Friday, October 31, 2008

Earthquake Relief And Pakistanis' Addiction To Tea

Apropos of NB's post on earthquake donations and the reactions to them, I would like to clear some things up.

First of all, questioning the need for tea to be delivered to earthquake survivors makes me neither a "scrooge" nor an "insensitive jerk". The pro-tea argument, it seems to me, is based on the following two premises:

1. Donations should not be restricted to "essential" items.
2. Tea can help people in cold weather feel warmer.

With regard to number two, I am sure blankets and tents can do a better job, and furthermore, are a more permanent solution (the quantity of tea available decreases after each use, but a tent or a blanket don't go anywhere even if you use them 1000 times).

As for number one, I don't really understand the objection. Look, there are scarce resources in the world at the best of times, and that scarcity is multiplied manifold during times of crisis. With that in mind, with resources totaling some value R, you can either

1. Buy essential items E for N people such that E*N=R.


2. Buy essential items E and nonessential items O for M people such that E*M + O*M=R, where M is less than N.


3. Buy essential items S and nonessential items O for N people such that S*N + O*N=R, where S is less than E.

In other words, if you start buying nonessential items for survivors with fixed resources, you either have to cut back on the number of people you're helping, or you have to cut back on the amount of essential items you're providing. There's no other way, and frankly, neither of those alternatives are worth it. Why does pointing out this fact make me an insensitive jerk? It's simple arithmetic.

On one level, this entire issue isn't really a big deal, because I doubt tea makes up more than 1% of the dollar amount spent by these charitable organizations, so arguing about it is quite futile. On another level however, it's very relevant in bringing up a fairly important issue: Pakistanis' addiction to tea.

As any Pakistani knows, we as a nation cannot do without this stuff. It is the one thing that unites us. Think about it: across religious, ethnic, provincial, gender, and socioeconomic lines, is there ANYTHING ELSE that all Pakistanis do? No, there isn't. I challenge our readers to name five Pakistanis they know on a first-name basis who don't drink at least two cups a day. I know for a fact I would fail this challenge.

What's the big deal, you say? Well, far be it from me to question people's private habits and preferences, but this is a national interest issue. Pakistan grows about as much tea as Antarctica, which is to say, none at all. We import it all.

How much do we import? Well, let's delve into some fun figures. Here's a recent statistical report on Pakistan's trade imbalance. You will find, if you go to page 26 of the report, that Pakistan imported 1.2 billion rupees worth of tea in the month of April 2008. Multiply that by 12, and you discover that Pakistan will import close to Rs. 15 billion worth of tea in 2008. That represents, by my calculations, more than one-tenth of our annual food-and-live-animals import bill.

Furthermore, this ignores all the sugar that goes into Pakistanis' tea, all the milk that goes into Pakistanis' tea, and, most importantly, all the water that goes into Pakistanis' tea. Think about how much weaker our sugar lobby would be if Pakistanis suddenly decided to stop drinking tea tomorrow. Think about how much clean drinking water we would save if Pakistanis suddenly decided to stop drinking tea tomorrow.

Of course, because we're addicted to tea, that is merely a pipe dream. But this isn't any old harmful addiction. Unlike hashish and heroin, Pakistan actually has to import the object of its citizens' addiction when it comes to tea. Importing something on the scale that we do with tea, when we don't need to, in times of economic peril and dwindling foreign exchange reserves that force us to go begging bowl in hand to the IMF, is a travesty.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

John McCain's Scary Manichean Worldview

One of the worst things about George W. Bush's presidency - and yes, there's a lot of competition there - is the reduction of complex questions and situations into highly simplistic good vs. evil caricatures. In that respect, John McCain would actually be four more years of the Bush administration. Check out this tidbit from George Will's column:
McCain has a history of reducing controversies to cartoons. A Republican financial expert recalls attending a dinner with McCain for the purpose of discussing with him domestic and international financial complexities that clearly did not fascinate the senator. As the dinner ended, McCain's question for his briefer was: "So, who is the villain?"

That's legitimately scary.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Quetta Quake: Donations

Just to follow on from some of the comments in Ahsan’s post, below are links to charities that are involved in delivering aid and humanitarian relief to the victims of the earthquake in Quetta/Ziarat. I've listed a few so that readers may contact whomsoever is closest or most familiar to them. The organizations are listed in no particular order.


Muslim Aid,
is a UK-based international relief organization that has already reached the earthquake affected areas of Baluchistan and have launched their relief operations. As of the 30th of October, their Field Office has despatched 100 tents, 300 blankets and 100,000 water purifying tablets.


1. Rizwan Beg, Programme Manager Emergency & Healthcare - Pakistan
Cell: 0334-5149904

2. Mujeeb Akhtar, Manager Pakistan Desk, UK
Tel: 0044 - 2073774200-12


The Zakat Foundation (based in Illinois) has set up a field office in Quetta, and has established a tent village at Kech/Turbat to distribute food, blankets and warm clothes. They are also soliciting donations to purchase emergency winter food packages for families, at the following costs.

Package Items------------------Quantity------------Unit Cost
Flour--------------------------------10 kg---------------$10.00
Rice----------------------------------5 kg----------------$8.00
Cooking Oil/Ghee-----------------1 litre----------------$2.00
Sugar--------------------------------2 kg----------------$1.00
Chana-------------------------------2 kg----------------$1.50
Tea-------------------------------0.5 kg----------------------
TOTAL FOOD PACKAGE -------------------------------$25.00 (Approx £15)

The Zakat Foundation's contact point is as follows:

Khalil Demir
Zakat Foundation Executive Director
Tax ID #: 36-4476244
Toll Free: 1.866.499.6151



The Edhi Foundation, as always, has a presence and is active on site.
Edhi's contact in Quetta is:

Mr Islamul Haq Pirzada
Mobile: 0092 344 82 82 602
Office: 0092 81 26 72 401

It may be better to contact your local branch. The link above contains contact details for the scores of Edhi's offices across Pakistan, as well as the US (New York), UK (London) and Canada.


Islamic Relief is accepting donations for the quake.


Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP)is also active.
(For those of you looking to donate, the information on the Quetta Quake is on the right hand side, under 'Announcements')

IDSP has appealled for tents, blankets, medicine, food, water & other essentials.

Contact Person: Ghulam Rabani (Mobile 0343-8000181)

Or you can contact their office:
Dr. Quratulain Bakhteari
Ph#. 92-81-2471776, 2470243
Fax#. 92-81-2447285


According to Reuters:
Chief district administrator Dilawar Khan said 170 people had been killed in that district and 350 injured.

"The rescue operation is over. We've retrieved all bodies and the injured. Now the problem is relief as there's a shortage of tents, blankets and food while the weather is getting cold," Khan told Reuters.
For those of you who would like to know what is being done, this video from ARY offers fairly comprehensive coverage and footage of the quake, as well as the local and federal response to it. I have also posted some photographs of the situation below.

Photo Credit AP(Arshad Butt)/AFP/ Dawn (Aamir Qureshi)

For Obama Fans In Chicago

Barack Obama's election night event is going to be held in Grant Park. There's a waitlist involved, and you can put your name on it here. Personally, the thought of being outdoors right next to the lake on a November night in Chicago doesn't sound particularly appealing. But to each his own.

Another Day, Another Disaster

In a year that has been marked by the free fall of the stock market, rampant inflation of essential items, political upheaval, and the severe security threat from the Taliban, all we needed was a natural disaster. The toll so far: 160 dead, and about 15,000 made homeless. Both numbers will presumably rise in the days to come, as the full extent of the damage is measured.

I don't know much about this stuff, but I'm assuming rescue and clean-up operations should be made easier than they were back in 2005 by the fact that the terrain is relatively more accessible, right?

Right now there does not seem to be much in the way of information insofar as donations are concerned. I went on Oxfam's site, and there was nothing about it (yet). I also googled "Pakistan earthquake donate" but all the results that popped up are from 2005. As soon as something comes up, I'll let you guys know.

All I can say is: our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Photo credit: AFP/BBC

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wouldn't EVERYONE Rather Exchange Goods And Services Than Have A Debilitating And Fatal Disease?

From a report in The News:
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that Pakistan needed trade ties more than aids.

Allen Sanford Pays $20 Billion To Get Laid

The antics of the Twenty20 Super Series backer, Sir Allen Stanford, during England's warm-up match against Middlesex on Sunday were the cause of concern, it was reported last night.

The Texan billionaire was pictured with the players' wives and girlfriends and images of Matt Prior's wife, Emily, sitting on his lap were greeted with shock by the players on the pitch after they were shown on the big screen. He was also pictured with Alastair Cook's girlfriend, Alice Hunt.

Stuart Broad, who was bowling, said: "When the pictures came up on the big screen there were a lot of gobsmacked people in our side. Matt Prior was in a state of shock, especially as his wife is pregnant."

I couldn't find pictures of Prior's wife, but cricket WAGS, especially from South Africa and England, are pretty smoking hot. But man he must be desperate if he has to hit on a pregnant woman.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Never Hire a Woman as Anything

Comfortably ensconced in the liberal cocoon of Rs. 5, sometimes I forget that the rest of the Pakistani blogosphere is far more representative of the country. Take the fine patriot over at Pro Pakistan, who, upon finding out that the Rangers had started inducting women, decided to register his protest in a fit of writing that almost made me regret ever having been taught to read.

He begins with a typical passive-agressive approach:

I am sure after this blog, i might be labelled as sexist and biased...

Not to mention being labelled as, in the words of Minnesota's next senator, a lying liar.

In his day's travels, the author first comes upon a male traffic policeman, who was doing his job competently, an observation that immediately damns him as untruthful. Coincidentally, he happens to then encounter two policewomen, who instead of directing traffic, were...well, I'll let him take up the story:

two ladies standing in traffic police uniforms on the side of the road caught my eyes. As usual they were very busy discussing some new trends in the market or the bad behaviour of the male gender with them. Since i was a bit angry, i waived to them to stand at the road and perform their duties instead of being too “sharmeeli” and standing on the side of the road letting the mother nature drive the system.

I have just one question to ask this sexist liar. How, in his car, was he able to hear what thet se two women cops were discussing? Maybe he was on a motorbike, but surely a law-abiding male would not break the law and drive without a helmet.

It seems Mr Pro Pakistani has as much of a problem with airborne women.

As far as flying air-crafts is concerned, i have to risk my tax paid money on them...

I guess it would be okay if women were allowed to fly non-government airplanes.

After lashing out against reserved seats for women in parliament and womens-only colleges (!), he explains why this discrimination against men is taking place. If you guessed that the Jews made us to do it, you are close, but not quite there.

The above steps taken by our enlightened ex President were surely to prove his credential to the Americans as a moderate person

I should mention, however, that Pro Pakistani dosen't go quite as far as one of the bloggers right here. Maybe we're not that liberal after all.

Kidnapping Eunuchs In Karachi: A Health Hazard

Witness the latest bizarre and depressing development from Karachi. According to Dawn, a “mysterious campaign” against eunuchs was launched this week, by persons unknown.

“F alias S told The News that last Saturday evening “she” along with her two other friends were standing at Haidery Market when five youths carrying sticks and wearing gray trousers and black shirts inscribed with “Police Security” took them away.

When “15” Madadgar policemen intercepted them, the youths aged 16 to 18 years said that they were taking them to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) office to get their names registered there.

The eunuchs were driven in a van to the Super Highway where they were forced to massage the youths, said S, adding that the fake policemen also snatched money from them and abused her.

Later, the youths brought them near the terminal of G-13 mini-bus and gave them Rs20 (coins) at about 11.30 pm to leave town.

[F alias S] claimed that these people were posing as “government employees”, claiming that they had orders from Asif Ali Zardari to rid the city of eunuchs."
I don’t want to make light of what was no doubt a traumatic experience, but parts of this story are ridiculous.

Firstly, what the hell is the point of referring to someone as “F alias S”? Surely F is the alias. And if her name actually is F, then why mention it along with the alias, S?

Secondly, NADRA? For arguments sake, say you were one of the abductors in the aforementioned scenario, and the Madadgar 15 Police catch you with your pants down, along with your bored and ignorant friends, 3 eunuchs and some felonious t-shirts. One would expect you would have a nice, airtight excuse at the ready for just such an emergency. Surely you could'nt even hope to rely on the pathetic excuse for an excuse that is: “Oh Good Evening officer, me and my friends and my eunuchs are all on our way to NADRA”.

Dawn reports that this individual incident (inanity notwithstanding) is actually part of a wider ‘anti-eunuch campaign’. F Alias S continues:
"On October 23, said S, some youths took her friend from a marriage hall near Five Star roundabout and after subjecting her to a similar treatment they abandoned her on Super Highway by giving her Rs10 (coins)."

She asserts that this has happened to about 40 to 50 eunuchs from Nipa roundabout, Water Pump Chowrangi, Jail Chowrangi and other locales, all of whom are apparently still missing.

“If we have committed a crime then we should be arrested instead of being thrown into the jungle and abused,” she said adding that, she and her friends are now begging in localities instead of main markets."
If this is true, I find it quite saddening to note that some of the weakest members of our society prefer arrest by the Sindh Police over their current state of affairs.

I would also like to draw attention to the title and opening of the source article, which is annoying even if it isn't true:
‘Mysterious’ drive against eunuchs triggers health concerns'

Unknown elements have launched a mysterious campaign against eunuchs since the last week, triggering anxiety among non-governmental organisations working for the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
The NGOs fear that if this trend continues, it will force eunuchs to go underground and their alleged abuse might transmit Aids, Hepatitis and other diseases among the abusers since eunuchs are considered to be part of the high risk group.
According to DAWN, it appears that the primary issues of concern with respect to the abduction, extortion and sexual harassment of eunuchs are the health implications for the abductors and broader heterosexual society. I for one am glad they told me. Forewarned is forearmed.

I Don't THINK This Passage Is Meant To Be Ironic

But I can't be sure. From a report on American tactics in Pakistan in the NYT:
Pentagon officials have publicly praised the Pakistan Army’s aggressive campaign against militants in the Bajaur tribal agency. But privately, some American officials are wincing at a full-scale military operation that is taking a heavy toll on civilians as well as insurgents, and has not diminished the cross-border attacks.

“They don’t have a concept of counterinsurgency operations,” one senior American officer said of the Pakistanis. “It’s generally a heavy punch and then they leave.”

Does the "senior American officer" realize how ridiculous (s)he sounds?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Quote Of The Day

Has the addition of the word "now" in a sentence ever proved as humorous as it is in this debunking of an allegation by a friend of Lindsay Lohan?
Bullshit! Lindsay wears underwear all the time now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Links For The Weekend

Stuff to read:

Kathleen Parker has clearly decided to let all of the dogs out. Here she alleges, in not so many words, that McCain chose Palin as veep because she gave him a hard-on. Or something.

Hey, did you guys catch the Presidential debate on HBO?

A great way to waste 15 minutes is to browse this photo-essay of Barack Obama by a photographer for Time. There's some fantastic shots in there, complete with some pretty detailed captions. (Keep clicking on the "Show more images" button; it goes on for a while).

Charles Krauthammer claims that he'd rather lose an election than his bearings. Too. Many. Jokes. Can. Not. Choose. Brain. Exploding.

Mosharraf Zaidi takes a brief vacation to Utopia. Hope he got a t-shirt for his troubles!
This is important because eventually, someday, a Pakistani minister of finance will have to actually stand up and say, “Enough! We don’t need the IMF to tell us we need to control spending; we need to control spending because we’re spending too much!” She will say, “We need to stop taxing the middle class, and start taxing the rich”. She will say, “The easiest way to fix the balance of payment situation is to punish the consumption of high-end luxury goods and services that Pakistan sells rupees to buy”. She will say, “The state needs to discern between taxing income, and taxing wealth, and we need to tax wealth”. Most important, perhaps of all, she will say, “I don’t care whether you fire me or not, Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, and Mr. Ambassador. I don’t care. I will speak truth, because I took an oath as a public servant to serve the public interest. Besides, I could never win an election anyway, and all the money I’ve made from banking will keep me and my children well fed for the rest of time”.

Blah blah blah Harbhajan and the Aussies again blah blah blah please for the love of God blah blah blah shut the fuck up blah blah blah does anyone outside these two countries blah blah blah even care about these teams anymore blah blah blah aren't South Africa blah blah blah the real team to beat in international cricket anyway blah blah blah.

Well, well, well. Look who decided to write's Malcolm Gladwell! Listen up, Gladwell. Just because you're the best feature writer I've ever read in my life doesn't mean you can hop in and out of my life like this. I can't deal with this, ok? Don't ever leave for that long again, even if it is to write a book. Just promise me, ok?

Fear not, Pakistanis. There exists a way - an exceedingly simple way - out of your personal economic crises. Let these people be an example to follow:
The people of Karachi suffer yet another shock as the HBL cantonement branch of shahra e faisal was totally looted by two men who entered it at around 8pm on sunday night wearing uniforms of HBL security staff, tied the guards up and used gas cutters to break into 66 lockers. These robbers got away with sacks full of millions in cash and jewelry.

A really fascinating GM survey on Some really interesting questions. Of course, the last one had to be this:
Which player in the NBA would you want taking a shot with the game on the line?
No points for guessing who completely dominated that one (hint: he's a prick).

If you think Pakistanis love their conspiracy theories, you have yet to meet the American right-wing. (Via Greenwald)

Arif has a very comprehensive post on the security situation(s) in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Finally, check out these 15 highly innovative bus ads. (Courtesy Naqiya)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Would Justice Cornelius Have Pardoned FATA Militants?

I'm undecided as to whether the Pakistani legal system, in its entirety, is a bit like a monkey in a suit. Or like W, looking ridiculous in his Vietnamese Ao Dai. Or like Wasi Zafar, pretending to be a Law Minister. In each instance, you have an already strange creature made to wear something that just doesn't fit because the whole outfit is designed for something altogether different.

Consider this news item, published without a blink of a reaction from anyone (including the lawyer's movement):
"PESHAWAR: Another eight alleged militants surrendered to police here Wednesday and were freed after they swore on the Holy Quran to refrain from any terrorist activity in future."
Before the occasional reactionary reader starts making presumptions and frothing at the mouth, I am not mocking the oath on the Quran or even expressing outrage at their pardon. I am simply questioning a legal system that permits police officers the power to pardon individuals who have admittedly been involved in shootings, killings and perhaps bombings. What about common murderers, or decoits, or carjackers? Slaps on the wrist and oaths on the Quran all round?

And I'm not even being sarcastic or facetious. The latter may actually be part of a better solution. Let me lend some authority to the notion. Even Justice A.R Cornelius, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan - who was both a student of the Shariah and a Christian - asserted:
"[The British] did great work in establishing a complete system of courts and judiciary, and furnishing an example to the people ,over about 200 years of how such a system can be run.

[However] they were operating a system of justice which was imposed upon the people and did not derive from the life of the people themselves.

...To a community, a wrong by one of its members of a nature which disturbs its peace would always appear in a limited light, namely in those lights which derive from considerations of the common welfare of the community. They would not be included to exaggerated the offense, but always to minimize it and keep it at a proper level. Thus for instance, any breach of the peace can be regarded either as a breach of the local peace or reach of the kings peace. The community would tend to keep it at the former level, but the laws are devised so that the State steps in to deal with all except the most trivial breaches and the matter assumes an extra communal aspect by the intervention of Police and magistrates in many cases where such intervention might have been avoided"
Some would say that Cornelius was a tad too enthusiastic in his efforts to establish symbolic continuity between the the Pakistani Legal System and the populace's Muslim heritage. At one stage he famously suggested that Pakistan should adopt a modernized version of the classical Quranic Hadd punishment for theft, namely severing the thief's arm. Rather than sever the arm altogether (a bit hardcore for Cornelius's liking), he proposed that the 'motor nerves' connecting the brain to the arm be disconnected, thereby rendering flaccid and inoperative.

Personally, I'd disagree with Cornelius's proposal. Hazrat Umar suspended the Hadd punishment of arm severance (for the crime of theft) during a famine, arguably on the basis of Istihsan (Juristic Preference), as societal circumstances prevented the Quranic rule from being applied without the contravention of core Quranic values of social justice and fairness. Justice is not a price that is paid for lip service to Quranic formalism, let alone for some false notion of continuity. As for the whole severance of the motor nerves business, it's creepy and lacks any sort of cultural resonance or logic, so it adds zero value.

And if, according to a Rashidun, juristic preference can dictate that the operation of a Quranic rule is to be suspended in the broader interests of justice and social utility, then why not suspend the law of the land of Pakistan? Why not pardon militants who have committed crimes against the state, but repented? If their repentance is bona-fide, then surely a pardon serves the agenda of reconciliation, cools temperatures in the NWFP, and its good for the country.

In that sense, I don't take issue with the pardon. I actually think its a good idea. I just wish that the administration of justice in Pakistan was more systematic and consistent. The real injustice for our people results not from the exercise of discretion itself, but the extra legal ad-hoc-ism that characterizes its application. It is the reason our common law system is yet to fit us, in our 60 years of independence.

Consider this:

"...Mr Bush grimaced repeatedly and shifted from foot to foot, a portrait of embarrassment in turquoise blue brocade with yellow trim. It was obvious he couldn't’t wait to get it off and sure enough, moments after the official photographs were taken, he strode away, ripped it off and folded it up."

Now just imagine if he had been wearing it faithfully and consistently for 60 years. And he fully intended to do so for the indefinite future. Maybe then he wouldn't have looked like a complete idiot masquerading as a statesman.

Book Recommendation: "Among The Thugs" By Bill Buford

I recently read a book called "Among the Thugs" and I really can't recommend it strongly enough. If ever you guys are going to follow one of my recommendations, this would be the time. Just trust me on this.

What is the book about? Well, it's written by an American journalist who spent almost ten years with soccer hooligans in England (Man United fans, if you must know), and wrote about his experiences. The result is one of the most chilling and unnerving books you'll ever come across. Buford writes in such a disarming and matter-of-fact way, which makes his anecdotes about United fans "taking over Turin" or violently disrupting a dinner party of policemen in a Turkish restaurant in London or preparing for Chelsea fans in subway stations all the more powerful. I won't try to tell the stories here, because I simply will cheat you of the experience of reading them first hand. Instead, I'll concentrate a little bit on the sociological ideas that lurk beneath the surface in the book.

The one thing that stands out in the book - quite deliberately - is the illustration of the power of crowds and mobs. Buford highlights how mobs assume an identity unto themselves that is separate and distinct from the people that make them up. More importantly, however, is the idea that the members of the mob themselves change: they are no longer themselves, they no longer act like the accountant or plumber or clerk that they normally are, but as part of something bigger, something quite literally greater than themselves. Buford talks in length about crowds or mobs transforming from "they" to "it", the ultimate relinquishment of agency.

He also disabuses the reader of the notion that you or I would, under the same circumstances, behave any differently. What is clear from reading the book is that human beings have a savage side to them that cannot be hidden by an ivy-league education (some of the subjects of his book are actually quite well-to-do), only by the circumstances we choose to immerse ourselves in. We all have a little bit of crazy in us, and given the right surroundings, it WILL come out, no matter what you think of your oh-so-refined and bourgeois selves (these two famous psychology experiments showed how quickly and easily "normal" people can become intensely violent).

I only picked up the book because it was recommended to me by one of my professors here, during a class on ethnic violence. What does ethnic violence have to do with Manchester United fans wreaking havoc across the footballing centers of Europe? Why, I'm glad you asked!

The first point is something I've already touched on above: that of the mob assuming a singular identity over and above that of its constituents. The forces that can lead to the rape of 11 year-old Muslim girls and the slitting of fetuses of pregnant women are one and the same as the forces that lead to hooligans urinating in Italian cafes, pulling (yes, pulling, with bare fingers) out a policeman's eyeball from his head and kicking a youth to death simply because he happens to wear a shirt for a team not named Manchester United.

To call these acts "evil" is easy enough; to call their perpetrators the same is perhaps too easy. If these people were this evil, why wouldn't they be doing this stuff all the time? Well, because it takes being in a crowd for a certain side of you to come out. One of the great strengths of the book is the description, in intimate detail, of the escalation in passion that takes place within a crowd. Buford makes the very cogent argument that we know a great deal about what violent crowds do - we see pictures in newspapers and read articles in journals about the tremendous destruction that crowds can wring. But we know much less about how crowds become violent in the first place. We know a lot about the destination, but almost nothing about the journey. This is where Buford's contribution lies.

Another thread tying football hooliganism and ethnic violence together is the ascription of group identity. It turns out that one of the reasons for ethnic violence being so brutal and widely targeted within groups is the catch-all-ism of the entire enterprise. For instance, if you are standing in a group of Hindus, separated by some distance from a crowd of Muslims, and a stone is thrown by one adolescent from the Muslim side, it will be interpreted as "the Muslims are throwing stones". Retaliation against all Muslims is then not only "allowed" but also necessary.

(Read this paper for an argument of how successful ethnic cooperation rests on conquering that instinct. Essentially the argument is that groups get along best when the police themselves. In the hypothetical example above, for instance, no Hindu would touch even a single Muslim if a Muslim threw a stone. Instead, the Muslims themselves would punish the stone-thrower, and do so publicly, thus precluding the need for Hindus to take action against the entire group for the transgressions of a single member of the group).

The every-single-one-of-them-is-the-same-and-so-must-be-punished logic operates with football hooligans too. Buford cites the constant refrain of "their lads" when supporters of other teams are in the area in question. "Their lads" are consequently chased and beaten, and by this very act, all of "our lads" have become "their lads" to them, and the cycle is repeated endlessly.

Finally, and this is what struck me most about the book, is the notion of territoriality. When the United fans leave a trail of carnage behind them in Turin - the city of Juventus - they talk about having "taken the city." The metaphors are all war-related: taking cities, standing guard, lying in wait at tube stations as if planning an amphibious assault on Japanese shores, generals and lieutenants leading the pack, and so on. For the supporters/hooligans, it is war, much as ethnic violence is war in a much more tangible way.

Again, I can't say this enough: read this book. It's written lucidly and crisply, and the content will make you sit up on your chair (and may make you question this whole "human civilization" thing).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quote of the Day

PCB chairman Ijaz Butt gives coach Geoff Lawson a stirring vote of confidence:

“Lawson is a useless man. But there is no use removing him now and we will allow him to complete his contract, which will not be renewed. We will suffer a huge financial loss if we terminate his contract now.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

There are few things I love more than a completely pointless and meaningless controversy. Fortunately, recent (and ongoing) events at the University of Chicago have provided us all with one particularly tasty one - the furor over the yet-to-be-established Milton Friedman Institute.

Five months ago, the University administration announced that it planned on setting up a research institute for Economics which would ostensibly attract scholarly talent from all over the world. With the hallowed nature of economics at U of C, it made eminent sense to establish a separate institute centered on economics research. The school is (in)famous for its Economics department; it has links to 25 Nobel winners in Economics, more than any other educational institution in the world. It has an entire paradigm/school of thought named after it - the Chicago school of economics - that symbolizes and promotes the idea of free-markets and little government intervention in the economy.

One of the central figures in the growth of the Chicago school was Milton Friedman. Whatever one may think about his ideas, there is little doubt about his contribution to the discipline of economics - even Paul Krugman, an economist at the opposite end of the spectrum as Friedman, regards him as a "great economist and a great man." His status as a monumentally important figure in the discipline is unquestioned. These considerations led the administration to want to name the research institute after Friedman, and to provide an initial endowment of $200 million.

In what can only be regarded as an attempt to outflank those Muslims who took umbrage at the Danish cartoons, students and faculty at the school have decided to express unmitigated outrage at this affront to humanity. A body called the Faculty Senate - a body whose existence, I must confess, I was not even aware of until this week - met this week to discuss this burning issue. To give you an idea of the level of outrage we're dealing with here, the last time the Faculty Senate met was in 1984, when it discussed divestment from South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. The central demand of the faculty and some students seems to be: name it after someone else, because Friedman was controversial, and a right-winger to boot.

I'm sorry, but I simply fail to understand what all the fuss is about. I say this as someone who's sick and tired of being asked where I study Political Science, responding, and then being told "Dude! That's such a conservative school!" (No, that's the econ department and the Law School you're thinking of). I also say this fully cognizant that this stance might cause me some street-cred in left-leaning academic circles. But again: I really don't understand what the fuss is all about.

Leave aside the fact that the faculty was completely absent and expressed little support on an issue that actually mattered - that of increased funding for graduate students in the social sciences and humanities - one that actually would influence the quality of life and education at the school for everyone involved (faculty, grad students, and undergrads). Actually, let's NOT leave that aside. Let me ask the faculty quickly: where were you guys then? When we were out in the quad on brutally cold Chicago mornings asking for health insurance and asking for TA salaries to be at least one third of that of "peer institutions", where were you? Where were your meetings and emails and demonstrations and faux outrage then? Did any of you even consider having a token strike, or expressing solidarity with graduate students - students without which your classes would simply collapse? And now you're pissed off about a name? Please.

Anyway, I find this entire controversy remarkable. I'm willing to let you make up your mind about this. Read these two paragraphs from the primary group on campus responsible for taking issue with the proposed Milton Friedman Institute, and tell me what you think:
The proposal to name an institute after Milton Friedman aroused objections from many faculty members across campus. Highly respected for his technical work in economics and a vigorous polemicist in popular media, Friedman consistently depicted the free market as the solution to all problems and saw government involvement as not only counterproductive, but an affront to human freedom. He was, however, happy to work with governments when they imposed the free market policies he favored—most famously Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile (see Klein, Grandin). In the U.S., Friedman advocated for the abolition of social security, the privatization of education, and the legalization of drugs (see Krugman, and Rayack), consistent with his libertarian views.

Our view is that naming such a major institute after Friedman is a symbolic endorsement of his views by the University. The guidelines of the Institute, as detailed in the report (excerpted here), appear to reinforce this view. They indicate a very narrow research scope even within the field of economics, not to speak of the complete disregard for other disciplines involve in the study of “economy and society,” such as sociology, anthropology, and political science. Typically centers of such magnitude at the University of Chicago are meant to foster interdisciplinary work among faculty of different departments and divisions. This hardly seemed the goal in this case.

My understanding of these objections is this: first, Friedman expounded on ideas we find reprehensible. Second, Friedman implicitly supported or associated with brutal dictators. Third, naming an institute after him constitutes "a symbolic endorsement of his views" and that is a big no-no. I'm sorry, I just don't buy any of this. Woodrow Wilson was a bona fide racist, and yet Princeton's school of international affairs is named after him, and I don't see any Princeton students up in arms about that.

The silver lining in all of this is, of course, the humor. Last week, a professor in the Econ department, and a member of the Milton Friedman Institute committee, reluctantly allowed for the possibility of a name-change.

In a move that surprised Institute advocates, economics professor James Heckman, a member of the Institutes’s faculty committee, said during a public panel Tuesday that he was open to the possibility of changing the Institutes’s name, a proposal that several colleagues firmly rejected.

“I think it’s a good idea. We could change the name,” said Heckman, a Nobel Laureate who worked with late economist Milton Friedman at the U of C.

Then backtracked:

In a subsequent e-mail interview, Heckman emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the committee.

“This is what I should have said: I personally would not object [to renaming it]. However, it would probably cost the initiative a lot of support,” he said. “Short answer: I am open to any idea, but we should look at the costs.”

And then had this exchange with a professor at the Business School, which I will not comment on, and choose to leave you with:

Some of Heckman’s comments set off alarm bells for his fellow Institute committee member, GSB professor John Cochrane, who has long argued that the Insistute will maintain academic integrity.

In an e-mail to Heckman, Cochrane wrote, “My strong, personal suggestion is that you are digging yourself deeper and deeper into public statements that you will regret. Now, not only is Friedman’s name expendable, the GSB political, but President [Robert] Zimmer ’rushed this through.’ He’ll be delighted to see that in print. You may have long, convoluted explanations, but that won’t do much good when this sort of thing gets out.”

Cochrane was in part referring to comments Heckman made explaining the positions of Institute opponents. Heckman had said that some of their objections stem from their belief that Zimmer rushed plans for the Institute.

According to Cochrane, Heckman’s comments about academic bias and renaming the Institute were not on behalf of the Institute’s faculty committee.

“I don’t know what Jim is talking about lately,” he said, adding that changing the name of the Institute could be a “disaster” for the University. Opponents of a name change have argued that it could alienate donors.

Heckman e-mailed Cochrane a terse response to his concerns: “Screw off, John,” he said.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Really Right Answer

During his powerful endorsement of Barack Obama yesterday, Colin Powell chose to make one particular point about this whole "Obama is a Muslim" drivel that has sadly gone largely unstated during this election, despite being utterly plain and obvious. I have inserted the relevant video excerpt below, which I would urge you to watch.

And whilst were on the subject of the 'Really Right Answer' (or rather really obvious pertinent rhetorical question), according to GEO Prime Minister Gilani made this statement yesterday:

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has claimed that that his ancestors had made the forefathers of the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah Muslims, who were originally Rajputs.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani revealed that his ancestors made the forefathers of the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah Muslims.

PM said that Quaid’s predecessor Lohana Rajput was non-believer centuries ago, and he (Lohana) embraced Islam on hands of Gilani’s forefather.
Gilani made this statement in Islamabad and added that the historians marked that event a Divine decree, as we, the successors of Hazrat Ghous-ul-Azam, were to come in this part of the world and our ancestors were to make Quaid’s forefathers Muslims and Quaid-e-Azam were to lay down the foundation of this Muslim state.

Riiighht. Some have questioned whether or not the Gilanis of old really did successfully preach to the Jeenabhais of old.

However, the ReallyRightAnswer/ReallyObviousYetPertinentRehtoricalQuestion here is either

a) "Why does he think anyone cares?"
b) "What the hell is his point?"
c) "Why in Gods name is he our Prime Minister?"

I mean, not to boast or anything, but I think it is important for everyone to recognize and accept that it was actually my own illustrious blood ancestors who founded the human race and moreover spawned Gilani's ancestors. I honestly mean this. This is an actual fact.

In reality therefore, it is I who am the scion of the ultimate family, the one that created Pakistan (and populated Asia Minor, and invented all technology and founded pretty much all the countries on the planet). So balls to Gilani, foolish usurper that he is.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sexism in the Senate

Ishaq Dar gives his enlightened opinion on the relative worth of women:

Senator Ishaq Dar and Information Minister Sherry Rehman exchanged hot words on an issue that did not relate to the war on terror. The senator in his speech remarked that during the PPP-PML-N negotiations he and Raza Rabbani were always part of the negotiating teams. But if they are to be replaced by women then there should be four women to replace two men.

Sherry Rehman objected to these remarks as being anti-woman and wanted to reply but acting Senate Chairman Jan Muhammad Jamali, who was presiding over the session during brief absence of the Speaker, did not permit.

Friday, October 17, 2008

This time, McCain is Funnier

At least I think so, and I'm rooting for Obama.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Live Blogging The Third Obama-McCain Debate

Notes from tonight.

7:58 p.m. And for the first time this election season, I’ve made it on time. In fact, I made it early. We’ve been watching “America’s Next Top Model” for the last 25 minutes, and I’ve been quite dismayed to see that approximately two of the women are actually hot enough to be models.

7:59 p.m. As I type this, Five Thirty Eight is giving Obama 354 electoral college votes (remember, you need 270 to win). Insofar as national polling is concerned, Obama is generally up between 7 and 15 points. In other words, he’s got everything to lose, and McCain’s got nothing to lose.

8:01 p.m. I think they chose this Bob Schieffer fellow because he makes McCain look young.

8:02 p.m. Hey, they’re sitting!

8:03 p.m. The first question is on the bad day Wall Street had, and how each candidate’s proposal to fix the issue is better than the other’s. Obama has come out quite wonky and policy-ish.

8:08 p.m. McCain comes back to the tax issue, claiming that Obama will raise taxes and make it harder for small business to employ people. Obama quickly corrects the record, and repeats his 95 percent/$250,000 line.

8:11 p.m. Jesus. Are we still talking about this “Joe the plumber” character? Unbelievable.

8:13 p.m. McCain says no one’s taxes should be raised. “Why should anybody’s taxes be raised?” he asks. Maybe because the deficit is a few gazillion dollars?

8:14 p.m. And the budget just so happens to be the next item on the agenda. I really hope Obama connects this question to McCain’s previous asinine statement.

8:15 p.m. Just noticed McCain scribbling some notes furiously. Hey, he’s left-handed! When’s the last time both candidates were left-handed? Come on, trivia fiends. Get me answer to that one.

8:20 p.m. It took 20 minutes for Obama to connect McCain to Bush. He, and his campaign, have been so brilliant in hammering that message home.

8:21 p.m. Oh, snap! McCain finally figured out a riposte to the Bush comparison. “If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.” Nice.

8:23 p.m. Man, Obama really is the perfect combination of thinker and speaker. He’s just an outstandingly talented politician. In two minutes, he first refuted McCain’s charges against him, outlined some policy proposals, once again tied McCain to Bush, and did in all without saying “um” or “uh” or “er”.

8:25 p.m. A question on the tone of the campaign. McCain expects us to believe that the campaign is tough and dirty because Obama refused to have town-hall meetings with him. Really? Town-hall meetings? That’s why you’re calling him dishonorable and claiming he “palls around with terrorists”? Town-hall meetings? He also goes on about his hurt feelings, making it seem like Obama’s campaign has been the dirtier politician in this campaign. Since Obama can’t say it on national TV, let me: John McCain, please go fuck yourself, you lying fucking cunt.

8:33 p.m. McCain just seems like an old, cranky fool. He’s losing it. Obama, on the other hand, is so calm, it’s eerie. You can’t rattle the guy.

8:36 p.m. Mccain brings up Ayers and ACORN. He’s going down swinging, that’s for sure. Obama handles both issues deftly. Cool, calm and collected. Brilliant. He points that the people he actually associates with are people like Warren Buffet on the economy, and Joe Biden and Dick Lugar – a Republican – on foreign policy. Great touch there, showing who the people are that have and will influence his thinking. He turned an attack on his associations into a strength.

8:40 p.m. Ooh, fun! A question on running mates. Obama sounds proud of Biden, running through his expertise on foreign policy, the fact that he’s not forgotten where he came from, and his considerable legislative accomplishments. When it’s McCain’s turn, he claims “America has got to know Sarah Palin.” Really? She’s been in the public eye for six weeks, hasn’t had a press conference yet (and never will) and has had all of three interviews on TV (one of them with Sean Hannity).

8:47 p.m. A question on when the candidates expect America to be no longer reliant on foreign oil. McCain says within four years, America would not import oil from the Middle East and Venezuela. Obama says ten years is a more realistic goal, and has a very comprehensive answer on energy, oil, and related issues.

8:52 p.m. McCain is such an angry guy, it’s not funny. Temperamentally, there really is no comparison between these two.

8:56 p.m. On to healthcare. Obama solid as hell, nicely encapsulating the problem and his solution. He’s much better at debates now than his earlier performances against Hillary and the other Dems. Practice makes perfect, yes?

9:01 p.m. Obama corrects McCain’s mischaracterization of his healthcare, making him incredulous. He also points out that McCain plans on taxing healthcare benefits.

9:03 p.m. So far, Obama has owned McCain. He makes it through the next 27 minutes, I think he’s home free.

9:06 p.m. On to Roe v. Wade and litmus tests for Supreme Court appointments. McCain says he’s never had a litmus test, and never sought to impose his ideology for judicial appointments. Obama also claims he would not use a litmus test, but that he agrees with Roe v. Wade, and argues that the right to privacy should not be subject to state referendum as the federalist McCain would have it.

9:12 p.m. Abortion is boring.

9:12 p.m. Wait, that last entry came out wrong. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.

9:14 p.m. Obama is so brilliant, it’s not funny. I mean, he’s so good at going through a list of his thoughts, item by item, carefully and lucidly. He’s so goddamn intelligent, he really is. I’m sorry I sound gushing, but this guy belongs in academia, not in politics.

9:19 p.m. Obama says he’ll give college students a $4000 credit every year in return for some sort of community service, whether it be military service, the peace corps, or some sort of community service. What a fantastic idea – it’s a real University of Chicago economist-y plan, giving the notion of incentives a central role.

9:23 p.m. I have to say, Obama has fucking steamrolled McCain in this debate. He’s been on an even keel the whole time, but more importantly, he has a rational, level-headed, and sound response to both real-world problems and McCain’s asinine comments.

9:26 p.m. Closing statements. McCain was pretty solid, and closed on an emotional note, saying he’d be honored if Americans gave him an opportunity to continue his service to the country. Obama concentrates more on the challenges and sacrifices needed to get out of the present crises America finds itself.

9:31 My closing note: it was a feisty debate, more in-your-face, and I think Obama creamed McCain. Unless they find a dead white girl in the trunk of Obama’s car, this race is done.