Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Key to Sussex?

Two royals seeing eye to eye

by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

Shortly after news  of Pataudi's death, a friend of mine sent me the following one-line email:

Who was the other cricketer with one eye?........Ranjitsinhji.

I thought this didn't make any sense. I had read somewhere long ago how Ranji's cousin Duleepsinhji, on first going to England, was told by some doctor that he had a problem with his eyesight.  His house master dismissed any such notion saying that no relative of Ranji could possibly have anything wrong with his eyes.  Besides, I reasoned, it's one of those things you expect would be common knowledge if true.

Ranjit Singh
Then it occurred to me my friend might be joking.  He was talking, no doubt, about Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who did indeed have only one eye!  One of the Yehudi-Menuhin-is-a-violinist. Mahatma-Gandhi-is-a...non-violinist  variety, it seemed.

After dashing off a clever note to my friend saying I wasn't aware that Maharaja Ranjit Singh played cricket, something impelled me to read up on Ranji just to be sure. On Wikipedia at first glance, there was lots about his time in England, his cricket of course, and his disputes over the title to his principality of Nawanagar.  There was no prominent mention of any business of making do with one eye, etc.

As I read through the Wikipedia page, though, I found the following passage deep in its bowels:

"When the First World War began in August 1914, Ranjitsinhji declared that the resources of his state were available to Britain, including a house that he owned at Staines which was converted into a hospital. In November 1914, he left to serve at the Western Front, leaving Berthon as administrator.[note 9][209]  Ranjitsinhji was made an honorary major in the British Army, but as any serving Indian princes were not allowed near the fighting by the British because of the risk involved, he did not see active service. Ranjitsinhji went to France but the cold weather badly affected his health and he returned to England several times.[210] On 31 August 1915, he took part in a grouse shooting party on the Yorkshire Moors near Langdale End. While on foot, he was accidentally shot in the right eye by another member of the party. After travelling to Leeds via the railway at Scarborough, a specialist removed the badly damaged eye on 2 August."

Don't ask me how an eye damaged on 31 August needed removing on 2 August. I'm merely quoting Wikipedia verbatim.

This was long after his prime cricketing years. He had played his last test match in 1908, and seems to have last played serious county cricket in 1912. He played for Sussex, even captaining it briefly (as did Pataudi).

For all that it is my friend who will have the last laugh. Wikipedia again:

"Ranjitsinhji's last first-class cricket came in 1920; having lost an eye in a hunting accident, he played only three matches and found he could not focus on the ball properly. Possibly prompted by embarrassment at his performance, he later claimed his sole motivation for returning was to write a book about batting with one eye; such a book was never published.[166]"

Was there any famous cricketer (other than Pataudi) from India who played with a visual handicap? Well, you can bet your right eye on it.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living in the USA. He can be reached at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who controls your food supply?

The Food Bandits
"The number of hungry people has soared to nearly 1 billion, despite strong global harvests...Just four companies control at least three-quarters of international grain trade; and in the United States, by 2000, just ten corporations—with boards totaling only 138 people—had come to account for half of US food and beverage sales. Conditions for American farmworkers remain so horrific that seven Florida growers have been convicted of slavery involving more than 1,000 workers. Life expectancy of US farmworkers is forty-nine years."
Read full article... 

Nation Magazine's upcoming Oct 3 issue carries an anchor piece by Francis Lappe Moore (author of Diet for a Small Planet), along with replies by well-known experts on the topic of food security: Raj Patel, Vandana Shiva, Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan.

That this is a vital issue of both individual liberty and national sovereignty is without question. That it is discussed so little is a reflection on our myopia.

Raj Patel in his piece Why hunger is still with us says,
"[W]e’re growing more crops than ever before not for direct human consumption, or even animal feed, but as biofuels, to keep cars on the road. Already, more than a tenth of the world’s total coarse grain output is used for fuel, and the OECD predicts that within a decade a third of all sugar cane grown on earth will be used not for sweetening but for combustion."
  Eric Schlosser places the problem in larger context,
"The corporate monopolies and monopsonies, the contempt for labor unions, the capture of federal agencies, the corruption of elected officials, the lies routinely told to consumers, the disregard for the environment and for public health—none of these things are unique to the food industry. You will find them in the oil, chemical, media and financial industries, among many others. They have become commonplace in the US economy. They are signs of a much larger problem, of a society where a handful of corporations choose the lawmakers, dictate the laws, control production and distribution, widen the gulf between rich and poor."
And increasingly, one might add, none of these things are unique to the United States either. As Vandana Shiva says of the situation in India,
"But the biggest threat we face is the control of seed and food moving out of the hands of farmers and communities and into a few corporate hands. Monopoly control of cottonseed and the introduction of genetically engineered Bt cotton has already given rise to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India. A quarter-million farmers have taken their lives because of debt induced by the high costs of nonrenewable seed, which spins billions of dollars of royalty for firms like Monsanto."
Far more significant than who wins in 2012, don't you think?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From Market Snodsbury to Madison Square Garden?

Jeeves takes Charge Revenge
(with apologies to PG Wodehouse)

by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

The usual Jeeves story is as follows: Bertie gets in hot water, goes bleating to Jeeves, who brings to bear his infinite sagacity to rescue his master. While doing so, he also extracts a victory of sorts -- making Bertie give up something -- now a jacket, now a tie, another time his moustache! The story ends with a restored Bertie Wooster calling for a restorative brandy and soda, only to find the effects already at his elbow. Jeeves is perfect.

Unsuitable romantic dalliances are one thing, calling for no more than minor strictures as above, but a permanent change in the status-quo is a different matter altogether. In such instances, Jeeves can be ruthless, as when Wooster contemplates having his sister and her three daughters move in with him ("it will be nice to hear the pitter-patter of little feet about the place, Jeeves", or words to that effect). Jeeves realizes that immediate and salutary measures are called for. In an unforgettable episode (the only one written in Jeeves' hand rather than Wooster's), he puts Bertie before an audience of schoolgirls, from which Wooster emerges a chastened man, cured of his illusions about how charming the young ladies are.

Something similar occurred last month, when Sen. Bertie Wooster (D-IL) was asked about a ripe idea (assumed, naturally, to have emanated from Jeeves). Instead of paying tribute to the great man ("from the collar upward, he stands alone" would have been mot juste), he instead chose to take the tack of I was reluctantly compelled to hand the misguided blighter the mitten...

Addressing the girls school in Philadelphia shortly thereafter, he sought to exercise the full force of his own personality, freely throwing all and sundry under the bus as he did so -- from public figures to private individuals -- most notably his own grandmother -- no wonder he was described later by Jeeves as merely doing what politicians do. But in his defense, we must add that here Bertie was only following the ancient Wodehousian dictum, drilled into every Drones Club alum: stick to stout denial.

Jeeves, meanwhile, bided his time, making no comment. As the expression goes, he watched Bertie's future progress with considerable interest, shaking his head many times over the next few weeks, with an avuncular sadness, as he watched the young master's discomfiture -- whether it was letting his hair down in San Francisco CA, bowling in Altoona, PA, or blowing it in the debate a couple of days before the big primary. A lesser gentleman's gentleman would have said that nature had scored the equalizer, and proceeded to tear out those eleven pages from the book at the Junior Ganymede.

But as Bertie Wooster has said often, Jeeves stands alone (in this instance quite literally, and that was one huge grievance right there).

He waited his moment, and when he was ready, he burst Gussie Fink Nottle.

Now there are two unforgettable speeches in the Wodehouse canon. One, mentioned above, is Bertie Wooster addressing the Girls' School. The second is Gussie Fink Nottle's speech to the Market Snodsbury Grammar School. Fink Nottle, the shy and reclusive friend of Wooster's (and student of newts -- your joke here) is fully drunk (Wooster and Jeeves, unbeknownst to each other, have both spiked his drink, with the common objective of getting him over his fear of audiences) as he plows ahead with his speech, inebriation having vanquished inhibition:
[A snippet of Bertie Wooster's description of the speech]
"G. G. Simmons was an unpleasant perky-looking stripling, mostly front teeth and spectacles... Gussie, I was sorry to see, didn't like him. 'So you've won the Scripture-knowledge prize, have you?'

'Sir, yes, sir.'

'Yes,' said Gussie, 'you look just the sort of little tick who would. And yet,' he said, pausing and eyeing the child keenly, 'how are we to know that this has all been open and above board? Let me test you, G. G. Simmons. Who was What's-His-Name - the chap who begat Thingummy? Can you answer me that, Simmons?'

'Sir, no, sir.'

Gussie turned to the bearded bloke. 'Fishy,' he said. 'Very fishy. This boy appears to be totally lacking in Scripture knowledge.'"

[Bertie leaves around this point, embarrassed as Gussie spots him and discloses to the audience that Bertie Wooster, the pessimist, had said that if he spoke, his pants would split in the back. Later on, Jeeves fills him in...]

"...he proceeded to deliver a violent verbal attack upon the young gentleman, asserting that it was impossible for him to have won the Scripture-knowledge prize without systematic cheating on an impressive scale. He went so far as to suggest that Master Simmons was well known to the police.
'Golly, Jeeves!'

Yes, sir. The words did create a considerable sensation. The reaction of those present to this accusation I should describe as mixed. The young students appeared pleased and applauded vigorously, but Master Simmons's mother rose from her seat and addressed Mr Fink-Nottle in terms of strong protest.

'Did Gussie seem taken aback? Did he recede from his position?'

No, sir. He said he could see it all now; and hinted at a guilty liaison between Master Simmons's mother and the head master, accusing the latter of having cooked the marks, as his expression was, in order to gain favour with the former.

'You don't mean that?'

Yes, sir.

'Egad, Jeeves! And then -'

They sang the national anthem, sir."
Jeeves, in Gussie Fink Nottle's costume (Fink Nottle once was arrested dressed as Mephistopheles) is now embarked upon a veritable spree of Market Snodsburys, giving the original a run for its money. Starting with the NAACP convention, where he showed off his mimicry, sang, danced and conducted a mock orchestra, he went on to a packed house at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

As the show hits the road, Bertie squirms, helpless. But as he has himself often noted, pity the poor fish that would match its wits against Jeeves.

Copyright (c) Niranjan Ramakrishnan, 2008.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The 29 Who Stood Up

Here are the 29 Senators who voted against the FISA Extension Bill (which would grant retroactive both to the administration and the phone companies who spied on the American people, without a warrant, breaking the law as it existed at the time). Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were both absent for the vote.

Akaka (D-HI)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murray (D-WA)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Wyden (D-OR)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Neoliberal and Neoconservative

In an article published in Commondreams, George Monbiot writes about the rise and meaning of neoliberalism. While the term is is heard frequently, few people know what it means. According to Monbiot, it means the maximum freedom to corporations, and the withdrawal of the state from everything except defense of private property and the nation's perimeter.

If that is neoliberalism, what is neoconservatism? One may suppose it is the similar, defiant, twist of an old label to a new and opposite one, rather like Leon Trotsky being an adopted name, that of Trotsky's (whose real name was Lev Bronstein, I think) jailer.

Neoconservatism is the revision of all things conservative, the active intervention of the state to promote a political agenda. From muscular use to suborning of the state is usually an inevitable journey, and its tale in 21st century America is captured by two fine articles, also in Commondreams; one by Ted Rall, the cartoonist, "We are all Gonzaleses now", and the other by Paul Campos (Gonzales & Son: The Legacy of An Honest Day’s Work).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Immigration Bill

A bill several hundred pages long, full of fine print, crafted in secret and sprung upon a Senate with little time to reflect, must necessarily be viewed with suspicion. Especially when the provisions talk about increasing the nation's legal population, at one swoop, by some 4% (12 million/300 million). A country which has a serious debate over whether breaking and entering into the country is really such a serious issue, and carries on with platitudes such as:
  • This is inevitable,
  • We cannot really do anything about it
  • Immigration is a net plus
  • We are a nation of immigrants
  • etc.
is making a virtue of out of lassitude and lack of will. Two articles, one by George Will in the Washington Post, and the other by Ann Coulter in Human Events, both bring this idiocy sharply to light. George Will writes:

Some Democrats argue that liberalism's teetering achievement, the welfare state, requires liberal immigration policies. The argument is: Today there are only 3.3 workers for every retiree. In January, the first of 77 million baby boomers begin to retire. By the time they have retired, in 2030, there will be 2.2 workers for every retiree -- but only if the workforce is replenished by 900,000 immigrants a year.

On Monday, however, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation stunned some senators who heard his argument that continuing, under family-based immigration, to import a low-skilled population will cost the welfare state far more than the immigrants' contributions to the economy and government. He argued that low-skilled immigrants are costly to the welfare state at every point in their life cycle and are very costly when elderly. Just the 9 million to 10 million adults already here illegally will, if given amnesty, cost an average of $300,000 -- cumulatively, more than $2.5 trillion-- in various entitlements (Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, housing, etc.) over 30 years.

As to those who argue that finding the illegal immigrants is impossible, Ann Coulter writes in Importing a Slave Class:
If it's "impossible" to deport illegal aliens, how did we come to have so much specific information about them? I keep hearing they are Catholic, pro-life, hardworking, just dying to become American citizens, and will take jobs other Americans won't. Someone must have talked to them to gather all this information. Let's find that guy -- he must know where they are!

How do we even know there are 12 million of them? Why not 3 million, or 40 million? Maybe we should put the guy who counted them in charge of deporting them.
She also makes a telling rejoinder to the argument that "We can't deport them all":
The jejune fact that we "can't deport them all" is supposed to lead ineluctably to the conclusion that we must grant amnesty to illegal aliens -- and fast!

I'm astounded that debate has sunk so low that I need to type the following words, but: No law is ever enforced 100%.

We can't catch all rapists, so why not grant amnesty to rapists? Surely no one wants thousands of rapists living in the shadows! How about discrimination laws? Insider trading laws? Do you expect Bush to round up everyone who goes over the speed limit? Of course we can't do that. We can't even catch all murderers. What we need is "comprehensive murder reform." It's not "amnesty" -- we'll ask them to pay a small fine.
Finally, why this hurry? Why does this have to be done this week (or the next). First, establish the principle that breaking into the country does not pay. On this basis, other things can be discussed. Debates that are rushed through with a view to 'getting it behind us' usually have a way of returning and biting us in the behind. Witness the Democratic Senate's stupidity in the Iraq War debate of 2002.

See also: Immigration Bill's Point System.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Frank Rich: Iraq, the Larger Sin

April 22, 2007

President Bush has skipped the funerals of the troops he sent to Iraq. He took his sweet time to get to Katrina-devastated New Orleans. But last week he raced to Virginia Tech with an alacrity not seen since he hustled from Crawford to Washington to sign a bill interfering in Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life medical care. Mr. Bush assumes the role of mourner in chief on a selective basis, and, as usual with the decider, the decisive factor is politics. Let Walter Reed erupt in scandal, and he’ll take six weeks to show his face — and on a Friday at that, to hide the story in the Saturday papers. The heinous slaughter in Blacksburg, Va., by contrast, was a rare opportunity for him to ostentatiously feel the pain of families whose suffering cannot be blamed on the administration.

But he couldn’t inspire the kind of public acclaim that followed his post-9/11 visit to ground zero or the political comeback that buoyed his predecessor after Oklahoma City. The cancer on the Bush White House, Iraq, is now spreading too fast. The president had barely returned to Washington when the empty hope of the “surge” was hideously mocked by a one-day Baghdad civilian death toll more than five times that of Blacksburg’s. McClatchy Newspapers reported that the death rate for American troops over the past six months was at its all-time high for this war.

At home, the president is also hobbled by the Iraq cancer’s metastasis — the twin implosions of Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz. Technically, both men have been pilloried for sins unrelated to the war. The attorney general has repeatedly been caught changing his story about the extent of his involvement in purging eight federal prosecutors. The Financial Times caught the former deputy secretary of defense turned World Bank president privately dictating the extravagant terms of a State Department sinecure for a crony (a k a romantic partner) that showers her with more take-home pay than Condoleezza Rice.

Yet each man’s latest infractions, however serious, are mere misdemeanors next to their roles in the Iraq war. What’s being lost in the Beltway uproar is the extent to which the lying, cronyism and arrogance showcased by the current scandals are of a piece with the lying, cronyism and arrogance that led to all the military funerals that Mr. Bush dares not attend. Having slept through the fraudulent selling of the war, Washington is still having trouble confronting the big picture of the Bush White House. Its dense web of deceit is the deliberate product of its amoral culture, not a haphazard potpourri of individual blunders.

Mr. Gonzales’s politicizing of the Justice Department is a mere bagatelle next to his role as White House counsel in 2002, when he helped shape the administration’s legal argument to justify torture. That paved the way for Abu Ghraib, the episode that destroyed America’s image and gave terrorists a moral victory. But his efforts to sabotage national security didn’t end there. In a front-page exposé lost in the Imus avalanche two Sundays ago, The Washington Post uncovered Mr. Gonzales’s reckless role in vetting the nomination of Bernard Kerik as secretary of homeland security in December 2004.

Mr. Kerik, you may recall, withdrew from consideration for that cabinet post after a week of embarrassing headlines. Back then, the White House ducked any culpability for the mess by attributing it to a single legal issue, a supposedly undocumented nanny, and by pinning it on a single, nonadministration scapegoat, Mr. Kerik’s longtime patron, Rudy Giuliani. The president’s spokesman at the time, Scott McClellan, told reporters that the White House had had “no reason to believe” that Mr. Kerik lied during his vetting process and that it would be inaccurate to say that process had been rushed.

Thanks to John Solomon and Peter Baker of The Post, we now know that Mr. McClellan’s spin was no more accurate than his exoneration of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the Wilson leak case. The Kerik vetting process was indeed rushed — by Mr. Gonzales — and the administration had every reason to believe that it was turning over homeland security to a liar. Mr. Gonzales was privy from the get-go to a Kerik dossier ablaze with red flags pointing to “questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption,” not to mention a “friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime.” Yet Mr. Gonzales and the president persisted in shoving Mr. Kerik into the top job of an already troubled federal department encompassing 22 agencies, 180,000 employees and the very safety of America in the post-9/11 era.

Mr. Kerik may soon face federal charges, and at a most inopportune time for the Giuliani presidential campaign. But it’s as a paradigm of the Bush White House’s waging of the Iraq war that the Kerik case is most telling. The crucial point to remember is this: Even had there been no alleged improprieties in the former police chief’s New York résumé, there still would have been his public record in Iraq to disqualify him from any administration job.

The year before Mr. Kerik’s nomination to the cabinet, he was dispatched by the president to take charge of training the Iraqi police — and completely failed at that mission. As Rajiv Chandrasekaran recounts in his invaluable chronicle of Green Zone shenanigans, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” Mr. Kerik slept all day and held only two staff meetings, one upon arrival and one for the benefit of a Times reporter doing a profile. Rather than train Iraqi police, Mr. Kerik gave upbeat McCain-esque appraisals of the dandy shopping in Baghdad’s markets.

Had Mr. Kerik actually helped stand up an Iraqi police force instead of hastening its descent into a haven for sectarian death squads, there might not now be extended tours for American troops in an open-ended escalation of the war. But in the White House’s priorities, rebuilding Iraq came in a poor third to cronyism and domestic politics. Mr. Kerik’s P.R. usefulness as a symbol of 9/11 was particularly irresistible to an administration that has exploited the carnage of 9/11 in ways both grandiose (to gin up the Iraq invasion) and tacky (in 2004 campaign ads).

Mr. Kerik was an exploiter of 9/11 in his own right: he had commandeered an apartment assigned to ground zero police and rescue workers to carry out his extramarital tryst with the publisher Judith Regan. The sex angle of Mr. Wolfowitz’s scandal is a comparable symptom of the hubris that warped the judgment of those in power after 9/11. Not only did he help secure Shaha Riza her over-the-top raise in 2005, but as The Times reported, he also helped get her a junket to Iraq when he was riding high at the Pentagon in 2003.

No one seems to know what she actually accomplished there, but the bill was paid by a Defense Department contractor that has since come under official scrutiny for its noncompetitive contracts and poor performance. So it went with the entire Iraq fiasco.

You don’t have to be a cynic to ask if the White House’s practice of bestowing better jobs on those who bungled the war might be a form of hush money. Mr. Wolfowitz was promoted to the World Bank despite a Pentagon record that included (in part) his prewar hyping of bogus intelligence about W.M.D. and a nonexistent 9/11-Saddam connection; his assurance to the world that Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for reconstruction; and his public humiliation of Gen. Eric Shinseki after the general dared tell Congress (correctly) that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure Iraq after the invasion.

Once the war began, Mr. Wolfowitz cited national security to bar businesses from noncoalition countries (like Germany) from competing for major contracts in Iraq. That helped ensure the disastrous monopoly of Halliburton and other White House-connected companies, including the one that employed Ms. Riza.

Had Iraqi reconstruction, like the training of Iraqi police, not been betrayed by politics and cronyism, the Iraq story might have a different ending. But maybe not all that different. The cancer on the Bush White House connects and contaminates all its organs. It’s no surprise that one United States attorney fired without plausible cause by the Gonzales Justice Department, Carol Lam, was in hot pursuit of defense contractors with administration connections. Or that another crony brought by Mr. Wolfowitz to the World Bank was caught asking the Air Force secretary to secure a job for her brother at a defense contractor while she was overseeing aspects of the Air Force budget at the White House. A government with values this sleazy couldn’t possibly win a war.

Like the C.I.A. leak case, each new scandal is filling in a different piece of the elaborate White House scheme to cover up the lies that took us into Iraq and the failures that keep us mired there. As the cover-up unravels and Congress steps up its confrontation over the war’s endgame, our desperate president is reverting to his old fear-mongering habit of invoking 9/11 incessantly in every speech. The more we learn, the more it’s clear that he’s the one with reason to be afraid.