Thursday, April 23, 2009


There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

It was the day when we had our fingers’ marked with ink as we had just cast our ballot. Yes. It is election time here in India. The Indian government had declared a holiday. Unfortunately it was not a holiday for me as the company for which I work for couldn’t afford to declare a holiday, considering the time bound, outsourced business it is into. To be fair, the company had asked the employees who had a broadband internet connection at home, to work from home. The company had also insisted that we exercise our right to vote and come in late to the office. Meanwhile other companies had said [according to certain news reports] that their employees will be compensating for the lost of a working day by putting in hours on a Saturday. I have a broadband connection at home, but the frequent unscheduled power cuts makes’ it impossible for me to work from home.

So here we are, a bunch of work-a-holics smashing away on our keyboards when a colleague of mine walks past and remarks “ If ever there was such a thing called as free lunch, that was it.” I pointed out that we had already paid for that lunch by working on a holiday. In other words we had earned it. My colleague had just enjoyed a sumptuous lunch which was sponsored by the company, prompting a chain of thoughts.

Catering to overseas clients, sometimes we need to compromise, owing to cultural differences and of course the age old saying – The customer is the king. By downing its shutters and providing lunch for its employees, the company obviously had a lot to gain for. By requesting employees not to venture out, the company was only making sure that no undue attention was drawn towards itself on a holiday. The official explanation was to prevent any untoward incident from happening. Providing the employees a sumptuous lunch was a gesture drawn towards easing any resentment an employee might posses [like working on a holiday].

I am pretty sure that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Image Source: Free Clipart Now

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ahoy, me hearties! Hear me out.

Back those days, I mean really old days; being a Pirate was an exiting way of life. The adventure, the thrill of venturing into the unknown seas, looting, killing, women and most importantly Gold; beckoned many into this profession. But only a few were successful. Some of them are still remembered and have become legends.

It is said that the oldest recorded piracy dates back to1350 BC. Port Royal (Jamaica),
Ile de la Tortue or Tortuga (modern Haiti) and the Isle of Madagascar are quite famous as the popular hangouts of pirates. Tortuga more so; because of the movie: “The pirates of the Caribbean.” The success of the movie shows how we all love to be a pirate and lead that enchanted life, away from our boring jobs that are right now being threatened by recession.

However, the Somalian pirates have become the scourge of the nations. We like our pirates only in the movies. In reality, we would love to strap every one of them to torpedoes and send them back to Davy Jones Locker!

These modern pirates attack cargo ships in small boats, launched from a mother vessel nearby. These cargo ships are generally sparsely crewed and most of them do not carry arms, making them sitting ducks. These Somalian pirates, armed with guns, rocket launchers hijack such cargo vessels and dock them at Somalian ports. Hence rescue operations cannot enter the Somalian waters; the pirates rig the cargo vessel with crude bombs and threaten to blow it and kill the crew and the Somalian Government [if there is one] is toothless. The nations and sometimes the companies, to which the cargo vessel and the crew belong, pay a hefty ransom to free their crew and cargo.

When we objectively look at this issue from one side, we see the struggling people of Somali trying all possible means to earn themselves a livelihood. In the absence of a viable economy and the success that others have found in piracy, more people are opting to become a pirate. Working out a ground solution resulting in peace and stability in Somalia can turn out to be an effective solution against not only piracy, but also the civil war that has been ravaging the region.

In the meantime a lot of nations have joined hands to patrol the troubled region with warships, providing a semblance of security to the vessels plying there. Unfortunately, that has been woefully adequate as more warships are needed to patrol millions of square kilometers. There has been little success and the piracy rate has dropped, but that is not enough. The recent attack on a U.S. vessel proved just that.

While digging information, I came across an interesting piece of information regarding the U.S. USA had turned to pirates to help thwart Britain when the country had declared its independence. The vicious circle has come full as the U.S. is now bristling with anger at the brazenness of the attack by pirates against its vessel. I couldn’t help notice another issue that currently involves the U.S. The CIA and ISI had provided arms to Afghans in the 80’s helping them resist the Soviet invasion. Now the Americans are leading the fight against the very same people that it had supported decades ago.

As usual we wait for the U.S. to decide that enough is enough and take stringent measures against these pirates. In the meantime, piracy as a profession is quite tempting, at least to the Somalians.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Google Search Conked Out Again!

It is surprising that these “We’re sorry…” error messages have become frequent in nature. The systems and networks (at the place where I work) have been scanned and reported clean.

At least the bookmarked Google searches are working fine. This seems to be happening only for fresh web searches.

Over to Google…

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Conflict Minerals and Rape

Over the past week, I came across several articles on the urgent need to ban “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I had heard about “conflict diamonds,” but “conflict minerals” was something new. As usual I started digging for more information.

I went over to Wikipedia for a short, quick history lesson on Congo. Then I read the Associated Press article [] that was responsible for the buzz on conflict minerals. The fodder for the cannon was provided by a report titled "Can You Hear Congo Now?" by John Prendergast, founder of the Enough Project.[]

The civilian war in D R Congo is the deadliest war since the World War II. Armed rebel groups, bandits, the Congolese army and the government are after the minerals that are found abundantly in the region. Unfortunately all the above mentioned groups have been using one horrible tool/weapon of war to gain control – Rape!

Rape has become a common weapon to gain and control territories, to break family and social structures, to induce shame and fear, to humiliate and establish hierarchy of power. The raping of the women of Congo is different. It is brutal.

The women are often gang raped. They get abducted and are used as sex slaves or “military wives” for a varied period of time. The women are so brutally raped that the flesh separating the bladder and rectum from the vagina is torn apart. This is because the gang rape is often followed by mutilation of their genitals. The mutilation is usually caused by inserting rusty guns, sticks, torches or bayonets. There have been instances where the perpetrators have inserted guns inside the vagina and fired bullets.

The women are so brutally raped and mutilated to the extent that they will not be able to have children again or become incontinent. The first person accounts of the survivors who managed to escape captivity are truly horrifying. Some of the women have been gang raped in front of their family members and have helplessly watched as their family members are killed in front of their eyes.

A surgeon in Panzi, who reconstructs tissue damaged by such mutilation, recalls one horrifying spectacle of a 12-year-old girl who had been savagely raped by five soldiers. They had stuffed a maize cob inside her.

However, for the survivors the ordeal does not end there. Their husbands do not accept them as they have been raped, which means that they have become impure. Their families tend to ostracize them. Most of they them do not have a family to turn too as they have been murdered. Too add to their problems, most of these survivors are either pregnant or have a new born to look after [and in dire need of medical help too].

Rape in D R Congo has become so common with the conflict that more civilians are committing rapes too, and the victims are often children [sometimes as young as 11-months]. The civilians, most of them have grown up watching someone from the family being raped and perpetrators have not yet been caught and brought to justice. This has emboldened them. These people think that they too can rape and be never caught. Hence, there has been an alarming increase in rapes committed by civilians. If at all a perpetrator is caught, he can walk away scot free by bribing; sometimes as little as $10.”

I came across an article that quoted a United Nations report:

“Congolese soldiers are frequently implicated in rapes, and the Congolese government, both feeble and uninterested, has done nothing to address the problem.”

There have been instances where the soldiers steal food given to the people by aid workers.

Now here is the connection between Rape and “conflict minerals.” Many feel that Rape is a part of a destabilization covering the theft of valuable minerals.

How do we stop it? Say “NO” to conflict minerals. These are Tin, Tungsten, and Tantalum—the “3 Ts”—and Gold. According to the report by the Enough Project, conflict minerals from Central Africa are moved around the world to countries in East Asia, where they are processed into valuable metals, and then onward into a wide range of electronics products. Consumers in the United States, Europe, and Asia are the ultimate end-users of these conflict minerals, inadvertently fueling the war through the purchases of these electronics products. This trail has been well documented by the United Nations and others, according to the report.

These minerals are commonly used in cell phones, laptops, mp3 players, video games, and digital cameras.
  • Tin is used in cell phones and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards.
  • Tantalum used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras and cell phones.
  • Tungsten is used to make one’s cell phone vibrate.
  • Gold is used in jewelry and as a component in electronics.
The Enough Project has written to 21 major electronic companies including Apple, Nokia, HP, and Nintendo; asking them to ensure that their products do not contain conflict minerals.

Let us make a pledge today. Say NO to Conflict Minerals. Stop RAPE.

Update: Here's a video from CBS News on the conflict in Congo and its effect on women. Thanks Shilz for sharing it with us.