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His Master's Voice: Pavlovian Comrades
December 18, 2003
Sherlock Holmes in one of his pithier stories remarks on the singular incident of the dog in the night time: which was that the dog did not bark when a crime was committed. Holmes concluded that the dog did not bark because it knew the criminal, and therefore he was able to identify the culprit.
Similarly, the Comrades of the Indian English media did not ask the most pertinent questions when China launched its manned space ship. To wit:
At a time that the world media was full of stories on the technological and scientific progress of China because of its space launch, why was the Indian English media obsessed with medieval, obscurantist superstition: that is, the beatification of the Blessed M Teresa? Doesn't this show how unscientific the Indian English media is?
Why is China spending precious millions on its space program instead of feeding its starving millions? How many primary schools could be built and how many of the 150 million unemployed in hellholes like Daqing (see my earlier column Two strikes) could be rehabilitated for the price of one manned space mission? Horrors, does this mean the Chinese mandarins don't care about their people?
Isn't there a 'space divide' in China? How can the Land of the Pure send one man up into space when it is unable to send every man up into space? This is why we complain so loudly about the 'digital divide' in India, right? Or, gulp, does it mean that divides are tolerated in the Great Helmsman's Homeland of Equality?
I scoured the Indian newspapers looking for Comrades' comments along these lines, but sad to say, I was sorely disappointed.
This was the dog in the night time not barking. Therefore, I am forced to conclude that the Old Left(over) Comrades in the media had been given explicit instructions by their handlers and the Xinhua propaganda agency as to what stories they were supposed to comment on.
Money may have changed hands; but then, maybe those suffering from extreme ideological rigor mortis may not even need to be paid. They are conditioned to salivate with Pavlovian reliability.
Surely, if it had been India that had sent a man into space, they would certainly have whined unendingly about points 2 and 3 above. India is altogether wisely sticking with unmanned space missions like the Chandrayana moon mission: it has been shown that sending a human up is not cost effective.
In fact, the Comrades were, as expected, silent about the 40th anniversary of the first launch of an Indian rocket, which was on November 21, 1963. This was a Nike Apache sourced from the US, and put together in an abandoned church at Thumba, Trivandrum. The parts were carted on the back of a bicycle, and a memorable photograph shows Dr Aravamudan and Dr Abdul Kalam in shirtsleeves sitting on the ground working on the rocket.
I remember the launches that used to create barium green and phosphorescent orange clouds in the skies over Trivandrum: they sent up these thundering little rockets every week from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station.
We've come a long way, baby, from those humble beginnings, to a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (in other words: ICBMs) built almost entirely on indigenous effort. Today, from the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, the SLVs go to the Satish Dhavan Space Center at Sriharikota. Amazing these are not named after Nehru dynasty people, by the way!
The Comrades think nothing much of it, but India did not have to steal technology as the Chinese routinely do through industrial espionage: India has the brains.
The Comrades only believe in glorifying their Promised Land. I was once greatly entertained by couple of Comrades' pronouncements at a conference on IT in Trivandrum, circa 1999 CE. These Comrades are considered intellectual giants in Old Left circles, and I dread to think what their intellectual pygmies are like. Of course, I needn't wonder, I just need to pick up any English language newspaper.
Chou en Lai, in one of his more lucid moments, called Jawaharlal Nehru a 'useful idiot.' I cannot think of a better description of the intellectual pygmies of the Old Left, as far as the Chinese are concerned.
Here is what Comrade A had to say:
The problem with the Indian education system is that there is not enough of it under government control! I felt obliged to point out that no parents stand in line outside government schools to get their children enrolled as they do for private schools. Why more government control for education, I asked, haven't you guys (the Marxists and Nehruvian Stalinists) screwed up the system enough? He didn't have much of an answer.
Furthermore, you ain't seen nothing yet, pontificated he. You think India is good at IT? Ha, just you wait till China enters IT in the next six months to a year. India will be outclassed, predicted he with palpable glee. Well, four years later, we are still in much the same situation: India's software industry is world class, China's is far behind.
There's such huge Foreign Direct Investment in the computer hardware sector in China that practically all computers will be made in China sooner or later. Now this may well be true, but the Comrade had, just ten minutes before this, complained bitterly about too much FDI coming into India. I began to understand: if India does something, that is ipso facto bad. But if China does the exact same thing, it must be, tautologically, a Good Thing.
Comrade B made another dubious point:
There is a terrible digital divide in India. Many rural and poor children cannot afford to get computer education, and are therefore being left behind. This is bad, therefore we shouldn't have computers in any school until every school can afford to have one.
I was blown away by the logic. What about the 'road divide', the 'transistor radio divide', 'the television divide', 'the newspaper divide', etc.? After all, didn't these too come to a select few people first, and then spread to the rest? Why did the Comrades not ban newspapers or radios or televisions or roads?
And the speakers were big 'brains', one a Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, the other a vice-chancellor. No wonder, I thought to myself, that the Old Left is collapsing.
What is the reality behind the Chinese space launch? They are asserting that they have arrived on the world scene: precisely the kind of machismo other countries have shown when their economies started growing. The Japanese and the Koreans used their hosting of the Olympics as sort of their coming out party. China is doing the same, and the manned mission is another plea of "Look at me, people!"
The Chinese desperately want to be taken seriously by white people. They have a severe inferiority complex regarding whites (and an equally severe racism complex against darker skinned people such as Indians).
Both complexes are without merit, as they are not particularly inferior nor superior to anyone. But their women go under the knife increasingly to get round eyes (by removing the epicanthic fold) or an enhanced nose because they believe it makes them look "better", meaning more like a white woman.
There is of course the military angle: the Chinese are making explicit the fact that they have launchers that can double as Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. But this has been known for some time: China has some ten missiles pointed at Los Angeles and San Francisco. And Americans are certainly aware of the threat, as a writer from the US Naval Academy points out.
It is also true that China is a military threat to much of Asia: they have been out there terrorizing people in Tibet, Taiwan, the Spratly Islands and Mischief Reef.
So the only thing the Chinese have gained with this absurd launch is some bragging rights. They do believe in marketing. For instance, with much ado, they built the Great Wall of China some centuries ago at huge cost. Alas, shortly thereafter, it was breached by the barbarians it was intended to keep out. So it is a classic white elephant, much as their manned space launch is, too, wherein they are recycling what the Soviets and the Americans did about 40 years ago.
There are plenty of other white elephants in China: all those wonderful skyscrapers in Shanghai that excite visiting Comrades. The buildings' occupancy rate is abysmal; it does not make business sense, but it certainly creates a nice facade: China is a country that believes avidly in Potemkin structures.
The rest of the world has tired of a "build it and they will come strategy" after getting burned in the internet meltdown, but the Chinese haven't learnt their lesson. There is a terrific real estate bubble in China: The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that real estate investment has grown 22% in 2002, and 34% in January to July 2003, resulting in massive overcapacity.
The Indian English language media does not report on all this. They are only interested in running down the genuine upswing in India's economy, see an example from the very China friendly The Hindu, November 8th: 'Is the euphoria justified? There is simply no case for crowing about the Indian Economy in 2003-2004'
Denigrate India, praise China to the high heavens: this is the unwritten rule. Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. Suppressing the truth is equivalent to suggesting falsehood.
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