have never won even a municipal level election, and that you violated the law when you first were “selected” to the Upper House seat you now occupy.

You are a disgrace, as well, because you do not exert authority over the ministers among whom you are allegedly the “prime”. You are aware – who in this nation is not aware? – that you lead the worst, most corrupt government we have ever known, a government which is so awful that it makes the previous Hindunazi government look good, a government so awful that even the long-suffering people of India have had enough. You are as well aware as I am that it’s only by police raids, slander, petty harassment, legal sleight-of-hand, and reneging on promises that you have so far stopped the situation from blowing up in your face.

You are a disgrace, thirdly, because you don’t take responsibility for the actions of your colleagues. So far, you have moved against the corrupt only with extreme reluctance, when you have had no other option, and you have done as little as possible while only stating that you are tied by the “compulsions of coalition politics”. While I am not one of the people who voted for your party (not for you – nobody voted for you, because you do not dare stand for election, of course) I do know that those who did vote for it don’t think this is a reasonable excuse. Being the prime minister (or, in your case, the “prime minister”) means that you are supposed to take responsibility for the actions of all – that means all – your colleagues. It’s not good enough to say you didn’t know or that your hands are tied by political factors. If you can’t fill the role, stand down.

Which brings me to the next reason you are a disgrace. As we all know, you are not your own man. You were put in your position as a chair warmer, until the Heir Apparent of the political dynasty which treats your party as its personal property was ready to take over. You’ve said as much on more than one occasion. It’s looking unlikely that the Heir Apparent will ever formally take over your position, though – he, and his family, would rather rule through you and let you take the flak while they (or, more specifically, he) take the credit. I am as aware as you that on more than one occasion you’ve announced a policy only to have it overturned by pronouncements from the dynasty. If you had any integrity, you would have resigned rather than be vetoed by someone who has no constitutional role in the government. But I’m pretty certain that you don’t have the authority to make your own decisions about quitting. You’ll go when you are permitted to – not before.

You are, Mr “Prime Minister”, as we’ve been told ad nauseam, a “great economist”. I don’t, as I freely admit, know much about economics. But I assume even an average economist will know that endlessly repeating a mantra about “growth” wears thin after a while when prices zoom skywards, year after year after year, and your government – which is primarily responsible for the policies that cause those prices to rise – claims that it does not know why it is happening, and has nothing to say except “assurances” that those prices will come down eventually. Nor are the people impressed by your claim that you aren’t taking steps against corruption because you don’t want to impose the costs of another election on the nation – even a non-economist can do the arithmetic and inform you that the costs of another election are infinitesimal compared to the loot your government is perpetrating on the nation every day it clings to power. Forgive me if I do not understand how any economist ignores these factors.

Again, I’m as well aware as anyone else of your reputation for personal honesty. I won’t impugn it because I can’t prove that you have ever taken a bribe yourself, and I don’t wish to indulge in libel. While I’d like to point out that you would be extraordinarily stupid to take bribes personally rather than have a bagman from your party collect them for you, let me assume that you’re clean as far as illegal gratuities are concerned. But while remaining personally clean, Mr “Prime Minister”, you preside over a government which has systematically sabotaged probes against the corrupt and which is rotten with corruption all the way down to the basement. If I might offer an analogy, Mr “Prime Minister”, would you absolve a security guard at a warehouse who watched silently while the said warehouse was robbed bare, even if he didn’t personally benefit by a penny from it? No? Then how do you absolve yourself?

Then, lest I forget, Mr “Prime Minister”, may I remind you of your government’s extreme affinity for Big Business? Isn’t it true that you have systematically removed people who are not business oriented – people who actually still maintain shreds of loyalty to your party’s socialistic past – from positions of power, and replaced them with nonentities and corporate rubber stamps? Have you not very recently replaced the only effective environment minister in a long time, someone who had taken a few steps against the corporate loot of national resources, against the destruction of what remains of the environment, with a nonentity who can be relied on to do precisely as she is told? Am I out of line if I wonder how many millions in funding will flow into your party’s war chest from grateful industrialists and mining concerns in the next two years, as you prepare to face the next election?

And, yes, Mr “Prime Minister”, how can I forget that you have abandoned all pretence of a foreign policy in exchange for an American policy? How can I forget that you are the person who hugged the egregious war criminal George W Bush and assured him that the people of India (whom you do not dare face in an election) “love” him? Do you want me to ignore the fact that you have gone out of your way to ruin our relations with our old friend, Iran, and sabotaged the pipeline that would have supplied us with natural gas and reduced our energy bills, entirely on the US’ orders? Should I forget that your government has sucked up to the Americans for all it’s worth in order to be granted a nuclear supplies waiver – while the rest of the world is stepping back from nuclear energy, and Fukushima has demonstrated just how dangerous meltdowns can be? I’m sorry, but I cannot, and will not, ignore any of that.

Lastly, and most unforgivably, Mr “Prime Minister”, this is why you are a disgrace: you have presented us with a situation where the only alternative to your ultra-corrupt kleptocracy government are the Hindunazis, who are even more viciously right-wing, Islamophobic, and intolerant; whom the people of India rejected in 2004 and again in 2009, but whom they will vote back next time round because they have no other choice. And now that you have blazed a trail, will the Hindunazis – no slouch in the corruption game, themselves – not take the opportunity to match your government bribe for bribe? Just how much long-term damage have you done to the nation, Mr “Prime Minister”?

As I said, you are free to ignore me, Mr “Prime Minister”, because I am far too low on the totem pole for you to bother. And ignore me you undoubtedly will, because I am under your radar, and will remain under your radar.

However, you, Mr “Prime Minister”, will remain a disgrace.

(Un)happy Dependence Day.

                                                                                  Yours uncordially
 
                                                                                    Bill the Butcher

Request for help/advice on Ubuntu

 
My desktop is running on (perfectly genuine) Windows XP, and has been running on said genuine Windows XP for over five years. However, I'm now (for the last few days) getting notifications from Microsoft that my XP has failed validation tests. Obviously, since they are no longer selling damn XP, this is a ploy to try and force me to buy 7. However, having tried out both Vista and 7 on my laptop, I am underwhelmed with either.

I've been hearing good things about Ubuntu for years, and I've been considering freeing myself from Microsoft's money-sucking machinations by changing over - and said desire has never been quite so strong as now. However, I have zero experience of Linux. None at all.

What would you recommend? Should I reinstall XP? Switch to Ubuntu? If the latter, how do I use it? Keep in mind that I'm not very tech-savvy.

Tell me, tell me truly.

The Goat Market

I have this problem with the stock market.

OK, I have many, many problems with the stock market, but this is one, maybe the biggest one, of them.

Before I speak directly about it, let’s take a moment for a little allegory.

Let’s assume I have a goat. I put it about in the village market that I have plans to mate my goat with someone else’s ram, and that after this happy event, my goat will give birth to six kids. I will then raise and breed these six kids, and so on, until in a few years’ time, I will be the possessor of an entire herd of goats, not just one. And suppose then that what happens (because there’s an increased demand for goat milk or meat) is that my goat’s market price instantly rises through the roof – the price people were offering me for her doubles, triples, even quadruples – without my even having bred the goat, but just having announced my intention of breeding her.  

Now, let’s say that a rumour is heard in the village market that there has been a fall in demand, so the price of meat may drop sharply. At once, the price of my goat goes right back down to the original value, or lower, even though there has been no actual fall in meat prices, and even though – in reality – nothing at all has changed in her status from the moment I first began telling of my plans for her in the market. And if I’d sold my goat before the rumour hit the streets, wouldn’t I have earned substantially more than her market value – despite doing nothing at all? And if the price of the goat falls, the money I “lost” is only a notional loss, isn’t it – since I never converted it into concrete financial terms?

Isn’t this situation absurd?

I am aware that the according to “received wisdom” these days, the stock market is the arch “creator of wealth”, and its indices make or break economies and governments. After all, aren’t we devastated at the news that the stock markets around the world crashed by 5%, or 10%, or whatever? And doesn’t a stock market crash in New York spell disaster for speculators in Tokyo?

But, actually, in what way is that different from the goat story I postulated? How much of the rise and fall of stock prices, which allegedly make or break fortunes, are real fortunes, real losses? Isn’t the stock market based on perceptions – the imagined value of a company’s assets, rather than the actual value itself?

And isn’t this why stocks can be manipulated? You aren’t actually raising or lowering anything of real and quantifiable value. You’re raising or lowering perceptions. It’s like making a kid happy by telling him you’ll buy him a video game console for Christmas, or making him sad by informing him you won’t.

I remember when the Indian stock indices, known as Sensex, hit the 20000 mark a few years ago. Newspapers exhorted the people to feel happy and proud at this “sign of India’s economic resurgence” (their barf-making phrase, not mine) – even though well over 90% of India’s population has never owned a share and will never own one. And sure enough a lot of people said they felt happy and proud – until, of course, the market crashed, when they didn’t come out and say they felt unhappy and ashamed.

Of course, since the stock market deals only in notional values, it can afford to be utterly amoral. Whatever drives up those notional values is excellent, no matter how you manage it. If oil companies have to finagle the invasion of an Arab country in order to lay hands on its petroleum, that’s all excellent; as long as they actually get the oil, that’s all that matters. As long as a timber company gets the rights to strip-cut a rain forest, all that is important is that the price of the shares goes through the roof. The investors can make a killing in a figurative as well as literal sense as long as they have the smarts to sell while they’re ahead (and re-enter the market when the values crash, as they will sooner or later - or a crash can be arranged).

But, if capitalism is about actual wealth creation (whatever "wealth creation" might mean when it's at home), and if the stock market is all about
notional wealth, isn't the stock market actually anti-capitalism? By manipulating and dealing in nonexistent values, isn't the stock market actually subverting the (alleged) free-market spirit of capitalism? It's far from the only contradiction in the capitalist model that leaves me hopelessly confused.

For instance, back in the goat market, if I’d sold my goat while the bidding was on, I’d have been rich, and the story of breeding her that I’d made up would’ve been irrelevant. And then I could have started the rumour of demand falling, bought back my goat at a lower price than she’d initially been worth, and after a suitable interval got her value to rise all over again with a few words in the right quarters, and started the cycle over again, making profits without doing anything at all except flap my jaw. Am I right?

Somehow, this goat model of business no longer seems all that absurd to me!