Sunday, January 27, 2008

Black President for the U.S.?

Obama routes Hillary in South Carolina

Does it automatically follow that Obama will win in other state primaries and be nominated as the Democratic Presidential Candidate? Not at all. He might win a few more primaries. But as his challenge to Hillary grows more serious, the Democratic primary voters will ditch Obama and opt for Hillary. In the unlikely eventuality of Obama clinching the Democratic nomination, there will be cause for celebration in the Republican party. The defeat of the Democratic nominee would be certain if Obama is the nominee.

But America not ready for Black President

The blacks constitute only about 10-12% of the American population. But that is not the reason why the U.S. can not have a Black President. While there has been grudging acceptance of civil rights for the Black community, the American Whites are not ready to be led by a Black man , however erudite and capable he might be. The Whites nurture very deep distrust of the Blacks. Even those Whites who are friendly and sympathetic with the Blacks do not accept as equals; their attitude is more of a patronising type, if not outright condescending. The U.S. could , do and did have a Black as the Secretary of State. But that is the highest political position a Black can aspire for, for a long time to come.

Even a Woman President has not happened

If Hillary gets the Democratic nomination ( which appears a near certainty in spite of Obama's initial wins) , she will still have to win over the conservative White males of America before she has a reasonable chance of making it to the Oval Office. The U.S. has never so far had a woman as the Presidential nominee of either of the two parties. Two decades ago, there was a woman on the Democratic Ticket as Vice-Presidential nominee. Less developed countries like India, Sri Lanka, Israel , Pakistan and Argentina have had women as Head of State . Even European Countries have not shied away from having a woman as their Chancellor or Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher made it in U.K. 25 years back. Germany elected a woman as its Chancellor two years ago. France almost elected a woman as its President. But not the strongest Democracy in the world, the U.S.

No President of Southern European origin either

There have been several actors of Italian origin in Hollywood. But there has been no American president who was of Italian origin. For that matter, no Spanish, Portuguese or Greek either. Dukakis lost in 1988. His Greek origin did contribute to the defeat.

Catholics have seldom won

Except for Kennedy's name , no name comes to my mind when I think of a Catholic as American President. Leave alone people of Latin American or Italian or Spanish origin who are mostly Catholics; even Catholics of Irish or German or French origin have failed to occupy the Presidential Chair.

America is conservative

Contrary to the popular impression in the world, the United States does not take huge risks. Reforms on social issues ( as different from economic issues) , if undertaken, are more as aberrations. The country finds safety in sticking to time-tested positions on many issues. The politicians do not believe in tinkering with the deeply-embedded conditioning. So, it is doubtful that a woman will make it to the Presidential Office. It is impossible that a Black will ever become President. Only WASP, oh sorry, only WASPROM (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male) will be accepted as the occupants of the White House.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is the U.S. on the decline?

Once-mighty Dollar

The U.S.Dollar replaced the British Pound as the most sought-after currency in the world long ago. Perhaps, soon after the second World war. Or latest by the mid-1960s by which time Britain had lost all its colonies and was no more the World Power it once was. So, the U.S.Dollar has remained as the queen currency for over 4 decades. It is only in the last couple of years that the U.S.Dollar is sliding. The slide may yet be only slight, but the slide is unmistakable. The Euro is growing in stature. In 2002, when Euro took the place of major European Currencies such as D-Mark, French Frank , Dutch Guilder and Italian Lira, one Euro fetched less than a Dollar. Now, one Dollar fetches less than 75 Euro Cents. It should not be a surprise if in another 10-15 years, Euro becomes the No.1 International Currency.

Once-invincible Economy

Some experts say that the U.S. economy is already in recession. Some others say not yet. But no one rules out that recession is round the corner. Banks are writing off bad debts. And such write-offs are huge. People are spending less on consumer goods. Houses offered for sale are fetching much less than the loan taken to finance them. Jobs are getting lost. The mood of the people is sullen. America's underbelly stands exposed. The sub-prime crisis may only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The one consolation(?) that the Americans could have is that if the U.S. economy sinks, the economies of the rest of the world will sink too. The health of the world economy still depends on the American economy doing well.

Once-loved Democracy

Once upon a time, long long ago, people around the world loved America. The country offered hope. If there was one place on earth where any one could nurture an ambition of making it in life irrespective of one's background, colour, religion, gender etc., it was the U.S. No more. America lost respect by supporting dictatorships and fighting unjust wars. Within the country, successive Presidents have encouraged special-interest groups and let themselves be used against the greatest good of the largest number of people. Internationally, the U.S.Administration is no more seen as walking their talk of free enterprise. Free enterprise was good as long as it suited America's interests. When the balance started shifting in favour of the emerging nations, then it was time to bring about trade barriers as a way of protecting America's own producers. This hypocrisy in politics, democracy and economics undermined the credibility the U.S. used to enjoy.


....the U.S. is still the leader. No single nation or a group of nations is as yet in a position to take over the world leadership from the U.S. Europe is too divided. China is seen as too self-absorbed and unreliable. Moreover, China does not respect human rights of an individual and so is unfit to graduate to global leadership. Japan is already a has-been. Any way, it is too small a country to think of leading the world. Russia is still licking its wounds inflicted on it by the demise of its world-power status. It is at best an emerging but cheap carbon copy of the west. So, for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will remain as the leader of the world. But, just a lame-duck leader counting its days before the day of ouster dawns upon it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kodai and Yercaud - a personal view of the two Hill Stations


The Kodai hill is nearly 7000' high. One could reach Kodai Road by train and then take a bus to Kodaikanal. There are a number of trains from Chennai to Kodai Road. There are regular flights from Chennai to Madurai. There is even a flight from Bangalore to Madurai. It takes four hours by road from Madurai to Kodaikanal.

Yercaud is situated very close to Salem in Tamil Nadu. The hill is 4500' high. There are several trains from Chennai to Salem. It takes just an hour form Salem to Yercaud. As yet, there are no flights to Salem from anywhere.

Stay and Food

Kodaikanal is a well-developed town. It has numerous Hotels and Restaurants. Hotels suiting different budgets are available. Hotel Carlton and Hotel Kodai International are five-star hotels. There are several medium priced Hotels. Hotel Astoria, Hotel Annapurna, Hotel Bala , Hotel Jaya. Hotel Tamil Nadu etc. have rooms in the price range of Rs. 600- Rs.800.- during off-season months and Rs.900 -Rs.1400 during the season months ( April-June). All these Hotels have good restaurants attached to them.

Yercaud does not have many good Hotels. Hotel Shevaroy is 3-star. Hotels in the normal price range of Rs.600- Rs.800 are very few. Hotel Tamil Nadu is worth mentioning here. But the service in Hotel Tamil Nadu is very poor. Of late, a few cottages have come up in the medium price range; but they do not have restaurants attached to them. There are not many tourists visiting Yercaud. So, not many hotels have come up. It can also be that tourists are not coming to Yercaud since there are not many good hotels. More than the shortage of hotels, the acute shortage of good restaurants would discourage day-time tourists.


The most important place for sight-seeing in any Hill Station is lake. While Kodai Lake is kept beautiful and the surrounding is clean, Yercaud Lake is an apology for lake. The surrounding is very unclean.


A visitor to any Hill Station purchases oils such as Eucalyptus, Lemon Grass, Winter Green, Citriodora, Citronella etc, Aloe Vera Jell or Juice, Spices such as Cardamom and Pepper, Tea and Coffee. Kodai has several shops selling a variety of products and brands. Yercaud has very few shops and they are not even conveniently located.

Quiet and Peace

Yercaud scores over Kodai in this aspect. Kodai is heavily commercialised and one will find very few places where one can take quiet walks. Yercaud has an uncrowded atmosphere since there are very few tourists. If you want comfortable and economical hotel rooms and good food served in your room itself while enjoying the pleasant weather of the hill, then go to Kodai. You will like the shopping experience and lake-side walking too. If you dislike crowds and do not mind walking half a mile to a restaurant from your Hotel for food , then yercaud would not disappoint you.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Some Stray Thoughts about New Year

"New" Year

There are very few people who do not rejoice at the birth of a new year. Even those who do not party the whole night to bring in the New Year wake up on the New Year day morning with a pleasant feeling. What is so " new" about a year? If it is a new business year, one could understand. The businesses need to review the performance over a definite period. Year is a long enough period to show some results and short enough to take corrective measures for the future if some thing has gone wrong. But then, business new years do not necessarily coincide with calendar new year. Same is the case with academics in many countries. In India, a new academic year begins in June and ends in April in the following calendar year. So, what is the significance of a New Year to us beyond business and academics?

Links in the Chain

In my opinion, the end of one year and the beginning of a new year are to Life what links are to a chain . It would be inconceivable to have a chain without links; even if it were possible, it would be monotonous just as a long road without turns. Human beings understand the passage of time better when time is divided into smaller units. Though one ages every moment , it is practical to have a unit called year. Once we have this unit called year, it has to begin at some point of time and end at some other point of time. Ending gives us either satisfaction or relief , depending on the individual experiences. But the beginning is always reassuring and promising. Another example is staircase ; one can not think of a staircase without intermittent landings. It is for rest and pause. The New Year forces us to ponder over whatever we have done or whatever happened to us over the previous one year. After all, milestones force us to introspect and possibly do some course correction.

Chance to be rid of old baggage

New Year gives us hope. It lifts one's spirits. Here is another chance to attempt. Another opportunity to achieve. Even if the past has been full of failures, one could now blame it on 'the unlucky last year' and move on with hope. Old baggage can be dumped and dead past can be shed. The sky is clear again and it would be some time before the clouds gather once more. The gap is for us to utilize.

New Year Resolutions

Oh yes, it is a good idea to make a few resolutions. But not the ones like moving the mountain. reaching the stars and emptying the ocean or even becoming the President of the United States. Leave such giant strides to super humans like Hillary and Obama. We are ordinary mortals. So,resolve to take small steps which would lead the way to measurable results. Defining the steps is an absolute must. Be it reduction of one's weight by 5 Kg in 8 weeks or saving 2o percent of one's earnings every month or any such possible goals. Vague resolutions and impossible goals will result in frustration and within two months into the new year , one will call it quits.

What if .....

...the new year turns out to be as wicked as the previous year? Do not lose heart. New Years are never in short supply. Come next January, one more chance will smile at you.