Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Zimbabwe update - the China connection - and other thoughts

Things have gone downhill in Zimbabwe since I wrote about Mugabe. The situation has been made infinitely more dangerous by a Chinese ship An Yue Zhang, which is carrying arms (“77 tonnes of small arms, including more than 3m rounds of ammunition, AK47 assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades”) to be delivered to Mugabe. No prizes for guessing what they are for: Mugabe has most likely lost the recent election, but refuses to step down; he needs weapons to repress any opposition. The arms deal is a serious development; if the weapons reach Mugabe, Zimbabwe could face crippling violence. Thankfully, An Yue Zhang wasn't allowed to unload in Durban as it was initially supposed to, and now it is floating on the seas, unsure of its course, and possibly headed for Luanda, Angola.

Let's hope the ship is sent back.

Here’s a good piece at The Acorn, which provides some perspective and updates. Ethan Zuckerman is following the situation closely too. And here’s the Zimbabwean blog, Sokanwele - which incidentally means 'enough is enough'.

Update: The ship has been called back.

An earlier post on what I think is a key and still unfolding issue: China in Africa.

The Chinese government has come under intense scrutiny this year. Tibet, Sudan, and now Zimbabwe.

Rochester, Minnesota, where I live, is generally an apolitical place, but last week the Dalai Lama's presence changed that (incidentally, the Pope was in the United States too, and so was Archbishop Desmond Tutu). The Dalai Lama was in Rochester probably for treatment at the Mayo Clinic , but he also gave a talk. Many Chinese had turned out with placards to protest, and present their side of the story – of how the media distorts what is going on in Tibet, how the Dalai Lama is behind the violence in Tibet and so on. Tibetan protestors were there too – shouting “Shame, Shame, China Shame!” and “China lie, people die!” – and conversations got quite animated as they waited for the Dalai Lama to leave the Marriott hotel.

Both groups stood across each other on the pavement. The Tibetans relentlessly shouted their slogans - they were clearly the more vocal of the two groups. The Chinese retorted now and then. A young Chinese young girl, not more than twenty years old, began talking back, but shortly she was so overwhelmed by her emotions that she began crying quietly. It was a sobering sight.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amigos de Obama

Want to listen to a melodious Latino endorsement for Obama unlikely though that may seem? Check this video which came out before the Texas primary -

Or, if you aren't satisfied, here's a Bollywood endorsement (this has been around for a while too):

Via Ethan Zuckerman.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blogging will be light

Am busy the next few weeks, so might not be able to post much. Not that posts have been prompt anyway – generally I put up stuff only 4-5 times a month – but since there does exist a small group of readers out there, it’s only fair that I let them know. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find some new material. In the meantime, please do bear!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A fictional interview with Adam Smith

Atanu Dey has a fictional interview on his blog with the spirit of the long deceased Adam Smith. Expectedly, given Atanu's leanings, the overwhelming theme is economic freedom; and the interesting parts are the spirit's thoughts on India's situation. One of Smith’s answers is a direct quote from The Wealth of Nations, and posits the famous invisible hand theory. I like this passage as it provides an understanding that isn't necessarily intuitive but makes sense when one thinks carefully about it.
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. … [Every individual] intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Will Mugabe stay on?

In the 1970s while fighting for freedom against the entrenched and seemingly unshakable white rule of Ian Smith, Robert Mugabe was radical and uncompromising in his approach, espousing Marxism and revolution in Zimbabwe. But when he overwhelmingly won the elections twenty-eight years ago – Zimbabwe’s majority black population was finally allowed to vote for the first time – he stuck a conciliatory note, calming the fears of the country's white minority. This is what he said on April 18, 1980, Zimbabwe’s independence day:
“The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If we ever look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or black against white.”
Stirring, sage words. But more than anything else they illustrate how a politician can speak such eloquent phrases and go back on them. Mugabe persecuted whites during his twenty-eight year tenure, routinely persecutes his political opponents, and has today left the country’s economy in shambles. The current inflation rate is staggering. Lunch for 8 people costs six million Zimbabwe dollars (see picture), about 18 US dollars.

And Zimbabwe is very much in the news these days after recent elections. Mugabe seems to have lost to the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). But unsurprisingly Mugabe refuses to concede, although there has been speculation he might give in this time. What next? Tyrants usually don’t leave easily; one just hopes Mugabe's exit, whenever it happens, does not lead to instability and violence.

Frontline - Bush's War

It’s been five years since the Iraq war, and a lot has been written about the subject. But if you want a comprehensive one-stop overview, beginning from when Iraq first appeared on the Bush agenda - believe it or not, the neoconservatives in Bush's circle brought it up in the days after 9/11 despite there being no reason to do so – to the back room dealings among the President’s closest advisers; from the facts that were manufactured to fit war policy, to the embarrassing lack of planning in Iraq after the invasion; for all this and lots more look no further than this superb, 4-hour documentary by Frontline called Bush’s War, recently aired on American Public Television. You’ll get to see interviews from many of the major players; you’ll learn of the intense tug of war between the two sparring camps: Colin Powell and the State Department people on one side; Cheney, Rumsfeld Wolfowitz, the neoconservatives, on the other. You’ll also get to know how flimsy the Iraq war planning effort was, how it was bungled badly.

Yes, the story is known, has been told before, but not on such an epic scale and not in such an accessible form. The entire show is available free online. Go watch and find out how those with power pull strings and deftly conduct their politics – it’s a fascinating look at the decision-makers of the Bush government.