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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Of deals and contracts

Interesting deals. The Government provides the inspiration and sets the example for the corporations to follow. And should you need to draft a contract with good payback, you could use this as a good reference.

Journalists in America's crosshairs

Have been missing Robert Fisk's coverage in the Independent for nearly a week now. And today I found his site. When I did read his latest article (thanks to Vasti, a friend and regular contributor of interesting articles), the smile on my countenance soon metamorphised to frustration and anger. A line from the last para on the article expresses the anger out there: "As for Mohamed al-Ali, he has the painful experience of knowing that he gave the Pentagon the map coordinates to kill his own reporter, Tarek Ayub." (Tarek Ayub, the Al Jazeera reporter killed in Baghdad was Vasti's friend). America's deceit has taken sickening paths. The Jews lived in fear in Nazi Germany, it is soon going to be our turn.

As for all the nice talk of Democracy, Iraqis celebrating Saddam's birthday were taunted and forced off the roads by American soldiers! I can't find the original news article I read on that! :( About time the dictionaries were updated to reflect America's definition of democracy!

Monday, April 28, 2003

The life I try to live

Came across this nice ode by John London. Very inspiring.

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than
it should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Did we hear them say "Democracy"?

Didn't want to keep rambling about the ongoings in Iraq anymore, but couldn't resist this one.

The Americans "liberated" the Iraqis to give them back their freedom so they could express their feelings and wants. But the moment it starts running counter to the democracy they wanted to "enforce" they jail the rebels. Mr.Zubaidi, the self-proclaimed governor/mayor of Baghdad, issued letters to authorities working in the utility sector asking them not to co-operate without his approval. At best it is equivalent to civil disobediance assuming the American instructions is the law; at worse it is the act of a clown. So why then have the Americans arrested him? If it is for inciting problems for them, then it means they are afraid that he may actually get people to go with his instructions. So by arresting him, the Americans are acknowledging his reach and impact and are locking him up against the will of his people. If they are arresting him because he has become a public nuisance, then they are working against his freedom of expression. Either way, in the best-case and worst-case scenario, the Iraqi citizens are being denied their freedom of expression by the Americans! Some democracy this! They sure are sowing the seeds for future repercussions.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Road of lies

Evidence that the case for Gulf War I was fabricated was well-presented in an episode on 60 minutes. They even produced the Kuwaiti witness to the supposed bayoneting of incubated children; a witness who had been in the United States most of her life and had been trained for the senate hearing by a PR firm!! We recently had history repeating itself again - more allegations from the US and UK for a war against Iraq that was translated into ruthless action. Now we hear disgruntled voices from the spooks on how their briefings were distorted to justify Gulf War II.

As for the passionate crowds at Firdos square that Rummy compared to the Berlin Wall crowds; he must have gotten an eyeful with the recent massive turnouts against US occupation. That I would call a passionate crowd. Wonder how long the Americans (oops, should they now be referred to as the coalition forces - cause whenever they beat back the bad guys, its the Americans; but when they get beaten back, its always the coalition forces!) can stand up against these forces.

The war did accomplish one task - heralding a new era of Islamic fundamentalism. As though we didn't have enough of those countries, the Americans had to go in and create yet another! But then, thats what freedom is all about - the ability to follow the religion and cause of your heart.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Catharsis through Journals
(via Vasanthi Hariprakash)

An interesting article that I quite identified with. This blog is in fact mostly a result of similar thoughts! One of the nice lines from it: "Many ideas are ephemeral, a courier from your subconscious. If you don’t get them down, they are gone forever."

Thursday, April 24, 2003

3G in Iridium's footsteps?

A news item in CNN today had me take a trip back to my KREC days. For a semester report submission, I embarked on an ambitious effort to put together a report on the Iridium project. After a few hundred sites(one of the best - Lloyd was an inspiration replying to my numerous emails in spite of his very busy schedule) and numerous meetings with some of the project folks at Motorola (partners to the Iridium venture), I had a colorful, detailed report that made quite an impression on my professors. The biggest impression however was left on me by this very brave gigantic effort to place 66 satellites and a couple spares in Low Earth Orbits(LEOs) so their footprint would cover every inch of earth. One wireless device reachable - anytime, anyplace from the summits of the Himalayas to the depths of the Pacific - every geek's dream come true. Drawing its name from the element Iridium (the initial plan was for 77 satellites and Iridium's atomic number is 77), the project was headed well off with most all satellite launches going as planned. I was especially awestruck by the multiple satellite (5) deployment in different LEOs using one Delta 2 rocket. Majestic exuberance of technology. So, when talks of the project dying surfaced I was very disappointed. Late 1999, Iridium LLC finally filed for bankruptcy.

Roll forward a few years: 3G emerged. Another ambitious idea with some commonalities to the Iridium project - both services required technology-specific devices that were expensive; both services would not be easily affordable, even if the provider was only trying to break-even; both would be targetting a narrow demographic - at least to start with. The backers of 3G had the Iridium project to look back at and cut their losses when they could; but they ventured on to burn over $125 billion dollars.

Iridium has since bounced back as Iridium Satellites Inc having bought over all of Iridium LLC's satellites worth $5 billion for $25 million. That translates to half a penny for every dollar spent. 3G meanwhile has made few inroads into Europe. Few, mostly the backers, expect it to succeed. Most else see history repeating itself. For now, 3G trickles on.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

The war for liberation

I have been reading Robert Fisk (writes for the Independent) for over a year now. His writings on the war in Afghanistan was a revelation. He has followed that up with some very thought provoking articles from the heart of Iraq - eye-witness accounts that rip apart the American fabrications. He was among the first to release the serial numbers from the missile(s) that hit the marketplace in Baghdad that clearly pointed all fingers at the Americans while they still maintained that it could have been an Iraqi anti-aircraft shell. I will try to post more of his links when time permits. For now, check his latest article on the ground realities in Iraq. The war for liberation is indeed about to begin.

Wagging dog!

Consider the headline "Daring rescue of American POWs"...hmmm Didn't earlier news reports state that an Iraqi policeman approached the American marines and led them to where the POWs were jailed? So was the walk to the prison daring or just the fact that they evacuated them from a hostile country daring?

To me, the Entebbe rescue was daring. A guided tour of a prison and a bonus in the form of a few POWs borders closer to a cakewalk! But then the Americans are now in a desperate need for a few heros. Good looking heroines such as Lynch are too good to miss. So when a German doctor found no gunshot wounds on her, the American spin doctors got to work overnight and the very next day American doctors found multiple gunshot wounds on her. So I wonder who shot her in the interim period? Now we see her featured on the cover of Newsweek. "Girl of 18 who should be going to a Prom goes to war and fights for her nation." The script for this whole war seems to be plagiarised from the script of "Wag the Dog".

While America spends its next few months focussed on its heroes and heroines, thousands of Iraqi soldiers will lie buried in the deserts of Iraq and the citizens of the region from now and the future will be tortured by the Depleted Uranium from the shells used by the Americans (Geneva conventions apparently don't apply to the self-claimed righteous).

Terrorist until proven otherwise!

For years paramilitary forces across numerous nations have been fighting acts of violence against the government and its citizenry. The instigators of the violence go by different names - anti-social elements, terrorists, freedom fighters... - depending on who is referring to them. And in the face of suicide attacks and ambush, most always the forces have maintained their composure and given approaching civilians a fair chance to identify themselves. Some have paid for their patience and misplaced trust with their lives, some others have been handicapped for life. But in all these years, the number of incidents of preventive firing resulting in fatalities have not reached the scale that it has in Iraq. Be it in UK where the government fought the IRA for long or during Spain's fight against the Basque seperatists or in Sri Lanka's fight against the LTTE - the suicide attack specialists or in Israel's war against the Palestinians fighters or in the Indian forces fight against seperatists in Kashmir.

Why then cannot the American forces exercise similar restraint and maturity? With their state-of-the-art technology and weaponry, they still are unable to identify friend from foe, either from the ground or their telescopic sights in the sky. As recently as a couple weeks ago, some British soldiers have gone on record accusing the Americans of being trigger-happy cowboys. The Canadians have said it in the past too. I winced when I saw on TV a soldier on a military truck somewhere in Iraq fire a full machine gun round into a car that was fast approaching it. Hasn't anyone taught these kids to first shoot warning shots and if there is no response then to shoot the wheels and then the engine and in the worst case scenario taking out the driver? We saw the massacare in Somalia - thousands of Somalians died to America's 18. We saw it in Afghanistan. We see it in Iraq.

Are we to trust the citizenry of one of the oldest civilisations in the hands of these kids bred on reality shows and exaggeration?

Monday, April 14, 2003

Unsung warriors: War on another front

We have been subjected to a spectacular display of extravagant propoganda in the last few weeks - stories of brave soldiers fighting the war for their respective regimes, innocent citizens paying with their lives, journalists braving the depths of war to present us with their perspective (and in some cases the perspective of their regimes). A sacrilegious, disgusting and disgraceful reality show brought to our living room, a show where there are no winners - only the dead and the survivors bearing the scars of the war forever.

On a daily basis, from the frontlines in Iraq, we hear a Tom sending his love to his mom in Dallas, Texas or a Jane sending her love to her children in Los Angeles, California. But not once did we hear a certain Carlo Urbani send his love to his 3 children. To be more specific, Dr. Carlo Urbani, president of the Italian branch of Medecins sans Frontieres(Doctors without Borders). Nor did we hear of Dr. Ong Hok Su. Or any of the hundreds of people in white, who are putting their lives at risk to detect, isolate and destroy a contagious virus/bacteria going by the name SARS, first diagnosed by Dr. Urbani.

Was their mission any less critical than that of Tom or Jane? Any less dangerous? At least Tom and Jane only had a probable risk of exposure to some bio-chemical weapon. But the doctors knew they were walking into a quagmire of viruses when they went on their mission. A mission not to raise flags atop buildings or pull down statues, but to stop a yet unknown organism from spreading its tentacles any further than it already had.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, aka SARS, lurks in the daily news feeds most often as a "have-to-mention" than a "need-to-mention" news clip. Newsreaders hastily rush through it to quickly return to the news of importance, news that provides entertainment, news of the war.

Meanwhile, fully aware of the risks, Dr. Carlo Urbani, Dr. Ong Hok Su and other doctors and nurses collected samples everyday, tended to their patients and exhaustively researched. It was a matter of time before some of them became exposed to the strain. And they did. Both Dr. Carlo Urbani and Dr. Ong Hok Su succumbed to the disease they set out to fight. No interviews. No profiles. No interviews with the mourning families or friends. No medals. They did find a mention in a couple paragraphs in an also-ran article. The silence to me was deafening and saddening.

As early as February, the disease had been somewhat controlled in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Chinese epidemiologists had identified that they had a new disease on their hands and had carried out intense studies. Research that could help the doctors now to quickly work towards a cure for the fast spreading disease. But the Chinese Government refused access to the epidemiologists and valuable time was being lost negotiating with the government. Apart from an occasional soft threat from the "powerful" governments, no pressure was exerted on this regime.

A case of lost focus and messed up priorities I guess. Here is a case of a WMD cruely weilded by the forces of nature. A serious and rapidly growing threat to the entire population. One that has to be contained with utmost urgency. A war that we must win now. The coalition that has been vociferously thundering about unfound WMD, needs to work towards neutralising the now discovered WMD. We need the support of the governments and every agency that can lend a hand. We need resources to hasten the quest for the source. Here is a desperate crying need for the fourth estate to help along in the endeavor. An informed population will definitely make the lives of the medicos much easier. There are hundreds of doctors and nurses risking their lives, millions of civilians in the crosshairs. Collateral damage is unacceptable.

I hope the deaths of the brave doctors and nurses do not go in vain. Time will tell. For now, the battle rages and the warriors relentlessly fight on.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Taxed joys

First, they rip me blind off part of my well-deserved (lets not argue about that please) wages; then they wreck my conscience further by using my money to fund their illegal, dirty war. And just as I resign myself to the discomfort, they come right back to cheer me up by asking me to file my returns.

Rewind one year to Apr 2002: I attempted to file my taxes on Apr 10th. It was promptly rejected on Apr 12th. Second attempt on 12th failed on the 14th. Finally, 1.5 hours from the deadline, on Apr 14th at 10:30PM sitting in Sunder's car, and using his laptop and his wireless network that he so proudly presented me with, I made the submission - this time, it went through smooth! And to think that I was on a vacation!

Roll back to the present: I am working hard and fairly succeeding at perfecting procrastination. This year my returns were further complicated given we had to file for 2 states - MI and CA. Given the expected complications, I decided to get a head start this year and managed to get started on Apr 11th, one day off from the last year. And even before I started, Turbo Tax online refused to entertain me - "2 state submissions cannot be done online. Buy our top-class software CD and work from the comforts of your home machine!". I reckoned that I might as well buy the software since tax software would be reusable over the next couple years - any changes downloadable as patches. Or so I thought!!! But no!!! I was told that they carry a different line. Tax software expire every year. You need to buy them each year to ensure all the new laws are applied. Haven't the good folks at Intuit heard of software patches? And to think Microsoft plays dirty! Anyway, when I was all set to roll, Intuit sprung another surprise - it would cost me an additional 30 bucks for every state I would submit to. By now, I didnt care - I just wanted to get done with it. Once I was through with downloading MI state ( they do know how to apply patches), I got started with renewed enthusiasm. I got through the wizard in a breeze (a little over 5 hours - but then considering that I had some windows into the ongoings in the world open too, that was indeed a breeze :)) When I saw the "Submit electronically" option, my joy knew no bounds. And then came the small print - "You can submit to only one state electronically; the other one would have to go by mail.". And "BTW, MI, ALWAYS needs the federal to be filed with the state". So there! Given that they had pretty much made the decision for me, I went ahead and printed the CA returns to file by mail. But then more fine print showed up! "Sometimes, the state returns should be accompanied with the federal return." My memory jogged back to some fine print I came across on another page - "If the Federal returns are filed electronically, they must not accompany the state returns in the mail.". Nice catch-22 situation. But then there are the wonderful folks manning the 1-800 numbers waiting to help us out of such situations. The 2-hour hold I expected was mercifully cut in half! The invisible sweet voice threw a few questions at me, and she was soon wondering why Turbo Tax was printing out my details on a 540 and not a 540NR - non-resident equivalent of the 540. Apparently, even if one of the family is not a resident for some part of the year, then we would have to go with the "non-resident" option! An option that I couldn't find on Turbo.

So there I was sitting, smiling away to glory hoping that my Federal and MI returns would be rejected. I would then be able to go to the nicer folks at H&R block and have them do the dirty job for me! 2 days and some 50-odd bucks into the game, I was still losing and IRS and Intuit sure had a good game going. I have not known a better fun-filled weekend. Oh, did I mention that before I read the fine print the return had been rejected once already and gave me an error message that I am still trying to comprehend. Thankfully, the return was rejected a second time - with the same beyond-my-comprehension reason. I now have all my paperwork neatly tucked into a couple files and am patiently waiting for the clock to tick away to 9AM tomorrow. Thats when the doors to freedom at H&R block open! Till then, I shall rest, taxed!

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Berlin Wall disparaged in Firdos Square

Every channel I switched to today was covering history as it was happening in Firdos Square. What made it more interesting was the commentary on each of them. The pro-war channels immediately recognized the spirit of liberalization in the 500-odd people assembled in the square and applied some logic and statistics to it to extend that feeling across the remaining few millions of Iraqis. The more mature channels, the few of them that is, were more cautious with their approach and speculated on the general feeling across Iraq.

However, Rummy's comparison of the tearing down of Saddam's statue in Firdos square to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall took the cake. Obviously, he missed the death knell of the Berlin Wall, else he would have known what a passionate crowd really is.

Slinky tango

I came across this interesting description of a spring, known in the market as SLINKY, under the article "Accidental Geniuses" in the Feb 2003 edition of Reader's Digest. The slinky is made of blue-black Swedish steel.

"It was just beautiful. As for its walk, Mae West couldn't do any better. It flipped, paused somewhat coyly - should I or shouldn't I? - then flipped again, wiggled for a second, leaned into a backend and flipped yet again, humming all the way."

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Quarter-life Crisis
(An interesting read via Reena John)

They call it the "Quarter-life Crisis." It is when you stop going along with the crowd and start realizing that there are many things about yourself that you didn't know and may not like. You start feeling insecure and wonder where you will be in a year or two, but then get scared because you barely know where you are now.

You start realizing that people are selfish and that, maybe, those friends that you thought you were so close to aren't exactly the greatest people you have ever met, and the people you have lost touch with are some of the most important ones. What you don't recognize is that they are realizing that too, and aren't really cold, catty, mean or insincere, but that they are as confused as you.

You look at your job... and it is not even close to what you thought you would be doing, or maybe you are looking for a job and realizing that you are going to have to start at the bottom and that scares you.

Your opinions have gotten stronger. You see what others are doing and find yourself judging more than usual because suddenly you realize that you have certain boundaries in your life and are constantly adding things to your list of what is acceptable and what isn't. One minute, you are insecure and then the next, secure. You laugh and cry with the greatest force of your life.

You feel alone and scared and confused. Suddenly, change is the enemy and you try and cling on to the past with dear life, but soon realize that the past is drifting further and further away, and there is nothing to do but stay where you are or move forward.

You get your heart broken and wonder how someone you loved could do such damage to you. Or you lie in bed and wonder why you can't meet anyone decent enough that you want to get to know better. Or maybe you love someone but love someone else too and cannot figure out why you're doing this because you know that you aren't a bad person.

Getting wasted and acting like an idiot starts to look pathetic. You go through the same emotions and questions over and over, and talk with your friends about the same topics because you cannot seem to make a decision. You worry about loans, money, the future and making a life for yourself... and while winning the race would be great, right now you'd just like to be a contender!

What you may not realize is that everyone reading this relates to it. We are in our best of times and our worst of times, trying as hard as we can to figure this whole thing out.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Raiders of the night sky
Snippets from this article by Mark Bowden that appeared in the February 2003 edition of Reader's Digest and my thoughts.

  • Pilot Slokes to Wizzo Snitch (Weapons Systems Officer) when Snitch couldn't locate the target in Kabul after 3 passes over the target area: "Come on dude, we need to get these bombs off".
    To be sent home carrying undelivered bombs was the worst - it made the flight longer, and it was a bummer to face the crew that had worked like dogs to load the bombs.

    My thoughts:
    Offload the bombs at what cost? Not judging the pilot or the wizzo here, but do these "pressures" push the team to hit the "target" or what appears to be the target at any cost? - The casualties of war - the collateral damage; lives that pay the cost of avoiding bummers back home - the price of ego - the price of war; a war that leaves behind blood and gore, shattered lives, shattered dreams. What a shameful waste.

  • Snitch knew from the first two passes that the buildings would become more visible the closer they got. The GBU (laser-guided bomb unit) was equipped with a laser sensor in its tip and small steering mechanisms in its fins to redirect the bomb's flight. So Snitch could release the bombs before the buildings were completely visible and then guide them in as the picture came into focus.

    Slokes pushed the button to release the bomb. Snitch then placed the cursor on his screen at the precise spot he wanted it to hit - this is called "painting the target" - and fired his laser. The wizzo guided the bomb directly into the second building.

    My thoughts:
    Advances in healthcare technology and such risks taken on the operating table would make me so very proud and would be a clear indication of the progress of the human race. Such misguided focus is so very pitiful and painful.

  • To be fair to the crew, I must include the next couple lines:
    Both crews, first elated, grew sober. They had spent years practicing, so bombing was routine, even sport. Now they were dropping real 500-pound bombs on real people. No matter how accurate the crews were, they could only hope they were hitting appropriate targets; they were only as good as their AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) intel.

    My thoughts:
    But do these post-killing thoughts hold any water to the families of the dead? Another notch on the crew's score, another promotion or maybe a medal. On the ground, another orphaned family, orphaned dreams, orphaned hope. Some reap the harvest; some weep at the grave. The price of war!

  • Slokes subscribes to a prayer he read in a book about World War II pilots, which goes, "God, please dont let me screw up - but if I do, please dont let me screw up and live."

    My thoughts:
    Is this a coward's way out? Die rather than face the retribution? Not that of a court-martial or a demotion or a grounding; but that of his/her conscience - the person in the mirror.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Too few words

So many events in the last few days and so much to say, but am too choked for words. Hypocrisy, illegal intrusion, human rights violations, unjust war, unjust regime, war crimes... - the list goes on. Caught in the crossfire of the right and the wrong (or is it the wrong and the wrong?), are innocent lives. This story summarises to a large extent the plight of the common man. And of shattered dreams and beliefs that took them to the grave.

   Copyright 2005
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