Wikipedia - Only a starting point

I use Wikipedia very often. It acts as a starting point for me, not end all be all in seeking knowledge on a specific topic. I have always been aware of its power and weakness. Lack of peer-review makes the content quite vulnerable. However, the power of wikipedia lies in its speed and open house, open source knowledge, and the assumption that the contents are self-correcting by its collective and democratic nature. In topics, where I had some knowledge, I always thought their write-ups are quite accurate and at par. I have had wikipedia account for a while and maybe, I should contribute regularly in topics, I can. Some people like from inkycirc rightfully think that it is the duty of experts to give sometime to forums like Wikipedia if their work is funded through tax payer's money.

In light of recent faux pas or prank discovered, a very reputed journal Nature has stepped in and given heads up to Wikipedia. Also, Wikipedia is going to implement a review process starting next month.

I am quite pleased with their review process decision.

Energy futures - Even courting India and Saudi Arabia looking beyond

I like to discuss about energy equation and world history from time to time. I have written two posts here and here  before - looking at energy policies mostly with a historical prism. Now, let us look at some of the future trends. Traditionally, western major oil companies have been shy of investing in India for two reasons: a) the red tapism was too much to deal with, and b) they weren't giant oil fields that were screaming to be discovered and produced in India with current technology (if there were elephant oil fields then reason a) would have not even mattered). Also, western major oil companies found opportunities like in Australia more appealing for many reasons.

However, western major oil companies are increasingly facing cul-de-sac in finding new reserves for oil and natural gas. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran are set to be more powerful in energy politics in future and are essentially out of bounds for western major oil companies. Therefore,  "cash rich but opportunity poor (as The Economist puts it)"  major oil companies have started courting India even if it is tentatively.

From  The Economist, "Starting to Spurge", October 10, 2005.
The big oil firms now seem keen to throw money at projects in Asia. BP has also just announced a $3 billion deal with Hindustan Petroleum, a partly state-owned Indian firm, to build oil refineries and petrol stations in India. Exxon Mobil, Chevron Texaco and BP are now thought to be wooing Reliance, an Indian energy firm, for a stake in a big new gas field in the Bay of Bengal. Chinese whispers suggest that BP may also soon announce a new joint venture with Sinopec, a partly government-owned Chinese firm, in refining and marketing fuels. Exxon is already pushing ahead with plans for a refining joint-venture there too.

Compared with the amounts of money being returned to shareholders, these are still relatively small investments. So why have big oil firms been so slow to take the plunge with large new investments? One reason is that oil executives—with Exxon bosses in the lead—mostly believe that today's oil prices will not last. They are haunted by the memory of $10 oil, and the fear of another price collapse has proved a powerful check on any desire to expand their empires. So too has the fact that the oil-price hike has greatly inflated the price of potential acquisitions. Shrewd oil investors reckon there are few bargains left, and oil bosses mostly agree.

The biggest gorillas in the energy intrigue are state-owned oil companies from Venezuela to Norway to Mexico to Saudi Arabia to Iran, and world major oil companies know that.  However, the companies like Exxon-Mobil have to replenish their reserves  to stay in business. OPEC is sitting very pretty and poised for future and will now find two new suitors - China and India in addition to USA, Europe, and Japan. Perhaps, one needs to view Middle East and Russia with this fact in mind. Also, India and China can play their cards deftly. Both countries can benefit from the influx of cutting edge technology and ideas from the major oil companies.

And  Saudi Arabia is diversifying her economy to cushion themselves from boom and bust cycles of energy industry - even the biggest kid on the block knows that. Japan and Russia with a long history of mistrust are attempting to build grand alliance for energy partnership. This shows that the nature of energy industry is too dynamic to depend on status quo or past.

The crux of energy industry is that one has to plan and look into future boldly even in the face of its fickle nature.  Strategically, even the bold frontiers like hydrogen economy will have to piggy-back on fossil fuel economy, perhaps through natural gas. Energy politics has never been simple, and it is not getting simpler any time soon.

India moves: I see a traffic jam with Toyotas, cows, and elephants in Old-New Delhi

highway.large.jpgThe New York Times is doing a series of articles, India Accelerating. They have already done three of them, here, here, and here. In last five-six years, I go to India very often, and I see tremendous changes that are far more than they have ever been in past. Yet I feel changes are slow even though the Indian landscape is definitely changing in all sense of the word. But then successful changes are always slow - a change too fast fails and that is the way even evolution works in nature. One way to sum change in India is the chaos one sees on the road in Delhi or Hyderabad or Roorkee with modern cars, elephants, bullock-carts, cycles, and pedestrians all on the same crowded road surging forward in different directions, and jostling for space resulting in quite an exhilarating spectacle. There is a new optimism that is very palatable.

In other ways, India is frozen in time but then Jet Airway (little more than 10 years old) has better food and service than any airlines I have been in different parts of the world. India is still a developing country with unsurmountable challenges ahead but the new VJs on MTV India are prettierand barristas more hip than their counterparts elsewhere. Inspite of a bullish and remarkable  economic growth seen recently, the country is still littered with incomplete and abandoned construction projects, and shoddy infrastructure all over. Are the public restrooms cleaner yet? Nevertheless, people from all walk of life in India are raising and asserting their expectations. Recently, I have not been to Indian villages to see how much the sense of change is osmosing through there. I am going to do this on my blog.

I am inviting people to write on "India moves: I see a traffic jam with Toyotas, cows, and elephants in Old-New Delhi". You can only write  about mega-changes that are going on  in India (any aspect of the change - economic, social, political - you choose) but can only cover changes during  years 2004-2005 in no greater than 1 page length. You should have lived or visited India for at least two weeks in the years 2004-2005 and before (to use as a reference point) to qualify. You have to emphasize the changes or lack of in India. The write-up can be deeply personal to anecdotal to general commentary to something in between. There are no prizes and need not be a formal write-up. The reason is to think about the changes in India - are they enough or the ones you want. You pour your heart out but try to write in a way that even somebody who does not know much or anything about India appreciates and understand your viewpoint. You do not have to be an Indian or Indian origin.

There are three ways we can do this: a) You write on your blog, inform me, and I will put up the hotlink here, b) If you do not have a blog, yet you want to write about the topic seriously, I can give you a guest account here, c) You can leave your write-up as a comment here. This is all to gain insights, think, and most importantly have fun doing it. I want to see brilliance and creativity. I will ignore and delete shoddiness and unimaginative thoughts.

Chai Garam Chai (Tea Hot Tea)

Something that has not changed in India is sipping chai (tea) on a foggy, cold morning in a dhaba (a tea stall or a small restaurant with indoor-outdoor cafe like ambience - very characteristic of India).

The Khan of Khans - Badshah Khan

khan.gifWe forget that one of the greatest apostle of peace and non-violence was a Pashtun named, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Badshah Khan (meaning Khan of Khans or King of Khans). He created the largest army of non-violent soldiers in the world.

Badshah Khan, a Pathan of the former Northwest Frontier Province of India (today, the Taliban of Afghanistan), raised an army of 100,000 unarmed "Servants of God" and later became one of Gandhi's closest companions. Khan and his followers endured a great deal of persecution and imprisonment under the oppressive British rule, thus challenging the myth that passive resistance always works for those who are already peaceful. Though Khan was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, far too few people are aware of the man who was known as the "Frontier Gandhi." [Link]

It was talking to Badshah Khan, Mahatma Gandhi said, “Non-violence is not for cowards. It is for the brave and the courageous. And the Pathans are more brave and courageous than the Hindus. That is the reason why the Pathans were able to remain non-violent.” [Link]

Please read more about him - It will be challenge your pre-conceived notions about history and religion.

Let us see what Iraqis have to say

How do I learn about Iraq?- I read The New York Times, The Economist, read an American soldier blog in Iraq, and read dispatches from American soldiers for limited audience. All of them have their own filters. How about an Iraqi?  Nobody has more at stake at Iraq than an Iraqi, it is their homeland.

 This is what Hasan writes:
... 

What is done is done. It won't do anything to discuss whether the American invasion of Iraq was right or not. We can only go on from here, the question is how do we go on. I know many Iraqis are going to disagree, Najma will be the first, American liberals will too. I know I have objected to what the US is doing in Iraq now. But I will object too if they leave now, guess I am hard to satisfy after all. [Link]

Let us please patiently listen to them.  They deserve that. Also, there is this 17 year old girl from Mosul - Najma, she has got lot of spunk. I guess she has seen a lot in her life at a very young age. At that age, I could not have not written so clearly and eloquently. That is how she introduces herself:

My name is not Najma, and I'm not going to tell you my real name, 'cause I don't want to get killed. I hope that I will one day be able to use my name, since I'm really hating Najma for getting all the credit!

Her description of herself is as true and heartfelt as it gets.

Ground's eye view - Raw and clear, and not ordinary

smiths-meat.jpgQuite often, I wonder that my reading blogs in addition to newspapers, and books - what purpose does it really serve other than? - is voyeurism or massaging the self-absorbed or subjecting yourself to just plain bad writing. However, amidst the deafening noise I have always thought there is a poetry and honesty in unedited thoughts in people's expression formed day-to-day and when their ideas are still in flux. Then you come across a blog that makes you validate in reading a man's view - raw and clear, and not ordinary.

Let me please introduce you CBFTW, a soldier in the Stryker Brigade in Iraq from San Francisco, has a blog called MY WAR - Killing Time in Iraq through Chris Vallance from BBC-Radio Five Live and ourMedia.

CBFTW describes his blog as "This website is privately operated and is designed to provide personal information, views and commentary about the authors experiences in Iraq and elsewhere..."

And from Kurt Vonnegut :

"My War by Colby Buzzell is nothing less than the soul of an extremely interesting human being at war on our behalf in Iraq."

Here is a man who has something in common with Ernest Hemingway.

Vietnamization, and Iraq

whos-nixon.jpgLet me start with quoting Nixon's policy on Vietnamization, and how we see parallels to Iraq today.

 In his first term, Nixon carried out a policy of "Vietnamization," whereby many U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and replaced by members of the South Vietnamese army. Nonetheless, American troops remained on the ground and the Nixon administration continued to provide supplies and air support for the Vietnamese, and expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia [Link]

Vietnamization failed badly. Is Iraq with an incredibly fragile, yet sincere local infrastructure but totally besieged by malignant internal strife  headed for Vietnamization?  That is a sobering thought and seems to be no simple answers at present. Something that cannot be untangled with the issue at hand today or immediately.

Part I - Supply-Demand or Boom-Bust (Same Thing) Oil Quiz

oil-rigsmall.gifThe fear surrounding oil shortage and price fluctuation are even older than my grandma. We may all remember the following unravelling of the world events as described by Time Magazine, "Prices break, and OPEC scrambles to keep them from going into a free fall From Europe to the Middle East, harried members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries huddled through the week. The structure of bloated oil prices that OPEC had erected over the past decade, condemning rich and poor nations alike to recurrent bouts of inflation and stagnation, was shaking wildly. Prices had broken and were threatening to go into a free fall. To prevent that from happening, the oil ministers of Saudi Arabia and several of its oil-rich Persian Gulf neighbors agreed to lower the official OPEC..." in 1983. described by Time Magazine, "Prices break, and OPEC scrambles to keep them from going into a free fall From Europe to the Middle East, harried members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries huddled through the week. The structure of bloated oil prices that OPEC had erected over the past decade, condemning rich and poor nations alike to recurrent bouts of inflation and stagnation, was shaking wildly. Prices had broken and were threatening to go into a free fall. To prevent that from happening, the oil ministers of Saudi Arabia and several of its oil-rich Persian Gulf neighbors agreed to lower the official OPEC..." in 1983.

Let's see when the following statements were made or events occurred:

Question 1: "The price of crude oil increased nine-fold within a few months, reaching a level that in real terms has never been equaled," He continues:
"In a rerun of the mining mania, new companies were formed at little or no cost, fraudulent claims to oil rich land were incorporated into companies with inflated capitalizations, and petroleum stocks were heavily manipulated. Shares were run up to a great height before the petroleum bubble evaporated into thin air."

Question 2: He became the First Lord of the Admiralty. He aggressively initiated military reforms, including development of naval aviation, tanks, and the switch in fuel from coal to oil, a massive engineering task, also reliant on securing Mesopotamia's oil rights, bought through the secret service using the Royal Burmah Oil Company as a front company. All this would prove decisive in his country's pre-eminent position in the world politics at that time. However, he had lot of skeptics when he undertook such bold steps, and putting country's defenses dependent on the fuel that was not home-based, like coal. Who was he?

Question 3: USGS (United States Geological Survey) has predicted the oil supplies will last less than a decade.

Question 4: Japan - almost totally reliant on imported oil, is upset and acts upon.

Question 5: Recently, the price of oil went as low as $10/ barrel ($6/ barrel if one adjusted for inflation). Petroleum is again as inexpensive as bottled water. What years are we talking about?

Answers

Answer 1: Edward Chancellor about the 1865 oil frenzy in his book on speculation, Devil Take the Hindmost

Answer 2: Winston Churchill in pre-World War I

Answer 3: 1919-1920

Answer 4: Some historians believe that in part Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was in response to United States limiting oil supplies in 1941. Same is the reasoning for attack on oil-rich Dutch Indonesian islands.

Answer 5: 1998-1999

For a historical perspective, please check the price of oil in last 30 years.

More interestingly, let us look at a longer time view of oil prices within the historical context.

If you go even further back to 1860s, and do inflation adjustment, oil is much cheaper in present-era than it used to be then, and in the 19th century boom-bust cycles were more wild and ruthless.

Recently, the price of oil has been closely linked to war and peace in Middle East.

In the words of Daniel Yergin, "This is not the first time that the world has "run out of oil." It's more like the fifth. Cycles of shortage and surplus characterize the entire history of the oil industry. A similar fear of shortage after World War I was one of the main drivers for cobbling together the three easternmost provinces of the defunct Ottoman Turkish Empire to create Iraq. In more recent times, the "permanent oil shortage" of the 1970s gave way to the glut and price collapse of the 1980s."In the words of Daniel Yergin, "This is not the first time that the world has "run out of oil." It's more like the fifth. Cycles of shortage and surplus characterize the entire history of the oil industry. A similar fear of shortage after World War I was one of the main drivers for cobbling together the three easternmost provinces of the defunct Ottoman Turkish Empire to create Iraq. In more recent times, the "permanent oil shortage" of the 1970s gave way to the glut and price collapse of the 1980s."

You start noticing that oil and gas business and politics is not for faint-hearted. In futures market trading for oil and natural gas, political instability, tight supply-demand situation, lack of glutted inventories, and supply-demand chain being quite fragile plays an absolute havoc amongst traders. Sometimes, the risks are real, and sometimes, they are just only perception.

Note: Just a refresher quiz in oil economics and politics but are we ready to make changes in our lifestyle and bite the bulletas Part I. Coming soon are Part -II (How I learned to stop worrying and love the Peak Oil?) and Part-III (Challenges for future: Energy for tomorrow). Acknowledgements to Saheli Datta for invitation to join a lively debate on Peak Oil. The write-up is mix of my own synthesis, along with with expert analysis quoted in original form.

Courtesy: Image from www.ucl.com.

Navies built, armies waging wars in distant lands - all for a fickle....

The Terror Bee Equation

The Terror Bee Equation: How to sterilize the queen bee without being stung by the whole beehive?

By Kush Tandon

 

"Last year, originally I wrote this post on www.thesquare.com for a discussion on fighting terrorism, and radical Islam - but has anything changed since then. Maybe, Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan are now talking face to face and responding. I guess we do have hope."

Terrorism depends on many factors, some of them are entirely is in the hands of the people who commit them, but with some, we can make things more complicated for us. I made this terror bee equation to describe many factors and show how some of them play havoc beyond control.

Terror Bee Equation = Poverty X Exponential (Sense of Being Disenfranchised or No Hope) + Lack of Progress + Lack of Democratic Institutions + Cultural Trappings + Lack of Visionary Leaders Today (Mandela, Gandhi, King in Middle East)

Note that the "sense of being disenfranchised or no hope" is an exponential factor. I intend to say that when a group of population feels their future is slipping away than that anger becomes the dominant reason for hatred. In this equation, most of the factors solely are governed by Islamic nations themselves who have been quite active in recent terrorism. However, USA/ UK/ India/ Israel can play a not so helpful role in causing "sense of being disenfranchised or no hope" being blown out of proportion by noise of Apache helicopters day in, day out in Middle East or senseless humiliation in Kashmir.

Therefore, one should choose battles wisely so that the exponential factor is kept to the minimum. Even on this point, the mother lode rests on lack of leaders and thinkers within Middle East who would understand the aspirations of their own populace today, and harness public discourse in a non-violent manner. Without this citizenry is left with little room for peaceful outcome of differences in politics, etc. In recent times, the role of Nelson Mandela as a healer in South Africa overcoming century of injustice comes to mind immediately.

One would argue that there are poor nations that do not embrace terrorism - but then how does "poverty, lack of hope, AK-47 culture" feeds the cycle of radical Islam? Simple, democracy and peace does not grow out of the barrel of the gun, be it their own, or others. Quite often, if the violence due to poverty does not show in the form of religious bigotry than it takes a purely political face with examples from South America but it does show its ugly head. It is the visible disparity of wealth side by side that acts as an explosive mix in one of the means of continual humiliation? Purely, the presence of poverty and hardships does not mean reverting to terrorism, as shown in post WW II Japan. Cultural shock absorber can also play a great role in rebuilding a society under siege, as was the role of Emperor Hirohito and civil infrastructure still intact in Japan after WW II.

I have known a lot of Pakistanis and Middle East immigrants/ visitors/ students/ scholars in USA and Muslims in India. They all (the ones I have met are quite engaged in their life, career and the well being of the society around them) are very appreciative of democratic, free way of life, and have same dreams like a Hindu or a Korean American or an Italian American. Sure, my sampling is limited but nevertheless, revealing though.

Dr. Marc Sageman (U. Penn) aptly puts: "Most Arab terrorists are well-educated, married men from middle- or upper-class families, in their mid-20s and psychologically stable". In "The Economist" sometime ago, it was also pointed out that high profile acts are committed by "elitist, richer" Arabs but most of their foot work is done by orphans in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan. In an act like 9/ 11, Osama bin Laden trusted his own brothers and not the African and Asian brethren who do all the fighting in Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc. We can make recruiting efforts by elite radical Islam terrorist very difficult or easy in Asia and Africa - our choice. The only difference between radical Islam and radical versions of other religions is that they are finding recruitment very easy. Jessica Stern from Harvard is most succinct about Islamic terrorism that "If you're humiliated, you want to blame somebody and try to fix it". Why go on rampage (verbal and physical) and get stung by the whole beehive?

In September 14-24th (2004) issue of "The Economist", they had a telling article "The Muslim World: Liberals try to save their faith". A question why the Middle East moderates are not generally raising hell in condemning acts like Beslan and others is addressed by an interesting sentence: "Seeing the world through a lens of victim hood has grown into a comfortable habit". Why should we want to create conditions that perpetuates victim hood? It is nectar for a terror bee. Another interesting observation was "Scandals at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo have made it difficult to maintain that there exist universal notions of human rights, rather than particularist and discriminatory ones".

The slogan "War on Radical Islam" is originally from Salman Rushdie's bold article in New York Times, a few weeks just after 9/ 11 not from any politician from your home town. He made a point that active encouragement from West to build moderates in Islam is badly needed, if we want to wage a battle against radicalism. No intellectual knows radical Islam up close than him.

Nobody should ever advocate a passive approach to combat terrorism but an imaginative one. Also, remember they are no silver bullets.

Update on 2005-07-17 19:01 by Kush Tandon

The sense of alienation is definitely not limited to non-democratic societies but can also come from people within democratic and free societies, as recent London Bombings seems to indicate. I also think that this malaise is not related to a religion, it could happen to any of them over time.

Update on 2005-10-03 18:20 by Kush Tandon

Salman Rushdie and other elitist intellectuals should speak up but their effectiveness is limited, at best. The solution for defeating the Islamic terrorism will come from the average Muslims themselves - the way iron curtain was  torn down by the eastern bloc people form inside. I have been reading articles by openDemocracy, an English, independent online global magazine about politics and culture from UK. Their penmanship is of very high quality.

Recently, I read quite a sensitive article "Being a Muslim in Britain.." by Huda Jawad. She is not a front line spokesperson for Islamic culture. Her voice says it all. Here are the closing arguments that are not only powerful but show anguish too:

"It seems that no one is willing to talk about the issues that matter to people like me, who are, amongst other things, devout Muslims wanting to live in a way that pleases Allah without causing harm or alienation to others. Thousands of British Muslims feel caught between the ignorant and reactive policies of the establishment and Islamist groups who seem to find issues affecting Muslims in the Muslim world more worthy of their time and energy. Will anyone ever speak for them?"

These are the ones that will bring the change from within.