Dirty Two-some of American Society

American society today, suffers from two malignant tumours. These are two groups wielding enormous power. Both of them are holy cows. Both are such that journalists and analysts dither in even naming them. They have achieved the status of ‘he-who-cannot-be-named’ in the Harry Potter novels. They are the healthcare industry and the military-industrial complex. Together, they account for almost half of US federal spending.

Doctors’ earnings in the United States are disproportionately high as compared to other developed nations. This is not just a cost to the nation by itself, but is multiplied manifold as it feeds a nexus of “Bro, I got your back, you got mine”, between the doctors, hospitals, big-pharma and insurance companies.

The biggest problem is the supposed goody-goody image of the doctor as the small town physician, who is barely able to keep up with the rising expenses of maintaining a clinic, because of ahem… the increasing regulations. No columnist is able to mutter a word about this, for fear that his family physician would ditch him, and he would be left without a modicum of medical care. Meanwhile, new software being marketed to the doctors, specifically provides ways by which they can game the system. I.e. charge for a thorough examination of the patient, the form being filled up by the software, even when the cursory check-up by the doctor does not justify the high charges he seeks.

Healthcare in USA today, takes away nearly 18% of the national budget. More than double that in other developed nations. And even after that, it does not provide for universal coverage for its citizens.

Now, for the cancerous tumour no. 2. The defence budget is well and truly a travesty. After the cold war, it should have plummeted. But instead, the graph of comparative defence budgets of the top five countries looks like this :

The United States’ defence budget is more than that of the next twenty largest military spenders combined!!!

Romney remarked during the third presidential debate that the no. of ships owned by the US Navy has decreased. Well, though the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined — and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners!

On the one hand politicians vie with each other to promise to protect defence spending. Romney wants to increase it further by 20%, by financing it by … tax cuts for the rich. (Don’t expect math from the Republicans. p.s.: Also, do not expect rational climate change science.)

On the other hand, teachers and librarians and park janitors are laid off by the thousands.

The reason is evident. The military spending hugely benefits the private contractors like Halliburton. They got huge juicy slices of the spending in Iraq. They are the ones who payroll the Republican politicians, who in turn dance to their tunes. The no. of jobs created by them are a small sliver of those that would have been created if the same money would be spent in other areas e.g. schools and libraries and public parks. But then those things are not paying for the politicians.

If America is to get itself out of this stinking mess, it is time the average citizen starts to question the basic assumptions at the root of keeping these two groups fattened at the cost of the country at large.

Yours truly,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)

Manmohan, Protector of Evil?

I had posted the following link to the Washington Post article lambasting Dr Manmohan Singh, on my facebook page.

I received a comment from a dear friend lamenting the article – ‘another decent person might bite the dust’.

I differ.

Hence this post.

No one can point a finger against Dr Singh’s sterling record and ‘decency’ – ‘before’ he took up the current post with the ruling party.

Unfortunately, it is immaterial if the ill-gotten moolah has landed in his house or someone else’s swiss bank account.

If the ruling party wants to maximize the ‘profits of office’, who would be the best person to install as the prime minister, behind whose back they could carry out their activities unimpeded? Knowingly or unknowingly, Dr Manmohan Singh has been carrying out this mandate from the ruling party to perfection.

With no one else, I repeat, no one else as prime minister, could the present scale of corruption have occurred. If an ‘active – working prime minister’ having electoral responsibilities, had been our PM, say Rahul Gandhi or Sharad Pawar or even Mamta Banerjee, he or she would have been burnt at the stake by now. It is only under the benign protection of our current PM, under his acquiescing silence, that the present travesty could have occurred.

The country is having to pay too high a price for his holier-than-thou image, which is being used to the hilt by his party compatriots.

His dishing out couplets fed to him by the party PR machinery, extolling the virtues of silence, is nothing short of nauseating.

I am normally very sensitive to India’s image being maligned esp. for art – say ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. But here, I feel no such justification to hold back from the truly tragic reality.

If Dr Singh is really clean, not longing even for the palatial PM house, but totally helpless to rein in his colleagues, he should resign.

That, at the bare minimum, would at least remove the shield of the ruling party wrong-doers.

Yours, for better or worse,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)

Arre! But where is Soniaji?

How would you feel if Wisden released a list of the best cricketers in the world, but left out Sachin from the list?

Similar, was my astonishment and despair, on seeing the list of the ‘Fab Fifteen’ from Team Anna – the ‘corrupt-est‘ fifteen sons of Mother India.

Astonishment, as to how they could enter the figures in a spreadsheet. I doubt if the latest release of Excel can handle them. But then I realized that if the distance between stars can be measured in terms of light-years, then maybe a similar unit – ‘lakh-crore’ may be used to measure the relative ‘corrupt-ability‘ of our leaders.

But then, how come Soniaji is not in this list, while mere minnows populate it?

The telecom scam, coal-gate, commonwealth games scam – could the money flow anywhere but to the top? It is as sure as the law of gravity.

Why is the press so very hesitant to state that ultimately, it is Sonia Gandhi who calls the shots; and to allege that her underlings have pocketed the loot (apart from some bread crumbs, of course), is to insinuate that she is naive and feckless, which she is not.

In the list of the greatest cricketers, may Sachin top the list, and in that of the most corrupt politicians, may Sonia be the gold standard to which rulers around the world aspire.

Yours, for better or worse,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)

The rules of the game are same…

I tend to chat up taxi drivers whenever I am travelling, and get some earthy home brewed wisdom in return. I will come to these nuggets of wisdom time and again.

There was this time I was in a taxi in Amsterdam, and struck up a conversation.

“I lived in Bombay (now Mumbai) for some time.”, said the taxi-driver.

“What! You must have found life here completely different after your experience in Bombay.”

“Naah! There’s no difference. Bombay or Amsterdam, it’s all the same.”

“Bombay or Amsterdam… same…?”

“Ya. Bombay or Amsterdam, the rules are the same. If you do not work…, you don’t get food to eat.”

Yours truly,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)

TOI reports ‘Chocolates healthier than most fruits’!!!

I refer to the Times of India dated 8th Feb.

I quote :

Chocoholics, you can now gorge on your favourite treat without a sense of guilt, for scientists have claimed that it’s actually healthier than many fruits. Not only that, but chocolate is being heralded as the latest ‘super food’ by the scientists who carried out a study. They have proved that it is packed with more healthy plant compounds and antioxidants gram-for-gram than fruit juice and provides far more nutritional goodness than food experts had previously thought.

Wow! This sounds good! But wait, don’t grab the chocolate bar just yet…

The scientists have based their findings on a comparison of cocoa powder, the raw ingredient of chocolate, with powders made from fruits like acai berries, blueberries, cranberries and pomegranates, …

Yikes! They are comparing the cocoa powder with powder made from the poor fruit! And then you claim that cocoa is better than fruit. Now, now, how ridiculous can you get. Next, they are going to claim that cocoa powder is even more valuable than Sachin Tendulkar.. oh! powdered Sachin Tendulkar that is.

A fruit is not some inanimate element with static properties, which would be the same regardless of drying or grounding. It reverberates with life, and in keeping with its biotic nature, goes stale or bad as time goes by. Making a dry powder from it, negates the whole idea of a fresh fruit. It lays waste to its vitamins and anti-oxidants. That’s why processed food is such a sham.

The guys making this claim with a straight face – supposedly ‘scientists’ at the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition in the US – well the less said about them the better. They join the hall of fame of the economists rooting for lesser regulation for Goldman Sachs, the climatologists arguing why global warming is just a blip, and the doctors arguing why cancer tests proved to be useless are still necessary.

But the journalists reporting this, could we not expect them to be a wee bit more vigilant, or are they too…

Yours truly,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)

Cricket bettors or suckers?

Today’s Times of India lists the bets being offered by the bookies (prominently Ladbrokes’) for bettors wanting to stake their fortunes on their predictions for the winner of the World Cup.

Like, say, India’s odds are 11/4. So if a bettor bets Rs. 4 on India, then if India wins, he receives Rs. 11 plus he gets back his Rs. 4 – total Rs. 15. So the “cost” of betting on India is 4/(11+4) i.e. 0.2667. If the odds are a/b, then the “cost” is b/(a+b).

I have totalled the “costs” of betting on all the main contenders. A little bit of thinking will reveal that if the total “cost” is 1, then it means that by betting Re. 1 uniformly across all the options, I am guaranteed a return of Re. 1. This would mean that there is no additional cost being imposed by the bookie.

However, we know that in reality, the bookie needs his daily bread, and the bettor always starts out at a disadvantage. Typically in betting centres like Las Vegas and Macau, the dice is loaded in favour of the casino – the minimum being just above 1% for Baccarat and 3-4% for Blackjack and Roulette. If the casino doesn’t play a game, it typically takes 3% of the winnings. This pays for the airconditioning and the hors d’oeuvres (and the hostesses).

So far, fair enough. So what is the cost imposed by the bookies for cricket betting? Here are the odds offered and their reciprocals which represent the cost of betting on that particular team : India 11/4 (0.2667), Sri Lanka 4/1 (0.20), South Africa 4/1 (0.20), Pakistan 8/1 (0.1111), Australia 9/2 (0.1818), West Indies 20/1 (0.0476), England 8/1 (0.1111), New Zealand 20/1 (0.0476), and Bangladesh 66/1 (0.0149). I have ignored the rest. The total cost comes to 1.18. I.e. in order to earn a rupee, I need to wager Rs. 1.18!!! By betting a lac, I can get a return of only Rs 84,750, luck ignored. The bookie is imposing a cost of more than 15%!!! Without needing to pay for the airconditioning…

So next step for the gamblers… Macau? Or better still, just meet up with one of your ilk, play some loud music, and toss a coin. At least you would have had the satisfaction of getting the betting ‘cost’ down to zero.

Yours truly,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)