Majoring in suicide bombings

What the fuck can you say about this story except, what the fuck?!

Ten new terror training camps have been opened inside Pakistan since the November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India, which was launched from Pakistani soil.

The 10 additional camps raise the total number to 62, according to Indian intelligence agencies. The report, which was first noted in the Hindustan Times, was confirmed by US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal.

In passing, an alumnus of one such institution is in trouble in the US.



If you know of a more creative defense for surfing porn at work, let me know:

For instance, one senior executive spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clad women without being detected, the records show.

When finally caught, the NSF official retired. He even offered, among other explanations, a humanitarian defense, suggesting that he frequented the porn sites to provide a living to the poor overseas women. Investigators put the cost to taxpayers of the senior official’s porn surfing at between $13,800 and about $58,000.

“He explained that these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents and this site helps them do that,” investigators wrote in a memo.

Make your own runs

Andrew Strauss was perfectly within the rules — and bang on the money — when he turned down Graeme Smith’s request for a runner the other day. What I don’t get is this bit in the ICC’s official statement on the issue:

“He [Smith] asked for a runner and the umpires took the view that cramp is a symptom of fatigue,” an ICC spokesperson was quoted as saying by PA. “Being tired does not qualify batsmen for a runner under the laws of the game. That is the way it will be interpreted by the umpires for the rest of the tournament.

Why? If the objection to runners coming on simply because a batsman tires in mid innings is valid, why is the umpire asked to enforce the proscription only for one particular tournament, and not as a rule across the board — especially since the spokesman points at the ODI rule book to justify the action?

A vote for a vada-pav

This is why I am going to vote for the Shiv Sena: tax free vada pav.

[Link via Twitter from Amit Varma]

Pointless exercise?

Do you suppose the various ministers in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet know each other? That they talk to each other?

News stories like this one make me wonder.

Way back in 1995, India and the United States signed a military cooperation agreement that supposedly broke the Cold War paradigm, and “ushered in” a new era of close relations between the armed forces of both countries. That remained pretty much on paper, till July 2005 when, in the wake of Manmohan Singh’s love fest with George W Bush at the White House, the two countries among other line items decided to step up the pace of military exercises. Since then, there’s been a flood of them [back in October 2006 I tagged along on one], and Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to India signed agreements to step the pace up even further.

Hence, my puzzlement over this:

Leaving the US flummoxed, the Indian Navy pulled out of an amphibious exercise with American forces in Japan last week after it failed to get clearance from the Defence Ministry. …

While no explanation was given by the Defence Ministry for holding back the clearance, this is not the first time that Indo-US defence interactions have been called off by the Ministry this year.

At least four exercises, including the Okinawa war game, have been called off at the last minute this year despite being scheduled well in advance. In all cases, while the armed forces had committed troops and equipment, lack of permission from the Ministry led to cancellations.

In one case, the US even expressed dismay as it suffered a loss of several million dollars due to the last-minute cancellation of an exercise between the US Marines and Indian Navy. The exercise, which was scheduled to take place in India weeks before the Lok Sabha elections, was called off after troops and specialised equipment had been committed by the US. Another exercise was called off after the elections took place, sending conflicting signals.

Makes you wonder if the governmental left hand knows what its right hand is up to.

Holy cow!

Spend money on people, not monuments, the Congress — which, having unfurled the banner of austerity, can now speak from the high moral ground — tells the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

That would be this Congress?

The proposed memorial will be built on 1,412 hectares of forest land.

The AP government says it wants to develop the memorial – at an antipciated cost of around Rs 315 crore – into an important tourist attraction, to be readied by September next year.

And this one?

In reply to a Right To Information query filed by a resident of Mumbai, Chetan Kothari, it was revealed by the government that in the last five years, an expenditure of Rs 93.53 crore has been incurred towards the upkeep of these bungalows….

“Visit these bungalows and you will see construction work every now and then. They have engineered wood flooring, wall paneling and veneering, gypsum board and false ceiling, glazed shutters for doors, windows and glazed partitions, polished porcelain tiles in toilet and wall. All expensive ones,” Kothari said.

Some of the occupants of these bungalows include Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Talkatora Road, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in Janpath, Defence Minister A K Antony in K M Marg, Home Minister P Chidambaram in Safdarjung Road and Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee in B K S Marg.

A total of 77 bungalows have been allotted to the various ministers. According to the reply, nearly Rs 11 crore was spent towards the upkeep of these bungalows in 2004-2005, Rs nine crore the next year followed by an expenditure of Rs 20 crore in 2006-2007 followed by Rs 33 crore in 2007-2008.

“They have spent Rs 21 crore alone till June 2009 for the maintenance of these bungalows,” Kothari said.

Note that we aren’t talking of decrepit, abandoned buildings being renovated — these are homes people lived in, continue to live in. Were they, do you suppose, in such a perilous state of disrepair as to necessitate this investment?

Note, too, that the bungalows on which this money is being expended includes the one tenanted by the high priest of austerity, Pranab Mukherjee himself. I wonder what the likes of Jayanti Natrajan and Tom Vadakkan have to say.

In passing, spotted this hilarious line in the ToI yesterday in an article on Rahul Gandhi as the new dalit icon: [See Page 12, ToI, September 28]:

Last week, he made a much talked about secret trip to Bahraich and Shravasti district.

Eye browse

An occasionally updated list of things seen, heard, read:

1. The nine hottest Madonna videos of all time, compiled by The Beast.

2. Staying with music, Nilanjana Roy makes a compelling case for why the next Nobel Laureate in literature needs to be Robert Zimmerman Bob Dylan.

3. Picked up, in course of a bookshop raid yesterday, Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice. I’ll likely inflict more on it once I get through the books I’m reading now and pick up Sen’s latest. In the interim, just stumbled on this appreciation in The Chronicle. Carlin Romano underlines the perennial fascination of this subject: justice is something everyone wants, yet no one has been able to adequately define.

More accurately, Another Idea of Justice

More accurately, Another Idea of Justice

Plato argued, through his familiar Socratic ventriloquy, that justice is divine, an ideal to which human justice can only haltingly aspire. Aristotle then introduced a formal criterion of justice that still wins the greatest agreement, perhaps because it’s merely formal: Treat equals equally and unequals unequally.

From then on, follow the history of philosophers’ sentences that begin “Justice is … ” on and you hit so many diverse endings you wonder whether anyone, including the lady in the blindfold, knows what justice is.

To Aquinas, it’s “a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.” To Hume, it’s “nothing but an artificial invention.” To Sir Edward Coke, it’s “the daughter of the law, for the law bringeth her forth.” To 20th-century American jurist Learned Hand, it’s “the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society.” Do a survey, and about the only thinker who invites instant agreement is Belgian philosopher of law Chaim Perelman. According to Perelman, justice is simply “a confused concept.”

Compiled by a great speechwriter

Compiled by a great speechwriter

4. If at the end of his life and career the storied speechwriter and political columnist stayed

A tale of power blind-sided

A tale of power blind-sided

true to form, he must have written this last column in 20 minutes — which is the time William Safire took, or claimed he took, to write his 700-word riffs on politics and language for the New York Times [Archive of his columns here].

I’ve delighted in the fact that he was a college dropout [“If he can do it…” — of course, it didn’t quite turn out that way, just as I haven’t managed to make quite as much money as another famous dropout, Bill Gates]; I’ve picked up language cues from his columns over the years; after stumbling on, and reading, his novel Full Disclosure at Strand late 2005, the other half and I spent a wine-soaked evening tossing around ideas on how it could possibly be adapted into a Bollywood film set in New Delhi; a more recent, equally delightful acquisition was Safire’s compilation of the great speeches of history.

His political opeds for the NY Times were one of my must-reads [his language columns, not so much]; when he wrote his ‘good-bye to opeds’ column in 2005, he said something that has stayed stuck in my mind, and which even today prompts occasional bouts of dissatisfaction with where I am and what I do:

In an interview 50 years before, the aging adman Bruce Barton told me something like Watson’s advice about the need to keep trying something new, which I punched up into “When you’re through changing, you’re through.”

I interpreted that to mean that when you are no longer capable of making a difference, however small, it is time to move on. He had a more wide-ranging interpretation:

We’re all living longer. In the past century, life expectancy for Americans has risen from 47 to 77. With cures for cancer, heart disease and stroke on the way, with genetic engineering, stem cell regeneration and organ transplants a certainty, the boomer generation will be averting illness, patching itself up and pushing well past the biblical limits of “threescore and ten.”

But to what purpose? If the body sticks around while the brain wanders off, a longer lifetime becomes a burden on self and society. Extending the life of the body gains most meaning when we preserve the life of the mind.

A round up of tributes from the New York Times; the Washington Post; the Wall Street Journal; Forbes; in The Beast, his literary agent and friend; and from conservative commentator John Podhoretz.

William Safire, RIP

William Safire, RIP

Safire famously said he wrote his column in 20 minutes, which is in part what gave his pieces their immediacy and force, as though his hand had untrammeled access to his thoughts and conveying them through touch-typing 750 words was all it took. He took far more care with the novels he wrote–among them the wonderful potboiler Full Disclosure, about a conspiracy to evade the requirements of the 25th Amendment, and the enormous bestseller Freedom, about Abraham Lincoln.

He achieved perhaps even greater popularity with his Times Magazine column on language, of which I was not an admirer–Safire was himself a writer of little elegance and served as an advocate for inelegant prose at a time when Americans really could have used a voice of authority that did not grant them unlimited permission to muck around with the rules of grammar and usage. In this way, actually, Safire revealed that the word conservative really didn’t properly apply to him. Rather, he was a patriot, an American nationalist, a Zionist, a civil libertarian, and a classic Washington type of a sort that has now almost entirely passed from the scene.

Jack Shafer in Slate is anything but complementary.

When his scooplets panned out, as they did during the Carter administration, winning him a Pulitzer Prize, Safire the reporter would take a bow. When they didn’t—see his contributions on Whitewater, the Vince Foster suicide, Wen Ho Lee, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, the Mohamed Atta connection to Iraqi intelligence, and Iraqgate—Safire the opinionator would either say the jury was still out or just move on without correcting the record.

5. Ever wondered why good writers often make poor speakers?

”]Penelope's Passions [Pic courtesy Vanity Fair]6. From Spiegel Online, the Kafka-esque battle for Franz’s papers.

7. A favorite actress, in a new Vanity Fair profile. Also in the same magazine, a posthumous profile of Dominick Dunne.

8. ‘Social justice’ works — where earlier you had autocrats from one class/caste, you now have autocrats from other castes, says Mrinal Pande in a Mint column on the stone gardens of Lucknow.

9. Everything you ever wanted to know about Roman Polanski’s recent arrest but didn’t know who to ask.

10. Review of a Nicholas Kristof book on sex trafficking:

Kristof and WuDunn are advocates, but they are journalists first, and that means they don’t shy away from pointing out failures as well as successes in the field. In fact, some of the book’s most compelling sections are those that detail mistakes or upend assumptions.

Many readers of Kristof’s columns will recall the time Kristof bought a girl who’d been imprisoned in a Cambodian brothel and set her free, only to see her willingly return to her jailers. That story gets new depth and texture here. There’s also a fascinating and disturbing section about the Sonagachi Project, a sex-workers union in Calcutta, India. Sonagachi was organized with backing from the World Health Organization, and Western feminists have lauded it as a model. It seems, though, that there’s a dark side. I once expressed admiration for Sonagachi to a woman who works at an anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization and was taken aback when she snapped that it had become simply a front for pimps. Kristof and WuDunn’s reporting indicates that she was right. Their research serves not only as an important exposé but as a reminder that ideology is no substitute for experience in figuring out how to help people.

11. And now, classes on how to be kidnapped — and survive. Minimum qualification: you have to be a journalist. On successful completion of the course, you win a posting in Afghanistan?

12. While on new books, author Shelley Seale links to an India Abroad magazine feature I did a while back on The Weight of Silence, her book on the disadvantaged children of India.