A few weeks back, when I realized that the world’s largest automaker was heading towards bankruptcy, I did a nostalgic photo-post of General Motors World Headquarters at the Renaissance Center and Detroit. This week, Six Flags, one of the world’s largest amusement park company in the world announced that it is filing for bankruptcy. It seems that in this economic downturn, people don’t want to spend their hard-earned money to get amused. So here is another nostalgic photo-post of a day at an amusement park that was loosely affiliated with Six Flags.
Cedar Point at Sandusky, Ohio currently holds the world record for the maximum number of roller coasters, one of which is the world’s second tallest and second fastest roller coaster. It has been voted The Best Amusement Park In The World for 11 consecutive years (yes, over Disneyworld in Florida). This is how the park looks from the air (not my photo):
It was a cloudy, rainy day that we went to Cedar Point. We were anxious, but the rides were fortunately open and running. Click on any of the pictures to get the higher resolution.
The cable car runs through the entire length of the park, since walking around the whole day can become quite tiring!
It was a bit difficult to get good outdoor photographs because the light was poor in rainy conditions.
The Top Thrill Dragster has been the most thrilling experience of my life. Paragliding at the foot of the Himalayas didn’t come anywhere close. 0 to 120 mph (193 kmph) in 4 seconds. A 90 degree climb up to 420 feet (~ 50 stories) and a 90 degree straight fall while spiraling 270 degrees. All over in just 17 seconds. I managed to capture a train climbing, at the top, and descending:
Yesterday’s news about GM cutting 21,000 more jobs and killing the Pontiac brand evoked nostalgia and some mixed feelings. So this is a photo-sequel to my almost two year old post about life in Detroit.
For two years, I lived, worked, breathed, ate, and slept in the shadow of this landmark. General Motors World Headquarters, the Renaissance Center, affectionately known as ‘RenCen’. RenCen is one of the world’s largest office complexes, totaling 5,500,000 square feet. It is so confusing inside for newcomers, that I had made a PowerPoint presentation for guiding our new team members.
The red monorail is the ‘People Mover’ – a public transport system in downtown ‘World Auto Capital’ Detroit.
These are views from my apartment window.
A few snaps of Detroit downtown at night. Just like the darkness of the night, and unlike the men of the Renaissance Era who brought the light of reason in our lives, GM’s Rencen is headed back to the Dark Ages.
Since it was introduced last year, Wordle has been very popular with bloggers and the general public. So I decided to join in the fun. Here are the US and Indian Constitution wordle outputs:
Observations? Nothing surprising here.
- Putting aside Law, observe the emphasis on Legislature, Legislative, and Court in the Indian constitution. Neither of these are prominent in the US Constitution.
- Government is prominent in the Indian constitution. Nothing like that in the US.
- Citizens are People in India, and Majority is not so important in the constitution as in the US.
- Time is easily visible in the US, not in India.
Oh, the more you look at it, the more you’ll find stuff!
Sudheendra Kulkarni says that major political parties in India are taking manifesto preparation very seriously. He says:
When it comes to manifestos of political parties, a section of the intelligentsia and the media exhibits a dismissive tendency that riles political activists like me. A major national daily last week called manifesto-making nothing but a “cut-and-paste” job. This tendency is symptomatic of a larger habit of the chatterati sneering from the comfort of their well-furnished drawing rooms at all political parties, indeed at the political process in general. The reality is quite otherwise. Most political parties, especially those with a national perspective, have begun taking policy issues—and, by extension, manifesto preparation—far more seriously than before.
So let’s look at the Congress and CPI (M) 2009 Election Manifestos. The BJP one is expected this week. I’ve removed ‘Indian’, ‘National’, and ‘Congress’ from the Congress one, and ‘CPI’ from the CPI(M) one.
- Public Sector and workers are obviously very dear to the Left, while the Congress is betting a lot of money on youth.
- Women are equally important to both parties.
- Protect – clearly visible in the CPI(M) – is nowhere in the Congress, while it is strongly focusing on something New.
- Police finds a reasonable mention in Congress, while I couldn’t find it in the CPI(M).
- Growth is huge for Congress, it is nowhere in the CPI(M).
- Reforms are equally low on the agenda of both parties.
I had earlier mentioned Text Analysis Tools, but Wordle makes it simpler and more fun than ever before!
If you’re like me, you’ve been fingerprinted when entering or leaving the United States as a foreigner. Then you knew that the US government had you identified by everything you ever touched in the US. Whether it be a snack bar in a supermarket or your touching your date’s face before he/she was found murdered.
Now, the anti-criminalization policies have gone one step further. Forget foreigners. If you are a suspect in a crime and are arrested, the US government has the cheek to swab your inside cheek to take a sample of your DNA to add to their database. Forget if you’re guilty or not. That is apparently immaterial.
I’m surprised that all the privacy groups who worry about Internet data gathering, browser cookies, browsing history, online search history records, etc. by Google and other software companies are keeping mum about this issue. This is your DNA we’re talking about – nothing can be more personal than that. And to let the government collect and store your DNA even if you’re innocent – what more intrusion of privacy can there be? Is that how socio-cultural issues work – the Internet makes news, conventional stuff doesn’t?
In other news, you can now (apparently) check if you suffer from bipolar disorder by ordering a test “spit kit” from Psynomics. They will test your DNA and will mail you the test results. We already have pregnancy tests for women, sugar-level tests for diabetics, and blood pressure checkers readily available even in third-world countries like India. Is technology moving diagnosis more and more from physicians to consumers? Will consumers be able to assess if they need a cardiac bypass surgery or an appendectomy by themselves? Will physician’s diagnoses become obsolete some day in the future? Something to ponder about.
These images tell a story.
The Twin Towers, a symbol of US capitalistic superpower, have collapsed. The US is busy fighting the war against terror.
In the meanwhile, Burj Dubai, the tallest free standing structure in the world, just reached a soaring 574.5m (1,885 ft) with 154 completed stories. It is predicted to be the tallest man-made structure in the world, as well as the tallest building by any measure. It’s official web site is here. Note the ‘.com’ address of its URL, it’s not a cryptic ‘.ae’ address.
Here are some of the amazing developments in Dubai:
- Dubai’s revenues from oil and natural gas currently account for less than 3% of the emirate’s revenues.
- Dubai Mall aims to be the largest mall in the world when completed.
- Its port, Jebel Ali, constructed in the 1970s, has the largest man-made harbor in the world.
- The Burj al-Arab, a luxury hotel in Dubai, at 321 meters (1,053 ft), is the tallest building used exclusively as a hotel.
- Dubai World Central will have the Dubai World Central International Airport, the world’s largest passenger and cargo hub.
- It is a hub for service industries such as IT and finance. Dubai Internet City, combined with Dubai Media City includes IT firms such as EMC Corporation, Oracle Corporation, Microsoft, and IBM, and media organizations such as MBC, CNN, Reuters and AP.
- The World is a man-made archipelago of 300 islands in the shape of a world map currently being built off the coast of Dubai.
- Dubai Financial Market’s trading volume stood at about 400 billion shares worth US$ 95 billion. The DFM had a market capitalization of about US$ 87 billion.
- The Palm Islands in Dubai are the three largest artificial islands in the world.
- Dubai Healthcare City is scheduled to open by 2010 to promote medical tourism.
- Dubailand is an entertainment complex under development, to include mega-tracts of various kinds of attractions.
- The Dubai Waterfront is proposed to become the largest waterfront and largest man-made development in the world.
Is anyone observing the contrast? While the US is struggling to fight a war against terror, a country right in the middle east is stealthily rising economically – without relying on oil – in the global economy. The contrast is stark. The US has to realize and focus on its core strengths, if it wants to remain an economic superpower, and not be swayed to distraction with the war against terror.
There is wide speculation that Al Gore will win the Nobel Peace Prize today, and the betting odds are highly in his favor. Let’s get this straight. Alfred Nobel’s Will says that the Peace Prize shall be given to:
Sure, climate change has the potential to cause wars, but aren’t there people who have been instrumental in fighting for peace in existing wars? Ironically, this is happening when a British court judge ruled that Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth contained nine errors.
What are the various opinions being expressed?
“Such an award would fall under the expanded concept of peace but the activity can be linked to the climate-conflict combination and is highly timely,” said NRK veteran journalist Geir Helljesen who has a solid record of tipping prize winners.
Please enlighten me if anyone understood that.
Salon: Why Al Gore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize
What’s world peace got to do with global warming? Perhaps everything. Or it will if things don’t change fast — if, in 10 or 20 or 40 years devastating floods and droughts displace millions of refugees and spur nations and tribes to desperate bloodletting. At which point, no one will have the slightest doubt why members of the renowned Scandinavian foundation thought former U.S. Vice President Al Gore was an obvious choice for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
There’s one ‘perhaps’ and two big ‘ifs’ in that statement. Since when were Nobel Peace Prizes awarded based on ifs?
Handing a Nobel Prize to Al Gore, a proven hypocrite on the issue of climate change, would be an injustice to the many people bravely fighting for peace and freedom throughout the world. We discovered that while Gore told us to curtail our energy use, he guzzled more electricity at his posh Nashville mansion in a month than the average American family used in a year.
I don’t know about the hypocrite part, but I do think that it will be an injustice to the other deserving folks.
The Investors Business Daily (quoted on an Australian site) writes on how the stature of the Nobel Peace Prize has deteriorated over the years, and says:
“Just what the Nobel committee really needs, another fraud in its pantheon of laureates. If Gore wins the prize as expected, it will mark another step in the long politicized decline of a once highly regarded international award.”
Most environmentalists are gaga over the news. Brandon Keim, from Wired Magazine, stands out among the lot. A staunch supporter of the fight against climate change epitomizes my thoughts behind this post:
If the Nobel committee does choose Gore or Watt-Cloutier or the IPCC, they’ll certainly send a message to the world. A good message, in fact. But it would still be a shame if the meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize itself became a casualty of global warming.
If he does get it, the Norwegian Committee will have screwed up the AlGorethm for the Peace Prize.
Further Reading: Common misconceptions about the Nobel Peace Prize
An assortment of stuff I came across in cyberspace, offered second hand, for anyone who may be interested.
- If you haven’t read it already, Thomas Friedman’s penultimate op-ed 9/11 Is Over, is a must-read.
- China has now started blocking all RSS feeds as well.
- A woman has been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for committing adultery. Kamangir and a group of Iranian bloggers are trying to stop that from happening.
- Microsoft launches HealthVault, an online repository where consumers can store medical information for free in an encrypted database. For once, Microsoft beats Google to something!
- Ashok talked about “Collective Intelligence” in the comments discussion on my post “Runaway Train“. Techcrunch reveals that a new site, CrowdChess, has launched. You log on and sign up for a game. Each side is made up of teams of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people. Anyone on a team can suggest the next move, and the move that gets the most votes is the one that is played out. Like Erick, I too wonder if any number of amateurs can ever beat a grandmaster in this scenario! What do you think?
- MMP has his own insightful analysis of why he blogs. He has developed an interesting universal model that shows how we all live in blogging CAVES. Check it out.
- Check out Ashok’s take on the various categories of Indian bloggers to have a healthy laugh at The Blogosphere Zoopedia.
- A US Senate Judiciary Committee has passed the Free Flow of Information Act. There is still a long way to go and final outcome seems uncertain at this stage. See Are Blogging Journalists Shielded? for background information.
- The Economist paints a sordid and bleak picture of the challenges involved in revamping Mumbai. A must-read if you care about Mumbai.
- Financial Times puts Rahul Gandhi’s first populist action after ascending to the Congress secretaryship as the backdrop to describe how political short-termism is hampering retail reforms.
- I had pondered on a few questions regarding cricket’s status in India in my 10 Thoughts on T20 World Cup Win post. Social psychologist Ashis Nandy has some interesting answers in his interview with Outlook magazine. He says there are only three areas of our life—cricket, cinema (Bollywood) and crime that recognize capability wholeheartedly and unconditionally.
- I have written about the contempt of court ruling regarding Justice Sabharwal. Vinod Mehta brings greater clarity to the issue and wisely cautions that if the media and the judiciary engage in a war, the only winners will be the politicians.
- To bring this potpourri full circle back to the US, Rajinder Puri takes on a lot of controversial issues in his take on the decline of the US. Some of his comments resonate with Shefaly’s comments in the discussion on Right To Free Speech: What does it mean?.
The controversy started last week, when Verizon (one of the two largest telecom carriers in the US), refused to make their network available for a text message program advocating abortion. The program allows people to sign up for messages if they choose, and is a completely voluntary exercise of choice for consumers. Verizon would have earned (some) money from the business, but instead refused it.
The move led to a storm of protests. As NYT observed:
Legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.
The dispute is a skirmish in the larger battle over the question of “net neutrality” — whether carriers or Internet service providers should have a voice in the content they provide to customers.
The idea that a telecom carrier will refuse to carry messages based on content is incredibly scary. Could they decide to broadcast messages sent by the Democratic party, but not Republicans? Christian messages but not Jewish? Everybody has a point of view that could be viewed as “controversial or unsavory” to someone else. Apparently the First Amendment does not in itself prohibit such censorship, but we should not accept such an action, which has been likened to the mass censorship of political speech by the Chinese government, no matter whether the carrier agrees with the content or not. Laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmission on phone lines do not apply to text messages. It’s time to change that law to protect free speech, no matter how it is communicated.
In a swift turn-around, Verizon reversed its decision and decided to carry the message. The Verizon public policy blog attributed the reversal to a dusty, internal policy, but remained ambivalent about whether any such policy will continue to exist in the future.
In the US, newspapers have the right to accept or reject any advertisement for decades. Newspapers are a publishing medium, clearly protected by the First Amendment, as they are liable for what they publish. Radio stations have a right to reject and censor what spots and ads they run (an antiwar campaign was turned down during Vietnam and the court upheld the station’s right to refuse). What about search engines like Google and Yahoo? In February this year, a federal judge settled that question when it gave the same right to search engines as that of newspapers: thus, Google can refuse to accept any ad, without any explanations required.
Free speech and net neutrality advocates like Timothy Karr on Huffington Post are lobbying to convene hearings on telecom censorship policies. If the telecom companies were purely private enterprises, a ruling either way might have been simpler. Being a government regulated industry adds further complications, as Richard Koman argues.
One of the earliest advocates (I could find) who saw all this coming back in 1995, was Nicholas Johnson in the Wired Magazine:
We find ourselves a little late in the free speech day, having already lost our rights to speak through dominant newspapers, broadcast stations and cable. But insisting on the total separation of content and conduit as the Internet is privatized may still be our best hope. It’s the only free speech forum left for those of us without $200 million in spare pocket change to buy our own newspaper or TV station.
The court has already ruled that Google is not your public square. Are Verizon and AT&T public squares?
The Indo-US Nuclear Deal has become like the story of The Blind Men and an Elephant.
Let’s see how.
#1: Manmohan Singh hanging to the Tail
Thinking that this was the end of the rope for energy ambitious India, Singh decided to hold on to it. He warned others “not to miss the bus“.
Alas, he didn’t know he’ll have to cling on to it for his dear life as he had no idea of the ride that ensued. He probably hoped this was not the end of the rope for his government.
#2: Bush Administration riding on Top
Used to being a superpower, the Bush Administration thought it was on top of the situation.
With someone having read about The Dragon & The Elephant and told Bush about it, he thought he could make friends with the Elephant to fight the Dragon.
Alas, some observers thought he was trying to tame it instead of befriending it!
Having bet their money on this slow moving beast is now worrying them.
#3: Indian Right (BJP) clinging to the Ear
Looking at Bush on top, it first decided to join the ride, but the ears flip flopped, and so did the BJP. Having held onto the ears for so long, it thought everyone around would be all ears when they protested and brought down the parliament.
#4: China holding the Leg
China has been aware of this elephant for ages, and fears being trampled by it. While not openly attacking the elephant, it tries to surreptitiously overpower it. It’s afraid of striking a spear into the leg, fearing that the elephant may go berserk.
#5: Indian Left on the Trunk
The Left soon realized that it can easily arm-twist the trunk. Riding in the air for a while distanced them from ground reality, not to mention getting used to a lot of hot air.
Moral of the Story? Feel free to use the comment box!
There have been claims and counter-claims by many regarding whether the 123 Agreement will supersede the Hyde Act, or vice versa, in case there are differences of opinion over the deal. Here are three independent clarifications on this issue.
K. Subrahmanyam writes in The Week: The opponents and supporters harp on the Hyde Act. Supporters say the agreement does not mention the Act at all, and that its provisions are binding not on India, but only on the US. The US legislation has binding and non-binding provisions, and the US administration implements only the binding portions. The US president, in his signing statement, has made it clear that he would ignore the non-binding provisions of the Act. …
…According to Article VI of the US Constitution, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court, obligations of an international agreement supersede provisions of domestic law.
Siddharth Varadarajan clarifies in The Hindu:
“Some commentators have noted that the Indian 123 agreement does not contain a sentence found in Article 2.1 of China’s 123 agreement with the U.S., namely that “the parties recognize, with respect to the observance of this agreement, the principle of international law that provides that a party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.” Thus, it is felt the U.S. administration can always claim the Hyde Act’s restrictions trump the 123 agreement’s more generous commitments.
Though the Indian negotiators had an identical line in all their drafts and tried till the end to incorporate it in the final agreed text, the U.S. remained unyielding, claiming that Congress would shoot it down. But the Indian side did manage to push through another article, 16.4, that the agreement “shall be implemented in good faith and in accordance with the principles of international law.” The phrase “principles of international law” is a clear reference to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Article 27 of the Convention, which, as a part of customary international law, does not have to be cited to be applicable, states: “A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.”
An article, “Tactical Hold”, in India Today (2nd Sept) states: ” On the argument of which statute takes precedence – the Hyde Act or the 123 Agreement - Government expects to come out the winner. Much of the Government’s confidence stems from the fact that there is weighty legal opinion in the US to back its assertion that the 123 Agreement, not the Hyde Act, will be the final binding agreement between the two countries.
Sean Murphy, professor of Law, George Washington University Law School, explains, “An international agreement like the 123 if approved by the Congress does take precedence over any earlier statute. So to the extent if there were any changes that the 123 Agreement brings about those would supersede the earlier Act”. Frederic L. Kirgis, Emeritus Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University School of Law and a constitutional diplomacy expert, concurs when he says, “Whatever the authorized representatives of the two countries have agreed upon would supersede any other previous agreement or any internal law of either country as a matter of international law”.
It is clear that even in terms of fine prints and legalities, we’re still safe with respect to our sovereignty, our choice not to sign the NPT, and are not bound by the restrictive clauses of the Hyde Act. More importantly, as I’ve noted before, in times of international disputes, it is not these laws that really matter, it is the diplomatic relationship.
Those who oppose a strategic relationship with the US will never like closer cooperation between the two countries – whether economic, strategic, civilian, or military. They will only end up isolating us, keeping us bogged down fighting a proxy war with China through Pakistan, and curbing our phenomenal growth.
Those who are in favor of closer Indo-US ties, and have been concerned that India should not compromise its sovereignty and freedom by succumbing to the US – be rest assured. Our negotiators have done a good job so far. They need our support, not politicized, mindless, rhetoric.