Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who's Going To Win The Australia-India Test Series?

A better question might be: who the hell cares? By the middle of next month, these two teams would have played sixteen tests over the last five years, in addition to a gluttonous number of ODIs. The series will, of course, be highly entertaining, especially when you consider Ponting still expects other teams to take Australians' words on catches/bump balls. Hahahahahaha. That Ricky - always was a joker. Anyway, even though India appear stronger on paper, I predict a drawn series. Let's see what happens.

As an aside, all this serves to remind me how much we've descended into sisters-of-the-poor territory. Nobody wants to play us, nobody wants to visit us, and nobody gives a crap about us. If you could anthromorphize Pakistani cricket, we'd be on the side of milk cartons and the subject of intensive police investigations, because we've simply vanished from the face of the earth. We've become the West Indies of the late 90s and early 00s: a once-great team that's simply irrelevant now; except (a) we have no one even close to the Prince, and (b) opposing teams still loved going to the Windies for the beaches and the weed.

We suck.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Love Filling Out Visa Applications

Because I get to answer questions like this:
In periods of either peace or war, have you ever been involved in the commission of a war crime or crime against humanity, such as: willful killing, torture, attacks upon, enslavement, starvation or other inhumane acts committed against civilians or prisoners of war; or deportation of civilians?

No man, but not for a lack of trying. I did attempt to enslave Imran Farhat once, but he kept dropping all the expensive things I have in my house, and I also had to constantly deal with his father in law giving me shit, so I dropped the idea fairly quickly.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sovereignty, American Incursions Into Pakistan, And The So-Called War On Terror

I was watching an investigative report on the 2006 terrorist plot to blow up several airplanes over the Atlantic ocean on BBC's Panorama a few weeks ago, and one particular sequence crystallized for me the reasons for the very difficult situation the U.S. and Pakistan find themselves in today. The sequence I'm referring to came toward the end of the program, and concerned the infamous Rashid Rauf, alleged to be the ringleader (and the liason between militant organizations in Pakistan and the sleeper cells in Britain) of the entire plot. This sequence, if you don't have an entire hour to spare - though in my view, you should make the time to watch the entire program - occurs from around the 7:00 mark on the fourth video clip linked above to around the 5:00 mark on the fifth.

A reasonable synopsis of events is outlined thusly: British intelligence agencies had their eyes and ears tuned in to the sleeper cell in Britain. They did not, however, want to move too quickly to arrest the members of the cell, and wanted to wait to gather as much prosecutable evidence as possible. The Americans, it is implied but never directly stated, forced their hand by pushing Pakistani authorities to arrest Rashid Rauf, who was on his way to Multan at the time (thought to be disappearing to the tribal areas). When the Pakistani police, on the orders of the Americans, arrested Rauf, it forced the British to arrest the plotters in Britain a lot sooner than they would have liked because they (the British) knew that the plotters would discover Rauf's arrest and would either panic and/or disappear. The basic point of the arrest of the plotters is this: the British were trying to be smart and were lying low, waiting for the right opportunity, and the Americans had ants in their pants, throwing a wrench in their well-crafted plans.

Of course, we know what happned to Rauf. He escaped late last year, as the video describes, from the back door of a mosque (!) when allowed to perform his prayers. You can read more on this bizarre escape in this story in Dawn, which I will quote from below:
The latest details of his escape will likely come as further embarrassment for the government, which was considering a British request for Rauf’s extradition in an unrelated 2002 murder case.

The senior security official said Rauf’s uncle, Mohammad Rafiq, had convinced the two police escorts to make the drive back to jail in Rafiq’s more comfortable van -- instead of in a police vehicle.

The official said that on the way to jail in Rawalpindi, Rauf asked for permission to stop at a fast-food restaurant -- where the uncle bought a meal for all of them.

Then Rauf asked to visit a mosque for prayers, which was also allowed.

While the prayer service was going on Rauf and his uncle disappeared.

The thing to note in the video is one American official's reaction, recorded around the 6:30 mark of the fifth and final clip, when he says he felt "anger and disappointment" but that he "can't say he was surprised". The basic point of Rauf's escape is this: Pakistani competence, if not willingness, to tackle the militant threat has every reason to be questioned by reasonable observers of the last seven years. (You can read more of this questioning in this provocative feature in the NYT Magazine a few weeks ago).

These conflicting tendencies - American ham-handedness, and Pakistani incompetence - highlight exactly why we are where we are today, with U.S. incursions into Pakistan becoming a regular occurrence and with U.S. and Pakistani forces shooting at each other.

On the one hand, the inability (or the unwillingness) of certain elements of the Pakistani state to tackle the militant threat has meant that non-state actors such as the Taliban and their local affiliates have attained and secured bases from which to organize, plan and execute attacks against ISAF/NATO forces in Afghanistan, and possibly against civilians in Western cities. This state of affairs understandbly has the U.S. and its Western allies concerned, and truth to be told, placed in the same position, any other government would think the same way (especially if faced with the prospect of high value militant targets eating at McDonalds and then escaping through back doors of mosques). This concern, in turn, has led to the following theoretically-reasonable position: as our ally, and recipient of oodles of aid, we expect you to fulfill certain tasks. If you cannot, or do not want to, fulfill these certain tasks, we will do the dirty work - just make sure to get out of the way.

The problem with this position is not its moral justifiability but its operational viability. Put differently, the problem with this position is not that it's "wrong" but that the Americans generally have no idea about what they're doing on the ground. It is similar to the predicament that supply-side economics faces: fine in theory under heroic assumptions, but highly problematic in reality. For one thing, such a position is predicated on the assumption that the "actionable intelligence" we hear so much of is accurate. If the Iraq WMD debacle was not enough to cast serious doubt on American intelligence, their actions in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan should settle the debate. There are too many examples to recount of the U.S. using a hatchet where a scalpel would be more approriate, to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama. For our purposes, just one will suffice.

On the night of August 22, the U.S. conducted a military strike in the Afghan village of Azizabad and killed more than 90 civilians (I highly recommend reading this brilliant report filed by the NYT's Carlotta Gall, I also recommend reading Glenn Greenwald's blog post on the incident). I want to quote one particular passage from Gall's report:
The villagers and the relatives of some of the people killed in the raid insisted that none of them were Taliban and that there were no Taliban present in the village. Eight of the men killed were security guards supplied by Reza Khan to a private American security company and did possess weapons, said Gul Ahmed Khan, Reza Khan’s brother. Two other security guards and three members of the local Afghan police were detained by United States forces during the raid. Four of them were released a week later.The Khan brothers are from the most prominent family in the village and were hosting the memorial ceremony for their brother, Taimoor Shah, who was killed in a business dispute a year ago. They had cards issued by an American Special Forces officer that designated each of them as a “coordinator for the U.S.S.F.” Another brother, Haji Abdul Rashid, blamed a business rival for falsely telling the Americans that their family supported the Taliban.

Such lapses have been all too regular on both sides of the Durand Line, and result from a complete lack of familiarity with the area, its people, its traditions, and its historic tribal and regional cleavages. Unlike the British in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Americans simply do not know how to do empire properly. The British would send officers, bureaucrats, and trade missionaries for years on end; these representatives, by settling in the colonies and raising families, became locals for all intents and purposes, and consequently understood what the hell they were doing. By contrast, the Americans have mid-level CIA officials who've been there two months, as well as random bureaucrats sitting in Washington, making important decisions such as "Should we bomb this village based on intelligence provided by a local informant who may or may not have ulterior motives for providing us this information?"

In concrete terms, what the employment by the U.S. of overly blunt instruments in this war means is a serious complication for Pakistani attempts to quell militancy within its borders. Under the new civilian regime, the Pakistani government has inculcated a much more broad-ranging strategy than that of the Musharraf government, and has brought to bear political, economic, and military tools to the problem. The success of such a strategy, however, is predicated in part on non-interference from external actors; every time the U.S. kills civilians in the tribal areas of Pakistan, it makes the Pakistani strategy that much more likely to fail.

So this is where we find ourselves today: the Americans feel compelled to escalate their role in the region because Pakistani authorities allow things like Rashid Rauf eating a Happy Meal before escaping from the back door of a mosque. When the Americans escalate their role, they invariably do so clumsily, invariably kill civilians, and invariably cause Pakistan more problems in carrying out its mission, which leads to the war becoming even more of a political millstone, setting off a vicious cycle. The riding of this vicious cycle is what we experiencing today, with both the U.S. and Pakistani governments entrenching themselves further in their mutually exclusive positions. The vicious cycle has the potential of easily spiralling out of control.

I should also stipulate for the record that the violation by the U.S. of Pakistan's sovereignty - the notion that a state practices exclusive control of territory within its borders - in FATA is a red herring, for three reasons. First, the Pakistani state's sovereignty in the region since independence has been tenuous at best; the area has largely been left to its own devices under the stewardship of local- and district-level tribal governments. Second, even if the preceding sentence was not true, Pakistan's sovereignty in the region was chronologically and historically first violated by the Taliban, and not American drones and soldiers. Like virginity, sovereignty can logically only be violated once; once the Taliban established a quasi-parallel administration in the region, it became a political and legal reality that Pakistan does not lay claim to controlling the area. Third, the uproar about sovereignty concering American actions in the reigon in the last few weeks ignores the fact that the Americans have been doing this for well over two years now; it is only the fact that (a) it has become more overt, and (b) it is being done more frequently that seems to be the root of Pakistani anger. Neither (a) nor (b) have anything to do with the violation of sovereignty per se and have everything to do with the way the violation of sovereignty is conducted.

Irrespective of polito-legal questions of sovereignty, the fact remains that the status quo represents an extremely dangerous situation for the Pakistani state. Squeezed by the Americans to do more, by the Pakistani population to do less, and by the Taliban to do nothing, this high-wire balancing act is doomed to fail. The question, however, remains: on which side of the wire is Pakistan going to fall?

Live Blogging The First Obama-McCain Debate

Fuck, I’m late. Goddamn DHL. Long story. Alright let’s get started.

8:09 p.m. Obama looks quite stern and solemn talking about this economic crisis.

8:10 p.m. McCain tells us that he “hopes” that he’ll vote for this rescue plan. Way to commit yourself, bro.

8:11 p.m. I’m sorry, I know I’m biased and all, but only one of these guys looks presidential. The other one looks like a giant teddy bear you’d buy at a gift shop.

8:13 p.m. Lehrer is really trying to get the two to talk to each other in this classical debate format, and they’re struggling to break out of the mold of talking to the moderator rather than each other.

8:14 p.m. McCain tries to draw a connection between this financial crisis and government spending. A bit of a reach there; good to see he’s living up to his promise of not knowing anything about the economy.

8:16 p.m. Obama is coming out really conciliatory here. He’s beginning each answer with where he agrees with what McCain said, and then tries to highlight differences. Ah, nuance.

8:18 p.m. McCain tells us he doesn’t “want to go back and forth” with Obama on this spending issue. Of course not, it’s only a debate after all. He also informs us that he was called “the Sheriff” by someone on the appropriations committee. Ok, Sheriff.

8:19 p.m. Obama, after McCain rattles off some numbers: “I don’t know where John is getting his figures from.” Good times.

8:21 p.m. McCain brings out the first “my friends” of the night. About 17 minutes after I would have expected it.

8:22 p.m. I’m glad Obama directly responds to this nonsensical Republican claim that he will raise taxes. He clarifies that he will lower taxes for anyone making less than $250,000. Nice forceful point. He also brings up a little known point (well, little known outside the lefty blogosphere) that McCain is going to tax health benefits too. Read Bob Herbert’s column from a couple of weeks ago on this issue.

8:25 p.m. I love Obama’s little contemptuous smirk when McCain starts talking crap. I also love that he responds “That’s just not true.”

8:26 p.m. Lehrer actually uses the phrase “financial rescue thing.” And this is the moderator.

8:27 p.m. Obama is very impressive when he talks about the economy generally and the energy industry in particular.

8:29 p.m. This may sound a little mean, but do you think a guy McCain’s age can remain standing for an hour and a half?

8:31 p.m. Oops. Obama just called McCain “Tom” instead of “John”.

8:34 p.m. I have to say, this is a pretty even contest so far, in that neither candidate would have convinced supporters of the other to even think about voting for the other guy.

8:36 p.m. I love that in this country, McCain’s allegation of the federal government taking over healthcare under a President Obama is a bad thing. Obama responds with another one of those contemptuous smirks.

8:39 p.m. Moving on to Iraq. McCain claims “We are winning in Iraq.” Can someone please explain to me what “winning in Iraq” means? I don’t mean to ask this snarkily; I genuinely want to know the contours of “victory”.

8:42 p.m. Obama’s best little sequence of the night. He connects McCain to Bush on Iraq, brings up the fact that he opposed it from the start, and basically that he’s been right about everything regarding the unknown cost, the unknown fallout, and the unknown exit strategy. Can’t argue with that.

8:45 p.m. Obama is firing right now. He brings up the fact that McCain thought Iraq would be “quick and easy” and says “you were wrong”. He brings up the fact that McCain said the Americans would be “greeted as liberators” and says “you were wrong”. Really good one-two punch right there. He also takes away McCain’s “surge” talking point by saying that he’s confused about when the war began; he reminds him it started in 2003, not 2007.

8:51 p.m. Uh oh. Obama’s talking about a surge in Afghanistan and more troops in Afghanistan, and talking about cross-border attacks. I think I know where this is going.

8:54 p.m. I’m suffering from serious cognitive dissonance right now. McCain is my candidate? He’s certainly the one who sounds more reasonable on Pakistan and FATA. He talks about the importance of having the Pakistani population and leadership on America’s side. Of course, I don’t believe a word he says, but if I did, he’d be my guy, on this issue at least.

8:56 p.m. Wow. What a put-down. Obama tells McCain that he agrees with McCain on being prudent, but that coming from a guy who “called for the extinction of North Korea” and “sung songs about bombing Iran”, the claim isn’t so “credible”. Oh, snap!

8:58 p.m. McCain’s first Ronald Reagan reference. Almost an hour in; seriously destroying the over-under on that one.

9:00 p.m. A bracelet-off! Both candidates bring up bracelets they were given by mothers, one mother (to McCain) saying that her son’s death shouldn’t be in vain, and one mother (to Obama) saying that no other mother should have to go through what she’s going through. Both mothers presented a bracelet to their candidate to bring home the point.

9:03 p.m. Again, so far, this is a pretty even contest. On to Iran. McCain, for some reason proudly, claims that he’s proposed a “league of democracies”. Who exactly thinks that any meaningful action can be taken on any global issue without Russia and China?

9:06 p.m. Obama connects Iran’s rising influence to Iraq, and importantly brings up my Russia and China point: you can’t do fuck-all about Iran’s nukes without those two. (He didn’t say “fuck-all”).

9:08 p.m. McCain can’t pronounce “Ahmadinejad”. Well, it’s better than not being able to pronounce “nuclear” isn’t it?

9:11 p.m. Oh, man. Obama brings up the fact that McCain’s adviser Henry Kissinger, among four other recent secretaries of state, have endorsed his strategy of meeting with leaders of Cuba, Syria and Iran without preconditions. Made him look pretty stupid there.

9:16 p.m. Excuse me, but since when did Henry Kissinger become some sort of foreign policy guru? Why does his agreement or disagreement with one candidate’s ideas matter? Has he ever been right about anything?

9:18 p.m. McCain’s strategy seems to be simple: keep insisting that Obama “doesn’t understand” important issues, or in other words, paint him as naïve, and too young. He’s doing his best, but I don’t know how much those charges will stick given that Obama’s been right about most every foreign policy issue in the last 6 years.

9:20 p.m. Will someone please explain to John McCain that it was Georgia – not Russia – that was the aggressor state last month? Please? Oh, well. We are all Georgians today.

9:23 p.m. Obama’s excellent in connecting neutral issues where both candidates largely agree, and connecting it to an issue where he’s clearly dominant. In this instance, he connects Russia’s rise to a lack of energy independent in America. Very sound debating strategy.

9:25 p.m. Talking over each other and bickering now. Last five minutes.

9:28 p.m. Blah blah blah. I feel like I’ve heard all this stuff before.

9:29 p.m. I exhale very deeply every time Obama mentions “Pakistan”. Why am I getting increasingly concerned about this?

9:32 p.m. These last few minutes have highlighted the two candidates’ strategies. Obama wants to continually associate McCain with George Bush, and McCain wants to continually paint Obama as naïve and someone who doesn’t “get it” (and talk about earmarks and pork-barrel spending). On the whole, I think Obama has been more successful than McCain, but I also think that greater success is because Obama’s general campaign has been about that one single issue, whereas McCain is yet to decide on a single narrative against Obama and seems to be more ad-hoc in his criticisms.

9:36 p.m. You want to hear a roomful of groans? Just have McCain bring up his POW-ness.

9:38 p.m. And that’s that. As I said, pretty even contest. Two more debates, but what I’m REALLY looking forward to is the vice-presidential debate.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Joe Biden's History Lesson

For a smart guy, Joe Biden sure makes a lot of Bushisms. Here's his latest one:

When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, "look, here's what happened."

Or, as Jesse Walker of Reason magazine puts it:

And if you owned an experimental TV set in 1929, you would have seen him. And you would have said to yourself, "Who is this guy? What happened to President Hoover?"

Benazir Who?

Looks like Zardari is trying to get laid in NYC.

This comes from the LA Times:

Sarah Palin's meeting in New York this morning with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari — part of her crash course in foreign affairs — began innocuously enough.

"So nice to meet you," she told him, according to the pool report filed by CNN, and he responded in kind.

Simple, civil salutations. But Zardari soon steered the conversation in a direction that would make Campbell Brown, the CNN anchor who Tuesday called John McCain's campaign aides sexist, cringe and cry chauvinism. Here is the exchange:

ZARDARI: “You are even more gorgeous than you are on the [inaudible].”

PALIN: “You are so nice. Thank you.”

ZARDARI: “Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you.”

[A Zardari handler tells the two to shake hands again for the cameras.]

PALIN: “I’m supposed to pose again.”

ZARDARI: “If he’s insisting, I might hug.”

At that point, the pool reporter was escorted from the room.

Update: Here, for your viewing enjoyment, is the video of the Zardari-Palin meeting.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Microsoft-Word-Changing-The-English-Language Watch

Hey, did you know "relatedly" is not a word, and that you probably meant "belatedly" or "elatedly"?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sack Dr Shahid Masood

Of all the appointments the new government has made, few have been more baffling than the elevation of the pro-PML-N Dr Shahid Masood to chairman of PTV. I am still not quite convinced, as many others are, that the above debacle was an act of deliberate sabotage by Masood. But it was definetely a goof that should cost him his job, especially considering the mess made with Prime Minister Gillani's maiden speech. The Nation reports on the mess-up:

Soon after the President’s decision to address the nation, the Information Ministry directed the PTV authorities to make arrangements for the speech. Once the PTV team reached the Presidency, it was decided that the President’s speech would be recorded rather than broadcast live and clear instructions were provided to the PTV Chairman and MD Dr Shahid Masood to organise recording equipment accordingly.
After approving the draft of the address, the President, as a part of the routine exercise, took a few minutes to rehearse the speech. The PTV cameras and recording systems were activated to monitor the rehearsal.
The President’s rehearsal was telecast live by the PTV and this live feed was picked by two other private networks. Dr Shahid Masood was present on the scene all through the episode.
“Dr Shahid Masood was clearly directed that the speech would be recorded and the President did not wish a live broadcast,” said a source at the Presidency. “The fact that despite strict instructions by the Presidency and the Information Ministry, PTV Chairman and MD organised live telecast and the state media even provided clean feed to two other channels demonstrated the length to which Dr Masood could go to damage the government?”

And while it would be unfair to laugh at Asif Zardari for this incident, the video makes for great entertainment.

The Season Begins Now

There are three possible hypotheses one can reach based on last week's results. The first hypothesis is that Barcelona will only play well against teams with the word "Sporting" in their name (2 wins and 9 goals against Lisbon and Gijon, 0 wins and 1 goal against Numancia and Santander). The second hypothesis is that Barcelona will only play well when Guardiola opts for a suit in lieu of those preppy ass Banana Republic button-up sweaters (same breakdown as above). The third hypothesis is that slowly but surely, things are coming together, and looking up. Watch these videos, and tell me what you think.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bomb Blast in Islamabad: The Morning After

The pictures of the Marriott in daylight are harrowing.

Marriott, before and after the bombing:

(via Marriott website)

(Courtesy: New York Times)

The scale of this bombing is unprecedented, as is the identity of the ultimate target. I can't recall any such incident that was aimed squarely at civilians. And while it may be true that the Marriott is frequented by foreigners, the timing of the bombing (around Iftar) indicates that the aim wasn't to kill foreign nationals but to kill as many people as possible.

As is usually the case in these incidents in Pakistan, the majority of people who died were people who were just doing their job - policemen, security guards, valets and receptionists. Eyewitness reports state that after the first blast, the driver of the truck shouted at the security guards to get out of the way or die. Many of them, including guards stationed at Frontier House (I think that's what they said) which is some way away, rushed TOWARDS the truck. We salute these people. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who perished.

We must see this attack as what it is: an attack on Pakistan and its people. We are at war and the only way we win this is by fighting back. There is a need for all of us to think of this as a war because that's what this is. The Pakistani security establishment needs to focus its energies away from India once and for all, it's the western border that poses the greatest danger to us at this time.

Final thought:

Listening to various politicians all night has yet again highlighted that he PML(N) and the Jammat-e-Islami cannot ever be allowed to come into power. Not only that, they've forgone any right to be taken seriously. But what troubles me is that the PML(N) and the JI have been historically aligned with various members of the armed forces, for whom they served as proxies, if these army men continue to share the same sort of ideology as espoused by the likes of Liaquat Baloch of the JI, then we've got a big problem.

(For more pictures and videos of the incident, check out All Things Pakistan.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bomb Blast in Islamabad

Breaking News: 8:32 p.m.

A suicide bomber traveling in a truck has blown himself outside Marriott Hotel, Islamabad. It was a massive blast and the hotel is in ruins. The television pictures show many parts of the hotel on fire. The hotel's gas pipeline has burst making the situtation worse. The bombing occured around 8:05 p.m.

You can see live pictures via GEO, DAWN and AAJ.

The current death toll is 15 with at least 50 injured. These numbers may rise as all the people inside the hotel have not yet been accounted for.

The Islamabad Marriott is an upscale hotel that is the residence of choice for foreign travellers as well as rich local business travelers.

Geo is reporting that sources are claiming that they had reports that the Parliament House or
the Prime Minister's House was being targeted. Not sure if this blast is related or if that's a different threat.

Update - 8:57 p.m.

The Police and Fire Services officials are evacuating Marriott as they fear that the structure is about to collapse. The entire building is on fire. People are still trapped in the building.
The truck struck the security check post and appears to have been completely filled with explosives. A security official has stated that this is the most powerful bomb in Pakistani history.
Official death toll is now 24. That's just gone to 25.

Update - 9:05 p.m.

American and other foreign embassy officials have reached the scene. The hotel appears was near full occupancy. A large number of foreigners, including journalist covering Zardari's maiden speech to parliament were staying at the hotel. All the rooms in the hotel are on fire. The fire's raging.

Update - 9:18 p.m.

Interior Ministry has raised the death toll to 30. President's security adviser Rehman Malik has reached the scene. Owner of the hotel Sadruddin Hashwani is also on the scene, he's literally shaking.

The intensity of the blast can be gauged from the fact that 4 buildings around Marriott (located some way away) have been heavily damaged.

3 Americans and 1 Danish national are injured. 15 foreigners are reported to be still trapped inside.

I remember seeing the Sheraton Karachi after it was bombed a few years ago. The bombing in Islamabad is on another level. It's more reminiscent of the Oklahoma City bombings than any thing else I can recall.

Update - 9:31 p.m.

There were apparently 2 blasts, could be twin suicide blasts. First blast was aimed at the security check post, perhaps to allow the truck to head inside. The first blast did not fulfill this aim and then the truck blew up at the check post. Officials are claiming that there must have been around 400 - 500 kilograms of explosive material.

Jesus Christ, there were two kids shouting for help from one window. That room is now ablaze.

Figure for the death toll ranges from between 35 - 50; officials are claiming this may cross 100.

Update - 10:04 p.m.

Army Corps of Engineer have taken control of the operation. Trying to rescue the trapped as well as preventing the hotel from collapsing.

Death toll

Official / Geo / Dawn : 40
Din: 60
CNN: 50 (there reporter was inside Marriott at the time.)

The government is officially laying blame on the Taliban and other militants but no mention has been made of Al - Qaeda.

4 Germans and 1 Saudi are also among the injured.

Update - 10:21 p.m.

The Danish national injured in the blast is a diplomat.

Ishaq Dar of PML(N) is asked by Dawn News if his party will offer support to the government; he says they will but then he goes on talking about the restoration of the judiciary and the reason for PML N's exit from the coalition. The Dawn News guy wants to slap him, as do I. He calms himself down, I don't but can't slap him. He asks Ishaq Dar, again, "do you not agree that the security issue must take priority over other issues?" Ishaq replies "blah blah blah judge judges judges blah blah blah."

The PML N realy needs to understand what's actually happening in the country. They either seem unwilling or unable to comprehend the crisis afflicting the country. Not only is it bad policy, it's bad politics.

Update - 10:32

The Saudi Ambassador is on the scene. Confirms that there were a number of Saudi Airline staff in the building, of which 2 are injured and at PIMS. They are still trying to locate others.

Update - 10:47

Liaquat Baloch, a Jamaat Islami leader, is being interviewed. He claims that Zardari et al are not serious about solving problems afflicting the country. He states that the entire region has been set ablaze by 'foreign forces.' Just in case we didn't get what he was saying, he elaborates that 'foreign forces are to blame.' He then lays into the U.S. and the 'army regime.' He goes on to justify the actions of local militants by saying that if Pakistanis are going to be bombed by the U.S. and their own army, they will react. The inference here being that these people were innocent to begin with.

I.G. Islamabad says that the police was on red alert, there were serious threats and major government buildings were placed under a 'red zone.' The Marriott was not in this 'red zone' protection which may be why it was targetted. He has asked for more forces from the government. The army has been asked to aid the police. The explosive used seem to be the same as used to bomb the Danish Embassy says the I.G.

There is a 15 feet deep by 30 feet wide crater at the site.

Hotels in Islamabad, including Serena and Holiday Inn, have been evacuated.

Farhatullah Babar, spokesman PPPP - "The President's visit to the U.N., New York is sxpected to go ahead as scheduled." Surely the President will reconsider?

Update - 11:00 p.m.

The truck is reported to have been sighted on the roads for a couple of hours, was apparently unable to get to its primary target.

The entire Pakistani establishment - President, PM, Armed Forces Chiefs, Parlaiment and Senate leaders were all sitting in the same room, at an Iftar hosted by the President, when the bombing took place.

Official Death Toll: 47. Injured: 200.

Hospitals officials are reporting that they are running out of blood and are asking people to step forward and donate blood.

Update - 11:19

16 Saudi nationals injured, 6 are missing.

Countrywide Red Alert declared.

The explosives used in the bombing could be closer to 1 ton (1000 kg),double the original estimate.

Update - 11:27

It's almost 4 hours since the blast. No official statement has yet been released by any high ranking officials. Kamran Khan at Geo is going on about how our leaders are cowards.,I don't really know what they can say at this moment.

Update - 11:32

7 foreigners are confirmed dead.

AAJ showed pictures of 4 white men wearing flak jackets and carrying rifles (American soldiers?). The camera moved away after about 10 seconds, none of the other channels have shown this image. The media is being asked to vacate the immediate area. I would imagine that GEO would've run with this image so they must have been ordered not to carry these pictures.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blog Recommendations

Alright, with the U.S. election just over six weeks away, I thought I'd share with you guys some of the stuff I read to stay up with what's going on in that world.

For polling and statistical analysis, go to Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight. Remember, the national polls mean almost nothing now; from here on in, it's all about electoral college counts and state-by-state numbers in the battleground states. Five Thirty Eight has cooler information, graphs and charts but it's also more cluttered because everything is on the main page. Real Clear is more sedate; the webpage to keep bookmarked is their battleground state polling page - some really good data there, and very easy to read and play around with.

For some really hard-hitting commentary, go to Salon's Glenn Greenwald. He's not a great writer, but if you want to cut through the bullshit, propaganda, and establishment-narratives, his blog is the place to go.

For well reasoned, well written, and well researched stuff, go to Obsidian Wings. Really good blog, and the comments can be very interesting and insightful too.

I continue to read Andrew Sullivan every day. He can be over the top at times, and I don't agree with him more than half the time, but he's very intellectually honest. His blog is also the best place to go for random links, interesting stories, and different points of view aired in the same space. It's very comprehensive that way.

The best place for updated news on politics is the NYT's The Caucus. It's basically the equivalent of a news tracker, except with entire stories rather than one-line summations.

I read Dan Drezner mostly for links on random academia- and IR-related stuff, but he also sometimes has interesting stuff on U.S. politics. A warning: he's a conservative Republican, and his commenters reflect that.

I'm going to be travelling on the weekend, so I won't be be blogging until the beginning of next week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tom Friedman And Mao: Brothers In Arms

This is an excerpt from Fareed Zakaris' interview of Tom Friedman a couple of days ago:
ZAKARIA: Aren't we already going green? I mean, every magazine you read nowadays gives you 10 ways to go green. The (inaudible) of merit (ph) have these initiatives. Schwarzenegger in California has it.

It feels like we're in the middle of something.

FRIEDMAN: Well, I always love when people say we're having a green revolution. I say, "Oh, really? Really? Us, a green revolution?"

Have you ever been to a revolution, Fareed, where no one got hurt? That's the green revolution.

In the green revolution, everyone's a winner. Exxon's green. GM's green. They've got a little cap now, a yellow cap on those flex fuel cars they've been making for 10 years -- never told anybody, so they could make more Hummers.

Yes, everybody's green now. But when everyone's green, Fareed, that's not a revolution. That's a party. We're having a green party. And I've got to tell you, it's so much fun, because I get invited to all the parties.

But it has nothing to do with a revolution, because a revolution -- you'll know it's a revolution. I wrote a book about the IT revolution, OK. And in that book, I really learned one thing about the IT revolution. There was just one rule in that revolution: change or die.

And this is our good friend Mao, more than a few years ago:
Revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Aamir Liaquat: An Offence to Reason

Is there any scandal in Pakistan greater than the existence of televangelist Aamir Liaquat Khan? Somehow, he manages to up the ante on outrageousness with each passing year.

First, we found out that he had lied about his bachelor of arts and doctorate, both of which were obtained from the non-existent Delaware-based Trinity College and University Spain, within a span of less than a week (Ahsan, why is Chicago dragging its ass; you should be a tenured professor by now).

Then he decided he was above the law and damn any policeman who thought otherwise.

The drive against tinted glasses was abandoned late Wednesday night after four days during which 207 cases were registered and 228 people arrested. Sources in the police department said that a wireless message was aired from the city police chief Niaz Ahmed Siddiki that the campaign be stopped forthwith. The decision came after the State Minister for Religious Affairs Dr Amir Liaquat’s car was intercepted by Clifton police late Tuesday night. The car had tinted glasses and a fancy number plate. The minister was let off following intervention by the Sindh Home Minister Rauf Siddiqui...The police officials were admonished for intercepting the state minister’s car. After the home minister’s intervention, Dr Liaquat was let off. The police did not register any case against him.

And just to whet your appetite for his latest outrage, Liaquat used the occasion of Salman Rushdie's knighthood to call for his murder.

But his latest stunt may just be his worst yet and in a perfect world would land his ass in jail. The Daily Times, without mentioning his name (Aamir Liaquat), his television programme (Aalim Online) or his political affiliation (MQM, before they thankfully kicked him out for this offence), reports:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is “horrified” to learn that two Ahamadis were murdered shortly after a broadcaster on one of Pakistan’s main television channels urged viewers to kill “blasphemers” and “apostates” as a religious duty, the IFJ said in a statement on Friday.

According to available information, the anchor, in his widely viewed programme on September 7, declared that the murder of members of the Ahmadi sect was the righteous duty of people of the Islamic faith.

He followed this by urging two other participants on his programme, from different denominations of Islam, to endorse his viewpoint. The anchor, who is a former minister for religious affairs, reportedly obtained the endorsement he sought, the IFJ statement said.

On September 9, the anchor answered a query on a phone-in programme with the comment that those guilty of the alleged sin of blasphemy should be put to death, the statement said.

Within 18 hours of the first broadcast, Abdul Manan Siddiqui, a physician in Mirpurkhas, was murdered. He was the head of the Ahmadi community in Mirpurkhas, the IFJ quoted news reports...

The following day, Sheikh Muhammad Yousaf, a 75-year-old rice trader and district chief of the Ahmadi sect, was killed in the city of Nawab Shah, the IFJ said. He was reportedly shot at by motorcycle borne assailants.

Attempting Irony in a Muslim Massacre

Theres a new video game out on the web. Players of the game control a green sports bra wearing American soldier sent to 'wipe out the Muslim race'. The game header opens as follows:
"The United States of America, a leader and role model for all in the modern world, is taking drastic measures to secure the freedom and safety of the world. Having born witness to the atrocities of the followers of Islam time and time again, it has been decided that the entire Muslim race shall be wiped from the surface of the Earth."
Shock! Outrage!

Balls. All things considered, an online game where the protagonist must carry out religious holocaust is really just a leap towards the inevitable. There are already hugely popular games premised on the acts of bullying, murder and serious crime, and those too are for mainstream consoles like the XBOX 360 and Playstation 2, whereas "Muslim Massacre" is an Internet game, independently developed in a basement by a 22 year old Australian asshat.

The mission statement for the game's protagonist is as follows:
"You, the American Hero, have valiantly volunteered to make landfall in the Middle East and ensure that no Muslim man or woman is left alive. Your mission priorities are to seek out and neutralize the Muslim leader Osama bin Laden, their radical cult leader Muhammad and finally Allah, taking down any targets you meet on the way."
Thats right. The final boss battle is with Allah, which is kind of funny, in a completely ridiculous "Derka Derka" kind of way. For an explanation of 'Derka Derka' please see the clip below, from the movie 'Team America: Global Police'. In this scene an American secret agent with pubes on his face and a towel on his head attempts to speak in Arabic, which incidentally comprises only of eight words, namely Derk, Derka, Bak, Haka, Sherpa, Muhammad, Jihad and Allah.

It goes without saying that the game is pissing people off. According to Mohammed Shafiq of the the Ramadhan Foundation, “[e]ncouraging children and young people in a game to kill Muslims is unacceptable, tasteless and deeply offensive.” Sure. But isn't this sort of stuff too silly to take seriously?

Perhaps the only thing worthy of comment in all of this is the creators hilarious defence of his game. In the Something Awful (SA) Forums, Eric 'Sigvatr' Vaughn is quoted as having said:
“The Muslims represented in the game aren't meant to be based on actual Muslims, they are more like 2002 Fox News Terrorist Jihadist everybody panic Muslims. So, a more fitting title is "Stereotypical Muslim Massacre" but that just doesn't have the same ring to it.

If I was to try and come up with a meaning for the game at this moment, it would probably be something along the lines of metaphorically destroying the stereotypical depiction of a Muslim..”
Brilliant. It is the equivalent of Fox News running the New Yorkers controversial caricature of Obama dressed up as Osama bin Laden, and claiming with plausible deniability that it was doing an ironic send-up of popular misconceptions.

It would have been more entertaining had Vaughn maintained the facade, unfortunately he ruined everything by coming out and saying the following:
"I think it's pretending to be legitimate commentary and I'm sure there will be lots of people who defend it on those grounds, but ultimately it's just a game where you blow the gently caress (i.e. 'the Fuck') out of arabs... Anyone is free to believe whatever they won't (sic) though, because I don't even know how to interpret it myself anymore. the bottom line is that I enjoyed making it and it's fun to play..."
Now its just plain old racist and boring. Way to lose the edginess bro. Anyways. I will leave you with an entertaining exchange from game users on the SA forums:

SurprisedMango: As a muslim, I was wondering if you could do a version called "Catholic Massacre"

GT Chizmack: Come on, you know you wanted to say "Jewish Massacre."

I would imagine Catholics would make for pretty boring cannon fodder though. From a stereotypical viewpoint.

Blowing up the Vatican and fighting a reincarnated (pope) JPII might be pretty interesting, actually

Warezed Quake:
Muslims own so I can't really get behind this game you know. Make a new thread when Christian or Middle Class Whites massacre comes out.

I like it but I dont like clicking so much because it hurts my hand. I think the last boss should be Barack Obama unless that is illegal.
Wow. Two Obama references in an post about a video game. It really is all about the US elections these days.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why The Hell Is Asif Zardari Going To Dubai And London?

This is ridiculous. Pakistan is mired in one of its gravest foreign policy crises since Kargil, its citizens are suffering due to rampant inflation, electricity outages are wreaking havoc in urban centers, and Mr. Asif Ali Zardari is taking this opportunity to...(drumroll please!)...
President Zardari left for Dubai on Friday night. From there he will fly to London on Sunday.

Why, pray tell?
Zardari is visiting Britain to get his daughters Bakhtawar and Asifa admitted to educational institutions there.

Yes, Bilawal should hardly be the only one allowed to attain a top class education. Anyway, seeing the dusty 4th day surface, one PPP spokerperson tried to put some spin on it:
President Asif Ali Zardari will leave for London on Friday via Dubai on his first official visit. Officials claimed President Zardari will meet the Dubai ruler and thank him for facilitating the Bhutto family during their days in exile.

Later, President Zardari will leave for London and meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and discuss the alarming situation emerging on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border after the US threat to target militants on Pakistani soil.

Gordon Brown told the media he will soon meet Pakistan’s new president Asif Ali Zardari to discuss authorisation for cross-border raids. Brown says a new strategy is needed to halt the flow of Taliban and militant fighters between Pakistan and its neighbour.

PPP circles claimed the president will also meet MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London and thank him for his party’s support during the presidential election.

But the more important PPP spokerperson - Farahtullah Babar - made sure to correct the record.
When contacted PPP's spokesman Farhatullah Babar, he confirmed that the president was departing to Dubai and from there he would go to London.

However, he termed it a private visit, saying that, "It is a private visit to London in connection with the admission of his daughter. The first official visit of President Asif Ali Zardari will be to China."

But at the same time, he also confirmed that during his visit the president would also meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Yes, it's nice to see Zardari make time for the whole "head of state" job in between all this. Only twenty four hours in a day, you know!

Look, it was pretty egregious when Zardari was running things and pulling strings from Dubai and London in between February 18 and his election as President last week. But now that he has occupied an official position - the President of Pakistan for the love of God - isn't it reasonable to expect that he actually sticks around for a while? Incidentally Zardari is also scheduled to go to New York next week for the UN General Assembly meeting. I can't wait to see the size of that entourage. You guys remember the 90s right, when plane loads of people would go for these lovely jaunts half way around the world at the Pakistani taxpayers' expense? Good times.

Anyway, I'm taking an exam over the next couple of days so you won't hear from me until Wednesday.

Photo credit: The Telegraph

Sarah Palin And Hillary Clinton Hold Joint Press Conference

Tina Fey is fucking brilliant.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Is President Zardari Attempting to Rewrite History?

The short answer to that, I hope, is no.

I raise this topic because the Associated Press of Pakistan has recently published a profile of the President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari. The said profile was officially released by the President House after Mr. Zardari was sworn in as President; incidentally, the same profile can also be found on the PPP website.

According to this profile, President Zardari obtained his primary education from Karachi Grammar School (KGS), an elite institution that has ‘educated’ many of Pakistan’s most illustrious personalities. Trouble is, according to the BBC, Mr. Zardari attended Cadet College Petaro and St. Patrick's High School. The St. Patrick's Wikipedia page refers to Mr. Zardari as an alumnus, along with Pervez Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz, L. K. Advani and Danish Kaneria (I wonder if any of them ran into each other at school?). According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Zardari flunked out of St. Patrick's College in 1974.

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about Mr. Zardari's academic history. In documents submitted to the Election Commission Mr. Zardari claimed that he was a graduate of the London School of Economics and Business (LSE - B), which is an institution that nobody's been able to find! (We've covered this in detail here; interestingly, the WSJ article states that the biography given to them has Zardari attending a Pedinton College, which too could not be located!)

The present profile however, makes no mention of LSE - B, stating only that "he pursued his further education in London where he studied Business." It appears that Mr. Zardari and his minders have smartened up, which makes the error about the school even more surprising.

So, why the inconsistency?

Perhaps, Mr. Zardari is fulfilling a life long fantasy. I say this because I've heard a number of people reminisce that in his youth Mr. Zardari always wanted to fit in with the ‘KGS crowd’; to meet this end, he would loiter around KGS befriending Grammarian boys with the hopes of eventually befriending Grammarian girls. These mutterings have all come from the mouths of snooty old men who consider themselves to be superior to Zardari, so I don't think there's any point delving too deeply into this line of reasoning. Plus, I don't think Mr. Zardari is that petty.

The more logical cause for the inconsistency therefore is that this was a screw up by Presidential aides who probably assumed that Mr. Zardari went to the same school as his wife. (It’s a good thing they didn’t write that he attended the Convent of Jesus and Mary!)

This raises questions about the veracity of statements being issued by the Presidency and as a result calls into question the quality of staff available to the President.

It’s a funny thing bureaucracy – no matter who’s in power, the faces behind the scenes, especially in the lower rungs of power, tend not too change all that much. President Musharraf relied heavily on the staff of the Army House, his spokesman was an Army General. President Zardari will not have that luxury, and it is unclear whether the staff that has served Tarrar, Leghari and Ghulam Ishaq Khan, or is descended from that ilk, will be able to diligently serve the most powerful civilian president in the nation’s history. Moreover, it's not even clear if there is enough staff to cater to the needs of President Zardari. One thing is clear, the Presidency has a lot more power and a greater deal of responsibility now and it would be wise for President Zardari to ensure that it's staff is competent. The release of an inaccurate profile may not have caused any harm but the release of an inaccurate statement on policy or security matters from the Office of the President will cause considerable harm.


I've just gone over President Zardari's Wikipedia entry seems to have been updated recently and there is no mention of his academic history. I am certain that in the past this page mentioned that Mr. Zardari attended Cadet College Petaro and St. Patrick's. So, maybe the President is trying to re-write history!


Hey, remember when you were back in school, and final exam week was coming up, but there was a lot of cricket on, and so you didn't study as much as you should have - though you felt confident that you had all bases covered - and then you sat down for the first one, in Economics, and froze when you realized you didn't even understand the basis of the question let alone know anything about answering it, and decided the best option would be to babble something about demand and supply, and hope Mrs. Dhanani was senile enough to not notice that you had no idea what you were talking about? Well, I didn't remember all that, until I saw this:

I also love the NYT's description of that little exchange:
At times visibly nervous, at others appearing to hew so closely to prepared answers that she used the exact same phrases repeatedly, Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine. Ms. Palin did not seem to know what he was talking about. Mr. Gibson, sounding like an impatient teacher, informed her that it meant the right of “anticipatory self-defense.”

I love that instead of sugar coating it, they flat-out said that she "did not seem to know what he was talking about." Well, I guess there's only so much you can learn about international affairs and security studies in two weeks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Links For Thursday

Stuff to read:

If at first you don't succeed, try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try again.

They say Kim Jong might be Il (geddit?) but could he be dead? One Japanese scholar thinks so, arguing that the North Korean regime has been using a body double since 2003. (Courtesy Wasay)

Why is that Samuel Eto'o ALWAYS has some sort of issue? I really think this guy is cursed. Even when he means well (this latest episode stemmed from his helping out UNICEF) something always seems to happen. Well, except for him sitting on the bench, Henry starting in the middle, Iniesta starting on the left-wing, and Hleb, Xavi and Yaya Toure manning the midfield. That would never happen.

Which search terms are people using when googling Sarah Palin? (Hint: it's exactly what you think). (Courtesy Adeel)

Cyril Almedia captures the essence of Pakistani politics:
Pakistani politics has much in common with one of the stranger thought exercises I have come across. As a student of law grappling with the seemingly innocuous question ‘what is law?’ I was asked to imagine that an alien descends from the heavens above and exits his space capsule next to a traffic signal. By observation alone the alien will be able to deduce the rules of traffic: stop when red; slow down or get ready to go when amber; go when green. But what the alien will never be able to figure out is the reason that people stop stop, day or night, traffic or no traffic. The alien observer is an outsider to the system of rules, so while he can discern a pattern he isn’t able to understand the reason people follow it.

This being Oxford the state of Pakistan’s roads was never really considered. If that poor alien landed besides a traffic signal in Pakistan, he would scarcely be able to avoid being run over — let alone figure out the rules of traffic. That’s Pakistani politics: no rules and plenty dangerous for anyone trying to discern any.

Sarah Palin's rise is making one of the Obsidian Wings guys cynical again.

Finally, General Kayani criticizes U.S. moves to conduct ground operations in Pakistan, leading hearts to flutter and people to conclude this is the Army's first "salvo" against the civilian set up. Gillani tries to lay those concerns to rest, but since nothing he says or does actually matters, people are still concerned.

Quote of the Day

Michaels Jordan and Vaughan should take cyclist Chris Hoy's words to heart:

Next day, Hoy meets some Scottish journalists. One puts it to him that: 'In the last 24 hours everyone has been offering an opinion on Chris Hoy. But what does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy?'

Hoy doesn't miss a beat: 'Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day that Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse.'

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Shadow Of The Future: Why Living Each Day Like It's Your Last Is A Bad Idea

Alright, as we all know, Indians and Pakistanis love stereotyping each other. Well I too am going to join in the fun. After reading this ridiculous post from Amit Varma, I'm going to conclude that all Indians aspire to be extremely lame motivational speakers. Below I reproduce the post in question, which starts off innocuously enough discussing that particle accelerator that has the world of physics buzzing, but ends up with a life lesson from Hallmark. (As an aside, please read this hilarious column by Gail Collins in the NYT a couple of weeks ago, also talking about this Hadron Collider thing).
"As you know," my friend Rahul writes in, "the Large Hadron Collider starts its experiments on Wednesday. The most extreme view is that the world will end. I don't believe that for a second. But you wonder: How anti-climactic would it be if the world actually ended, and we never did get around to doing all those things we said we'd do if we knew our date of extinction?"

I used the limited sample size of the one car accident I've been in to tell him that if the world did end, we would probably be dead before we knew what was happening, with no time for any last thoughts. But I have two questions for you?

1] If the world was to end, would you prefer that it end suddenly without your being aware of it, or that you had some time to contemplate your end, and maybe do some things still left undone?

2] If your answer is that you'd like some time, how much time would you like?

Okay, now here's the deal: you've got that time. It starts now.

As I told Nikhil, "UFFFF! I'm so fucking on this RIGHT NOW. Today is the first day of the rest of my life etc etc."

To be serious for a second, I want to tackle this notion of "living every day like it's your last". It is a common refrain that we must not get mired in the nitty gritty routine of life, and seek to enjoy each day to the fullest because we will not know when it will all end. A day is wasted if you have no extracted the full toll of happiness possible from that day.

One of the earliest philosophical exponents of this view (of the ones I am familiar with anyway) was the great Stoic philosopher, Seneca. Below I reproduce a beautiful little excerpt detailing the view I described above:
No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal. And so I should like to lay hold upon someone from the company of older men and say: "I see that you have reached the farthest limit of human life, you are pressing hard upon your hundredth year, or are even beyond it; come now, recall your life and make a reckoning. Consider how much of your time was taken up with a moneylender, how much with a mistress, how much with a patron, how much with a client, how much in wrangling with your wife, how much in punishing your slaves, how much in rushing about the city on social duties. Add the diseases which we have caused by our own acts, add, too, the time that has lain idle and unused; you will see that you have fewer years to your credit than you count. Look back in memory and consider when you ever had a fixed plan, how few days have passed as you had intended, when you were ever at your own disposal, when your face ever wore its natural expression, when your mind was ever unperturbed, what work you have achieved in so long a life, how many have robbed you of life when you were not aware of what you were losing, how much was taken up in useless sorrow, in foolish joy, in greedy desire, in the allurements of society, how little of yourself was left to you; you will perceive that you are dying before your season!" What, then, is the reason of this? You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: "After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties." And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!"

The problem with this view is that living each day like it's your last is a recipe for social anarchy, chaos and unmitigated disaster. Allow me to elaborate.

One of the core tenets of the political economy literature on government and its role, as well as the neoliberal institutionalist literature in IR, is the shadow of the future. This concept refers to the fact that when we are considering the costs and benefits of our actions, we think both in terms of immediate costs and benefits, and future costs and benefits. How much into the future? Well that depends from person to person, or to put in academic jargon, each actor's discount rate can vary. The point to note is only that the future does cast a "shadow" on our present decision-making.

As it turns out, the shadow of the future is a very useful thing in terms of our ability as social agents to live relatively peacefully and cooperatively in large groups. To see why, we will have to dip into some very elementary game theory (please don't stop reading, I promise there will be no jargon).

Let us start with the standard Prisoner's Dilemma. If you were an English major in college, here's Wiki's intro to the game:
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies ("defects") for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

The answer to that is that both will choose to betray the other, or defect. This is a suboptimal situation because had they both remained silent, or cooperated, the best "overall" outcome would have been achieved: only six months in jail for each. As it stands, that outcome is impossible, because there is no reason to trust the other person, and without a guarantee that the other person is going to cooperate, each player's best strategy is to defect (because if you try to be nice and cooperate, and the other guy screws you, you attain the wost possible outcome of a ten-year sentence). The lesson? Actions that may be individually rational are socially suboptimal when there is no trust.

This situation is thought to mirror real-world interactions, whereby without some guarantee that the other person is not going to harm you, you will not risk greater costs to yourself when interacting with that person. Consider a simple exchange of goods. If the consumer doesn't believe that the shopkeeper will deliver his groceries, or the shopkeeper doesn't believe that he will not get paid if he delivers, then there will be no exchange of groceries for money. Both will be worse off as a result, but there's simply nothing they can do absent some guarantee that the money will be transferred and the groceries will be delivered (let us assume for the moment that there is no government or legal body to enforce the payment for or delivery of groceries).

Now what can alleviate this problem? The shadow of the future. If you consider the future costs and benefits of your actions, then you are more likely to cooperate with someone. To use the above example, the consumer will want to pay the shopkeeper for the groceries even if he has an opportunity to cheat and not pay because he knows that if he does cheat, he will not get groceries from this shop ever again. The future costs of defection push him to cooperate in the present. Put differently, the results of an iterated and repeated game of PD is different than the one-shot game of PD: in the former, there is cooperation; in the latter there is not.

So far the analysis has involved just two people. Let's complicate things a little bit, and move on to groups. In groups, the role of information is key. Without information, the incentive to defect that was evident in the one-shot PD returns. For instance, the consumer in the above example, even when thinking about the future, can choose to not pay the grocer if there are other grocers to go to (which there will be in a group), gain from cheating in the present, and not get punished for his defection. So he cheats in the present, doesn't get punished for it in the future, and society is worse off. The one thing that can preclude the consumer's defection is information of his past actions: if all the grocers in the group could somehow be made aware that this consumer is a cheat, then the consumer would not defect.

Think about how much this mirrors certain facts about the world. How much value do individuals, corporations, governments, and even sports teams place in not being known as a cheat? A lot. People don't want to be known as a cheat because they don't want to be shut out from the gains of cooperation in the future. Put somewhat glibly, I will not slap you today, even if I really want to, because in all likelihood I will see you, and many others, in the future, and you will make sure that I am punished for my slapping you. This is what the shadow of the future means in a group: I will not cheat today - even if I can, and even if cheating today pays more than cooperating today - because the losses of the future cooperation foregone once word of my cheating gets out will be too costly for the immediate benefits of cheating to be worth it. Put differently, I choose long term gain over short term gain, because I know once information spreads of how I got my short term gain, I will never see any long term gain again. (This is of course a highly stylized view of the world, but as long as you can see that it's an illustration of reality, not a description of it, we're all on the same page).

What the hell does this all have to do with "living each day like your last"? EVERYTHING. If you live each day like your last, you discount the future costs of your actions today. Again, to be glib, if I actually live like today is my last day, I am bound to do some socially harmful things: stealing a Mars bar from the store, or hitting a coworker I do not like. Why not? I don't have anything to lose, do I? It's not as if I'm going to be punished tomorrow, because remember, there is no tomorrow. Under those circumstances, I am better off doing what makes me happy today, even if it makes many people around me quite unhappy.

Without the shadow of the future, social anarchy would result. Everyone would steal their own Mars bar, so to speak. That human beings have the capacity to be "good" is I am sure true but also beside the point: the point is only that we are "better" when we contemplate future costs to actions that may be strictly rational in the present.

Further reading:

Robert Axelrod (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.

Kenneth A. Oye (1985). “Explaining Cooperation Under Anarchy: Hypotheses and Strategies,” World Politics, 38:1.

Robert Keohane (1984). After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Mancur Olson (1993). "Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development," American Political Science Review 87:3.