Sunday, May 28, 2006

Free Markets versus Free Markets

It appears that many people are still living in the world of the old debate between "the market economy" and "socialism".

A recent example is John Meadowcroft's book, The Ethics of the Market (Palgrave, 2006, £50.00), which synthesizes the work of a number of liberal and libertarian scholars into "a positive ethical case for the market economy". His argument is the old one that only through the impersonal signals provided by the market’s price mechanism can individuals meet the needs of people with whom they have no direct contact.

As with most people in the contemporary West, who have no education in world history and no awareness of world history, he simply does not know that all societies have always had market economies. The question is: what SORT of market economy?

In the case of India, for some thousands of years, we had a market economy in which a monopoly over business was given to members of a caste (mine, as it happens), so that we were free (within overall economic and political realities) to set the price and run the market as we wished. The result was occasions when we were able to impose interest rates of as much as 360% per year, which drove whole families into servitude for generations. There are still families who are living in what is called "bonded labour" - in spite of the fact that this is now officially illegal in the country.

That is why it is difficult to accept Meadowcroft's entirely theoretical argument that the market provides incentives for good behaviour and mechanisms that supply trust, making it a self-regulating economic system, offering the best prospect for prosperous, peaceful and free societies.

If you think I am unduly biased because I am Indian, consider the experience of Red China, where a free market exists (with some help from Google, Microsoft and so on) in happy co-operation with a Communist ruling elite. Or consider Kazakhstan where a market economy supports a non-communist elite. So flourishing markets always strengthen the status quo, whatever that is.

The reason why Meadowcroft and other liberals and libertarians get it so wrong is because they put the cart before the horse. The sorts of market economy with which they are familiar, and for which they argue so hysterically, did not come into existence because of the magical thing called "the free market".

Rather, the kind of free market with which they are familiar and which they admire so much arose in Reformation countries (as distinct from market economies in other times and places, in which markets simply reinforced entirely unjust social relations).

Why did the sort of "market economies" that Meadowcroft admires arise in Reformation countries and not in other societies? Because Reformation countries forefronted the rule of law (in other words, treated the rulers as well as the ruled as equal before the law), because they had a view of individuals as neither autonomous nor subject to society but related to and responsible for society, because they had a high view of ethics and diversity and work and living within one's means, and so on.

In other words, it is not "free markets" that provided for prosperity, peace and freedom, it was a spiritual revolution (the Reformation) that created the environment within which markets of the right sort could be built over time.

Regretfully, Meadowcroft's book is typical of much liberal/libertarian work, which may have had some merit in the 1950s or even the 1970s but ducks all the really important questions in the global economy today.

These questions are (for example) how one can build an environmentally sustainable global system as distinct from the environmentally unsustainable model we have today, how we are going to have global political stability when its guarantor since the Second World War (the USA) is growing weaker and weaker, and how we can have global financial stability when the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO privilege investors over ordinary taxpayers, workers and the poor.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fair versus Predatory Systems: The Case of Swiss Railways

There are many ways of classifying systems that are created by humans and, in our time, one of the key ways of classifying them is by distinguishing between "fair" and "predatory" systems.

Perhaps the best way of understanding this distinction is the "evolution" (or, as is often the case with all systems since the dawn of time,"degeneration") of the Swiss Rail system.

When I first started visiting Switzerland regularly (in 1990 or so), the system was expensive but predictable. Trains were expensive, but they were more or less absolutely reliable (I never knew of a train being late). Now it is a different story. Trains are not often late but they can be late, and no one ever provides an apology or any reasonable explanation. This is in keeping with the post-modern spirit, where you are told, for example, that your flight is late because the incoming flight was late – which is a classic "non-explanation". Or to take a case more parallel with the Swiss Rail system, the British rail system was infamous for explaining, for example, that your train had been delayed because of "leaves on the line". It would have been most interesting to know why there were leaves on the line in the Spring or Summer as often as in the Autumn. Or why no one within British rail or in that historically most inventive of countries had come up with a way of getting those mighty beasts on the iron track to cut through flimsy leaves.

Moreover, Swiss Rail used to be fair in the sense that, if you did not have enough time to buy a ticket before you got on the train, it was up to you find the Ticket Checker (TC) and inform her/him of the case, so that s/he could issue you the ticket. If you went up to the TC and informed her/him, there was no extra charge for issuing the ticket. However, if s/he discovered you without a ticket, then s/he was entitled to fine you – though they rarely did, in those days: there were at least two cases where I bumped into someone and was so taken with the immediate conversation that I just found myself on the train without having stamped my "multiple travel pass" (my colleague had a "GA" which gives free travel throughout the system so did not need to stamp anything). The TC not only accepted my explanation but treated me courteously as a valued customer (which I hope I am, since I travel so frequently to so many different destinations). In fact, the system treated you courteously even if you had never travelled on Swiss Rail earlier and were never going to travel on it again, so that Swiss Rail used to be a byword in efficiency, professionalism and courtesy. The sort of thing that many commercial companies nowadays aspire to unsuccessfully, in spite of employing the best consultants to try and drum into an apparently recalcitrant workforce "customer-friendliness", "customer-focus", "delighting the customer", and so on.

Now, however (as a result of of Reaganite/Thatcherite/"free market" pressures) the TC is required to make no distinction between the different kinds of people who might be on a train without a "valid ticket".

For one thing, the system now has various fares for various routes from the same starting point to the same destination. For example, from Weinfelden to St Gallen, there are two train routes, one via Romanshorn and one via Wil. If one goes to the ticket machine, the system simply asks which route you wish to travel. If you don't know the area, or if you don't the route that "your" train is going to take, tough luck. You could of course go through the entire routine of the machine twice (causing impatient movements in the queue of people behind you) in order to work out which was the longer and more expensive route (as I did once) and buying that ticket. But that does not protect you, as I discovered on a recent train journey, where I had the embarrassment of watching a TC ticking off a hapless Swiss older customer who apparently had not kept up with the times and who had the more expensive ticket for the "longer" journey but was actually on the shorter journey. Probably against what was required of him, the TC did not fine the hapless customer.

However, in a parallel situation, my wife, travelling home from a place she does not usually start from, caught the wrong train by some mistake, and on being advised by a Swiss Rail official, took a corrective route, and was fined by a TC for "not being in possession of a valid ticket" on the corrective journey– even though the TC could see from the various tickets in my wife's possession that her story was true. He simply insisted on doing his duty according to the instructions he had received, and imposed a penalty for not being in possession of the right ticket. When she got home she was seething at the injustice, and told me the story. We decided to write to Swiss Rail with all the facts, as we did not like the slow but apparently inexorable change that is taking place in the system from having been fair to now being predatory.

Swiss Rail, to their credit, responded to our letter quickly. They did not dispute the facts of the case. And, in view of the fact that we were "valued customers", they were prepared to reduce the fine from 80 Swiss Francs to 40 Swiss Francs. Not being sure of what else we could do, we desisted from further action: there comes a point where the energy required to fight the injustice of a predatory system becomes out of proportion to the benefit you personally will receive - and you usually have too much to do anyway.

So we paid the "reduced" fine, which probably represented a good "Swiss compromise" from Swiss Rail's point of view, but left a bad taste in our mouths as customers. It is experiences such as these that alienate customers, but the problem is not the TC in question (he was simply doing his duty as he had been instructed to do, unlike the TC who let the older customer hapless customer off in the earlier incident I reported above). The problem is the transformation of the entire system from being fair to being predatory.

To go back to the question of what is a valid ticket within a predatory system and the matter of ticket machines: if, instead of trusting the ticket machine, you go to the ticket counter, you will find the people there courteously explaining the different routings and the fare difference, and issuing you the right ticket. However, mistakes do happen and, as I experienced recently, if a mistake happens, it is of course not the Swiss Rail official's fault, it is your fault (fortunately, on this occasion the TC did not comply with his duty of fining me – principally because it was a TC with whom I had a sort of chatty relationship – the advantage of being in a small country for a considerable length of time).

However, even if you do have the right ticket, you dawdle on the way or, as happened to me recently, go the wrong way in a large station with which you are unfamiliar, and you miss the train that you thought you should be able to catch if you hurried, you are left with a theoretically invalid ticket for a journey by a "different route" than you were proposing to take at the time you bought the ticket. You are then confronted by the choice of jumping into the next train which arrives a minute later and leaves two minutes later, or of walking all the way back to the ticket counter, cancelling the ticket you bought a few minutes earlier (and paying a large cancellation fee for the privilege), purchasing the "right" ticket, and walking back to another platform for whatever train might be available next. Do note that this is all for the purpose of travelling from exactly the same starting point to exactly the same destination! As getting to my destination on time was, in this case, worth more to me than the maximum fine that could be levied by the system, I jumped on the train on the route for which my ticket was not valid, and hoped that the TC would not spot that or, having spotted it, would not fine me. As it happened, the TC did not spot it (which, I see, now happens even in Switzerland – never used to!), and I rushed off the train with a feeling of relief (because of course I could have been "caught" at any time during that long journey by either a different TC getting on the train due to a change of TCs, or by a team of Special Ticket Checkers who do special spot-checks nowadays)– more employment within the Swiss Rail system for the Swiss, which I am glad to see for the sake of the extra Swiss who are now employed, but guess who eventually pays for the employment of the Special TCs….

And the system never used to need these Special TCs, in the days of the old, courteous, and fair system.

Predatory systems have proliferated across the world. Due to commercial pressures, poisonous concepts such as "dynamic pricing" have also come in (for example in airlines). These make it more expensive for more people (otherwise they would not produce more money from customers – which is the whole reason for having these concepts, because fewer and fewer people can plan their lives very far ahead, so more and more people are at the mercy of outrageously expensive prices – unless of course they don't mind where they go at the last minute. Which is certainly adds spice to life, for example during holidays when you can get last-minute deals to one or other attractive destination for a pittance. Unfortunately, life isn't a holiday for most of the time for most of us.

So what is the point of all the foregoing? How does one define a "fair" as against a "predatory" system? Well, here is my attempt at defining it: a "fair" system tries to create customer loyalty from predictability and a good customer experience, expecting eventually to earn reasonable overall returns as a result. A "predatory" system focuses on maximising returns from the company's (or, in the case of institutions, reducing costs from the institituion's point of view) on a case-by-case basis. The result is that such companies and institutions have to add additional but peripheral effort to try to make an inherently unfair system more acceptable to customers. Predatory systems also have to focus huge marketing efforts on the illusory availability of the few "cheap" tickets - usually available at the wrong times and on the wrong terms for most people.

The result is that such systems soon run down and become more unreliable: unfortunately, reliability is closely tied to redundancy of resources used within a system. The more "efficient" a system, the less likely is it that it will have the extra resources to be able to cope with the unexpected.

Of course obesity and inefficiency do not by themselves guarantee that a system will be able to cope with the unexpected either.

But there is a middle way between mere obesity and inefficiency on the one hand, and the predatory nature of an increasing number of post-modern systems on the other.

To my mind, the old Swiss Rail system has the balance about right. The newer Swiss Rail system which has emerged since the "free market" system began to take root in Switzerland (about 15 years ago?) has certainly lost the balance and become a predatory system.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Caste and employment opportunities in India and the question of quotas and reservations for lower castes

After my post drawing attention to Joseph D'Souza's excellent piece on this subject, I did not think that I would put pen to paper on this subject.

However, I see an article in India's Business Standard today reporting research showing that "upper castes in the country do not have a dramatically higher chance of getting top jobs in comparison with SC/ST and OBCs, in case all of them have the same level of education, i.e. at least a high school degree".

BTW "SC/ST" and "OBC" are abbreviations for the various levels of caste in the country (SC/ST= Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which are lower than the "OBC" or "Other Backward Castes" which are slightly higher in the hierarchy).

The lowest castes (which form the majority of the population) used to be called the Untouchables, then Mahatma Gandhi started calling them "Harijans" ("people who belong to God"), but their own name for themselves is "Dalit" ("the oppressed masses")

I have not been able to locate and check the figures used, but it is clear that, even if the figures and calculations are correct, it does seem to me this is a case of "lies, whopping lies and statistics" - because the figures and calculations are being used to suggest that there is no need for continued, let alone increased, reservations for lower castes in India.

Drawing on data from the National Sample Survey’s 1999, the calculations "show that upper castes who’ve passed out of school (at the very minimum), whether they’re Hindus, Sikhs or Christians, have a 39 per cent chance of landing a good job (if) a good job is defined as a professional, managerial or technical job held by a person who has at least passed high school. In 1999, the NSS says there were 8.3 million upper castes in such jobs who had passed high school, and there were a total of 21.1 million upper castes who had passed high school — i.e. the probability of an upper caste getting employed in a good job was 39.2 per cent. This is not dramatically different from the situation for other groups. While educated OBCs who passed high school had the smallest probability of getting a good job, of 28.6 per cent in 1999-2000, this was 31.7 per cent in the case of SC/STs".

The difference between 39.2% and 28.6% is huge! And the differential between the employment rates clearly suggest that the existing system of reservations is having an impact so far as the SC/STs are concerned, there is need for some action on behalf of OBCs to bring them up even to the same level in terms of proportions of the educated employed.

However, the article's suggestion is that no reservations are needed, because the Indian employment system is relatively meritocratic or at least egalitarian!

The lie is given to this impression because, as the article itself acknowledges, "there are a lot more upper castes in top jobs than there are SC/ST or OBC high school-pass students".

If the Indian system is more or less egalitarian and meritocratic, how can this be?

Because of course the calculations reported in the paper look at the number of high school graduates and THEIR chances of making it in percentage terms.

The results of the Indian system are non-egalitarian because the number of high school graduates is itself enormously biased towards the high castes.

Though the caste system is breaking down slowly and at varying speeds wherever modernity reaches, it is still true that, only a few miles outside India's cities(where the middle classes and upper classes rarely venture, except to speed through to some other city or desirable location) the traditional Indian caste system is kept in place as far as possible, by violence if necessary.

For example, where schools exist, it is more difficult for lower caste children than for upper caste children to attend for practical reasons (financial and so on) but, in addition, lower caste children are prevented from coming to school by threats, intimidations and beatings.

In any case, India's "prestige" institutions (such as an Indian Institute of Technology and an Indian Institute of Management), mostly run either by the national government or by the churches, are world-class. But they are very few for a nation of over one billion people. The moment one steps outside the "prestige" institutions, the quality of education (as in the USA) begins to decline dramatically. When one leaves the cities, schools themselves begin to vanish.

In the rural areas, many schools exist only on paper and it is possible to sit exams by proxy, and indeed to buy qualifications without having appeared in any exam and indeed entirely without benefit of instruction of any sort.

The key question therefore is not the employment and preferment chances of those who succeed in getting educated, but the proportion and number of people who get any education in the first place.

No wonder the top positions are still disproportionately occuped by the traditional upper castes (such as my own), which have held the country to ransom for thousands of years.

The hold of the upper castes is weakening. However, instead of trying to cling on to our millennia-old privileges which gave us a huge share of a relatively small pie, we upper castes should be pleased that modernity is giving India the chance of enormously increasing the size of the pie.

Even if we upper castes have a smaller and smaller share of that increasing pie, we will still be actually better off than with a large share of a small pie.

With affirmative action of the sort we have had since Independence, and which we should continue and extend, the lower castes, whom we have oppressed and exploited for so long, now not only have a chance of some kind of human life after all these years, but will contribute to creating a prosperous and modern country of which we can all be fully proud - instead of hiding from and having to be ashamed of such a large proportion of our history and culture.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Should Roman Catholics have a place in Protestant institutions?

In last Thursday's issue of the journal BOOKS AND CULTURE, Thomas Albert Howard wirtes on "L'affaire Hochschild and Evangelical Colleges", with the sub-title: "Is a Catholic out of place on Wheaton's faculty?".

To the uninitiated, it needs to be pointed out that Wheaton is the premier evangelical (Protestant) institution of higher education in the USA.

Apparently, a member of the faculty of this distinguished college was let go from the faculty after converting to Roman Catholicism, because Roman Catholic theology is incompatible with Wheaton's statement of faith. The statement of faith is, as is customary at many evangelical colleges, one to which all faculty assent at the beginning of their careers and renew, if they wish, upon signing their annual contracts.

The author of the article, Thomas Albert Howard, is a member of the faculty at Gordon College, another distinguished Protestant College. He collaborates with the Erasmus Institute at the University of Notre Dame (which is a Roman Catholic university) so he might be expected to be sympathetic to Hochschild.

Howard is indeed sympathetic to Hochschild and, in the BOOKS AND CULTURE article, has stirring words with which to challenge the authorities at Wheaton. The matter is, he writes, "the latest manifestation of a simmering conflict of opinion over how evangelical colleges should posture themselves toward the future....Is an evangelical liberal arts college (i.e., not a seminary and not a church), and one that prides itself on intellectual engagement, served by a statutory environment that effectively excludes all Catholics, and indeed most non-evangelical Christians, from the faculty ranks?"

So Howard's basic answer to the question I pose in the headline to this piece is "Yes, they should have a place".

My answer is somewhat different - though you, dear reader, must understand that, as a Hindu, I have no locus standi in the matter. However, I put forward my opinion on what is becoming a cause celebre in the US and will therefore no doubt have global repurcussions.

A Protestant who becomes a Roman Catholic is somewhat like a Democrat who becomes a Republican. Let us imagine the person in question is Jo Brown. Jo is entirely within her/his rights to stop being a signed up member of the Democratic Party and become a signed up member of the Republican Party. But should we expect the Democratic Party to continue to employ Jo as a cheerleader for the Democrats? Clearly, there is a bit of difficulty with this proposition.

There would be equal difficulty with the proposition that the Chairman of the Madrid Football Club should continue to be the Chairman, or inded on the Boardm if he in fact became a supporter of a rival club.

Admittedly, these analogies are imperfect, and a good secularist would argue that there there is no championship or electoral victory involved, and that all we are discussing are (from a secularist's point of view) rather small differences between a Protestant and a Roman Catholic view.

That position is all very well for a secularist. But the secularist's argment does not serve either Protestants or Roman Catholics or indeed any other group, religious, philosophical, political, aesthetic or scientific.

We are all very content, within the ambit of the public square, to be treated equally with people of every other point of view, provided only that we are given equal respect and equal time (an impossibility, I know, but that is the ideal that we all accept and strive towards, however imperfectly).

However, we do believe rather strongly that we have a right to build and maintain "our" institutions, specially when there are considerations such as truth (and even Truth) that are involved. To take a small example, the Roman Catholic version of church history is not the Protestant version of church history, particularly since the sixteenth century of course, but the disagreement goes back to their understanding of God and the universe and power and society and.... The fact that Roman Catholic Church has progressively abandoned its position on various side-issues is neither here nor there. It is immovable on the central points that caused it to throw out the Reformers.

After all, if there was no significant difference between evangelicals and Roman Catholic philosophy, why would Hochschild want to become a Roman Catholic?

However, in the real world, it is difficult to draw such clear lines. There are many in the Roman Catholic Church who are closet-Protestants (and, it appears, there are many in Protestant circles, who are closet-Roman Catholics).

Equally, some Protestant Colleges (such as Howard's home institution, Gordon College), clearly allow if not encourage co-operation with Roman Catholic colleges.

I am also aware of some Protestant colleges that have NO faith requirement at all and therefore have open the possibility of appointing to their faculties every variety of belief and disbelief.

Frankly, I can't see in what sense the last category are "Protestant colleges" (the the word "college" originally meant a community with a common point of view or orientation or set of standards or values...)

However, in the free market there are, and there should be, on one hand, state institutions that hold no particular brief beyond excellence as defined by peers within a discipline. On the other hand, there are, and there should be, institutions that draw a clear ideological line (such as Wheaton), others that draw what we may call a dotted line (such as Gordon College), and still others that draw no line at all.

It is up to these institutions to justify themselves to their supporting constituencies, and it is up to their constituencies to decide to what degree to support particular institutions.

I must say that I surprised and not a little pleased to find that the president of Wheaton, Duane Litfin, and his Board, have drawn an unfashionably clear line.

I would be equally delighted to learn of Roman Catholic colleges that were also unfashionably clear regarding where they stood.

Or Muslim ones or Buddhist ones....

After all, the whole point of the freedoms of speech, religion and association is to enable a variety of individual voices and a variety of institutional expressions. Wheaton is free to stand by a clear line. Hochschild is free to become a Roman Catholic and move institutions. Gordon College is free to have a dotted line, and Howard is free to work both in Gordon and at a Roman Catholic institution.

That is the difference between the "liberty" that was progressively established by the Reformers and their spiritual and intellectual heirs, and the "liberty" that the French Revolution failed to establish. The resulting difference, for example, between the USA and France, are still clear for all to see.

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More on whether Iran is telling the truth about its nuclear programm

On the 5th of June, I posted a piece to this Blog, titled "Is Iran capable of telling the truth?"

For a contrary view, see:,1518,415350,00.html

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Incitement to religious hatred - in Norway and Germany

A story in Der Spiegel Online asserts that "an online journal published by the terrorist group Ansar al-Sunna" ("Supporters of Sunni Islam"), which has a presence in Norway, Germany and other European nations has published a list of newspapers that reprinted *the* cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), and has urged Muslims to take action against Western journals and journalists.

"Terrorism experts who follow the site believe the journal's authors are trying to motivate potential assasins to engage in acts of retaliation. There's nothing new about this tactic. Terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri don't give orders to engage in specific terrorist attacks. Instead, they orchestrate Islamist violence by means of violent demagoguery, counting on their followers to act on their own initiative."

The founder of Ansar al-Islam, the organization out of which Ansar al-Sunna developed, lives in Norway, according to Der Spiegel. Some governments have started taking action against individuals and groups that preach hatred and murder. The vast majority of Muslims are horrified at such statements and actions. So, if the story is true, what are the governments of Norway and Germany waiting for?

The article is at:,1518,414625,00.html

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On Jahanbegloo and the internal popularity of the Iranian regime

According to a Reuters report, quoting Deputy Tehran Prosecutor Mahmoud Salarkia last Wednesday, the prominent Iranian philosopher and writer Ramin Jahanbegloo has been arrested on unspecified charges:

Jahanbegloo, educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and Harvard University, has written more than 20 books in English, French and Persian on subjects such as Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and liberal political philosopher Isaiah Berlin.
Head of the Department for Contemporary Studies at the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran, he has also lectured on the prospects for democracy in Iran and on whether the Islamic state can engage with the West.

The most interesting part of the report is a one-liner: "Iran's judiciary has arrested dozens of journalists and closed more than hundred publications since 2000".

I was aware of the Iranian regime's censorship and crackdown on free speech in general terms but I was unaware of the scale of the repression.

So you can assess for yourself how popular the regime is inside Iran.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Is there a war on Christians in America?

Since I am not a Christian and don't keep up with such things, I missed the following news story in the Washington Post in March and it has just been brought to my attention:

The news story itself is fairly balanced but naturally does not provide a complete view of the two-day conference in Washington DC convened by radio broadcaster Rick Scarborough on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006"

Though I Googled the story (which revealed 135 references), I can't find the programme or details of any of the presentations that were given.

So of course I can't say if I agree with any of them.

However, the tone of the comments reported in the above story seems to indicate that the speakers have no understanding that the "war on Christianity" is actually not a war on Christianity at all. Rather that the battle against Christianity is part of a wider war against God, values, spirituality, standards and indeed the concept that anything at all is true.

And, in a war, there are usually at least two sides. If there is a war against Christianity (or God), who is waging it?

Neither the organisers nor any of the people reported in the story indicate they have any clue about who is waging the war.

They should know that the war was started by the global elite, first in Europe and the USA, but that the war really took hold after World War II, through the teaching of evolution and the open attack against God, Christianity and spirituality that was conducted through the new universities and new courses of "education" that took hold in the Sixties following the expansion of higher education with the GI Bill in the USA and similar actions in most Western countries.

The heat that Christians are feeling now is the result of preparatory work going back to the 1830s, and the attack that began to take effect from the 1950s. The attack is complex, and comes as much from apparent friends as from those who are outright foes.

But Christians are not the only ones feeling the heat, because what is at stake is human values.

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Is Iran capable of telling the truth? Or is the truth more surprising?

Isn't it interesting that while many in the West want to believe that Iran is telling the truth (and, even if it isn't telling the truth, it doesn't matter), leaders of six of Iran's neighbouring countries (all fellow-Muslims, by the way), gathered for the Gulf Co-operation Council meeting yesterday, don't think that Iran is telling the truth:,2933,194545,00.html

How is it that even neighbouring fellow-Muslim leaders don't believe Iran?
Well, of course, simply because Iran has deceived the world in the past about its nuclear programme and does not allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear sites as it should under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the various UN Security Council resolutions. If Iran really had nothing to hide, it would have certainly allowed the IAEA to inspect its nuclear installations.

Every country tells lies from time to time, just as every company tells lies from time to time, and just as many individuals tell lies from time to time. However, there is a difference between (a) lying for a temporary advantage, or to avert something bad happening to you, and (b) because you can no longer recognise the difference between truth and falsehood, or because you are incapable of telling the truth. Individuals who fall into category (b) are considered to have a disease: we say they are "pathological liars".

India too lied about its nuclear programme (as many other countries have done and still others are possibly doing even today). However, India (and these countries) lied about their nuclear programme because of strategic reasons and/or because they did not want to bear the negative financial costs that would result (because of sanctions and so on).

In Iran's case, there is now no strategic advantage to it in lying. So is it lying because it is now incapable of telling the truth? After all, it is already paying the cost of sanctions....

Or is the case rather different? Is it not so much a case of not wanting to bear the negative consequences of truth-telling, as it is the case (if so, it is the first time, isn't it?) that it hopes to and actually is making money by telling lies: is it the case that Iran has done its calculations and concluded that increasing the tension as far as it can, is to its "Islamic" interest (as that makes it the undisputed national leader of the fundamentalists) as well as to its financial interests (keeping the tension high keeps also the oil price high, which means more money flowing into Iran from oil sales).

Whenever the truth is allowed to come out, should we perhaps not be surprised if the fact of the matter turns out to be that Iran isn't really that far ahead with either civilian or military nuclear science and technology, but that it deliberately misled the world (including its own citizens) about how far ahead it is in the field, only for the grubby reason of making money from the ensuing tension?

If so, does it cast any light on the state of Iran's finances sans oil?

And if that is so, does it mean that we could see the sudden fall of the Islamic regime whenever the oil price drops?

If so, Iran's neighbours aren't going to get any relief from their tension, or the truth out of Iran till the Iranian bubble is pricked and the regime collapses.

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Biotech and the Grand Coalition of Reassurers

For the latest activities of the Grand Coalition of those who seek to constantly reassure us that biotech is safe, see the following story, where every expression of concern and warning from the scientific and scholarly communities is met by bland assurances that the industry is already safe and sound and poses no health risks; there are none so blind as those who do not want to see:

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On Bio-Ethics: regretfully I'm not scheduled to be in 'Frisco any time soon....

For afficionados of theatre (such as myself), there's apparently a delightful new dramatic performance with a bio-ethical theme, that of cloning.

Look up the following review of the play and, if you ARE in San Francisco (or are there any time soon) you might want to go and see it:

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The world's first fuel-cell train to run in Japan in 2007

I wrote a piece here in my blog a short while ago on solar-powered cars. Well, East Japan Railway Co. has just announced the world's first fuel-cell-powered train. It is capable of a top speed of 100 km per hour, has two 65-kw fuel cells, a battery and mounted hydrogen fuel tanks.

The train will start running in Summer next year (2007)

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The questions of quotas and reservations and positive discrimination for outcastes and backward castes

I was thinking of writing something on this question (in the context of Dalits and backward castes - every country has its own situation!).

However, having come across the incisive piece written by Joseph D'Souza, I simply provide a link to his piece titled "The Shame of Upper Caste India and the Furor over OBC Reservation in Institutes of Higher Learning"

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