Saturday 8 October 2011

The Function of Banks

Recently, on another website, I was in an argument with a certain ultra-right wing person about the functions of banks, and why the people occupying Wall Street were right to do so.

For the person I was talking to, things couldn't have been clearer. The banks were completely and absolutely in the right. They were right to foreclose on loans and put people on the streets.


"The business of banks is to make money...Duhhh" is what this person said.

Really? I thought the business of banks was to provide a series of services, including safekeeping of one's earnings and provision of finance at reasonable terms so one doesn't, you know, have to borrow from the local mafia boss or moneylender. For those with some knowledge of Shakespeare, do you remember what happened in The Merchant of Venice?

"The Jewish Moneylender" (Auguste Charpentier)

I think it's fairly obvious that commerce depends on financing. If everyone had to save up all the capital necessary to start a venture, precious little business would be done, either on the production or consuming end. I couldn't, for example, have started my dental clinic without a bank loan.

It's when the bank itself starts acting like a mafia boss or moneylender that problems start. That's why regulatory bodies exist, to keep them on the straight and narrow.

But what happens when the regulatory bodies, and the government which controls them, start acting like a mafia boss or moneylender?

I think the people occupying Wall Street, the people who have lost their jobs and homes and cars, who find themselves without a future, those people know the answer.

I'm not too sure about the defenders of the usurious banking system, though.

Inside a Black Hole

I’ve got a question in my mind today that just won’t go away, and this is it:

What is it like inside a black hole?

With apologies to those for whom this is old hat, for those of you who aren’t really into astrophysics, a black hole is an astronomical body which results when a super-massive star (more than three times the mass of our sun) collapses on itself (the reasons for this collapse aren’t relevant to this particular discussion). Since every object in the Universe possessing mass attracts every other object with a constant force (called “gravity”) which increases four times with each halving of the distance between them (the Inverse Square Law, which you might remember from school physics), as the star collapses on itself, the gravity attracting its component parts to each other increases to the square of the amount by which the star shrinks.

For illustration, imagine a ball made of foam rubber, and squeeze it on all sides so that it is crushed on itself. Now imagine that the force that is crushing it isn’t your hand from outside, but an attraction from inside – an attraction which increases steadily the more the ball is crushed. What happens to the ball at the end?

Since the attraction increases steadily, if it keeps increasing, the ball will ultimately collapse to the point where it can collapse no more, until all the spaces in the foam rubber have vanished and the thing is no longer compressible. Yet, the force keeps increasing. Now what?

Well, if you have a large enough star, instead of a foam rubber ball, it will collapse until it no longer exists in the visible universe – it will collapse into a point smaller than the full stop at the end of this sentence – yet  it still possesses the entire mass of the original super-massive star. Under those conditions, its density will be so great as to approach infinity, and its gravitational field will be rather large.

How large?

This is where it gets interesting. Gravity is an attractive force, so in order to get away from it you need to move faster than it attracts you. That’s why you need a rocket to go into space, and can’t just fly into orbit on an Airbus. Think of climbing out of a well, and you have the idea. That’s what they call it, actually, the gravity well.

The gravity well

Well, the gravity well of a black hole is so deep that not even light can climb out of it. According to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, light is the ultimate limiting factor in the Universe. Nothing – and that means nothing – can move faster than light, whose speed is 300,000 kilometres per second. The speed necessary to climb out of any given gravity well is known as that gravity well's escape velocity, and the escape velocity of a black hole is greater than the speed of light.

In fact, that’s why they call it a black hole.

This, then, is what a black hole consists of: a point of infinite density, known as the singularity, at which the laws of physics might break down; and this is which is surrounded by a region of gravity so intense that light can’t escape from it. This region is known as the event horizon, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

Singularity and Event Horizon

Obviously, if not even light can get out of a black hole’s gravity well, nothing else can, either. Therefore, nothing that happens inside the gravity well of a black hole can be detected from outside. No information can leave the gravity well of a black hole, and this is why the event horizon gets its name. We can’t know of any events that happen inside it.

Proceeding along this same line of thought, if anything falls into the black hole, it for all purposes vanishes from the known (and knowable) universe. Once it’s inside the event horizon, not only can it never leave, but no information about it can ever leave, either. It’s the only real, permanent, and indisputable disappearing trick.

Now, the gravity around a black hole is so intense that it sucks in everything, from gas particles to material objects, which approaches close. Take a look at this picture, for example, where the black hole sucks in a stream of hot material from another star, forming an accretion disc:

Hollywood movies apart, no astronaut would be advised to try and dive into a black hole. Let’s suppose someone fell into one feet-first. As this intrepid (and suicidal) adventurer fell, the gravity around his feet would be many times greater than the gravity at his head, because his feet are closer to the black hole and the distance between them and his head would mean that the gravity affecting his feet is greater by the square of his height (the Inverse Square Law, again). This is true of all gravity, but most gravitational fields are so weak that it doesn’t matter. However, since the gravity well of a black hole is so strong, the difference in pull along the length of his body would stretch him out like a piece of chewing gum; as he fell into the event horizon, he’d be drawn into something resembling a thread, hundreds of kilometres long.

(I’ll digress a moment to acknowledge that there’s something else predicted by the General Theory of Relativity, and proved in experiments; time moves slower the faster one travels, until it comes to a full stop at the speed of light. Yes, I know that; but for the purpose of this article, where I’m admittedly presenting a simplistic view of a black hole, that’s not relevant.)

Even if our adventurer somehow survived his trip into the black hole, nothing he saw or did there could ever become known to us outside, so we can never actually be cognisant of the conditions inside the event horizon. There might be anything there – including planets, complete with advanced civilisations, according to at least one physicist [source] – but we wouldn’t know.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say you and I managed to survive a trip to the inside of an event horizon. It’s not important that we couldn’t let anyone remaining outside know of what we saw and did, whether we kept spinning round the singularity in some complex orbit or fell into it and were instantly consumed. As long as we remained alive and functioning, what would we see?

This is precisely the question that is haunting me today, and will not go away.

I have a speculation, which I admit is unsupported so far as I am aware by mathematics and physics, and therefore is very likely wrong. But hear me out on it for the moment.

As I said, everything – be it light, radiation, or matter – that enters a black hole stays inside. It can never escape so long as the black hole lasts. Now, light or radiation never disappears, no matter how much time has passed since it was created. If it’s not absorbed, it only gets dissipated by a square of the distance it travels, again according to the Inverse Square Law. That’s why we can still detect the background radiation left over from the Big Bang which created the Universe.

But within the black hole, the light and radiation could go nowhere. It could only bounce back and forth, endlessly, inside the bubble of the event horizon, without dissipating. And as the black hole accumulated more and more radiation and light, the interior would necessarily get brighter and brighter. As long as the black hole lasted, therefore, the interior would keep gathering energy, which it could not lose. (It's perfectly possible that this accumulated energy would cause the black hole to ultimately fall apart, but again that's not relevant to this discussion.)

Therefore, this is what I think the inside of a black hole would be like – a region of intense light, terrific radiation levels, and considerable heat. Quite like a furnace, in fact, with elements of  nuclear reactor as well.

Come to think of it, that’s not too far away from the traditional Judaeo-Christian vision of Hell, is it?

Now tell me what you think.

Friday 7 October 2011

Ten Years of Operation Endless War

Dear commemorators of the tenth anniversary of the 11 September attacks:

Just under a month ago, you were all marking the tenth anniversary of The Day the World Changed Forever. That’s fine – events that mark history ought to be commemorated, though not, to coin a word, fetishised.

But what about the next significant ten-year anniversary?

The seventh of October, 2011, marks the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, and the start of Operation Endless War – a project which so far has completely destroyed Afghanistan (a nation whose people were not guilty of the events of The Day the World Changed Forever, 92% of whom had never even heard of it, and who are paying in blood to this moment) and even more so Iraq, a nation which not only had nothing to do with The Day the World Changed Forever but was actively opposed to the organisation accused (but never proved) of having caused it.

It is a project which has devastated other nations, from Somalia to Yemen to Libya to Pakistan, beyond recovery – nations whose people never had anything whatsoever to do with the episode, and were mostly shocked and horrified by it. It’s a project that threatens to consume other nations, including Iran and Syria, and undoubtedly would have if not for certain people, of whom more in a moment.

It marks the start of secret prisons, torture of prisoners, imprisonment without judicial process, military tribunals, and the like, which we used to read in Reader’s Digest Cold War propaganda was the prerogative and hallmark of the Evil Communist Threat.

It marks the start of the Empire abandoning all pretence of not being an Empire, and of declaring that it “creates its own reality” and that the rest of us are those of the “reality based community” who will be left to study what the creators of reality do.

It also marks the start of the Empire’s open war against its own people, beginning with fear-mongering, restriction of liberties, domestic spying, and the enslavement of the population to the military-industrial-financial complex, and now having reached the point of murder of the Empire’s own citizens without even some pretence of judicial review, all in the name of “fighting terror”.

It’s a delicious irony, not lost on those of us who think of such things, that ten years after the start of Operation Endless War, the Empire’s people have launched a civil disobedience movement in order to wrest their nation back from the clutches of the military-industrial-financial complex. It’s another irony not lost on us that Operation Endless War, which was to have made the globe the Empire’s private playground, has brought the Imperial project stumbling to its knees.

A month ago, those of you who commemorated The Day the World Changed Forever spoke eloquently of its heroes, the policemen, firemen, and disaster relief workers who gave all they could, including their lives, to rescue the people trapped in the buildings allegedly destroyed by freedom-hating terrorists. Ten years after the fact, I wonder how many of those heroes are proud of the fact that their sacrifices were made an excuse to launch an endless war against the world?

Ten years after the start of Operation Endless War, I would like to invite you all to join me in a few things:

First, let us mourn the people killed, wounded, and forced out of their homes in the course of that operation, and who continue to die, be mangled, and displaced every day – the Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis and others; people who are still reviled regularly with racist epithets like “ragheads” or “diaper heads”, and who never find a mention in the official Western representation of those events because that would draw attention away from the wars as an American Tragedy.

(If I may digress a moment: we still see the same thing with Vietnam and modern memory, if you want to think a moment about that. And in a decade or two, after Operation Endless War has ended in defeat, Hollywood will be making films in which clean-cut, idealistic young soldiers fight a faceless, robotic enemy whose only purpose is to die for the camera, and trying to prove how the Empire actually won the war after all.)

Then, let us pause a moment to acknowledge the dead and mangled of the Empire and its vassals, young men and a few women who gave their lives and bodies for a lie. Many of them woke to the realisation that the project they were embarked on was evil, but too late.

Third, let us mark the real heroes and heroines of Operation Endless War – not those who have won medals for firing missiles at weddings from drones piloted from bunkers situated on the other side of the globe, or those who have been granted the Nobel Peace Prize while piling war on more war, but the real heroes and heroines:

1.     Foremost must come the ordinary Iraqi or Taliban resistance fighter – the anonymous “raghead”. Poorly trained, equipped with the most basic of equipment, with no organised command structure or leadership, he fought the best-armed military in history to a standstill. Whether or not one agrees with his ideology, and while readily admitting that he has made his share of mistakes and committed his share of violent crimes, there’s no denying that. But for him, today the pipelines would be running through an Afghanistan run by brutal but reliably subservient warlords, and Iraq’s wells would be pumping out oil to fund the Empire’s Crusade Against The World. It’s primarily because of him that even more nations, from North Korea to Pakistan to Iran, have not already been invaded and enslaved. It’s primarily because of him that the Empire is now a bankrupt entity, sliding towards implosion and collapse. 

“Raghead”, we salute you.

2.      The second line of heroes are the men and women who, from within the military machine of the Empire or its vassals, have exposed the truth, often at the price of their own liberty and sometimes of their lives. They are the Julian Assanges, the Bradley Mannings, and other, lesser known people who have had the conscience and the courage to expose the truth behind the lies and propaganda of the Global War Of Terror.

Bradley Manning, wherever you are being held, and whatever you are being put through, we salute you, and those like you. In future it will be even more difficult for the likes of you, since the Emperor has now declared  that he can assassinate his own subjects without benefit of trial. But you will prevail in the end.

3.     The third line of heroes are the anti-war protestors. I have a special place in my heart for them, for a very personal reason. Back in 2003 through 2005, just after the invasion of Iraq, I went through a phase (along with much of the world) where I openly said, and believed, that “the only good American is a dead American”. It was the anti-war protestors who, although reviled as traitors and worse, never gave up the fight, who persuaded me that the people of the Empire couldn’t be blamed en masse for their government’s policies any more than the people of this country can be blamed for our government’s policies. 

Anti-war protestors, we salute you.

Today, Operation Endless War, though ten years old, is far from over. It will continue until the Empire implodes and consumes itself. We’ll still probably see it going on in some form, ten years from now, somewhere in the world. It will not end tomorrow.

But it will end someday.

Further reading:

Thursday 6 October 2011

One Good Turn

From here he could see all the way past the cabin down to the church in the valley. Once, he had wondered what it would be like to be able to wander these mountains without a care in the world; and now at last he was up here, and wondering when the manhunt would begin.

Somewhere down in the valley, a dog barked. He could see it now, so far off it was but a tiny dot, but the morning air was so still that he could hear it clearly. He wondered if it was the dog he’d seen so often out by her house – the big black and white creature which would greet him with a canine grin and then rear up to plonk its forepaws on his shoulders and lick his face.

But that was absurd. Her house was far off, at the bottom of the valley, too far off to see from here. This was why he’d come up this way, rather than flee down towards the towns of the plains, the way they’d expect him to go. With a little luck they’d never look for him up in the mountains.

Even now, he still felt the shock of finding her dead, and like that. He’d hated her, of course, to the extent of literally praying for her death, but he’d never expected her to die – and still less to be killed in that peculiarly grisly fashion.

Stunned, he’d stared down at her corpse, and then, automatically, he’d crouched on the floor and touched her. Her eyes were still open, her face still beautiful, the lips parted slightly to reveal her flawless white teeth. It was only below the neck that the perfect body she’d been so proud of had been damaged.

So he had crouched by her, and touched her face, her eyelids, her hair. She hadn’t even been cold yet, and her blood was sticky on the floor. He had suddenly grown aware of what he was doing when he’s discovered that he’d left fingerprints in blood on her forehead and her cheek.

He’d panicked then. Thinking back, after a gap of several hours, it was easy to realise what he should have done – call the police and explain everything – and though they might doubt his story, they couldn’t prove a thing. And after all he’d been innocent. But he’d made no secret of his hate for her, she’d obviously been very recently killed, and his bloody fingerprints were all over her face – and he’d panicked.

Well, it was already too late for regrets.

For the first time since he’d run from her house, not pausing even to close the front door behind him, he wondered what he’d do for food and shelter. It was still late summer and the nights were fairly warm, but he had only a thin shirt and corduroy trousers, and he hadn’t eaten since the previous afternoon. Also, as a townsman born and bred, he hadn’t the faintest idea how to survive alone in the forest.

And who knew how long he would have to hide? Until they caught the real culprit? But why should they even try looking for one, when he’d left such clear signs of his own presence, and underlined his guilt by running off? And then there were the phone records, as well.

She’d wanted to meet him, she’d said, when she’d called the previous evening. She was afraid. Of what, she wouldn’t say, but she’d wanted him to be with her. And, like a fool, of course he’d come.

God, he’d been such a fool!

But hadn’t he been a fool all along? A fool to take up with her in the first place, enthralled by her beauty, as perfect as that of a photographic model, something she had been in her younger days? A fool, when she’d cared to glance his way a moment, to grovel at her feet with love? A fool to stick to her, through the years, to give her all she’d wanted until she’d tired of him and cast him aside? A fool to keep going back and back, even when his mind roiled with hatred for her, humiliating himself for the sake of being with her again?

Yes, he’d been a fool. But that was all he had been guilty of, foolishness. He wasn’t, and never had been, a murderer. Not that that little fact would help him now.

Suddenly he realised that he was wasting time standing here looking down at the town. If they hadn’t found her by now, they soon would. And once they’d begun looking, it was only a matter of time before somebody found the bicycle. Then they’d know which way he’d come, and they’d bring on the sniffer dogs, and he couldn’t run far enough or fast enough to get away from them.

There was only one thing he could do, and he steeled himself to the realisation: he’d have to go back down to the town and find her killer for himself.

There was, he thought, only one person it could be – someone who had reason to hate her, as much as he did; someone, moreover, who had no love for him, either, and wouldn’t mind seeing him pay for the crime.

And then what? What if when he’d found the killer, always assuming it was the person he thought it was – would he be able to force a confession? What if the killer only laughed in his face? What would he do then?

He didn’t know. But he would find out. In any case, he didn’t have a choice.

Slowly, he walked back down past the old cabin and to the fallen tree. He’d wedged the bicycle below the trunk, concealing it as best he could under the dead branches, and now he realised just how pitifully inadequate the hiding place had been. Not that it mattered any longer, of course, but it displeased him to realise that he wasn’t successful even at that.

As he wheeled the bicycle down the path to the point where he could mount it again, he drew in a deep breath and looked round at the country. The new sun had just broached the eastern horizon to his back, and the tops of the trees, the upper reaches of the mountains, and even the white church spire down in the valley were painted with gold. A large crow flapped by overhead, and he could almost feel the wind in the bird’s feathers, and feel it thrill in its freedom.

He felt suddenly immensely reluctant to leave all this and go down again into the town – within this short time, he felt as though he’d come home at last here. Once he went back, would he ever come up to the mountains again? Would he be allowed to? What if his only memories of them were from inside the confined space of a prison cell?

But he had to go back down. He had no choice.

The streets were still almost empty when he pedalled down into the town again. It was a Saturday, and most people would still be in their beds at this early hour. A couple of joggers, a late-prowling cat or two, a young woman learning to drive – these were the only signs of life he saw. Even the church was closed, at this hour, and the shadow of its spire lay dark and chill across his path.

The road was all downhill from the church into the town, and it was only half an hour later that he reached the turning that led to her home. He’d expected to find the street full of police already, and had been prepared to move on quickly, but there was nothing. The street lay silent and slumbering in the early morning. Even his friend the big dog wasn’t around.

Cautiously, he pedalled down the street towards her house. The door, which he had left open when he’d left, was still open. The path down to the pavement was as he’d walked up it the previous night, after he’d got her phone call and bicycled up all the way.

He leaned the bicycle against the rose bush which grew in the exact centre of the tiny patch of front garden and walked into the house. The front room was in its usual state of disorder, a women’s magazine open face down on the carpet, the ashes from an incense stick holder spilling over on the table. He couldn’t tell if anything had been disturbed or not.

It was time to stop being a fool.

He waited a moment before going into the bedroom. That’s where it had happened, where he’d found her, and he had to fight down a moment of complete instinctive fear. But if he had to clear himself, he’d have to go in there, and see if he could find what he was looking for – the proof that might help to save him.

Slowly, forcing himself each moment, he pushed his head round the door.

The body was gone. That was the first thing he noticed. The dark patch of congealing blood was still on the floor beside the bed, where she’d been lying, but the body was gone.

For a moment he reeled with shock, wondering if he’d been mistaken, if she’d been alive after all, just desperately wounded, and if she’d got up afterwards and gone to the hospital. Or perhaps it had been a joke – she’d only pretended to be dead to scare him. But even as he thought this, he knew it wasn’t true. He could see her still sprawled naked on the floor with her chest hacked apart. Nobody could have survived that.

But then where was the body? If the police had taken her to the morgue, why weren’t they here now?

The noise of the car engine turning on behind the house galvanised him into motion. He ran back out and into the path, just in time to reach in through the window and twist the steering wheel over to the right, hard. The car slammed into the side of the house and the engine quit.

The girl behind the wheel looked up at him, her eyes brilliant with hate. “What did you do that for?”

“Get out,” he said quietly. “I won’t ask you again.”

“And if I don’t?” But she got out, on the other side, the car between him and her. “What do you think you’re doing?”

He answered her with a question of his own. “Where did you put her?”

“Put whom?” Her eyes were wary now, calculating her chances of running past him. “I don’t know whom you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do. Your sister. You killed her last night.”

“You’re crazy. I didn’t touch her. I wasn’t even here.” But her eyes went instinctively towards the back of the car, and he knew what he’d find in the boot.

“What were you planning on doing with her?” he asked. “Drop her at my place?” He paused a second. “That was it, wasn’t it? You thought you’d drop her body at my home so the police couldn’t have any doubt at all who’d killed her.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She was getting ready to run, the muscles tightening under her thin T shirt. He moved to the front of the car quickly, to cut her off. “Let me go,” she said, and tried to push past.

“Not so fast,” he said, almost pleasantly. “Just tell me this – why did you wait so long before taking her to my place? Were you scared off? That’s it, right? You’d just killed her and were maybe in the bathroom, washing off the blood, and I turned up. You heard me – you didn’t know who I was – so you maybe thought it was someone who’d call the police. You probably ran off, and only worked up the courage to come back this morning.”

“Well, prove it, that’s what I say. Prove any of it.”

He stared at her a moment. “Let’s go inside,” he said at last, “and talk it over.

“She phoned me, you know,” he said when they were inside. “She was scared, but didn’t tell me of what. Did you talk to her yesterday? Threaten to kill her, perhaps?”

“I didn’t talk to her at all.”

“I think you did. The police should be able to prove it, too, if they check your phone records. And they will, once they become suspicious of you.

“It won’t be that difficult, you know. After all, it could only be you or I who’d killed her. If you’d left her there, they’d have suspected me – you didn’t know, of course, that I’d come and run away. But once you decided to move the body, you pretty much cooked your own goose.”

“How do you mean?” She was watching him like a mongoose watching a snake. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Oh, please. She’ll be stiff by now. By the time you get her to my place, she’ll be pretty much impossible to get out of the car boot without leaving marks on her. And then when you put her there, the police will know for sure that she was left there, won’t they?”

She swallowed, her eyes darting away towards the bedroom door and back again.

Suddenly unable to sit any longer, he began pacing around the room. “Why did you kill her, exactly?”

“What do you care?” Her voice was filled with bitterness. “You thought she was a plaster goddess. She could do no wrong, could she? I’ve seen how you looked at her, full of devotion. You don’t have the faintest idea what she was like.”

“Actually,” he said, “I do. Believe it or not, she was as cruel to me as she was to you. I hated her, even though I couldn’t let go of her – and she knew it too, because it amused her to keep me on a chain. So, did you come here to kill her?”

“No. I came here to ask her for some money. She knew I needed it very badly, to pay my rent, but she laughed at me and told me to sell my wares, you know, to get it. So I lost my temper. I shouted at her and told her I’d come and get it out of her if I had to choke her. But when I came here, she still wasn’t going to give it to me. When I got a little insistent – she took out a knife and began waving it in my face. I thought she was going to slash me.”

“And, being bigger and stronger, you took it from her and let your temper take over.”

“As you say. And you know the rest.”

There was a moment of silence, while they looked at each other.

“So what do you intend to do?” she asked. “Turn me in?”

“I was thinking of it, but no.” He turned at the bedroom door and looked at her. “We’re going to have to move fast,” he said. “We’ll clean up the bedroom first, and then drive up to the hills. There’s a place I know – near an old abandoned cabin, practically falling to pieces – where we can bury her. And then we can swear we don’t know where she is. By the time they find her, the police won’t be able to prove a thing.”

“Why?” she asked. “You know I tried to pin it on you, so why are you going out of your way to make it easy on me?”

He looked at her a long moment before walking into the bedroom.

“Because you set me free,” he said.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

Monday 3 October 2011

The Congress Cookie Crumbles

This is the autumn of their discontent.

I haven’t written on Indian politics for a while, so I suppose some of you may have imagined that nothing was happening worth commenting on.

Well, you were wrong.

One of the biggest problems I have in writing on Indian politics is that I have to lay out the groundwork on each article, explain the background, etc. This is tiresome and of necessity somewhat sketchy, and often seems to me to be not worth the trouble. As an analogy, imagine if those of you who are exercised over the Occupy Wall Street movement had to first write an explanation of the history of how the neocons and the speculators and bankers conspired to ruin the economy over the last dozen years, and how the Obama gang has compounded their sins – each and every time. Suddenly, writing your political articles doesn’t seem all that attractive any more, does it?

Anyway, to get to the point: the Indian political situation is getting rather...interesting. You know the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” That kind of interesting.

For those who came in late or don’t have any knowledge of India, here’s a recap; I will not keep repeating this information, so (as a certain French Resistance heroine said in the British comedy series ‘Allo ‘Allo), “Listen very carefully – I shall say this only once.”

The background:

India is currently ruled by an allegedly centrist alliance (in reality, a conglomeration of right wing family owned parties with nothing in common but the hunger for power and the money that comes with it) called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The chief among these parties is the Congress party, which is a family-owned firm where the only way to get ahead is to brown-nose the owner and her children. This owner is an Italian-born woman named Sonia Gandhi, who rules the party, and hence the alliance, and therefore the country, as an absolute queen and dictator. 

Sonia Gandhi

This is nothing new in the Congress – except for a very brief period in the early 1990s, it has always been a fief under the absolute ownership and control of the Gandhi dynasty. Sonia Gandhi’s children, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and especially her son Rahul Gandhi, are also extremely influential in the party, and hence the nation (for instance, Priyanka Vadra’s husband Robert has abruptly and mysteriously become one of India’s richest men within the last few years).

It’s common knowledge that Rahul Gandhi is being groomed to be the Prime Minister of the country, as the Crown Prince and Heir Apparent. However, at the age of 41, he is not ready (and for reasons to be mentioned in a moment, it’s likely that he never will be ready). In order to keep the chair warm for him, a nonentity called Manmohan Singh (a former bureaucrat who has never won so much as a municipal election in his life) was foisted on the nation as “prime minister” back in 2004 when the UPA won an election, displacing their Hindunazi predecessors. 

Manmohan Singh

This Manmohan Singh was chosen for the following reasons:

1.     He has absolutely no political base, and is completely unelectable. Therefore he can never be a threat to the Gandhi dynasty. The dynasty does not tolerate any competing power centre in the party, because that would threaten its hold as absolute proprietor.

2.     As an allegedly “eminent economist” and right wing ideologue, who kept bleating the word "growth" as a defence against any and all criticism, he was acceptable to the capitalist robber barons who assert their absolute right to loot and pillage to their heart’s content. 

3.     He was extremely acceptable to the Americans, to whom he has surrendered whatever still passed as a foreign policy. Among other things, he (who has never won an election in his life) informed the war criminal George W Bush that the people of India “loved” him; he went out of his way to sabotage relations with our old friend Iran, and has virtually handed over our nuclear policy to American control.

4.     He was, and is, a tool of the International Monetary Fund, which had back in the early nineties specifically demanded that he be made finance minister as a precondition for granting loans, and in order to “liberalise” the economy (read, make the poor utterly voiceless and destitute but the rich richer than ever before).

5.     He had a public perception as an “honest” man, a carefully constructed myth which only now is beginning to unravel.

6.     He was a favourite of the Great Indian Muddle Class, for whom nothing mattered as long as it could get its bread and circuses.

This, then, is the creature which has occupied the position of Chair Warmer for the Crown Prince from 2004 to date, and has declared his readiness to abdicate whenever the Heir Apparent wishes to take over. But the chair isn’t getting any warmer, and the Heir Apparent seems to be destined to wait forever.

Before I discuss the reasons for this, it’s vital to remember one thing: in the Congress Party, as in all Indian family-owned parties (which means all but the parties of the Left and most of those on the extreme Hindu right), nothing really matters but absolute fealty to the Queen and her progeny. Ability is suspicious. A political base is a handicap. Sycophancy and obsequious loyalty comprise the only way to get ahead.

The mess:

In the last two years, Manmohan Singh has gone from being an asset to the Congress to being a millstone around the party’s neck. There are many reasons for this, among which the foremost are these:

1.     Corruption. Today, absolutely everything in India is so steeped in corruption that it is virtually part of the national DNA. This is, as even the Congress itself admits, the most corrupt government ever to rule this nation. It is so corrupt that even the Hindunazi government which had preceded it (and whose corruption had seemed mind-boggling at the time) looks like a paragon of virtue. This corruption has risen to proportions which no longer make sense – you can’t really comprehend that many zeroes. One reason (but far from the only one) for this corruption is the fact that the Congress is only one of several partners in a coalition, and in order to keep its partners from jumping ship, it has to let them loot enough to keep them happy. At the same time, it also has to loot enough to keep its own members, and the ruling dynasty, happy. Manmohan Singh has no answer to corruption but to say that his hands are tied by the “compulsion of coalition politics”.

2.     Prices. The effects of “economic liberalisation” are finally coming home to roost. In the last few years, prices have shot upwards like an elevator and show no signs of ever coming down. Food prices alone are increasing at roughly 10% a month, and real incomes are stagnating or falling. The Great Indian Muddle Class is suddenly discovering that it can no longer afford its bread and circuses. And as for the rest of the people, the government has just declared to the Supreme Court that anyone who earns more than 32 rupees a day in the cities – or 26 rupees in the villages – isn’t poor and deserves no help. To put that in perspective, one US dollar equals approximately fifty rupees at this time. Could you survive on fifty cents a day? I’d like to see someone try.

3.     The Hindunazi revival. Less than a couple of years ago, it seemed that the Hindunazis were finished. Now, mainly due to the troubles of the UPA, they are in the ascendant. It’s true that they have their own set of troubles, including savage internal power struggles, and that their rise owes more to the general anti-Congress sentiment than their own dubious merits. But the message is on the wall – they’re the coming power, while the Congress is sliding down the tubes. And since everyone wants to be on the winning side, the capitalist barons are switching teams while they still can, with all their billions in slush funds. After all, it’s no big deal; really, a simple choice between two ultra-right cabals for them.

4.     Rahul Gandhi’s own irrelevance. More and more, it’s becoming clear that the Crown Prince is simply not leadership material. Apart from a few photo ops with poor people, including staged sleepovers in villages, he’s been pretty much invisible as the Congress party self-destructs. The last thing he would be capable of is holding a coalition together; even Manmohan Singh would look like a pillar of strength compared to him.

Rahul Gandhi

Therefore, the Congress is unlikely in the extreme to win power in the next elections, which are due for 2014 unless, as is more than possible, the UPA implodes before then. Even if, by some miracle, the UPA does manage to squeeze out a victory, it will be as another weak and divided coalition. This is the last situation the Crown Prince wants; he will only accept the throne if he can lord it over a government comprising only sycophants from his own party.

As we go into the next stage of this article, remember that.

The 2G scam and repercussions.

Among the best known of the corruption scams the UPA has perpetrated is the so-called 2G affair. It involves the sale of “spectrum” (bandwidth) to mobile phone providers at throwaway rates without the benefit of auction. The prime accused is one A Raja, a former minister in charge of telecommunications, who was most reluctantly dropped from the government by Manmohan Singh, and then jailed. He is, however, a member of an ally of the Congress, the DMK, and not of the party itself.

Now, at the time of the 2G scam, the finance minister was one P Chidambaram, a corporate lawyer with financial interests in mining corporations, whose interests he has always promoted. This Chidambaram is currently the Home Minister, and is in legal trouble over his “victory” in the last election, in which he allegedly won his parliamentary seat by fraudulent means. Despite all this, he is popularly supposed to be the Number Three in the official government, behind the so-called “prime minister” and one other person.

P Chidambaram

This other person is Pranab Mukherjee, the current finance minister and an old Congress warhorse, who has long (since at least 1984) nurtured prime ministerial ambitions of his own. Mukherjee, who is far more acceptable to other parties than Chidambaram is, has never got along with the corporate-lawyer turned politician.

Pranab Mukherjee

It became known that Mukherjee’s ministry had issued a document in which he noted that Chidambaram was aware of the 2G scam but had taken no measures to stop it, though he could have. And this opened a can of worms.

The thing is, so far the (unelected) “prime minister” could hide behind what he called the “compulsions of coalition politics” – most of the people proved to be neck-deep in corruption happened to belong to allied parties, not to the Congress. He could therefore say that in order to hold the coalition together he had to turn a blind eye to their crimes. This isn’t an acceptable excuse, but it still is an excuse. But his hands aren’t tied inside his own party, are they?

Therefore, the choice before him was stark: he had either to dump Chidambaram or bury the scandal. If he dumped Chidambaram, the obvious next question would be, as prime minister, even a fictional one, how could he not have known what was going on? The Opposition would’ve been crying for his head next. And he didn’t have the Gandhi dynasty’s permission to resign.

With no other option, the dynasty forced a “compromise” in which Pranab Mukherjee claimed the words in the document referring to Chidambaram’s culpability weren’t his. This hasn’t really had any effect in calming the tensions in the party, just tamped them down for the moment. The floodgates are creaking.

Make no mistake: this is not a turf war or a battle over corruption. It’s nothing less than a battle for the succession. It’s clear that the unelected, so-called “prime minister” is finished. This is why I recently came across talk of kicking him upstairs to the President’s chair next year. The President’s position is ornamental, and there Manmohan Singh will continue to serve as a loyal servant of the Gandhi dynasty, rubber-stamping whatever he’s ordered to approve. That way, the dynasty can claim that it didn’t dump him. This is very important, because to be perceived as dumping him would be an admission of an error of judgement on the part of the dynasty (which, like the Pope, is infallible) in making him the prime minister in the first place.

To sum up: Nobody in their right minds will vote for an alliance still headed by this so-called “prime minister” when the next general election comes around. The Crown Prince and Heir Apparent is nowhere near ready to assume power, and probably never will be. Therefore, there is a space open for the post of “prime minister”, and there are two egoistical men competing for this space. Mukherjee and Chidambaram both assume that since one or the other of them is the logical choice for the job, they should each finish off the other to secure their own succession.

However, the requirements of the dynasty haven’t changed. The dynasty can’t risk the possibility of someone becoming a possible second centre of power in the family business, so it needs another spineless nonentity for the position, someone who can never be a threat.

Until then, the current so-called leadership will remain, fighting amongst themselves while the (unelected) “prime minister” waits out his days in office and the country goes down the tubes.

And, for tolerating this faux democracy, we deserve all this, too.

Further reading:

Sunday 2 October 2011

Redesigning the currency

Today’s the birth anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi – yes, that Gandhi, the so-called Father of the Nation. Now those of you who have been reading me for a while are aware that I have no great love for Gandhi; I feel he was a political hack whose contribution to India’s independence has been grossly overrated. Be that as it may, he was personally honest – to the extent that, as Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Sarojini Naidu quipped, it “cost a fortune to keep him in poverty.” So nowadays his face is all over Indian currency notes of denomination one hundred rupees and up.

As anyone who’s read me for a while also knows, India’s incredible levels of corruption are another of my trigger topics – corruption involving the transfer of uncounted billions of rupees, all in five hundred or thousand rupee notes with Gandhi’s face on them.

Now, assuming those who claim to venerate Gandhi as the Father of the Nation are being serious about that, the worst possible insult they could offer him is having currency notes stamped with his visage being handed around in illegal transactions. Since there’s, of course, no question of corruption actually ending – the ruling classes can’t have their funding endangered – the only viable solution is to remove Gandhi from the currency note and substitute something else. Something, let us say, more representative of the Indian reality.

Some time ago I suggested – not quite facetiously – a new national animal for India. Something quite in keeping with the mindset of those in power. I think it would be a lovely replacement for MK Gandhi on the currency, and avoid insulting the man as well.

Therefore, let’s hear it for the new currency design, featuring the...housefly

Hustling the East

Now it is not wise for the Christian white
To hustle the Asian brown
For the Christian riles, and the Asian smiles,
And weareth the Christian down.

At the end of the fight lies a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased
And an epitaph drear, "A fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."

                             ~ Rudyard Kipling.

I was thinking not long ago that we Asians must be the only peoples in world history to successfully resist colonialism.

Think about it. When you consider the real Americans – the original peoples of the Americas – where are they? Exterminated or marginalised. When you think of the original Australians, New Zealanders, or Tasmanians, their fate has been about the same. The people of Africa were colonised and – wherever climate allowed – displaced in their turn, turned into slave labour on their own lands, by imperial colonialist masters. There’s a reason why the Zulus have a song called “Kill the Boer”.

In fact, wherever the colonialist foot has trod, the original inhabitants have been pushed into penury or destruction – and replaced by the colonists. Isn’t that so?

Even the colonial powers were no exception. Britain, the undoubted king of all colonial nations, was itself colonised, over and over, by Romans, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Normans, and assorted bands of Danes and other Vikings; they came, they took over, and they stayed.  France, the Number Two of colonial regimes, was itself under the Romans, and successive invasions by barbarian hordes from the East. Today’s prime coloniser was itself the product of a colonial enterprise, and had to fight a bloody liberation war to free itself – though the people in power remained the same, and the original inhabitants continued to languish in reservations.

There’s only one continent which has bucked this trend – Asia.

Yes, Asia has been colonised; over and over and over. But where are the colonists now? Where are the farms owned by foreign settlers, with the natives reduced to slave labourers? Where are the reservations, the exterminated peoples remembered only by their names? Where are the colonialist elites with their faux European cities?

Gone with the wind, that’s what.

The only colony that is still hanging on in Asia is the Zionazi pseudostate, which depends on its survival entirely on handouts from the Evil Empire. It dares not even speak of its Asian situation, in fact, and pretends to be part of Europe; a Europe which had rejected its people and put them in concentration camps, don’t forget. And the pseudostate, like other imperial colonial enterprises in Asia, is doomed. It’s doomed because we Asians endure. We endure, we don’t give up, and in the fullness of time, we win.

I don’t know if I’m right in speculating that in part this may be because culturally Asians tend to think in immense time periods. The Judaeo-Christian tradition of a six-thousand year-old earth would be beneath the notice of most Asian cultures, which tend to think of cycles of creation lasting many billions of years. Instant gratification and short-term advantage has been crudely applied on top, but you can’t get away from five thousand years of cultural conditioning. A culture that thinks in terms of thousands of years has a very different understanding of victory and defeat from a culture that thinks in terms of, at the most, decades.

If there is one exemplar of the Asian resistance, as seen through modern Western consciousness, it is the small man in baggy black pyjamas, sandals and a carbine slung over his shoulder – the anonymous Viet Cong guerrilla who, along with his Viet Minh predecessor, outfought and outlasted two brutal imperialist occupations. 

But I have another candidate, and one with a much longer history – a bearded and turbaned insurgent, who has outlasted conquerors from Alexander of Macedon to the British Raj, the USSR and now has fought the ultimate enemy –the Evil Empire – to a standstill. If there is an ultimate warrior through the ages, one who has consistently outlasted, worn down and defeated more powerful enemies, it is he.

Kipling said it again, in another of his inimitable poems (Arithmetic On The Frontier):

A scrimmage in a Border Station --

A canter down some dark defile --

Two thousand pounds of education

Drops to a ten-rupee jezail

(A jezail was an Afghan musket, much more accurate than the nineteenth-century British Brown Bess musket it faced. You know, like in the Retreat from Kabul.)

Oh, yes, Afghanistan. Don't tell me you didn't realise that was coming.

The Taliban may, in some ways, be despicable. In fact they are despicable. But they are Asians. They have a capacity to endure the unendurable, and outlast whatever the enemy throws at them. As Vo Nguyen Giap – the Vietnamese conqueror of Dien Bien Phu – once said, if the fight wasn’t won in ten years, it would go on for twenty; if not won in twenty, for fifty, a hundred years – but it would go on.

I’m not writing this as a bragging point, or as a warning, just as a matter of fact – the Imperium can beat us Asians, once, twice, a hundred times. But it can’t conquer us. We will outlast it, and wear it down.

And, in the end, in the final fight, the one that really matters, we shall win.