Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A game of double bluff

The UK and EU are keeping the poorer nations exactly where they want them: beholden to their patrons

Rejoice! The world is saved! The governments of Europe have agreed that by 2015 they will give 0.7% of their national income in foreign aid. Admittedly, that's 35 years after the target date they first set for themselves, and it's still less than they extract from the poor in debt repayments. But hooray anyway. Though he does not become president of the EU until later this year, Tony Blair can take some of the credit, for his insistence that the G8 summit in July makes poverty history. It's inspiring, until you understand the context.

Everyone who has studied global poverty - including European governments - recognises that aid cannot compensate for unfair terms of trade. If they increased their share of world exports by 5%, developing countries would earn an extra $350bn a year, three times more than they will be given in 2015. Any government that wanted to help developing nations would surely make the terms of trade between rich and poor its priority.This, indeed, is what the UK appears to have done. In March it published the most progressive foreign policy document ever to have escaped from Whitehall. A paper by the departments of trade and international development promised that: "We will not force trade liberalisation on developing countries." It recognised that a policy that insists on equal terms for rich and poor is like pitting a bull mastiff against a chihuahua. Unless a country can first build up its industries behind protectionist barriers, it will be destroyed by free trade. Almost every nation that is rich today, including the UK and the US, used this strategy. But the current rules forbid the poor from following them. The EU, the paper insisted, should, while opening its own markets, allow poor nations "20 years or more" to open theirs.

But two weeks ago the Guardian obtained a leaked letter showing that Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, was undermining the UK's new policies. His most senior official complained that the policy document was "a major and unwelcome shift... Mandelson is taking up our concerns and will press for a revised UK line".

We are being asked to believe, in other words, that a man who owes his entire political career to Tony Blair, and who has repaid him with nauseating sycophancy, was conspiring to destroy his cherished policy. It doesn't look likely, and it doesn't take a great imaginative effort to see a double game being played. Before the election, Blair makes one of his tear-jerking appeals for love, compassion and human fellowship, and gets the anti-poverty movement off his back. After the election he discovers, to his inestimable regret, that love, compassion and human fellowship won't after all be possible, as a result of a ruling by the European commission.

This outcome was predicted by the World Development Movement when the remarkable paper was published in March. "Time will tell if the UK ... will put real political capital into this announcement, or if they will hide behind the European commission and claim inability to affect the negotiations." Nostradamus had nothing on these guys.

The idea that Blair had no more intention of introducing fair terms of trade than I have of becoming a Catholic priest gains credence from the UK's support for the bid by Pascal Lamy, Mandelson's predecessor, to become head of the World Trade Organisation - a post he won on Thursday. Making Lamy head of the WTO is as mad as making, say, Paul Wolfowitz... er, satire doesn't really seem to work any more.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Lamy was the man who destroyed the world trade talks in Mexico in September 2003. He tried to force through new rules on investment, competition and procurement, which would have allowed corporations to dictate terms to the poor world's governments. He persisted with this policy even when he had lost the support of European governments, and when it became obvious that his position would force the poorer nations to pull out. For cynics like me, it wasn't hard to see why. For the first time in the WTO's history, the poor nations were making effective use of collective bargaining and demanding major concessions from the rich. By destroying the talks, Lamy prevented a fairer trading regime from being introduced. He left the rich countries free to strike individual treaties with their weaker trading partners. And the UK and the rest of Europe hid behind him.

So the poor world is going to need the extra aid, in 2015 and far beyond. This means that it will remain obedient to the demands of countries with an interest in its continued exploitation. Those demands have done more than anything else to hold it down. As the World Bank's own figures show, across the 20 years (1960-80) before it and the IMF started introducing strict conditions on the countries that accepted their loans, median annual growth in developing countries was 2.5%. In the 18 years after (1980-1998), it was 0.0%.
The British government has made its own contribution to the poor world's misery by tying aid disbursements to the privatisation of essential public services. It has been paying the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing lobby group, up to £9m a year to oversee privatisation programmes in developing countries. Last week Tanzania pulled out of a deal UK government had rigged up for the British company Biwater to privatise water supplies in Dar es Salaam.

Again the government admitted, before the election, that its critics were right. The Department for International Development (DfID) published a long mea culpa in which it promised: "We will not make our aid conditional on specific policy decisions by partner governments, or attempt to impose policy choices on them (including ... privatisation or trade liberalisation)." It looks great, until you read the whole document. On privatisation, DfID admits that there was "concern that in the 1980s and 1990s donors pushed for the introduction of reforms, regardless of whether these were in countries' best interests." The 80s and 90s, eh? What about the privatisation it was demanding in 2004 and early 2005? What about its recent assault on the public services of Tanzania, South Africa, Ghana and the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh? What about the money it is still paying the effing Adam Smith Institute?

DfID goes on to say that it will decide whether to give money to a country by looking "to the IMF to provide an assessment of a country's macroeconomic position". It knows full well that the IMF continues to judge countries by the degree to which they embrace privatisation and liberalisation. Yet again the British government is outsourcing its ethics, using the policy of an international body to make justice history.
While using the right language and flattering their critics, the UK and the EU are keeping the poorer nations where they want them: beholden to their patrons. Suddenly, an increase in aid doesn't look like such good news after all.

With thanks
George Monbiot

Monday, May 30, 2005

Rex Babin, sketching the US goof-ups!
Pic Sam

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why the French said non

French rubbished the referendum, calling for an European constitution, here is a reason why:

- They detest their current government and are reluctant to vote for anything that it proposes

- They are fed up with their entire political class, on both right and left, which they feel is arrogant, self-serving, removed from real life and has refused to listen to their concerns for too long

- They believe the treaty is a blueprint for an ultra-liberal, Anglo-Saxon Europe that will promote unfettered capitalism

- They believe it will degrade French public services and cost French jobs

- They feel that when the president, the government and the mainstream opposition combine to trumpet the merits of something and to implicitly denounce its opponents as half-wits who have understood nothing, it is their moral duty to revolt

- They feel ditto, but even more strongly, when virtually every newspaper, TV and radio commentator more or less explicitly backs the constitution and expresses amazement at the very possibility of a no vote

- They are worried about the expanded (and expanding) union and about its impact on their lives, particularly the arrival in France en masse of the key bogeyman of this debate, the Polish plumber (don't even mention the Turkish taxi-driver)

- They believe the French social model is preferable to any other, is at threat, and is worth defending

- They have finally been asked to give their opinion on a Europe that they feel has been constructed more or less behind their backs, and they're damned well going to give it

- They remember that every time over the past decade that a French politician has had to make a difficult announcement, he has blamed Brussels

- They do not feel that saying no will weaken France's position in Europe, because they think it will trigger a tidal wave of comprehension and support in a great many other countries leading to a "salutary crisis" that will eventually create a better, more social Europe

- They believe the text of the treaty can be renegotiated to take account of France's concerns and objections

- They reject the argument of European institutional chaos, saying the treaty of Nice will continue to apply for as long as necessary until the mess is sorted out

- They feel they are not anti-European, just anti the Europe they perceive as enshrined in this constitution, so voting no is actually a pro-European act

- They recognise that the yes camp ran a rubbish campaign led by a president and a prime minister with zero credibility and a Socialist party that could not make its mind up, and whose sole argument for far too long was to say no to the no

- They realise that from the start, the yes was on the defensive rather than the offensive; it admitted the text was "not perfect" and (on both left and right) was never comfortable handling the fundamental issue (very sensitive in France) of economic liberalism

- They are reacting belatedly to the fact that no French politician has ever dared tell them that France will, in one way or another, have to adapt at some stage to the phenomenon of globalisation, and that it will probably involve some degree of pain

- Their very French instinct (and, up to a point, it's one to be proud of) is: Resist

- They subscribe to the notion that 'le compromis n'est pas français'

- Being French, and not living in a colourless Anglo-Saxon world, they were itching for the mother of all ideological debates, the one that would finally pit the true socialism against wicked liberalism, and the treaty gave them the perfect opportunity because its clauses are open to interpretation (that's the point of them, of course - they are not supposed to be doctrine)

Sameer Bhat

Thursday, May 26, 2005

RIP, Mr Dutt

Dutt saab

"Disease and suffering have no religion and no nationality. My work encompasses mankind." Sunil Dutt

I have not watched all his classics. I never met him. I have no idea about the full extent of his charitable work. Yet, I feel sorry that he is no more. Sunil Dutt's genteel face gave it all away. He was many things in that towering six-plus frame -- a thorough gentleman, an iconic movie star, a great human being and a secularist to the core, up until his sudden end. Frankly, Dutt Saab, as he was affectionately called, was one of those virtuous souls, who you wish never die.

What also stood Sunil Dutt in good stead was his heart-in-his-eyes sensitivity which noted filmmakers like Bimal Roy, B R Chopra and Raj Khosla repeatedly drew upon. Dutt capitalised on his abilty to jump genres and expand on his oeuvre at different stages of his career. His willingness to experiment with cinema led him to star in offbeat films like Padosan and Amrapali, be the villain in Geeta Mera Naam, and bankroll films like Yaadein ,a film starring just one man --- himself, Mujhe Jeene Do -- a reformist saga -- and the stark desert epic Reshma Aur Shera.

Dutt's heroic deed on the set of Mother India changed the course of his life. He saved Nargis from a burning film set and later they got married in what is considered one of the great storybook romances of Bollywood history. After making an indelible mark on the filmdom in Bombay and having etched his name in the golden annals of India cinema, Dutt saab took to activism. The death of his wife, Nargis Dutt in 1981, whom he loved intensely, transformed his life. He fought for the rights of the poor. It was Nargis's wish that cancer research be forwarded in India and to that effect Dutt spearheaded the creation of the Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation.

He became a Member of Parliament and advocated peace. Again he brought a serene dignity to politics, quite unknown of, in recent times. He campaigned for communal harmony, against drug abuse and for better care for cancer and HIV and AIDS patients.

Selfless, tireless and humane, that was Sunil Dutt for those who have know him. For me, he will continue to be among the select few Indians, I admire.

He loved Nargis till lady death kissed him in his sleep. I pray they -- Nargis and Dutt saab -- stroll together, hand in hand, in the gardens of heaven.

Sameer Bhat

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Beauty or Bend!

VS Naipaul can be difficult for any soul. His prose is generally terse and philosophical. His metaphors can leave you gasping. I picked up his A Bend in the River because I wanted to read something disparate after Dan's Da vinci code. The novel is set in Africa and Naipaul penned it in 1979. Thirty pages into BR and I gave up. Not that I won't read it. I might, perhaps later. My guess is that one can't read Naipaul leisurely in cabs and buses.
I love to read that way. In a busy work schedule you have no time otherwise.

Naipaul makes you think hard and deep. In the 30 odd pages of BR, I guess he uses the word Africa and Bush 50 times. Boondocks. I was almost transported to the bushes and deep into Africa when I decided I must come back and keep Naipaul for home. Relaxed and on your bed, with an air-conditioner purring, he can be better understood. A book has to be assimilated and doten on!

Naipaul is a great author. I don't agree with his strong, at times banal political views, but I love his prose.

I cannot reflect and do justice with his works in the grinding heat and grime of New Delhi's Auto's and oven-hot roads. Allan Hollinghurst will do. In fact, The Line of Beauty bagged Man Booker last summer.
I am already fimiliar with Nick.

Allan knows his readers!

Sameer bhat

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mount Rushmore on a beautiful sunny-south Dakota day
Pic Sam

Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located 23 miles southwest of Rapid City. It's the greatest FREE Attraction in the US! "Until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away." Those are the famous words Sculptor Gutzon Borglum used to describe the length of time his most famous work, Mt. Rushmore, will endure.

The mountain itself was originally named after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York lawyer investigating mining claims in the Black Hills in 1885. Gutzon Borglum chose this mountain due to its height (5700' above sea level), the soft grainy consistency of the granite, and the fact that it catches the sun for the greatest part of the day. The presidents were selected on the basis of what each symbolized. George Washington represents the struggle for independence, Thomas Jefferson the idea of government by the people. Abraham Lincoln for his ideas on equality and the permanent union of the states, and Theodore Roosevelt for the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs.

The carving of Mt. Rushmore actually began on August 10, 1927, and spanned a length of 14 years. Only about six and a half years were spent actually carving the mountain, with the rest of the time being spent on weather delays and Borglum's greatest enemy - the lack of funding. The total cost of the project was $900,000. Work continued on the project until the death of Gutzon Borglum in 1941. No carving has been done on the mountain since that time and none is planned in the future.

The granite faces of four American presidents' is scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall! President Calvin Coolidge believed Mount Rushmore was "decidedly American in its conception, magnitude and meaning. It is altogether worthy of our country," Coolidge proclaimed at the dedication of the project in 1927.

The most spectacular program at Mount Rushmore is the evening lighting ceremony held in the new amphitheater. A must see for any tourist who visits the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
A $56 million redevelopment was completed in 1998 with the addition of a new parking structure, amphitheater, museum/theater complex, Visitor Orientation Center, Presidential Trail, gift shop, bookstore, and dining facilities.

There are few people who are not subdued by the moments as they gaze upon the beauty of Mt. Rushmore. Just as the monument challenged its creator, so should its splendor challenge its viewer.

Sameer Bhat

Thursday, May 19, 2005


NY times publised a reader's comment on may 19, 2005 which went on like -- Convert all Muslims and make them Cristians, so that they will learn to live in peace.

Convert them to Christianity and let them eat cake. This might well be a solution. Though I suspect that they, like other Christians, would then start squabbling about minor and irrelevant liturgical and theological differences; then the Shiite-christians would say that God told them THEY owned the oil wells, and the Suni-Christians would say, no they do above the Mosul parallel. Then the Texas-Christians would say, no God gave us all the oil, so it's ours, and the Kansas Christians would then begin talking in tongues, or some other form of ungrammatical English, et al... Being Christian, in other words, has nothing to do with peace. Look at Northern Ireland. Look at the history of Christianity. Whistle "National Brotherhood Week" under the shower...

What makes me giggle a little, of course, is that there is a terrific resemblance between the fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Moslems these days. All this fire and brimstone for the sake of some religious hallucinations, and at the bottom of it are the old motives: power, money, control.

So I propose: instead of converting the Muslims, let them fight it out, for this seems to be the much touted Armageddon that will bring peace to the planet. Those on the sidelines should always support the losing side (that is why America started selling arms to Iran as well as to Iraq in the 80s, so that the two countries could whack each other into oblivion). Once these two prosyletizing, colonial, power-mad groups have exhausted themselves, the world may finally have the peace and quiet to get on with more important pursuits, such as correcting the environmental problems we have, spreading the wealth a little, instituting universal healthcare, etc... Because most people, I suspect, just want to get on with life, raising their families, doing their work, enjoying some good times between the cradle and the grave, even making whooppee without some blue-nose peering into the gardenshed window. And this, throughout the ages, has been impeded by the constant interference of men with axes to grind, men with power-obsessions, men of extreme greed, men filled with hatred for anyone who is serene. They range from the Bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century AD to George W. Bush. And most, the overwhelming majority, mark my words, have been men.

And who suffers? The women and children and men who have better things to do than run around the planet destroying things, raping, pillaging, acting like unbalanced 10-year-olds.
Each time I read about some GI who has been knocked off in Iraq and is praised as a good family man, I wonder, then, what in earth he was doing on such an adventure. That is immorality itself. But I have digressed from the subject.


Truth unveiled

The descecration of a copy of Holy Quran at the hands of US troops in Guantanamo bay has led to a bitter debate about a range of issues. About the veracity of such media reports, about the military ethics of the US and above all the lack of transpiracy in the US administration.

I reproduce here excerpts from the Newyork times edit on 18 may 2005.

A Sudden Taste for Openness

Newsweek is under intense criticism for a report it has now retracted about the American prison in Guantánamo Bay. Since we've weathered a journalistic storm or two, we can only say the best approach is transparency as Newsweek fixes whatever is broken, if anything. There is already a debate about journalistic practices, including the use of anonymous sources, and these things are worth discussing - especially at a time of war, national insecurity and extreme government secrecy, a time when aggressive news reporting is critical. But it is offensive to see the Bush administration use this case for political purposes, and ludicrous for spokesmen for this White House and Defense Department to offer pious declarations about accountability, openness and concern for America's image abroad.

It took Newsweek about two weeks to retract its report. It has been a year since the very real problem behind the article - the systematic abuse and deliberate humiliation of mainly Muslim prisoners - came to light through the Abu Ghraib disaster. And the Bush administration has not come close to either openness or accountability. The White House and the Pentagon have refused to begin any serious examination of the policymaking that led to the abuse, humiliation, torture and even killing of prisoners taken during antiterrorist operations and the invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration has stonewalled outside efforts to accomplish that task. No senior officer or civilian official has been held accountable for policies that put every American soldier at greater risk. The men who wrote the memos on legalized torture and evading the Geneva Conventions have been promoted.

If the Pentagon is as enthusiastic about accountability in its own house as its spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, is when it comes to Newsweek, then it should release the Southern Command's report on Guantánamo Bay, on which the magazine report was based. The administration should also release all the other reports on prisoner abuse it has been withholding, including one by the Central Intelligence Agency about its illegal practice of hiding prisoners from the Red Cross. And it should encourage Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to conduct a full investigation of the formation of the policy on prisoners, rather than pressuring him to stop.
NY times edit-page opinion on May 19, 2005: By DAVID BROOKS

Finally, they are strategically ruthless {protestors, protesting desecration of the Holy Qu'ran}. Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker, who has spent years reporting on extremists, says they use manufactured spasms of hatred to desensitize their followers. After followers spend a few years living through rabid riots and vicious sermons, killing an American or a Jew or even a fellow Muslim seems no more consequential than killing a mosquito. That's how suicide bombers are made.
The rioters are the real enemy, not Newsweek and not the American soldiers serving as prison guards.

A cup of tea, MrBrooks?Ahhh! You worked for Newsweek, now things become clearer.
What you criticize about the Moslems, Mr. Brooks, is no different than what happens in thousands of little bethels across the USA, as the fundamentalist start feeling their oats, what with their grand mufti in the White House. So your first task should be cleaning your own house.

Task number two might be to read the news carefully. Moslems demonstrated in Afghanistan. And the military got trigger-happy and fired on them. Well, I assume that soon, when the police first on anti-Bush demonstarators here, you'll say: Oh, they were fired up by that liberal press and it's their own damned fault.
Mr. Brooks: Is being a conservative non-thinker a genetic problem, something that comes from , I don't know, eating too many doughnuts, or sucking too hard on a silver spoon for generations?

Before George W. Bush embarked on this get-rich-quick scheme in Iraq, which like all of his business adventures was a flop, the USA had a fairly good chance to turn much of the Moslem world into an ally. The remaining bunch of fanatics, of which there are groups in ANY culture, we could have dealt with easily. The Koran desecration story or non-story is just one little bit added to a pile of justified complaints on the part of Moslems, and the whole Iraq thing has served mainly to politicize and radicalize many of Moslem faith.
But the conservative mindset is simply too arrogant to be able to grasp why these people don't like us. Well, sir, pride comes before the fall, it's an old saying and it's unfortunately true. Our planet has become too small and too interlinked for jingoism.

To use the bogey of Islamist opposition to justify anything is fast becoming a fad. Isn't it convenient to think that the only reason Afghans are protesting reports of Koran desecration is that they are whipped into a frenzy by Al-Qaeda types who deserve the gallows anyway.

How easy it is to look away from all the mounting evidence of abuse and torture and pretend that Afghans who hoped for a better life after decades of war and are now having their worst fears confirmed - i.e. that the Americans came first to weed out people they didn't like, no matter if it entailed cultural domination, rather than to liberate them - confirmed, might be legitimately upset at reports of religious humiliation in camps where they are detained with no respect for law. Reports of the Koran being put in the toilet have come from British detainees who were released for lack of any evidence against them (BBC reported this in August last year) - far from the Islamist warriors of Al Qaeda.

Perhaps Mr. Brooks would today call Gandhi, who started his mobilization against the British in South Africa after being humiliated because of the colour of his skin on a train, "cynical, delusional and fascistic" and urge us not to "bend over" to show any sensitivity to him. Surely anyone whose opposition is inconvenient is driven by some sort of fundamentalist religious ideology.

Oh, and Newsweek... they are overblown versions of the National Enquirer, with ousy reportinbg, schlocky language, and what's more cheerleading reporting. In other words, rubbish. Insipid stuff.

Sameer Bhat

Friday, May 13, 2005

The serenity of montreux transfixes you! There is plenty of blue sky, lotsa water, crisp air, lofty mountains, swathes of greens and ofcourse the castle!
Pic Sam

Monday, May 09, 2005

This one moment captures the end of an era and the begining of a new world order.
Pic Sam

The Portugese Connection


Internet is a wonderful, wonderful tool. If I were asked to single out one particular invention in the last 100 years, without battling an eyelid, I will mark, Internet. The world-wide-web is a magical realm that catapults us in a new universe, beyond boundaries, where mountains cease to exist, beyond the cacophony and high seas -- a world that is so vast, so informative, so intimate and so loving.

I met a charming 15-year old kid from Portugal in one of the labyrinthine alleys of internet. I wasn't particularly cruising for a friend or an acquaintance and yet I chanced upon one. A class 9 student, Pedro is so full of life. Something of a wonder-kid. He is actually a geek. He loves to play with Mindstorm and Legos and makes the best robots ever.

Pedro loves reading and has already devoured Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix... as well as other books... and a book about sex that he feels is very interesting (thats what you call a 15 year naughty brat).

Pedro fascinates me. Away from the serious world of business and finance and my hectic work-schedule, he comes as such a relief. He makes you smile with curious innocence. I'll love to meet him someday in Pardilhó, his hometown, tucked away somewhere in the beautiful coastal city of Aveiro. I haven't been to south-western Europe yet but I feel like as I have already trudged the north-Atlantic sea-front. At least I have a little friend, who loves to swim, ride and watch airplanes take off near the wind swept beaches of his lovely country.

Sameer Bhat

From D-day to VE-Day

The 60th annev of VE

The world is partying in Moscow. Major world leaders are tossing mugs of beer to mark the passing of 6 decades of Europe's most devastating war. VE: Victory in Europe. It has been 60 long years since Adolf Hitler's Third Reich was destroyed by the allied forces on this day. May 8, 1945. The Axis -- as the German-Italo-Japs alliance was called, collapsed in those early summer days in Europe. Victory in Europe didn't come easy. More than 50 million people lost their lives, half of them Russians. Nazi's sent about 6 million Jews to gas chambers and fashioned the biggest holocaust in human history. In June of 1944, western allies invaded German-occupied France, sailing from Great Britian to storm onto the windswept Normandy beaches amid the cracle of gunfire, as Ron Regan once famously put it. That was the begining of the end of what appeared to be greatest power of the time. Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement. During Hitler's dictatorship, "Heil Hitler" had become a more than the paganlike chant at rallies and parades, it was infact the common form of address. On May 8, 1945, final capitulation was signed by Germans in Berlin. The soviet flag fluttered atop Hitler's palace. The Red Army hoisted the Flag of the Soviet Union over the ruins of the Reichstag marking the begining of a new era!

A new begining had already dawned!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Da Vinci code

A great book that cuts across the barebones of belief and faith

I just finished reading The Da Vinci code. It is an amazing book and an extremely erudite one too. The book in its pre-prologue page states that “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” And it was one commingle of secrets, codes and intrigue that I came across, as I flipped pages upon pages of this wonderfully-written work. In their quest to unravel the mystery of the keystone -- which has a deep religious significance -- the protagonists race against time and cadasters. I felt like a part of the small team, working my way to find the final magical word, that would unleash the greatest secret in humanity.

To cut a long story short:

While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci…clues visible for all to see…and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter. Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others. The Louvre curator has sacrificed his life to protect the Priory's most sacred trust: the location of a vastly important religious relic, hidden for centuries.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei—a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory's secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.

In an exhilarating blend of relentless adventure, scholarly intrigue, and cutting wit, symbologist Robert Langdon -- first introduced in Dan Brown's bestselling Angels & Demons -- is the most original character to appear in years. The da vinci code heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightening-paced, intelligent thriller…surprising at every twist, absorbing at every turn, and in the end, utterly unpredictable…right up to its astonishing conclusion.

Sameer Bhat

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Vitruvain man

Vitruvain man is a Da vinci gem

The Vitruvian Man is a famous drawing with accompanying notes by Leonardo da Vinci made around the year 1490 in one of his journals... It depicts a naked male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions. The drawing is in pen, ink, and watercolor over metalpoint, and measures 34.3 x 24.5 cm. It is currently part of the collection of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.

According to Leonardo's notes in the accompanying text, which are mirror writing, it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in a treatise by the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote that in the human body:
  • A palm is the width of four fingers
  • a foot is the width of four palms
  • a cubit is the width of six palms
  • a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
  • a pace is four cubits
  • the length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height
  • the distance from the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin is one-eighth of a man's height
  • the distance from the hairline to the top of the breast is one-seventh of a man's height
  • the distance from the top of the head to the nipples is one-fourth of a man's height
  • the maximum width of the shoulders is one-fourth of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is one-fifth of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eight of a man's height
  • the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose is one-third of the length of the face
  • the distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is one-third of the length of the face
  • the length of the ear is one-third of the length of the face

Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius De Architectura 3.1.3 which reads: The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.

The rediscovery of the mathematical proportions of the human body in the 15th century by Leonardo and others is considered one of the great achievements leading to the Italian Renaissance. Note that Leonardo's drawing combines a careful reading of the ancient text, combined with his own observation of actual human bodies. In drawing the circle and square he correctly observes that the square cannot have the same center as the circle, the navel, but is somewhat lower in the anatomy. This adjustment is the innovative part of Leonardo's drawing and what distinguishes it from earlier illustrations.

The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, to the universe as a whole.

It may be noticed by examining the drawing that the combination of arm and leg positions actually creates sixteen different poses. The pose with the arms straight out and the feet together is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed square. On the other hand, the "spread-eagle" pose is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed circle. This illustrates the principle that in the shift between the two poses, the apparent center of the figure seems to move, but in reality, the navel of the figure, which is the true center of gravity, remains motionless.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The last word!

Those departing darts!

There are brave people in the world. Then there are funny people. Humour and candour comes naturally to many sods. In our life spans we communicate our feelings through countless words. Words -- they say, have power. Power that mesmerises. Power that rules. Words wrap moments in timeless zones. They come to all of us all the time. I have always been interested by what people utter exactly at the fag end of their wonderfully lived- lives. That is when they are no more. Just then. Those last fleeting moments. The last words! I am amazed at the humour and wit some people find in the dying moments of their life. Or the courage and frankness. There have been remarkable souls who straddled this planet of ours and they had all the time on earth to say those last few, priceless and memorable words, which still ring in our ears! Final verses. God Bless!

I know you have come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man.
Facing his assassin, Mario Teran, a Bolivian soldier.
~~ Ernesto "Che" Guevara, d. October 9, 1967

Am I dying or is this my birthday?
When she woke briefly during her last illness and found all her family around her bedside.
~~ Lady Nancy Astor, d. 1964

Nothing, but death.
When asked by her sister, Cassandra, if there was anything she wanted.
~~ Jane Austen, writer, d. July 18, 1817

Friends applaud, the comedy is finished.
~~ Ludwig van Beethoven, composer, d. March 26, 1827

Et tu, Brute?
~~ Gaius Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor, d. 44 BC

I am dying. I haven't drunk champagne for a long time.
~~ Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, writer, d. July 1, 1904

I'm bored with it all.
Before slipping into a coma. He died 9 days later.
~~ Winston Churchill, statesman, d. January 24, 1965

That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted.
~~ Lou Costello, comedian, d. March 3, 1959

I am not the least afraid to die.
~~ Charles Darwin, d. April 19, 1882

My God. What's happened?
~~ Diana (Spencer), Princess of Wales, d. August 31, 1997

I must go in, the fog is rising.
~~ Emily Dickinson, poet, d. 1886

It is very beautiful over there.
~~ Thomas Alva Edison, inventor, d. October 18, 1931

No, I shall not give in. I shall go on. I shall work to the end.
~~ Edward VII, King of Britain, d. 1910

All my possessions for a moment of time.
~~ Elizabeth I, Queen of England, d. 1603

I've never felt better.
~~ Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., actor, d. December 12, 1939

Turn up the lights, I don't want to go home in the dark.
~~ O. Henry (William Sidney Porter), writer, d. June 4, 1910

Oh, do not cry - be good children and we will all meet in heaven.
~~ Andrew Jackson, US President, d. 1845

Is it the Fourth?
~~ Thomas Jefferson, US President, d. July 4, 1826

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
From Luke 23:46
~~ Jesus Christ

A King should die standing.
~~ Louis XVIII, King of France, d. 1824

Why do you weep. Did you think I was immortal?
~~ Louis XIV, King of France, d. 1715

I am a Queen, but I have not the power to move my arms.
~~ Louise, Queen of Prussia, d. 1820

Let's cool it brothers . . .
Spoken to his assassins, 3 men who shot him 16 times.
~~ Malcolm X, Black leader, d. 1966

Go on, get out - last words are for fools who haven't said enough.
To his housekeeper, who urged him to tell her his last words so she could write them down for posterity.
~~ Karl Marx, revolutionary, d. 1883

I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.
~~ Leonardo da Vinci, artist, d. 1519

I die hard but am not afraid to go.
~~ George Washington, US President, d. December 14, 1799

Go away. I'm all right.
~~ H. G. Wells, novelist, d. 1946

Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.
~~ Oscar Wilde, writer, d. November 30, 1900

I am ready.
~~ Woodrow Wilson, US President, d. 1924

Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! Great! The show looks good, the show looks good!
~~ Florenz Ziegfeld, showman, d. July 22, 1932

And those who were executed

Take a step forward, lads. It will be easier that way.
Executed by firing squad.
~~ Erskine Childers, Irish patriot, d. November 24, 1922

Let's do it!
Executed by firing squad, Utah.
~~ Gary Gilmore, d. January 17, 1977

I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country
~~ Nathan Hale

Farewell, my children, forever. I go to your Father.
Monsieur, I beg your pardon.
Spoken to the executioner, after she stepped on his foot.
~~ Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, d. October 16, 1793

Shoot me in the chest!
To his executioners.
~~Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator, d.1945

Shoot straight you bastards and don't make a mess of it!
Executed by firing squad.
~~ Harry Harbord "Breaker" Morant, Australian poet & national hero, d. 1902

Monday, May 02, 2005

Humour in the White house

Laura Bush took over the mike at the media dinner at the White House.

I have some very strong political views and I have no qualms about it. I dislike the American foriegn policy. I abhor the opressive US candour. I completely disagreed with Prez Bush's decision to go to an unjust war in Iraq. I detest the mischief United States is upto, world over. However, I would be compelled to add that I love the people of America, the values they stand for. I admire their spirit of freedom and resilience. I salute their valor. I love Hollywood and their liberal culture. I adore the first lady. Nowhere in the world do we have such an informal arrangement where a first lady so graciously springs forth and draws the assembly into peels of laughter. At the anual media dinner the former librarian spoke so candidly and hilariously that she almost sounded real! And the most powerful person on God's green earth -- Dubya -- could do nothing but smile, I mean laugh!

Wish the world were more jovial and the US policies as frontal!

The complete transcript of Laura Bush's comments from the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, held April 30:

President Bush: Thank you and good evening. I always look forward to these dinners, where I'm supposed to be funny — intentionally. I'm really looking forward to hearing Cedric the Entertainer. I kind of think of myself that way.

Cedric, did you hear that hilarious line I ad-libbed down in Arkansas? A woman in a town meeting told me she was from DeQueen, and I said, 'That's right next to DeKing.' You gotta' admit that's pretty good, Cedric. That's what you call sophisticated re — par — tay.

Then out in Montana, I told a joke about a cattle guard, which, to be honest, didn't get a very big laugh — actually, none. But Cedric, I think you'll appreciate this, and you can use it if you want to. See, there was this city slicker who was driving around lost and he came across this ol' cowboy. And so the city slicker asked the old guy how to get to the nearest town, and —

First Lady Laura Bush: Not that old joke — not again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I've been attending these dinners for years and just quietly sitting there. Well, I've got a few things I want to say for a change. This is going to be fun because he really doesn't have a clue about what I'm gonna' to say next. George always says he's delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He's usually in bed by now. I'm not kidding. I said to him the other day, "George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."

I am married to the president of the United States, and here's our typical evening: Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I'm watching Desperate Housewives— with Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they're desperate, they oughta be with George.

One night, after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendale's. I wouldn't even mention it except Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secret Service codename is now "Dollar Bill."

But George and I are complete opposites — I'm quiet, he's talkative, I'm introverted, he's extroverted, I can pronounce nuclear —! The amazing thing, however, is that George and I were just meant to be. I was the librarian who speant 12 hours a day in the library, yet somehow I met George. We met, and married, and I became one of the regulars up at Kennebunkport. All the Bushes love Kennebunkport, which is like Crawford, but without the nightlife. People ask me what it's like to be up there with the whole Bush clan. Lemme put it this way: First prize — three-day vacation with the Bush family. Second prize — 10 days.

Speaking of prizes brings me to my mother-in-law. So many mothers today are just not involved in their children's lives — Not a problem with Barbara Bush. People often wonder what my mother-in-law's really like. People think she's a sweet, grandmotherly, Aunt Bea type. She's actually more like, mmm, Don Corleone.
Cedric, am I doing all right? I saw my in-laws down at the ranch over Easter. We like it down there. George didn't know much about ranches when we bought the place. Andover and Yale don't have a real strong ranching program. But I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse.

Now, of course, he spends his days clearing brush, cutting trails, taking down trees, or, as the girls call it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. George's answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw — which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well. It's always very interesting to see how the ranch air invigorates people when they come down from Washington. Recently, when Vice President Cheney was down, he got up early one morning, he put on his hiking boots, and he went on a brisk, 20- to 30-foot walk.

But actually, in all seriousness, I do love the ranch, and I love the whole Bush family. I was an only child, and when I married into the extended Bush clan, I got brothers and sisters and wonderful in-laws, all of whom opened their arms to me. And included in the package, I got this guy here.

I think when you marry someone, you unconsciously are looking for something in your spouse to help fulfill something in you, and George did that for me. He brought fun and energy into my life and so many other things. George is a very good listener, he's easy to be around, and on top of it all, he's a loving father whose daughters absolutely adore him.

So in the future, when you see me just quietly sitting up here, I want you to know that I'm happy to be here for a reason — I love, and enjoy being with, the man who usually speaks to you on these occasions. So George and I thank you for inviting us, thank you for all of the good work that you and the press do, and thank you for your very kind hospitality this evening.

Repeated references to Cedris the entertainer: "Considered one of the funniest comics in America, Actor/Comedian Cedric ‘The Entertainer’ is best known as one of the headlining stars of the hit feature film, The Original Kings of Comedy, directed by Spike Lee."