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EDITORIALS

Outrage in Mangalore
The BJP govt falters again

T
he
manner in which some activists of the Hindu hardliner group called the Sri Rama Sena barged into a pub in Mangalore on Saturday and thrashed revellers, including girls, is highly reprehensible. The self-appointed moral police chased many girls in the pub, mercilessly beaten and molested them.

Aid cut is negligible
US will have to be tough with Islamabad
T
HE US has reimbursed $101 million to Pakistan against its claim of having spent $156 million on fighting terrorism till April 2008 as part of a deal between the two countries. The refusal to release the entire amount as demanded by Pakistan is based on audit objections, but the truth is well known. 


EARLIER STORIES

Have autonomy talks
January 28, 2009
Pin Pakistan down
January 26, 2009
Civil services: The blunted edge
January 25, 2009
Credibility, the best asset
January 24, 2009
Obama on Pakistan
January 23, 2009
Words to remember
January 22, 2009
Metro is not for Maytas
January 21, 2009
President Obama
January 20, 2009
Adieu, George Bush
January 19, 2009
Making TV a scapegoat
January 18, 2009
Miliband’s ballistics
January 17, 2009
Terror under arrest
January 16, 2009
Friends or foes?
January 15, 2009


R. Venkataraman
He led the country during tricky times
Whichever
way one looks at it, Ramaswami Venkataraman rates among the better Presidents that the country has had. His death on Tuesday at the age of 98 marks a break with the past that goes back to the advent of the 20th century and the freedom struggle.
ARTICLE

Lanka’s war against LTTE
India helped with crucial intelligence
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
W
HAT the IPKF could not do – defeat the LTTE – the Sri Lankan forces have done, demonstrating that insurgency can be subdued with the right mix of strategy, resources and political will. India’s coercive diplomacy failed due to the lack of political will. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s sudden visit to Colombo after the Republic Day celebrations in the aftermath of the human crisis arising from the war was designed to placate the government’s key allies in Tamil Nadu.

MIDDLE

The eternal cycle
by B.K.Karkra 
A
S you put on years, you see the generations disintegrating. First, you see your grandparents doing a disappearing act. You are then often too young to understand the true significance of this phenomenon of earthly existence. When you grow older, your parental generation starts vanishing, leaving you sad and disillusioned. This eternal procession of life, thus, keeps moving relentlessly forward into the shadowy unknown.

OPED

Updike explored virtues, vices and spent hopes 
of the middle class

by Matt Schudel
John Updike,
whose finely polished novels and stories exploring the virtues, vices and spent hopes of America's small town and suburbs earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and kept him at the pinnacle of the nation's literary life for five decades, died Tuesday at a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Mass. He was 76 and had lung cancer.

Obama enters cyber world
by Roopinder Singh

W
hile
people were looking for sartorial clues by checking out Michel Obama’s dress at her husband’s inauguration and subsequent balls, cyber junkies like me were also looking for clues about change in American presidency.

Take the long view from Davos
by Hamish McRae

G
ordon Brown
will be there, David Cameron will be there, and, of course, Tony Blair will be there. It is Davos time again, and the world's business and political leaders are already gathering in the Swiss ski resort, the setting for Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, his novel of the period up to the First World War.




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Outrage in Mangalore
The BJP govt falters again

The manner in which some activists of the Hindu hardliner group called the Sri Rama Sena barged into a pub in Mangalore on Saturday and thrashed revellers, including girls, is highly reprehensible. The self-appointed moral police chased many girls in the pub, mercilessly beaten and molested them. Strangely, the activists have justified their criminal action, claiming that they have received “complaints” from the people that the pub users had been “violating traditional Indian norms”. Clearly, the Sena activists have no right to interfere with the freedom and independence of young boys and girls. The BJP government headed by Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa has responded to the outrage belatedly. About 27 activists were arrested after two days of the incident. Worse, Ram Sena chief Pramod Muthallik has been arrested not for the pub attack but for a different offence — creating communal disharmony in Davanagere on January 11!

How will these hooligans be punished if the government tries to protect them? The law and order in Karnataka has been vitiated ever since the BJP came to power. The saffron outfits appear to have no fear of the law. The government’s delayed response to the Mangalore outrage is a shocking repeat of its earlier inaction when the Hindutva extremists torched Karnataka’s churches and prayer halls a few months ago. Such incidents have been occurring with sickening regularity. Recently, the activists of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike stormed a private party on Bangalore’s outskirts. Earlier, Karnataka Yuva Vedike activists went on the rampage at a leading hotel’s pub in Bangalore.

Unfortunately, though pseudo-vigilante outfits are proliferating and acting with impunity in the BJP-ruled state, the government has been found reluctant to tackle them. The BJP can restore law and order only if it gets rid of the lumpen elements in the party and checks its outfits from taking the law into their own hands. It needs no new laws to deal with hooligans. The existing laws are enough to deal with them. What is needed is the will to crackdown on some of the Parivar’s elements who are out to disturb peace in the country on one pretext or another. The rule of law in Karnataka is under serious threat and the BJP government would do well to remember that it cannot afford to be seen on the side of the hoodlums even if they are motivated by the ideology of its liking.

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Aid cut is negligible
US will have to be tough with Islamabad

THE US has reimbursed $101 million to Pakistan against its claim of having spent $156 million on fighting terrorism till April 2008 as part of a deal between the two countries. The refusal to release the entire amount as demanded by Pakistan is based on audit objections, but the truth is well known. Pakistan has been diverting US aid it gets on the pretext of having launched a military campaign against terrorism for strengthening its military vis-à-vis India. The denial of only $55 million is too little. The US needs to deal with Pakistan more sternly to force it to go wholeheartedly against terrorist outfits. Most of these elements have official patronage and have been successful in enlarging their base despite the pressure that was brought to bear on Islamabad in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack.

The symbolic jerk given to Pakistan by the US will not do. This is bound to send a wrong signal to the world community so far as the US-led drive against terrorism is concerned. The world expected more aid cut from the US under President Barack Obama. The new US administration began its innings by putting Islamabad on notice soon after the change of guard in Washington. Pakistan was told that all US aid to it for non-military purposes would be subject to its performance on the front of fighting terrorism. But the latest US action gives the impression that the Obama administration may not act on the lines expected of it. This is unfortunate..

Pakistan has been fooling the world that it is engaged in eliminating the terrorists operating from its soil, but doing exactly the opposite of it. It has been entering into deals with the Taliban and other such elements. The intelligence agencies in Pakistan have, in fact, been providing all kinds of help to some of the terrorist outfits as part of Islamabad’s policy of using terrorism for achieving its geo-political objectives. The latest proof is the Mumbai carnage. The US needs to be tough in handling Pakistan.

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R. Venkataraman
He led the country during tricky times

Whichever way one looks at it, Ramaswami Venkataraman rates among the better Presidents that the country has had. His death on Tuesday at the age of 98 marks a break with the past that goes back to the advent of the 20th century and the freedom struggle. The values that he imbibed during the Gandhi-Nehru era remained with him all his life and he was acknowledged as a stickler for rules. He had been associated in various capacities with all the country’s Prime Ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh. But by the time he became the country’s eighth President in 1987, there had been considerable erosion in values in public life. The coalition era had also dawned, which he personally disproved of. But it goes to his credit that he gave sage advice to all the Prime Ministers — Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar and PV Narasimha Rao. To that extent he was a copybook President.

But the pulls and pressure of coalition politics were taking their toll on the country and as a remedy, he floated the idea of a national government. Since it did not suit the conflicting ambitions of some politicians, it could never get off the ground. During his presidential years, which he later recounted in a book of that name, he had to bring all his administrative acumen and sense of fairplay into operation while deciding on such a tricky situation created by the Sri Lankan crisis, the Bofors gun deal, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the stocks scam and the Defamation Bill.

He had left his mark on the national scene earlier also, be it in his capacity as the Vice-President or while holding important portfolios such as industry, finance and defence. He also had a major role to play in the industrialisation of Tamil Nadu. It is this efficiency which brought him to Delhi and he made his mark as Planning Commission Member and President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal. A lawyer by profession, he was an excellent speaker and impressed everyone during his three Lok Sabha terms. Even after demitting office he remained actively associated with various music associations and the institutions of Shankaracharyas. The regulated life that he led helped him remain active right till the ripe age of 98. 

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Thought for the Day

It is hard for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs. — Thomas Hardy

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Lanka’s war against LTTE
India helped with crucial intelligence
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)

WHAT the IPKF could not do – defeat the LTTE – the Sri Lankan forces have done, demonstrating that insurgency can be subdued with the right mix of strategy, resources and political will. India’s coercive diplomacy failed due to the lack of political will. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s sudden visit to Colombo after the Republic Day celebrations in the aftermath of the human crisis arising from the war was designed to placate the government’s key allies in Tamil Nadu.

When years of negotiation did not bear fruit, a determined military campaign seems poised to end violence for a political solution to take root. Under the scanner are two other familiar assertions:that while you can have a political solution without the LTTE, you cannot have peace without it; and that only India can hammer out a durable political settlement.  The man who has almost achieved the impossible task of taming the Tigers is Mr Mahinda Rajapakse, who is destined to go down in history as Sri Lanka’s greatest President, a modern-day Duttugemunu who vanquished Tamil king Elara in the second century BC.

I recall a former Sri Lankan Army Commander, Lt-Gen Hamilton Wanasinghe, telling me after the IPKF had left the island that if India had kept out “we would be able to sort out the Tigers”.

Yet, legitimate doubts persist. For the settlement to become lasting, will a political package for the Tamils be implemented soon; and has violence been reduced to levels that it no longer poses any threat to the North-East and the South of the country? The two are interlinked. Mr Rajapakse has said he is committed to a political solution which will follow military victory. His mantra for the resolution of the conflict is contained in four Ds: disarmament, democracy, development and devolution, in that order. The relegation of devolution to the last slot has encouraged the belief that Mr Rajapakse is chasing a military solution.

A victory would have been more palatable for the Tamils had devolution been as high a priority as the military campaign and been implemented after the liberation of the Eastern Province last year. Instead, Mr Rajapakse’s commitment to devolution and its content are being questioned. As for violence, it has increased in the East but is manageable.

Mr Rajapakse will declare a military victory once Mullaithivu district, Prabhakaran’s citadel, is captured. His next move will be graduated elections in the North, starting with Jaffna, replicating the template of the East. The ongoing all-out military offensive has been called a “humanitarian operation” to liberate the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE terrorists. Some 300,000 Tamils, many being allegedly used a human shields, are in Mullaithivu.

For defeating the LTTE, Mr Rajapakse has to ensure that his forces weed out the Tigers from the thick Mullaithivu jungles just as the IPKF after capturing Jaffna had done by clearing Nittikaikulam before announcing elections in the North-East in 1988-89. Cleansing the populated areas of the Tigers is essential as people’s support is more vital for the warring factions than mere control of territory. That is why devolution and winning hearts and minds of Tamils ought to have preceded or been in tandem with military victory.

Mr Gothbaya Rajapakse, the President’s brother and a key manager of the military campaign, has said government forces will launch counter-insurgency operations to search and destroy the LTTE’s war-fighting capabilities in sync with the strategy of keeping the Tigers separated from the Tamils, rendering them like fish out of water.

While the fall of Mullaithivu will end the conventional phase of the war, it will mark the start of Eelam War V — return of Tigers to waging a guerrilla campaign. In order to relocate their military assets outside Mullaithivu district, they will have to buy time fighting the last battle. Although government forces have captured the LTTE’s six airstrips used to launch the nine air attacks in 2007-08, no aircraft has been found by the forces. Presumably, these have either been relocated on the island or taken out of the country; one report suggesting that Prabhakaran could have flown out in one of them. But Tigers have confirmed that he is in Mullaithivu, leading his fighters.

Tigers require to regroup and rethink their new strategy so that they do not become irrelevant to the ethnic question. As Tigers will continue the war by other means, the government must expect organised guerrilla warfare backed by terrorism to resume with or without Prabhakaran.

This war would not have been won without India’s moral and material support. Mr Rajapakse, who deftly turned its focus from ethnicity to terrorism, drawing a distinction between Tamils and Tiger terrorists, was successful in deflecting India’s periodic calls to end the war and start the political process. He said that India was helping in fighting the war. Calls from Tamil Nadu for a ceasefire were ignored. General Fonseka got so mad with Tamil Nadu politicians that he referred to them as “jokers”, prompting Mr Gothbaya Rajapakse to apologise.

The government also ignored National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan’s warning that Sri Lanka should not seek weapons from Pakistan and China but should come to India which was a big power and it would decide Sri Lanka’s needs which would be defensive in nature. Mr Narayanan has described General Fonseka as the world’s greatest Army Commander.

New Delhi played a double game — outwardly calling for restraint, and ending the war to placate Tamil Nadu politicians, while quietly supporting Colombo with crucial intelligence and coordinated operations on the high seas which enabled the Sri Lankan Navy in 2007-08 to sink all the eight LTTE merchant vessels that ferried Tiger replenishments from overseas. This was the turning point in the war. Air supremacy, precision-guided attacks taking out top Tiger leaders and drying of funds from diaspora led to Tiger operational capacities dipping to an unprecedented low level, the trigger for the Northern offensive.

India, which intervened in 1987 to rescue Prabhakaran and the Tigers, stayed aloof in 2000 when the LTTE was on the verge of routing the military garrison and ignored Sri Lanka’s request for a rescue mission to evacuate troops. But in a strategic turn-around, New Delhi has facilitated Colombo’s defeat of the Tigers over the head of the government’s key DMK ally whose leader once called the IPKF an Indian Tamil Killing Force and who has been threatening to withdraw support to the government.

Till Mr Rajapakse came on the scene, India’s Sri Lanka policy was described as “exercising decisive influence without direct involvement”. After the military victories, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon on a visit to Colombo this month praised Sri Lanka’s role in combating terrorism and characterised India-Sri Lanka relations as “having reached unprecedented level of depth and quality today” and “having withstood the test of time and adversity”. On another occasion during the same visit he described relations as “never so close, so warm and so deep”. China and Pakistan, which have played a major role in the successful conduct of the war, do not have to claim warmth and proximity to Sri Lanka.

While Mr Mukherjee will be unable to get Mr Rajapakse to halt the offensive, humanitarian concerns of Tamils will get addressed as they were earlier before the fall of Kilinochchi. Mr Mukherjee could learn a lesson on robust use of force in combating terrorism from the Sri Lankan story: from defeat to victory. He must press Mr Rajapakse to devolve power without waiting for the obituary of the Tigers to be written.

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The eternal cycle
by B.K.Karkra 

AS you put on years, you see the generations disintegrating. First, you see your grandparents doing a disappearing act. You are then often too young to understand the true significance of this phenomenon of earthly existence. When you grow older, your parental generation starts vanishing, leaving you sad and disillusioned. This eternal procession of life, thus, keeps moving relentlessly forward into the shadowy unknown.

 Recently, I happened to attend a get-together of our retired Central Reserve Police Force officers at Chandigarh. Nearly a generation back, we, as a sort of peacekeepers to the nation, were scattered all over the length and breadth of the country —even at places as far removed as the Indira Point in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Ladakh and Lakshadweep. We even had our footprints in America, Europe and Sri Lanka etc.

We dealt with dacoit gangs, insurgents, agitators, terrorists and trouble- makers of all hues. We often tore into the frenzied mobs to pacify them. In most of our wars and border skirmishes, we gave and drew first blood. Nearly all of us took mortal risks in the line of our duty and a few of us got martyred in the process. Some of us got decorations and some remained unsung. We often had to suffer “murdabad” (death to you) slogans from our own people for attempting to restore peace among them! This is something which even our army does not have to bear.

Appearance-wise, some of us, in our heyday, were fit to be film heroes — straight, well-proportioned, bright and handsome. Time had now taken its toll on us. We had, for sure, moved into the sunset of our lives. Some of us still looked somewhat presentable. A few others looked weary and haggard. Gone was the youthful exuberance of yesteryear. Yet, my friends wore a peculiar look of warmth and contentment about them, an evidence of a life well spent.

While floating among them I learnt that some of them were managing businesses and earning many times more than what they did during their service. Some were involved in social work with a sense of mission. Others were also not doing badly either — enjoying their retired life to the hilt.

They carried memories of incidents and experiences on which books could be written and feature films made. Yet, it was a sad feeling to call to mind that some of us would ourselves be reduced to memories when we meet next, especially when we all knew that even the memories also have a limited life span.

Just, when these disconsolate ideas were trying to creep into my mind, I noticed a few young officers managing the party behind the scenes with great gusto and trying to make us feel good. It was a great feeling that they were now doing what we did for decades. In them, we saw our own lives in playback mode and the cycle of life moving one notch forward.

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Updike explored virtues, vices and spent hopes of the middle class
by Matt Schudel

John Updike, whose finely polished novels and stories exploring the virtues, vices and spent hopes of America's small town and suburbs earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and kept him at the pinnacle of the nation's literary life for five decades, died Tuesday at a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Mass. He was 76 and had lung cancer.

Updike was best known for peering into the bedrooms and unquiet minds of suburban couples and small-town entrepreneurs in dozens of novels and stories that mirrored America's march from postwar optimism to the dimming dreams of a chastened generation.

His most famous works were probably the quartet of novels about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, whose life was a continual search, whether in business or the beds of other men's wives, for the crystallized feeling of joy he had known as a small-town high school basketball star.

Updike was often labeled the bard of suburban adultery — "a subject which, if I have not exhausted, has exhausted me," he once said — and many of his early works of fiction were considered scandalously explicit.

Updike's reputation as a novelist and a sexual provocateur in print was secured with his novel "Couples," which became a No. 1 bestseller in 1968. The book, which tells the intertwined stories of the longings of five New England couples, landed Updike on the cover of Time magazine under the heading "The Adulterous Society."

Updike's literary reach went far beyond a study of the nation's sexual mores. His first novel, "The Poorhouse Fair" (1959), features a 90-year-old protagonist; "Brazil" (1994) sets the timeless Tristan and Isolde love story in modern South America; and the 2006 novel, "Terrorist," views the world through a post-9/11 prism.

In works such as "Roger's Version" (1986) and "In the Beauty of the Lilies" (1996), Updike reveals his characters' religious lives with as much unsparing clarity as he had previously unlocked the bedroom door.

He was the author of almost 60 books of fiction, poetry, essays and memoirs, turning out a new book each year. He wrote hundreds of short stories, book reviews and "Talk of the Town" vignettes for the New Yorker magazine, to which he had contributed since 1954.

Updike's essays — collected in 10 thick anthologies — dug deeply into subjects as varied as art history, philosophy, European and Japanese literature, movie stars and golf. His best remembered essay was undoubtedly "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," a touching 1960 evocation of baseball star Ted Williams's final game at Boston's Fenway Park, which Updike memorably called "a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

Updike's stylistic felicity and assembly-line productivity weren't always well received. By the 1990s, novelist and journalist Tom Wolfe called Updike "insular, effete and irrelevant," and writer David Foster Wallace asked whether he "ever had one unpublished thought."

The soft-spoken Updike responded to his detractors indirectly, through one of his unlikely fictional alter egos, writer Henry Bech. In "Bech at Bay" (1998), the contentious and chronically blocked Bech begins killing his critics one by one, asserting, "Violence is our poetry now, now that sex has become fatally tainted."

Feminists took issue with Updike's depictions of women, who are often portrayed primarily in their relation to men. He seldom addressed directly the social issues of the 1960s, preferring to keep his attention focused on the inner motives of his characters.

"Everything can be as interesting as every other thing," Updike once told Life magazine. "My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class. I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules."

Updike captured that clash of extremes — desire and disappointment, success and hopelessness — most vividly in the "Rabbit" tetralogy. "Rabbit, Run" (1960) introduced Harry Angstrom, the basketball star from a town in Pennsylvania. The three later volumes — "Rabbit Redux" (1971), "Rabbit Is Rich" (1981) and "Rabbit at Rest" (1990) — followed Angstrom's career as a successful car dealer and an unhappy husband, whose wife is an alcoholic and whose son becomes a drug addict. Angstrom seeks solace in women and civic success without ever finding true happiness.

John Hoyer Updike was born March 18, 1932, in Reading, Pa., and grew up in the nearby town of Shillington, which he later transformed into the fictional setting of Olinger for many of his novels. His father was a high school mathematics teacher, whom Updike later memorialized in the 1963 novel "The Centaur."

"My first break came late in my college career when a short story that I had based on my grandmother's slow dying of Parkinson's disease was returned with a note scrawled in pencil at the bottom of the rejection slip," he wrote in AARP magazine last year. "It read, if my failing memory serves: `Look — we don't use stories of senility, but try us again.' "

He studied painting for a year at Oxford University, then took a job at the New Yorker, after his light verse submissions caught the eye of staff editor Katharine S. White, the wife of author E.B. White. Her son, Roger Angell, later became Updike's principal fiction editor at the New Yorker.

His first book was a collection of largely playful verse that received positive comparisons to the humorous poems of Ogden Nash. By the early 1960s, critics were comparing his sensitive, quietly compelling fiction to the stories of Russian master Anton Chekhov. Updike considered his work as a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" reporter unfulfilling and moved to Massachusetts in 1957 to concentrate on fiction. He adhered to a strict schedule, writing at least three hours a day, six days a week.

In 1953, Updike married Mary E. Pennington, who was the mother of their four children. They separated and divorced in the mid-1970s, in circumstances not unlike those in the disintegrating marriages Updike portrayed in "Too Far to Go: The Maples Stories" (1979). In 1977, he married Martha Bernhard, a psychologist, who survives him, along with his four children and three grandsons.

In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes, Updike won the National Book Award twice and the PEN/Faulkner Award once. He was often rumored to be in contention for the Nobel Prize for literature. As year after year passed without his getting the prize, he became a prime example of the stubborn views of the Swedish Academy toward American literature.

Updike shrugged and awarded a fictional Nobel to one of his more annoying creations, Henry Bech.

In recent years, Updike often wrote essays on art for the New York Review of Books and sometimes lamented his shrinking audience and the declining role of books in modern life. Reading, he said at a publishing convention in 2006, is an "encounter, in silence, of two minds."

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Obama enters cyber world
by Roopinder Singh

While people were looking for sartorial clues by checking out Michel Obama’s dress at her husband’s inauguration and subsequent balls, cyber junkies like me were also looking for clues about change in American presidency.

A fumbled oath-taking notwithstanding, change came quickly. The White House official website, Whitehouse.gov, was launched at 12.01 pm, moments after Obama was sworn in as the 44th President, and it was quite different from the one that had been up during the tenure of President George Bush.

“One of the first changes is the White House’s new website, which will serve as a place for the President and his administration to connect with the rest of the nation and the world,” said Macon Phillips, the White House director of New Media, in his message on the site said. Please note: The White House has a person in position and his team is delivering, admittedly after a few fumbles on Day 1. Those of us who see government websites that have not been updated for years can really appreciate this efficiency.

This website is one of the many ways in which IT is being been used by the new President to address the needs of his nation. There is also a nifty form in the “Contact us” section that allows a visitor to write a short (up to 500 words) note. The site was not updated frequently enough, and lacked information, but these are just beginner’s glitches.

While Michel Obama is seen as a style icon, her husband, who cuts no mean a figure himself, is also the President who fought to keep his Blackberry smart phone, and has been seen using a Mac, as does most of his team. Metaphorically, he has been called a Mac, thereby meaning “cool”, and not without reason.

Many old-timers thought the swearing in of the 44th President of the United States of America is in itself the ultimate integration of the black community with the rest. Until it actually happened, it did not seem possible that an African-American would become the leader of the free world, as Americans like to think of their President.

However, for the tech minded, integration that Obama represented had nothing to do with his race. Most of the teeming millions who thronged Washington for the inauguration were youngsters who thought Obama represented integration of the real and virtual word through the Internet, Blackberry, etc.

Candidate Obama blazed a new trail through his website at the beginning of his campaign. At that time he was facing Hillary Clinton and it was obvious that their distinctive personalities were reflected in the kind of websites they had. Hillary’s website was authoritative and a tad ponderous; Obama’s site had freshness meaning and purpose. He was wired, and he raised record millions of dollars in contributions through his website. She was not so tech-savvy, and it appeared that the website was an afterthought in the campaign in which she became an adjunct.

Obama was all over on the Net. From the short messaging site called Twitter to FaceBook, running his blog and answering mails on his Blackberry. Net-savvy people compared his campaign site to a Mac, and Hillary’s website to a Windows, implying savvy and smart for the former and formal and staid for the latter.

Now, it turns out that when Obama team members went to the White House, they found a dearth of Macs and a number of Windows machines with dated software. This was promptly blamed for the problems in updating the White House site in nano-seconds, as promised. Certainly, Windows will be the fall guys for many other inadequacies.

It did not help Windows’ cause the “Microsoft massacre” was announced soon thereafter confirming the company would be axing 5,000 jobs. Imagine President Obama’s Daily Economic Briefing: “Sorry for being late, but the Windows machines took time, and by the way, Microsoft is axing jobs”. Not exactly the good cheer the new President is hoping to spread.

Obama’s is now at a stage where actions will have to speak louder than words. If he delivers, the cyber world is a very powerful toll to communicate his success, if not, the speed and power of denunciation of this medium is legendary. At the end of the day, people want results; the reality of life always affects its extension, the cyber world.

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Take the long view from Davos
by Hamish McRae

Gordon Brown will be there, David Cameron will be there, and, of course, Tony Blair will be there. It is Davos time again, and the world's business and political leaders are already gathering in the Swiss ski resort, the setting for Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, his novel of the period up to the First World War.

Mercifully, we are not yet facing any such global catastrophe but this year the Davos magic will be more thinly spread. A year ago, the world economy was still growing quite strongly. People were twitchy because they could see worse was ahead, but the scale of the economic disaster was unclear.

Now, Davos will reflect the shift both of perspective and power that has taken place. There will be fewer parties thrown by the business community – Goldman Sachs has just cancelled its event – but there will be twice as many government leaders and heads of state as last year. Power has moved from business and finance and towards government.

The forum always raises two questions. Is it worth it? And what might it achieve? The first is easy to answer. It is worth it because it is efficient. Why, in these tough times, should taxpayers pay for politicians to go to Davos, or shareholders pay for their directors to do so? Because it enables them to set up strings of face-to-face meetings without having to travel to each others' countries.

The second is harder and more interesting. For business leaders, the purpose is meeting your customers, suppliers and bankers. For political leaders, the purpose is less clear. There are no voters there and you can make a speech anywhere. You need to work with the global business community but at the moment it is business leaders who are coming to you, cap in hand. So do you need to meet each other?

Well, this year the answer may be yes. The great question facing every government is what to do about the downturn. And the particular issue is whether, by co-operating more closely, governments are more likely to be effective than they would by acting independently.

There is a strong case for increasing budget deficits at this stage of the economic cycle, just as there is a strong case for monetary expansion too. But governments have to try to build long-term confidence, and that can only be done by making it clear they will follow more sustainable policies in future.

This all feels rather like the 1970s and 1980s, the two most serious post-war recessions. The enemy then was inflation, the result of monetary ill-discipline, rather than the present fiscal ill-discipline, but the consequences were similar: a loss of confidence in both the financial system and in governments' ability to fix it. Bursts of hyperactivity by governments, the "initiative a day" approach, are not credible. What we need is a sense that governments are aiming to create order in the medium term.

The point of a meeting like the one at Davos is to make people focus on the long term. We need our politicians to be calm and measured. We need them to listen to each other and learn.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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