Wednesday 31 December 2003

Resolutions unlimited

Being bad one last time
The turn of the year offers ample opportunity to review what has happened and plan for the New Year.
Interestingly, many make resolutions at this time, New Years Resolutions the bane of self-discipline laid bare for indulgence to defeat at the earliest opportunity.
What pleasure it would be to be able to switch on a desire requiring the discipline of a Spartan and be able to keep it from then on. Many though have not been able to keep it through the day.
Habits and addictions are the least likely to be jettisoned on the whim of a date change from December 31st to January 1st, though these dates allow for the sands of time to gather as a milestone in our lives.
If a date change as the New Year is that significant to a change of attitudes, maybe one’s birthday should offer such opportunity too.
Borrowing from the meaning of resolution in the Merriman-Webster dictionary printed in full.
Main Entry: res·o·lu·tion
Pronunciation: "re-z&-'lü-sh&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French resolution, from Latin resolution-, resolutio, fromresolvere
Date: 14th century
1 : the act or process of reducing to simpler form: as
a : the act of analysing a complex notion into simpler ones
b : the act of answering : SOLVING
c : the act of determining
d : the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance
e : the separating of a chemical compound or mixture into its constituents
f (1) : the division of a prosodic element into its component parts (2) : the substitution in Greek or Latin prosody of two short syllables for a long syllable
g : the analysis of a vector into two or more vectors of which it is the sum
h : the process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object, closely adjacent optical images, or sources of light
2 : the subsidence of a pathological state (as inflammation)
a : something that is resolved resolution to mend my ways>
b : firmness of resolve
4 : a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group
5 : the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out
synonym see COURAGE
The meaning described in 3 with the usage to mend one’s ways depicts what a New Years resolution is all about. However, resolutions are slightly more complex than a decision that results in a battle of the mind ready to make you crazy with irresolvable indecision and near mental apoplexy.
Looking at each meaning, one can begin to create the atmosphere for a resolution to take hold.
First, reduce the elements of a resolution into its components. To give up smoking, one has first to decide on why it is necessary to stop smoking, if this is for health or social reasons.
Each reason would determine the strength of the resolution. The cost of smoking is another factor, monetary, health, social issues might help quantify the cost.
At the point when one gives up, what takes the place of that time of smoking, the craving to smoke, the physiological changes one suffers and the mental stress it produces becomes a focal point.
Without understanding these components which really are counting the cost, one would not make it far into the year before all these factors militate to break one’s determination.
Then, the subsistence of a pathological state, yes, the making of a swelling go down or rather how to deal with the cravings for a smoke, for food, to stop running, to keep idle.
In the case of inflammations, the therapeutic solution is the use of antibiotics. For smoking, it might be a patch, for food and exercise, one needs other times of encouragement.
A resolution requires an announcement to people who would help one keep it by encouragement and positive assertion. In the case of exercise to keep fit, having a companion with similar goals to goad each other one is a useful thing.
The decision, once the decision is made and made in the understanding of the first two points in the meanings above, one is well on the way to keeping that resolution.
Once again, one needs to announce the resolution to people who would help one along.
A secret resolution has no life source to thrive, and would be soon dead without the determination, resistance or confidence that goes into ensuring one wins in the game of keeping it beyond the next day.
Like a detective story, this is where you know that you will keep the resolution.
You have gone beyond the pain barrier, moved into the cope zone and ready to ascend into the can live without it stage.
Finally, keeping a resolution is a thing about courage, the courage to accommodate change, to be able to refuse irrelevance because of inaction and attain victory by reason of seeing the joy of winning your personal battles.
Next resolution please!
+        I am resolved
+        To be fit and trim getting rid of what appears to be middle-aged spread
+        To be a lot more patient with situations I cannot stand
+        Do something radical about my career
+        Get me a more vibrant social life
+        Have a companion for my next birthday and Christmas
+        Not to have to list these resolutions for the next year
Even one knows that there is work to be done.

Tuesday 30 December 2003

Ignoring the voice of democracy

The Death of Democracy
"The American people have spoken," said Bill Clinton shortly after election day. "It's too bad it's going to take a little while to determine what it was they had to say."
Many more people are speaking and it is too bad that no one is listening to what they also have to say.
In America, Mr George W. Bush won the presidency through the Electoral College and not by the popular vote.
However, the electoral process allows for the simple One Man, One Vote principle to be converted into Electoral College block votes of binding on the state representatives with the view of allowing some even representation of across the country.
Only, twice in the history of American democracy has the popular vote not elected a president.
After Mr Bush won the election, it is commendable that he said he would be a uniter, but interesting that in all dealings he has come across more as a divider.
One is no prognosticator, but one remembers telling friends that he would lead us to war; it took 10 months to do that.
The Venezuelans elected a socialist leaning Hugo Chavez, he was overthrown in a coup which supposedly received tacit American support.
Or at least they did not speak out against it. Just as they have condoned without sanction the regime of General Musharraf of Pakistan. Mr Chavez got reinstated by his people.
The elite then orchestrated a recall process which literally brought the country to its knees but that process was voided, giving Mr Chavez another cat life as president.
California lived out both the American and Hollywood dream, when an Austrian-born immigrant actor married to a scion of American royalty - the Kennedys - became the governor.
Amazingly, the erstwhile governor Grey (in every sense of the word) Davis was turfed out only having been re-elected a year earlier. The recall process was bankrolled by the Republican machinery, though Mr Schwarzenegger would have won anyway as an independent or with any of the parties.
The uncomfortable setup does not allow for him to chose his running-mate, Mr Davis' deputy Cruz Bustamante however, ran for governor whilst retaining the option to be deputy governor.
When the Islamist AK Party took the majority in Turkey, many observers intoned that they be prevented from taking the reins of government.
In fact, the present Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was first disqualified from election because of a historical involvement with fundamentalist Islam. Eventually, that was overturned and he won election and took the mantle of government.
This though illustrates a questionable stance of outsiders ignoring the sovereignty of an electoral process that makes them uncomfortable or might not be amenable to them for whatever reasons.
Elections 2003
In Georgia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, there have been questionable electoral sharp practices. The people resolved the Georgian crises by mass mobilisation and demonstrations.
Nigeria lives with those questions but thrives because the challenge to the incumbent is not credible enough to create unrest. Zimbabwe however wallows under the tyranny of a democratic despot called Robert Mugabe.
As the debate hotted up regarding going to war with Iraq issues of clear democratic significance came to the fore.
When the United States realised they could not cajole and coerce the Security Council of the United Nations into supporting their stance, they proffered that the UN was sinking into irrelevance. They then took unilateral action without UN support with their "Coalition of the willing".
Old Europe
Mr Donald Rumsfeld had ample opportunity to polarise the European divisions on the issue, by calling the unwilling Old Europe. It so happens, the Old Europe countries were governments that heeded to the voice of dissent from their people.
A majority of those populations were against the war. In literally all the cases, none of the coalition of the willing had a majority of their populace in support of that preemptive war.
In fact, we now know that parliaments an congresses were persuaded with information that was suspect, uncorroborated and garnered from interest groups who had suffered loss at the hands of the despotic Iraqi regime.
Surely, Iraq should have seen change, however, we note that stark difference between George Bush I and George Bush II.
The former had all the support through persuasion to pursue the war, the latter used the threat of irrelevance to coerce little-stans into supporting his war.
Now the Serbians have given a nationalist party the majority vote, that is democracy. However, countries of the European Union and other interfering parties are urging the 3 splintered parties to gang up into a coalition to deny the nationalist party the right to govern. That is not democratic at all.
It smirks of hypocrisy to deny the Serbians the right to see their electoral wishes realised because it does not gel with so-called European values. If the Serbians want a representative nationalist government, that should be what they get.
When the Austrians chose to coalise with the Freedom Party, that exemplified the power of their democracy. To be sanctioned for voting contrary to expectations is unfortunate to say the least and patronising in every respect.
It is no coincidence that where governments have ignored the majority or democratic wish of their citizenry, they have been reaping the high cost of human life lost in pursuit of a poorly executed war and post-war effort.
Whilst the majority of Iraqis might elate at the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the occupying forces do not have the full support of the majority who are more beholding to their clerical leaders.
The insurgencies stem from remnants of he old regime and opposers of occupation, especially those who have suffered loss after the fall of Saddam.
One's view is that, a government still in need of democratic legitimacy cannot truly advocate democracy elsewhere.
Mr George W. Bush would only achieve that legitimacy after getting re-elected in 2004. Meanwhile, we just have to live with an interloper in the White House, another casualty of the democratic process.

Monday 29 December 2003

Cult of the Mad Cow

How to find Hidden Valley
Americans seem to have a thing with cows, from the amount of beef they eat through Enron Capitalism to their first mad cow. Yes, a mad cow found on a farm called Hidden Valley Dairy in Washington State. You can read anything you want into the situation.
The reference to Enron Capitalism alludes to a jocular explanation of how corporations work with a cow analogy. The Enron part appears below, but access the link to read the rest.
You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. Sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public buys your bull.
Indeed the public bought that bull for $62bn and the loss of a big five accountancy firm.
Obviously, one could comment on how to determine the co-ordinates of Hidden Valley Dairy, but we would leave that for the professional comedians.
The Story
Apparently, the farmers on that farm noticed a sick cow and wisely slaughtered it and put it in the food chain. A picture speaks louder than a thousand words, however, in the case of the picture of a mad cow, you will not notice much. A video recording of a mad cow, speaks volumes, one has to be so inured not to have the scene etched in one's memory.
A cow suffering from BSE - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - Mad Cow Disease to you and me is as unsteady on its legs as a robot trying to walk downstairs, use your imagination.
The farmer slaughtered the cow, possibly for monetary purposes; one should not jump to conclusions, rather than incinerate the cow and lose money. The greed of capitalist pursuits almost always yield greater demons than cannot be tamed.
Now it transpires that meat from this cow has ended up in eight US states and the island of Guam.
Help me here - How on earth does meat from one cow end up in 9 places? By the mechanical extraction of meat.
Traditionally, you had the chop, rump, cut, slice or chunk none of which now suffice. After the butcher takes his chops, a machine sucks the meat off the bone and this ends up in burgers. YUCK!
Ahem! Before I end up in an Oprah experience, the truth really is, that is where it ends up, in the food of globalisation.
Only 18% of total American meat production gets exported and most of that to three countries that have now banned the importation of American beef for good reason.
Blame the North
The Canadians are now getting payback for not joining the Coalition of the Cajoled that invaded Iraq. The one mad cow found in Canada in May 2003 has already cost that industry over $2.5bn.
So, the plausible story from the US Food Agency is that this cow came from a batch of 74 imported from Canada in 1991. One would not be cajoled.
If that is the case, questions abound.
  • Why was the cow not just destroyed rather than fed into the food chain?
  • How long ago was this discovered before it became public?
  • Where are the other 73 cows of this batch that got imported?
  • What were the cows being fed, hay or the manufacture-tainted foodstuff?
Zero-risk meat
No thanks!
Cows being fed dead cows become mad cows. The infected parts of the mad cows are supposedly the brain and the spinal cord. Well, the brain and spinal cord got infected through the digestive system.
One being a layman, it is impossible to ignore the fact that any infected part of an animal is a sick animal, just as a headache reduces an effective performance of a human.
A mad cow cannot stand on its feet, salivates foamingly, one would recoil at the thought of touching it.
Zero-risk? I think NOT!
The function of dentition
The dentition of animals is linked to the digestive system and vice versa. Dental classification defines what animals eat, how it is masticated and made ready for digestion.
Herbivores eat plants and have a digestive system that allows for the food to be regurgitated and chewed again making it digestible. That process is known as chewing the cud. Cows are herbivores.
Carnivores are animals that eat other animals. Lions and wolves are examples of such animals.
Omnivores subsist on both plants and other animals. Humans are omnivores. It is surprising that after millions of years of evolution, certain humans evolved more dramatically in the last century to become saintly vegetarians or herbivores without a change in either their dentition or digestive systems.
The whole concept is absurd but does not lend itself to objective scrutiny on the part of the vegetarian.
In all cases, it is interesting to note that the herbivore, carnivore and omnivore feed their young milk. Bedlam (one-time a mental institution) almost beckons for patients who have evolved out of the norm.
Well, cows need to chew the cud, but when fed bone meal and offal as part of the non-evolutionary but crazy science balanced diet, their digestive balance is disrupted. In the case of milk-cows, more mucous ends up in the milk and that affects the taste of what is a useful life-giving source of nutrients.
Mucking around with our food
In the quest for ever-redder tomatoes, sun-yellow egg yolks and coloured carrots pandering to customer choice and better science of agriculture horrible Frankenstein foods are unleashed on our fragile digestive systems making way for humans with animal diseases.
Customer choice? What does a city-dweller born and bred in the city know about the real taste, colour, texture, appearance and quality of fresh food? However, they form the basis of the surveys conducted on what food should be like.
Blinding science with politically motivated assurances from professors with more letters after their names than the alphabet, belies the blunders of salmonella, listeria, E. coli 1057, BSE and genetically modified crops, none of which are now able to quell or curtail our hysteria whenever a food scare is announced.
There is no more trust of the establishment in these matters.
Humans are neither herbivores nor carnivores, but omnivores, we eat both plants and animals. Our physiology has evolved for that purpose.
Eating healthy and healthfully does not have to ignore that basic fact.
One warning and protest must always be - Stop mucking around with our food!

Sunday 28 December 2003

The indulgence of incumbency

What is not a right
First of all, references are alluded to without prejudice.
Leadership confers on leaders to the opportunity guide, direct, instruct, advice and represent the people represented or being lead.
Leadership can come by heredity as in monarchies, by conquest or usurpation usually exemplified in coups, by conferment through democratic channels or even inexplicable circumstance - to broad an issue to discuss in detail.
However, understanding the function of leadership an how to exercise it justly is an aspect of knowledge, wisdom and prudence that escapes many leaders who in turn create self-serving and self-propagating structures to maintain their status without due regard for the people they lead.
Leadership is not a right, even if you are the incumbent.
One illustrates a number of instances of abuse of process and equity in maintaining a status of leadership.
African and Ex-Soviet Republic Leaders - Dictators to you and me
One particular trait one has observed is the tendency for elected leaders elected on a constitutional term of a number of years for a fixed length of time, manipulating the legislative process to modify the term duration and creating a "till death do us part" leadership pact very similar to a monarchy.
Examples of where this kind of leadership has benefited the people at large are exceptions rather than the rule - Azerbaijan.
Rather, these docile democratic fig-leaves metamorphosed into despotic tyrants, dictators, plundering their countries natural resources, polarising ethnic and religious differences for their own ends and suppressing every kind of dissent and illegally siphoning stolen moneys to foreign accounts.
American Gerrymandering - An electoral fraud long before elections
One horrible aspect of American democracy is the ability of legislature to redraw constituency boundaries to favour either party in power.
If the constituency boundaries were reconstructed to reasonable shapes and demographic factors, the process would have been above board.
Unlike the scrutiny foreign elections get subjected to during the polling and counting process. Gerrymandering or redistricting happens between elections, sanctioned by incumbent politicians stealing the vote long before it is cast.
Corporate Governance
The last two decades has seen the rise and fall of the cult of the CEO - IBM's Watson, GE's Welch, Chrysler's Iacocca, Enron's Lay, the list is almost endless. However, another interesting drift to this is exemplified in Disney.
A Michael Eisner has been the head of Disney since 1984 and is credited with turning Disney into a major Fortune 500 company.
When he first started losing lieutenants, we almost always concurred that they were impatient in waiting for the prize. These lieutenants have moved on to greater things.
However, Mr Eisner seems to have the knack for losing these helpers, it is no more careless but catastrophic. In one week, two senior executives including a nephew of Walt Disney resigned and called for Eisner's resignation.
The danger is Mr Eisner might just have run out of Disney magic dust.
Unchallenged Incumbency would end eventually
Incumbency when ingratiated takes away the challenge of competing forces that compel the incumbents to perform and owe proper and due allegiance to the framework that placed them in that position of leadership.
The many examples of incumbency stifling innovation, resistant to change and reform exist in all aspects of human endeavour. It offers a negative but effective resistance to irrelevance by cutting off any objective assessment of its existence.
However, history shows that all sorts of incumbency have a shelf life due to expire at the behest of circumstance or a natural course of events.

Saturday 27 December 2003

Shock and Awe

Introduction to Humility - 101
Our friends the Americans are the sole global superpower. Mikhail Gorbachev with his Glasnost and Perestroika policies which opened up the Soviet Union, laid bare an unsustainable drive to compete with America after the Star Wars initiative and put paid to the Cold War.
This brought the liberation of the Eastern Bloc European countries west of the Soviet Union from Communism. Eight of those countries would join the enlarged European Union in May 2004.
The braggadocio that accompanied the invasion of Iraq, the ousting of the Iraqi regime, the end to hostilities and the capture of Saddam Hussein are too well documented to suffer the pillory of revisionist historians.
The Americans and the coalition of the blackmailed, bribed and coerced did a quick job of it all, the shock of a quick victory and the awe of the volume of precision guided artillery that had a target of hitting defenceless civilians is all too well known.
A catalogue still remains of how the American's unilateralist approach with Britain's unstinting support has continually alienated well meaning though differing views to the stance American has adopted.
With hindsight, the war with Iraq was probably necessary, but good technology does not take the place of diplomacy, useful intelligence, respect for the traditions of the occupied territory and the restoration of self-determination for the Iraqi.
One's shock and awe.
  • The people of Iraq pronounce it as ee-rack; the occupying forces of America call it eye-rack - you cannot invade, occupy, run roughshod over the country and then rename it.
  • The liberation of Jessica Lynch is a lot less to it than meets the eye. You can only put so much of a spin on it before the truth is out.
  • There is still no evidence of WMDs or where they might have been disposed of. From weapons deployable within 45 minutes through massive nuclear acquisition to weapons programs. Intelligence suddenly sounds like the ability to see the truth but accentuate a preferred lie.
  • Dr David Kelly being spun out of earthly orbit by the New Labour publicity machinery - The Hutton Inquiryprovided a Window on Media
  • That a CIA operative was uncovered by some White House apparatchik in revenge for her husband's insistence that Iraq had not acquired uranium from Niger.
  • A third person was buried with Saddam's sons, his 14-year-old grandson, Mustafa.
  • Ahmed Chalabi who is a convicted felon in neighbouring Jordan is the darling of the American occupying forces - here we go again.
  • Death of Sergio de Mello
  • Guantanamo Bay - we do not even have a jury to go out on this one - even Cuba is not pleased.
  • Contracts going to coalition countries, then they have the gall to ask France, Germany and Russia to forgive Iraqi debts. Dick Cheney's former firm allegedly overcharges by $60 million. One does not understand this, why would I give up $40bn to fight over $18bn?
  • No end to hostilities.
  • Saddam Hussein found in a hole and Osama bin Laden still at large.
One only hopes that lessons are being learnt, one might have been shocked and awed, but definitely, neither amused nor impressed.
Might tempered with gentle consideration is a difficult but necessary mix or the absence of humility would humble the mighty to the point of humiliation.
Further Reading and references

Friday 26 December 2003

Boxing Day - Class War

Fox the box
In English-speaking countries, the day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day. Tradition has it that churches opened their alms boxes which contained donations given over the year and give the contents to the poor. This custom stretched back about 800 years.
Another usage dates back to 1833, defining Boxing Day as the first weekday after Christmas celebrated as a legal public holiday in the Commonwealth of Nations, marked by giving small gifts to service workers, most especially postal workers.
In the United Kingdom, Boxing Day presents a number of opportunities catering for all strata of society. Apart for the lower end of giving gifts to the poor or workers, many other groups come out to play.
It is rumoured the Royal family opens their presents on the 26th of December. Boxing Day also marks the most important day of the hunts; a subject of parliamentary debate that has befuddled the ruling Labour Party; pitching the urban against the rural.
Most football clubs have fixtures on Boxing Day, bringing out the fans in large numbers trying to work off the medley of turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey "I'm going to be sick" eaten through out Christmas. Finally, the races are open on over 10 racecourses. The Racing World.
Of all the Boxing Day events, the hunts have had the most political activity, being one of the promises New Labour snuck into their manifesto.
Fox hunting is primarily a country sport that the middle classes have been unable to access - it basically serves the interests of landed gentry and supports a local economy of culling the nuisance of foxes and provides needed employment to the villages in which the hunts occur.
The irony and cant of it all is displayed in the amount of parliament time devoted to enacting legislation to ban foxhunting. The battle lines being drawn between the city dwellers and the countryside. None of whom know anything life in the other.
Oscar Wilde put it brilliantly - "The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable"
The perspective that provides to the debate makes one wonder why so much time has been spent debating something as inconsequential as fox-hunting and very little on the core manifesto pledges for education, health, transport, Europe and the Euro.
Though, the government threatened to the use the Parliament Act - a sledgehammer legislative tool to make an issue law where the House of Lords have opposed it - the final action regarding fox hunting has not been decided.
One is neither for nor against fox hunting, but the whole debate did provide a good WMD - Weapon of Mass Distraction from the important but failing public services as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) raised indirect taxes as a Wielder of Mass Deception.
This aspect of the British psyche makes interesting reading, where there have been instances of people losing their lives in defence of animals, but no one cares that much for the needy, deprived, disadvantaged, destitute and diseased who all happen to be part of our race and having a nap on your doorstep.
Another man in the street would intone with disdain - Get A Life and get your priorities right.
Basically, fox hunting has highlighted an indefensible waste of time, discussing the untenable to punish the unspeakable and keep them from the mundane pleasures of the uneatable.
One has a suggestion - Ban Boxing Day and everything associated with it - the presents, the poor, the service workers, football, races and hunts - that is fairness and equity, it heralds the birth of the egalitarian society.