Archive for the ‘News’ Category

My Name Is Khan

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Shah Rukh Khan, the hero of many Bollywood movies, was detained by US immigration for two hours because his surname popped up on a watch list. Khan is the most common last name among South Asian Muslims; there are more Khans in the world than Smiths. Even in the US, it is the 665th most popular name.

Khan was an honorific title of Mongol tribes, and eventually was adopted as a surname by many people who are descended from a Khan or wanted to be associated to the name. Indeed, 0.5% of all men in the world carry a genetic marker believed to be passed on by Genghis Khan. There were strong selective pressures to help propagate the Khan name when the Mongols dominated the whole of Asia.


One among the hundreds of millions of people with the surname Khan is a very bad guy: AQ Khan, the man who built the Pakistani atom bomb and sold nuclear secrets to Libya and North Korea. But the surname alone has very little value in identifying a person in this case: US immigration should have known how common it is.

On the other hand, Indians tend to be overly sensitive in such matters. Only a month ago there was a furor because Indian employees of Continental Airlines frisked former President Kalam. This was considered an indignity: all Indian airports post a list of VVIPs (Very Very Important Persons) who are exempt from security procedures, a list that starts with the President and former Presidents. Indian culture accepts such special treatment for celebrities and retired politicians. (more…)

Moussavi Is Not The Obama of Iran

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Duh. Next week’s revelation: Water is Wet. Really.

The Liberal blogosphere has turned Green. TPM and Rachel Maddow have become cheerleaders for what they think is the democratic movement of Iran. Obama and Kos have decided to stay out of the fray, while not criticizing others for commenting on the situation. On the Right Wing, there is talk that this cautious approach is somehow a betrayal of our allies in Iran. Remember how well McCain’s meddling in Georgia worked out.

As someone who grew up in another country (India) awash in conspiracy theories of American involvement in local politics, I believe that the best thing for Americans can do right now to support democracy in Iran is..nothing. Stay out of it. Obama, having lived abroad, understands this. As does Kos, for the same reason. Any whiff of American support for Moussavi will undermine him. The crowds in Teheran, chanting “Allahu Akbar”, will themselves turn against Moussavi if the US voices support for him.

As I write this, the Supreme Leader is giving a sermon in Teheran. Darkly warning against “arrogant Western powers” and asking for “prayer” and “divine guidance”. Even if the US Government stays out of it, if American media is involved, such as through blogs, it will be used against Moussavi and his party. In other words,

Don’t just do something. Stand there.

Besides, we may not really understand what is going on. (more…)

A Certain Swagger

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I mentioned to a colleague that Varadhan, a mathematician of Indian origin at NYU, won the Abel Prize. One of the top honors in the field. My colleague turned to the person sitting next to him, a visiting academic, and said:

In the middle of all that corruption, they are good in statistics. It must be because the British were good at it.

He was expressing a common view of India as a corrupt place where nothing works, perhaps with an occasional genius. Even Americans whose knowledge of India does not extend beyond watching “Slumdog Millionaire” feel free to pass such judgment. (more…)

GMAC Chairman Was Also Madoff Agent

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Frank Rich, NYTimes

As if to confirm that much of our so-called legitimate financial world has been six degrees of separation from Bernie Madoff, GMAC’s chairman was none other than J. Ezra Merkin. In addition to presiding over losses of nearly $8 billion at GMAC, Merkin had a separate investment management business that threw away another $2 billion by feeding other people’s money (including the endowments at N.Y.U. and Yeshiva University) into Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

It is a small world at the top of the pyramid schemes of the Bush years. The impending bankruptcy of GM, with the hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, is directly connected to its financial shenanigans. The “Real World” of blue collar jobs cannot escape the contagion of greed that brought down Wall St.

So who is J. Ezra Merkin? (more…)

India Gets Spy Satellite From Israel

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

So that is the payoff. A few months ago India launched a spy satellite for Israel, using its PSLV rocket. So why take the risk of doing a favor for Israel, when the political situation in South Asia is so inflammatory?

Indian Rocket Launches Israeli Satellite

Now we know. Indian satellites lack the Synthetic Aperture Radar that can see through clouds and at night. The Mumbai terrorist attack highlights the importance of being able to track small vessels in the Indian ocean and to watch terrorist training camps within Pakistan. The two countries can fill the gaps in each other’s capabilities. And then there is the whole enemy of my enemy thing happening also.

It is not something either side wants to talk about much: (more…)

We Just May Have To Lay Off Andre’.

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Hat tip Public D

The Economic crisis is so bad that we just may have to lay off Andre’.

Publisher’s Note
The original author of this photo-cartoon remains anonymous. I took it from a post on Daily Kos and added the following speech explaining Andre’s fate. The photo has since appeared on many websites. The second speech below is a totally unfair parody of one by the CEO of Beth-Israel Medical Center. I blame our staff for the biting tone of that parody. The staff member has been properly chastised. His only excuse is temporary loss of sanity from performing experiments on the nature of electricity.

Why We Just May Have to Lay Off Andre’

Hello everyone. Thanks for taking the time to get together today at an actual work site. How is everyone feeling in those work overalls? Thought it would be a nice change from the eleventh floor.

I’m not going to waste your time or mince words. The reason for getting together is to bring you up to speed on the company’s status. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as we all would have anticipated even 6 short days ago.

There are several issues.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

A couple of years ago I stopped by Dubai on the way to India. Because many Malayalis work there, Kerala is better connected to the Middle East by air than to the rest of India. I wanted to avoid the maddening crowds at Mumbai airport and also look up my brother who worked in Dubai at that time.

It is the most bizarre place in the world I have ever been. (more…)

The Inauguration Will Be Televised

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

I come home from a business trip to see a large envelope from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Inside is a handsome card embossed with a Golden Seal.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee requests the honor of your presence to attend and participate in the Inauguration of

My heart beats faster. Finally, all those blogs I wrote on Daily Kos are paying off. Impassioned arguments with Hillary Clinton supporters back in the Spring of 2008. Alegre, eat your heart out in your little corner. We are the ones going to the Inauguration.

Barack H. Obama as President of the United States of America


Who Is On The Line?

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Hoax phone calls used to be funny. As a teenager, Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple computer, figured out the Bell System technical protocols- he and Steve Jobs had found the manual at the SLAC Library. Woz used this knowledge to call the Pope, pretending to be Henry Kissinger. His fake German accent was good enough to get the Holy Father out of bed. But before he took the phone, an aide figured out that it was some California teenager pulling a prank. (more…)

Who Attacked Mumbai and Where Are They?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Lahore Country Club

The Lahore Country Club in Muridke

The US National Intelligence Director has taken the unusual step of placing blame in public: AP

The same group that carried out last week’s attack is believed to be behind the 2006 Mumbai train bombings that killed more than 200, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said Tuesday during a speech at Harvard University.

McConnell did not identify the group by name. However, the Indian government has attributed the 2006 attack to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist group based in Kashmir, and the Students Islamic Movement of India.

Hard to know how to evaluate this information. The Bush Administration just isn’t that credible after the epic failure of intelligence on WMD in Iraq. They could be right this time: the boy who cried wolf was right one time too. Whether or not the LeT are behind this particular attack, it has already been designated a terrorist organization based on its previous record.

At first one may think that the LeT is a secretive organization, operating out of some cave in the mountains. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Although it is banned, the LeT actually operates freely in Pakistan: it just changed its name. It runs schools, hospitals and provides social services. Its headquarters is in Muridke: a suburb of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city.They even have a website in English. and in Urdu ( the national language of Pakistan.) (more…)

What Next?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Anger in India is currently focused on its own Government. The mindless bloodbath that followed some previous attacks has not happened. What we see instead is a quieter rage, one that can be channeled to something constructive. For, rage has its uses too.

Every one, the US Sec State included, seems to be counseling the Indian Government against an overreaction. Certainly, no one wants a war between two Nuclear-Armed adversaries.

But what of the dangers of under-reaction? What will be the consequence to India and to the world if they are allowed to get away with it?

There seems to be consensus that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is behind this attack: (more…)

The Obama Criteria

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is about to announce his foreign policy team.No matter who is on it, Obama promises that the policy will be set by him. Nowhere is his intellect more needed than on policy towards Pakistan.

On 1 Aug 2007 Obama said:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid to Pakistan conditional on the following actions by the Pakistani government:

  1. substantial progress in closing down terrorist training camps
  2. evict foreign fighters
  3. prevent the Taleban from using Pakistan as staging area for attacks in Afghanistan

I have not heard a clearer analysis yet. There is more: (more…)

Mumbai Culprits

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

At this early stage, public information has to be gleaned from the Indian media: most sources here are quoting Indian reporters. Indian TV is aggressive in its reporting. But it can also be even more sensationalist and exploitive than the American media. Imagine CNN on acid and you get their partner IBN. The FOX sister channel in India is SKY-TV; the reporters are much like Geraldo Rivera only without the restraint and sophistication.

The print media in India is better, as here. The Times of India, for example, is a usually reliable source. They report that at least one terrorist has been captured alive. He is

21 year old Azam Amir Kasav, who hails from tehsil Gipalpura in Pakistan’s Faridkot.

That is in Punjab, the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan. (more…)