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Post-Brunch Intelligencer

Midmorning ramblings on the state of the species

Poverty comes out of hiding

Posted by Nath at 7:31 AM
The other day I came across this article by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter about "why part of the richest country on earth looks like the Third World" (man, I hate that term). According to some study whose source I haven't bothered to look up, upto 37 million poor people live in the US – about 13 percent of the population.

Skimming the article, I found something of interest on the third page. On Delores Ellis, one of New Orleans' poor, Alter writes, "Before the storm, she did own a stereo, refrigerator, washer and dryer, two color TVs and a 1992 Chevy Lumina with more than 100,000 miles on it." Apparently, Mr. Alter and I have somewhat different definitions of the word 'poor'. See, I've always thought that if you own any electrical appliance larger than a toaster, you're at least in the lower middle class.

In Alter's defence, he only brought that up to make the point that people "spend on consumer goods beyond their means". But the fact remains that being poor in Louisiana is a whole different thing from being poor in Tamil Nadu.

I live in a University town in the U.S. I see poor people pretty often. I can only tell they're poor because they're sitting on the sidewalk outside fast food places asking for money "to buy a sandwich". Now, I sympathise; I've never been in a position where I had to depend on strangers' whims to get some lunch. If I was, however, I doubt I'd be spending five precious dollars (I was going to write 'hard-earned', but...) on a number three with cheese. Five dollars can go a long way. Just down the road from the sandwicheries they frequent is a Walgreens, selling a loaf of white bread for 79 cents.

Obviously, I'm not claiming that this is a universal thing. Most of the poor I've seen here were hard at work, striving to improve their lots (or at least to buy that second TV). Nor is this phenomenon restricted to the U.S. – I've seen comfortably-off pseudobeggars on three continents. (I assume they exist on most of the others, too, but I can't claim to have verified this personally.) My point is simply that poverty is a relative thing, and that desperation is more a function of attitude than income.
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On Kashmir

Posted by Nath at 7:08 AM
So Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh just got done talking to a bunch of moderate Hurriyat folks, led by aspiring software engineer turned religious and political leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. I figured I ought to share my thoughts on the matter, given the vast amount expertise I gained on the Kashmir situation by watching LOC: Kargil eleven times in succession.

(Don't panic; I'm not serious. You can't hope to understand a political crisis as deep and intricate as the Kargil situation just by watching a Bollywood movie eleven times in a row. In fact, it is only after the twelfth viewing that you can call yourself a true expert on the subject.)

There isn't much concrete information about what exactly was said during the meeting; the only tidbit that seems to have been made public is that the Prime Minister has agreed to cut troop levels in Kashmir if the violence and infiltration end. That's all very encouraging and all, but one wonders how much control the moderates have over as fragmented and chaotic a group of militants as the one operating in Kashmir. Even within the Hurriyat party, certain elements (such as hardline leader SAS Geelani) seem less than pleased about all this. How exactly Mirwaiz Farooq and company are actually meant to 'end violence and infiltration' is a mystery.

Then again, as everybody keeps reminding us, we shouldn't expect any miracles. In all likelihood, the talk of ending infiltration and pulling back troops is just a friendly gesture, not an announcement of policy. Oh well.

For the most part, all concerned parties seem to agree that these talks are a step in the right direction; hopefully, the first of many. Even the JKLF's Yasin Malik seems to disagree with Geelani – at least according to these guys' interpretation of the fact that he didn't show up at Geelani's news conference. Then again, maybe he just overslept.

(Oh, for those of you who actually read stuff: go find a copy of Sumantra Bose's Kashmir. I think it's a pretty neat book.)

UPDATE: The BSF has been ordered to pull out of Srinagar. Curious. Perhaps the talk of cutting troop levels wasn't just for show. Then again, maybe this withdrawal is simply a continuation of 2003's plan to replace the BSF with the CPRF in the anti-militancy role in Kashmir.
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