Enough carrot. Time for stick

Dick Cheney landed in Pakistan a couple of days ago to urge Pervez Musharraf to get serious about fighting al Qaeda. About time. This acknowledges that Pakistan wasn’t doing enough to wipe out al Qaeda to begin with, and no sensible man would expect otherwise. As I wrote here and here, it is not in Musharraf’s interest to end the battle with al Qaeda by winning it. Pakistan’s economy has flourished after 9/11 because it is the USA’s main ally in the War on Terror, and an end to the War on Terror means an end to aid and preferential treatment.

So the carrot was never likely to work. Will the stick fare better?

(Previous posts on Musharraf.)

La Sania

Yesterday I was at dinner with some friends at a restaurant, and there was a television set near us showing some tennis. One of us looked at the menu and, making her mind up about what to eat, said, “Lasagna!”

Another friend, gazing at the TV screen, remarked, “Yes, she’s winning.”

Socialism and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation

Kunal Sawardekar writes about how Douglas Adams’s description of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation fits socialism as well:

Their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws.

Kunal expands:

Whenever a Socialist policy fails, the blame falls on some minor (in the greater scheme of things) deviation from the Socialist Golden Path. For example, the National Rural Employment Scheme is a brilliant solution to rural poverty, it will only fail because the bureaucrats have weakened the Employment Guarantee Act. Forcing banks to give farmers in Vidharba low-interest loans in a good idea, the problem is that the interest is not low enough. Five-year-plans are a great idea, its just that our planners sucked. And so on.

Indeed. Always blame the execution—or order one, if it comes to that. That’s the way of socialism.

(Link via email from Ravikiran. And here’s an old Op-Ed by me on the REGB.)

Coaching classes for cheating in exams

I suppose there’s a certain honesty in this kind of dishonesty. Is it not revealing?

Let’s see, what else could be started in this vein? Tutorials on how to bribe government servants? Demonstration videos of how to break traffic rules? Street plays promoting intolerance?

Nah. There wouldn’t be a market for those. They all come naturally to us.

(Link via email from reader Aboli Salvi.)

Loving poetry again

Do you find poetry intimidating? I do. I don’t understand most of the poems I read these days, or the ones I listen to at literary gatherings like the Kitab Fest that I’ve been attending this weekend. Sometimes I feel bewildered, sometimes I feel sleepy, and often I feel inadequate. I’ve told myself that perhaps I just don’t get it, like some people are tone deaf or colour blind.

But some poetry does give me pleasure. The work of Philip Larkin, for example, or Vikram Seth. And at the Jaipur Lit fest last month, I thoroughly enjoyed Jeet Thayil’s reading. I landed up at his reading at Prithvi Theater a few hours ago, thus, duly prepared to shoot it with my cellphone video recorder, and upload it later for your enjoyment. There was no electricity, and the reading happened in torchlight, so my recording hasn’t come out too good. Most importantly, the sound volume is just too low, and I have no idea of how to make it louder. So I won’t upload that, but I’ll simply ask you, if you ever hear that Thayil is reading in your city, to go over and ask for the “how to” poems and the ghazal about Malayalam. Even if you’ve never liked a poem in your life, you’ll love these.

What kind of a scoundrel would I be if I didn’t leave with some nice poetry now? So here, check out Billy Collins reading The Dead:

Slut, whore etc

How hypocritical it is of us to use terms like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ as pejoratives. We are all sluts. We are all whores.

Aren’t we?

Newspapers and regulation

I spend the whole day at the Kitab festival, hanging out with pals like Jai, Chandrahas and Manish, meeting the litty sorts and bitching about them like bloggy sorts should. I was also part of a session on journalism in India, and found some eminent people expressing the view that journalism needs to be regulated in India. The logic: The Times of India is indulging in monopolistic practices, and, in Delhi, forming a cartel with the Hindustan Times. To ensure competition, there should be government regulation.

I couldn’t think of a worse solution to the problem. (Leave aside the issue of whether there really is a monopoly emerging; Mumbai alone has HT, DNA and IE on the stands, among daily broadsheets.) The industry actually needs fewer controls, not more. If foreign capital was allowed to pour into that sector, and foreign ownership of media was enabled, there would be more competition, and monopolies and cartels would be less likely. Consumers would be empowered with more choices. Competition is the best regulation.

Government regulation, no matter how well-intentioned to begin with, always ends up favouring the entrenched players, and making it harder for newer players to enter. The protectionist lobbying that some of the top media houses in the country have done to keep foreign media out is a good example of this.

In my clumsy, inarticulate way, I did try and make this point, but I’m a better blogger than speaker. Anyway, the high point of the evening was the presence of Bhaskar Das, the executive president of the Times Group, who rightly got assailed about how the Times of India sells editorial space. “We don’t do it on all the pages,” he argued. “Only some of them.”

The best moment came when someone asked Das why the ToI didn’t have the basic decency to indicate which articles were paid for. His reply:

“The clients wouldn’t like that.”

Joy. It reminded me of Devi Lal, in that it was honest, and shamelessly so.