Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Clockwise Orange by Anthony Burgess

The novel A Clockwise Orange by Anthony Burgess raises questions on the manner a typical so-called free society in modern times deals with habitual criminal lawbreakers. The overwhelming question that is examined is if society can curb violence by implementing laws that by themselves are violent.
Society is expected to function properly only when people can carry out their day-to-day activities without being threatened by violent acts like stealing, sexual harassment. When unsocial acts from the likes of eve-teasing and pickpocketing cross limits to rape and murder, like acts of Alex in the novel under study, then perpetrators are perhaps too dangerous to be left free in the society.

According to Cullen, Wright, and Blevins, “Crime is a complex phenomenon that exists on varied levels of analysis, manifests itself in various ways across the life course, is linked to forces inside and outside the individual, and is enmeshed in contexts extending from situational dynamics to socio-political, historical eras.”(Cullen, Wright, and Blevins 1) Imprisonment is a way through which present day judicial system deals with such criminal offenders (Collins and Cattermole).

Though there is no authoritative definition of anti-social acts, they are 'public’ in character, generally criminal, and at a low level of seriousness constitutes activities termed in popular parlance as ‘street offences'. In United States of America, crimes are classified as felony and misdemeanor. While misdemeanors are usually lighter form of offenses dealt with corrective measures like fine or imprisonment up to one year, serious crimes like rape and murder come under the category of felony. They are punishable by imprisonment of more than one year to death penalty (Collins and Cattermole 47).
Alex, the protagonist in the 1962 novel A Clockwise Orange, and his pals are adolescent ‘style-boys’ used to ‘smashing faces and windows’ and night orgies. They communicate in slangs. Alex's pals (‘droogs" in the novel's Anglo-Russian slang) are Dim, a slow-witted, systematic bruiser and Georgie, a motivated No 2 in command, and Pete, all with a predilection for ultra-violence. Alex is a hardcore juvenile wrongdoer; he is, nevertheless, sharp and intelligent with an elegant taste of music. Alex is especially the fan of Beethoven (Burgess 63). 

During his imprisonment, Alex is the subject over which behavior-modification Ludovico Technique is experimented (Burgess 82). Alex is injected a medicine that makes him sick and compelled to view violent scenes pushing him to strong bouts of nausea at the mere thinking of violence (Burgess 96). The success of the application of Ludovico technique on Alex is exhibited to a cluster of VIPs, who observe as Alex falls down before a bully and abases himself before an insufficiently-attired young woman. Though the prison officials blame the government of depriving Alex of free will, the state bureaucrats are delighted with the outcome and Alex is discharged from the prison (Burgess 119). 

Application of Ludovico technique on Alex in the novel is an example of corrective measures taken in association with state and healthcare experts to address antisocial tendencies. The novel under discussion raises ethics and effectiveness of such state interventions.

According to Burgess, one of the purposes of this novella is to represent the idea of free will. Burgess argues that man is defined by his ability to select courses of moral action. He can use this to perform good or evil. Burgess contends, “If he can perform only good or perform only evil, then he is only a clockwork orange. It means that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice, but is in fact only a clock-work toy to be wound up by the God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State” (Burgess IX).

According to Burgess, it is more agreeable to carry evil deeds than to be conditioned artificially for performing what is socially acceptable. Burgess is not impressed although Alex is transformed into a socially-acceptable breed after undergoing the Ludovico therapy. Burgess contends that sin is just one aspect of human behavior which cannot be segregated from human personality, or it would become kind of a mechanical clockwise orange losing creativity (Burgess).

Reference list:

1. Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwise Orange. W. W. Norton & Company (November 1986). 

2. Burgess, Anthony. From a Clockwise Orange: A play with music. Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1987. Web. 18 June 2011. <>. 

3. Collins, Scott and Cattermole, Rebecca. Anti-social behavior and disorder: powers and remedies. Sweet & Maxwell, 2006. Web. 18 June 2011. <,+crime,+antisocial,+meaning&hl=en#v=onepage&q=criminal%2C%20crime%2C%20antisocial%2C%20meaning&f=false>. 

4. Cullen, Frances T; Wright, John Paul; and Blevins, Kristie R. Taking Stock: The Status of Criminological Theory. Transactions Publishers, 2009. Web. 18 June 2011. <,+2009&hl=en#v=onepage&q=means%20as%20important%20as%20the%20ends&f=false>. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Gioconda Belli and Slavenka Drakulic: Contemporary women writers witness to totalitarian regimes

Gioconda Belli (1948) from NicaraguaAfrica and Slavenka Drakulic (1949) from erstwhile YugoslaviaEurope are contemporary women writers and social activists who witnessed totalitarian regimes somewhat different in ideologies: Nicaragua had a right wing dynastic rule from 1936 till 1979 while Yugoslavia was under left wing communists from 1946 till 1991. In this article, an analysis of these two women writers regarding their roles and experience under dictatorship will be made keeping in context the book 'The Country under My Skin: A Memoir of Love' written by Belli and 'How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed' by Drakulic.

Gioconda Belli narrates her experience of growing in an upper-class Nicaraguan family that was not approving of the Somoza totalitarianism but never imagined that their daughter (roughly aged 20) would sign up with the secretive Sandinistas as she continued her day job at a celebrated public relations agency. Anastasio Somoza Garcia imposed a dynastic rule in Nicaragua in 1937. Belli was a witness to tens and thousands of people celebrating the end of 45-year dictatorship with the fall of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979.

Belli was no sheer well-wisher or courtesan to a radical movement but revolutionary on her individual merit. She trafficked firearms, led blockades, materialized agreements between rebellious groups, explored tactics with Castro, and spoke for free Nicaragua at Third World summits from Moscow to Tripoli. Belli was encouraged by her family and especially grandfather to read books. Following significant achievements of the Sandinistan uprising, for Belli and her colleagues, the gain was no more than partial if women were once again reduced to caretaker status. According to Belli, she has been two women and has two lives: "One of these women wanted to do everything according to the classic feminine code: get married, have children, be supportive, docile, and nurturing. The other woman yearned for the privileges men enjoyed: independence, self reliance, a public life, mobility, lovers."

Belli believes that it is only democracy under which people can really forge their destinies. Sandinistas, under which Belli fought her campaign to restore democracy in Nicaragua, put forward a philosophy that was, according to the author, a blend of 'New Left socialism', 'cooperativism', and 'popular democracy'. Somoza's dynastic rule ended in 1979. Sandinistas never really implemented democracy in a way Belli would like for. Censor of press amidst alleged US interference led Belli to comment that restoring democracy after years of dictatorship cannot be compared with democracy practiced in United States of America. According to Belli, even now in Nicaragua, more than two hundred million people are trying to find meaning to their lives. Belli mourns how years of dictatorship in Nicaragua deprived people of basic necessities: "Passing by the exclusive shops (in the US) where a dining room table costs more than one person in Nicaragua earns in an entire lifetime of hard labor under the hot sun."

An interesting point to note about Belli is her evolution from a fighter with arms to appreciating heroism inherent in peace and stability. She writes that life has taught her that not every commitment requires payment in blood, or the heroism of dying in the line of fire: "There is a heroism inherent to peace and stability, an accessible, everyday heroism that may not challenge us from the threat of death, but which challenges us to squeeze every last possibility out of life, and to live not one but several lives all at the same time.

Author Slavenka Drakulic in her book 'How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed' recollects that living under a communist rule was not at all a pleasant experience. As evidence, Drakulic cites that 45 years of communist rule in Yugoslavia fell short of producing suitable apartments or providing affordable telephone lines for citizens, sanitary items for women, or dolls for kids.

According to Drakulic, what unified ordinary people in communist countries in Eastern Europe was suffering: 'the shortages,' 'the distinctive odors,' 'the shabby clothing'. Drakulic writes whether it was Yugoslavia, her home country, or Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, or Bulgaria, all 'long suffered' under the 'same ideology'. These countries were under communist rule since the end of World War II.

Drakulic recounts how under the communist regime they were brainwashed not to expect change: "That is how you are trained in this part of the world, not to believe that change is possible." Drakulic reminiscences they could not believe when they were first told that thousands of East Germans were crossing borders: "You are trained to fear change, so that when change eventually begins to take place, you are suspicious, afraid, because every change you ever experienced was always for the worse."

Drakulic opines about women in communist countries, "And who should I find down there, most removed from the seats of political power, but women." According to Drakulic, the biggest burden of everyday pain was borne by them and even if they 'fully participated' in 'revolutionary events,' they were 'less active' and 'less visible' in the 'aftermath' of those 'events'.

Drakulic looks back at June 1991, the month when provinces of Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. This was one year after holding first free elections in Yugoslavia since the World War II. It was expected that restore of democracy in erstwhile communist countries in Eastern Europe would provide its citizens with peace and better living conditions. It appears to Drakulic that Europe has not learned its lessons from the horrors of the World War II. Once again, Yugoslavia was in midst of possible holocaust of ethnic Muslims and Croats in Bosnia

Drakulic laments how expectations of women from democracy turned out to be just a delusion: "At the same time, they deluded themselves that the new democracies would give them the opportunity to stay at home and perhaps rest for a while. There was something else, too: somebody had to take responsibility for finding food and cooking meals, a task made no easier - indeed, in some countries made more difficult - by the political changeover." According to Drakulic, after notable women participation in the revolution to overthrow communist regimes in Eastern Europe, they did not have time to be involved and distrusted politics. Communism is a state of mind that is yet to be deleted from those who experienced it: "We may have survived Communism, but we have not yet outlived it.''

In the book, Drakulic is seen visiting homes, enquiring fellow women about day-to-day issues faced. Belli from faraway Nicaragua is also too keen to establish a rapport with the larger group. As she writes, "It was my destiny to be drawn to the warmth of crowds." Even after being married to an American and settled in the United States with kids, Belli still visits Nicaragua every three or four months.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Africa before Transatlantic Enslavement study 'Africa before Transatlantic Enslavement' by USI (Understanding Slavery Initiative), a UK national learning project which specializes in researches regarding transatlantic slavery and its legacies through museum and heritage collections, reminds that some of the world's great civilizations such as Kush, Axum, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe flourished in the years before 1500.

It was wealth, especially gold in great empires of West Africa such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, that induced Europeans to make voyages to Africa during the 13th and 14th centuries. As pointed out in the study, Africa before 1500 had developed sound economic and political systems. Difficult agricultural problems were solved, and Africa was engaged in local, regional, and even international trading networks. There were specialized miners, artists, and other knowledge professionals. Although some form of slavery existed in all forms of early civilizations and Africa no exception, transatlantic slavery under which Africans were exploited by colonial western rulers did immense harm to the fabric of African continent in an unprecedented way. It is at the heart of many problems that Africans still face today although slavery is banned officially in all respectable societies today. 

Transatlantic slave trade led to the forceful immigration of tens and thousands of Africans. As Africa started underperforming, the capability of Africans as a race began to have a negative perception. Notions were put forward that Africa had never developed any institution and needed European assistance to make progress. This is despite the fact that some of the early civilizations existed in Africa, including the Nile valley civilization, Egypt over 5000 years ago. Africa is a place where some of the world's great civilizations such as Kush, Axum, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe flourished in the years before 1500. It is ironical that it was a Muslim invasion with their North African conquest of the Iberian peninsula beginning the 8th century that led to the re-introduction of much of the knowledge of the ancient world to Europe! 

The study under lens by UK-based USI reminds rich achievements of Egyptians in learning including mathematics, medicine, mechanics, philosophy, and agriculture. As a consequence, negative views by philosophers like David Hume in the 18th century, German Philosopher Hegel in the 19th century, or Hugh-Trevor-Roper in the 20th century regarding Africans cannot stand the scrutiny. 

It hurts when unjustified doubts are raised about Africans. One cannot definitely agree with some of the claims in the study like Pythagoras theorem known to the Africans hundreds of years before Pythagoras' birth. Most of the contents, otherwise, in the study are supported by wider findings by other historians on the issue. For instance, the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 7th century is supported by Medieval Sourcebook: Ibn Abd-el-Hakem: The Islamic Conquest of Spain.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Author Michael Lewis in his book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2011) narrates his experience as a Wall Street insider for a time period spanning over 20 years highlighting fallacies of newer financial products like subprime mortgages, collateralized bond obligations (CDOs), credit default swaps (CDS) introduced by financial houses starting from the 1980s and popularized vigorously during the 1990s and the first decade of this century in the run up to a terrible economic recession beginning 2008. More importantly, Lewis takes through the Wall Street culture of refusing to handle or admit a problem.
The author's book ‘Liar’s Poker,’ published in the late 1980s, questions practices at some of the America’s biggest financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch. Lewis writes in the introduction, “In the two decades after I left, I waited for the end of Wall Street as I had known it.”
Selling of something that seller does not own is called short selling. While short selling in the stock market may bring equilibrium in day-to-day stock movements, imprudent use of this in the long-term debt and bond market perhaps added a deep problem to the system. According to the author, such actions, if left open, can be used by financial operators to buy time, misrepresent facts. As Lewis puts it, CDS was a sort of monster dragging us into the sea. Read More...

Monday, 5 November 2012

What is wrong with Single Member Plurality? Case study in context of electoral reform in Canada

Canada's current electoral system is built on the British model of parliamentary system which it inherited from its colonial past. The existing SMP (Single Member Plurality) system which divides a country into number of geographical divisions (ridings) and from the winners (Members of Parliament or MPs) of each division or riding government formed metaphorically finds its expression in horse racing where only one horse who manages to pass the post first counts: First-Past-The-Post (FPTP).

Instead of a total number of votes obtained countrywide, a government is formed on the basis of a number of winning seats, and this can create a substantial anomaly. Huntley and Wortis observe, “Because there are usually several candidates in a riding, the winner is frequently elected with a significantly less than percent of the votes cast; many voters are therefore represented by an MLA for whom they did not vote.” They argue, “FPTP often produces a legislature whose composition does not accurately reflect voters’ preferences." In 1993 federal election for example, Bloc Quebecois became the official opposition despite securing fourth highest popular votes. It is this deviation which is at the heart of discontent with SMP.

Democratic deficit is what is expected from a democracy and not delivered through the existing system. According to Jansen and Siaroff, “the SMP system contributes to the regionalization of Canada's party system. Furthermore, it distorts the parliamentary representation of large parties, under-represents small parties with nationally-dispersed support, and over-represents those parties with a small regional base of support.”

One advantage of SMP, however, is that by discouraging smaller parties, it tends to reduce chances of coalition governments or minority governments. Smaller parties with newer ideas are not always in a position to carry forward their philosophy and fund themselves for a long time, making it tougher to support and sustain new ideologies (Bittle, 2002). 

Mixed-Member Proportional representation (MMP) is one interesting alternative to address democratic deficit from the existing SMP. Under the proposed MMP, half of the Members of Parliament (MPs) would be elected from single-member districts using SMP while other half selected in a way so as to compensate parties against distortions in voting from the SMP system. This is seen as a judicious blend where the other half would take care of the distortions produced through First-Past-The-Post concept. It is, however, feared that the new system would give too much influence to party bosses who would determine half of the candidates earmarked for compensating against distortions from the SMP: this is not truly democratic. Also, the number of MPs would double adding cost to the nation.

On the positive side under the proposed MMP, parties will be rewarded for every vote they get. Total number of seats in the legislature represented by a party will more closely mirror total votes bagged (exact method of calculation slightly varies). New Zealand and Germany are presently using this system. MMP would give smaller parties with new ideas an early recognition. Proportional representation would also help create pressure among prominent parties to work for common interest because of fear of coalitions and minority governments. Proportional representation would provide under-represented groups such as minorities a greater say: they are the ones who are victims of single plurality the most.

On the negative side, MMP can lead to a formation of many smaller parties making opposition vague. It is feared MMP would lead to more minority or coalition governments. SMP keeps the number of smaller parties in check. C.J. Kam, a skeptic of proportional representation, feels that SMP does a better job of setting conditions required for accountability than proportional representation because Kam sees accountability, which is the ability of citizens to identify and sanction underperforming political agents, as more important than representation. By keeping the number of parties functionally limited, SMP does prepare a ground for competitive opposition. Also for voters, SMP is easy to understand while MMP complicated. In order to implement MMP, citizens should be first taught of its modus operandi.

Introducing proportionality into voting system will dramatically change ways negotiations are carried over government formation, cabinet membership, and the likes. J.C. Courtney observes that it is not necessarily an untoward development, as political history of some countries with non-plurality votes show. But for Canada, that would be entering uncharted waters with no historical map of inter-party, as opposed to intra-party, elite bargaining to draw on.

Among other proposals, Single Transferable Vote (STV) is one which has caught the attention of electoral reformists in Canada more than others. Under STV, a voter can place his or her ranking preference in ordinal terms irrespective of party affiliation. A voter can mark his or her preference for candidates of the same party as well as from different parties. A voter will get still only one vote. The main feature of Single Transferable Vote is that if the candidate voted by you as your first preference has no chance of winning or already secured sufficient votes, your vote is transferred to another candidate (from your own or different geographical division) as per your instructions. Thus few votes are wasted. This is unlike Single Member Plurality for which Huntley and Wortis observe, “Under FPTP, voters who prefer an independent candidate or one from a smaller party are routinely placed in the frustrating position of “wasting” their vote on a candidate they now will not be elected or voting for someone who is not their first preference. In this situation they may, indeed, decide not to vote at all.”.

STV is presently used in Ireland and Australia. Under the proposed BC-STV which went for a referendum in May 2009 in British Columbia, the total number of MLAs (Member of the Legislative Assembly) would remain the same at 85. British Columbia is to be divided into 20 larger geographical districts. A voter could exercise preference for more than one MLA from within a district. As voters could also influence election outcome from nearby constituencies of their district, STV can also be one weapon to put national interest above regionalism.

It is felt that lack of information among public and perception that BC-STV is complicated was one prime stumbling block to having it passed in the 2009 referendum. Andrew Coyne, a supporter of BC-STV, shows BC-STV is simple enough for an eleven-year-old child to use! Perhaps such proportional systems need better ways of demonstrating so that voters are not intimidated.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Civil disobedience movement revisited

At a time when there is a wave of new form of civil movement under the likes of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal (founder of Aam Admi Party, now Chief Minister of Delhi) against corruption, there is a need to revisit virtues of peaceful civil disobedience movement used successfully by Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) against British Empire in India and Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) against racism in United States of America. In this article, a close look will be taken at 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' (1963) by King and 'Aspects of Nonviolent Resistance' (1921-22) by Gandhi.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ (written in 1963) illustrates a number of discriminations against Blacks or Negros. This includes their forceful confinement to ghettos, curtailment of voting rights, and restrictions on them to enter amusement parks. King explains his idea of a peaceful protest against such discrimination, particularly in the city of Birmingham. Birmingham is cited by King as the most isolated city in the United States. It is reminded how there had been so many unsolved cases of bombing of Negro homes and utter unfair treatment to the Negros in the city’s court. 

Under civil disobedience movement, Blacks were supposed to resist authorities peacefully without resorting to violence. A civil resister questions if he or she is 'ready to accept blows without retaliating?' King, while calling for ‘creation of tension’ by civil resisters does not mean ‘violent tension’ but a sort of creative, ‘nonviolent tension’ that is crucial to address unjust laws.

According to King, those who want to participate as civil resisters should be ready to accept imprisonment, making perpetrators feel guilty by themselves. As Mahatma Gandhi who led similar civil disobedience movement in India against the British Empire writes about a civil resister, “By noiselessly going to prison a civil resister ensures a calm atmosphere.” Practitioners of civil disobedience never use arms or resort to any violent activities and so cannot lead to anarchy (Gandhi, 1921-22). Both King and Gandhi argue that participants in civil disobedience are not an enemy of the State. This path is one that requires discipline with utmost self-belief (Gandhi, 1921-22). 

According to King, unjust laws can be enforced if makers of law do not adhere to the principle of morality. Luther writes, “A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” According to King, all segregation laws are unjust since they divide human beings into two classes: superiors and inferiors. King cites St. Augustine who said that an unjust law is no law at all. According to Gandhi, resistance against such unjust laws is the intrinsic right of a citizen. It should be never given up without a surrender of self respect.

While stressing that it is the right of every citizen to disapprove peacefully, Gandhi writes, “He dare not give it up without ceasing to be a man.” King reminds that the idea of civil disobedience movement dates back to early Christians who were ready to face tortures than to submit to unjust laws by Roman Emperors. In the US, King cites Boston Tea Party (1773) as an example of civil disobedience movement. 

Force is used to quell criminal disobedience, but to subdue civil disobedience, protesters are imprisoned. Such imprisonment can only strengthen the movement. Even in jail, protesters will not be hostile to jailors and look them as 'fellow human beings not utterly devoid of the human touch.' Actions that can lead to imprisonments such as marches, sit-in demonstrations, boycott, and petitions are preferred. There is no question of using any form of arms or weapons in civil disobedience movement. After all, as Gandhi puts it, a civil resister is ‘philanthropist and a friend of the State'. King warns that if there is more oppression of Negros, many would turn to Black nationalist ideologies like 'Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement,' leading to ‘frightening racial nightmare'. King cites Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." King’s civil disobedience movement was something out of love for the rights of Blacks and perhaps had nothing to do with hatred against the whites.

Update (December 04, 2016): Despite the movement led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal producing nothing spectacular, the core idea of civil disobedience always relevant. Ordinary citizens need to be cautious from the ones trying to make a political gain using this doctrine.

  1. King, Martin Luther Jr. (1963). Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 
  2. Gandhi, Mohandas Karam Chand. (1921-22). Aspects of Nonviolent Resistance.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

How investing in bank stocks different from the rest?

Last updated: July 30, 2016
The business of banking falls under priority services and all banks whether public or private in India need to comply with stringent guidelines by the RBI. While NPAs (nonperforming assets) are part of their businesses, there is a limit set by RBI as part of good governance. New banks are allowed to float only after they demonstrate they are here for a long run.
While steel plants and the business of jewelry should also be relevant for years and decades to come, there is a difference: banks finance all kinds of businesses from small retailers to large corporates and government projects. In other words by investing in bank stocks, one gets an exposure to growth of economy as a whole. It is said that banking closely mirrors the economy.
There are many businesses (like a firm producing accounting software) which did not exist a few decades back and one cannot be sure what lies ahead in few years time with rapidly changing distribution channel/consumer taste/change in technology. For such stocks, it is difficult to spot right time to exit and passive shareholders who are taught to invest for long term often lose a significant part of the portfolio. Read More...
Government-owned banks (PSUs) are also a vehicle that keeps the government running by generating income through dividends. Most of these banks in good times declare rich dividends ensuring that you also earn decent yearly income in case you stay invested. There are also a couple of more advantages in dividend play including dividend income not taxable(like in India) and dividend stripping.
You can of course spread risk by investing in a number of public and private sector banks as under exceptional circumstance a bank too can go bust as evident in the Global Trust Bank fiasco (2004). This also helps optimize returns from dividends, and a way to optimize the same can be through investing in mutual funds focused on bank stocks like Reliance Banking FundReligare Banking Fund, and UTI Banking. These mutual funds, in addition to bank stocks, may also invest in companies engaged in financial service activities (UTI Banking Sector Fund) or  companies engaged in allied activities related to the banking sector (Reliance Banking Fund). 

Of late, there is a flux of new so-called payment banks that leverage online payment gateway technologies pioneered by the likes of Paytm, and it would be interesting to see how they do in the equity market going forward.