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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Statues don’t vote
Mayawati in stone is larger than life
BSP supremo Mayawati seems to think that like her party symbol, she has the right to ride rough shod over all rules of propriety and probity. She has been helped in reaching this faulty conclusion by the labour of indulgent sycophants and fawning political parties for whom her pachyderm symbol comes in handy in the coalition era. But at least the Supreme Court does not appear to be amused by her wayward ways and has been asking probing questions.

What Pranab should do
Resume reforms, boost infrastructure
The 2009-10 Union Budget, slated for July 6, will see Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee trying to reconcile demands for tax breaks made by vocal sections of society with compulsions to make increased allocations for the UPA’s popular rural empowerment schemes. This year the focus will be on providing wheat and rice to the poor at Rs 3 a kg.




EARLIER STORIES

Waiting for the monsoon
June 30, 2009
Making judges accountable
June 29, 2009
Who cares for hockey?
June 28, 2009
De-stressing education
June 27, 2009
Boosting higher education
June 26, 2009
Containing Maoist menace
June 25, 2009
Banning Maoists
June 24, 2009
Varun said it all
June 23, 2009
BJP at sea
June 22, 2009
People have right to know
June 21, 2009

Hubs for NSG
It will reach the trouble-spot faster
Tuesday’s launching of the 241-commando National Security Guard (NSG) hub in Mumbai is welcome. Significantly, three more hubs have become operational today in Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. The creation of four NSG hubs in different regions is part of the Centre’s comprehensive security package for the country. There is no doubt that these hubs will shorten the response time of the crack commandos in countering any terrorist action.

ARTICLE

Threats from Maoists
Time for multi-pronged strategy
by Gen V. P. Malik (retd)
A
FTER the terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26/11, Lalgarh in West Midnapore district of West Bengal has once again brought into focus India’s continuing vulnerability in internal security. The Lalgarh police station in the Maoists’ “liberated zone” had remained besieged for eight months. One can imagine the kind of governance that exists in such areas.

MIDDLE

Searching for frangipani
by Amreeta Sen
T
he frangipani flower was very common in my childhood. Large white flowers with pink or yellow centres lay scattered on the ground while we played. Sometimes they wafted down gently on our heads as we carelessly brushed them away. They were the frangipani days, when the flowers twirled around us and we did not notice them. For they were so much a part of us that we forgot that they were there. And we grew up.

OPED

Jubilation in Iraq on US pull-out
by Ernesto Londono
I
raqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks on Monday in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation's troubled history: As of Tuesday, this is no longer America's war.

RTI ineffective in Haryana
by Ranbir Singh
T
he government of Haryana implemented the RTI Act in 2005 for realising the goal of good governance. But, the experience so far shows that it has remained elusive on account of various reasons.

Too busy to do anything
by John Kelly
F
or the past three months, I have been carrying around in my briefcase a prescription for new eyeglasses. Do I HAVE new glasses? No.



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EDITORIALS

Statues don’t vote
Mayawati in stone is larger than life

BSP supremo Mayawati seems to think that like her party symbol, she has the right to ride rough shod over all rules of propriety and probity. She has been helped in reaching this faulty conclusion by the labour of indulgent sycophants and fawning political parties for whom her pachyderm symbol comes in handy in the coalition era. But at least the Supreme Court does not appear to be amused by her wayward ways and has been asking probing questions. First her infamous Taj corridor project had to stop in its tracks. And now, fingers are being pointed at her larger than life statues which have supplanted Lucknow and other places. Being obsessed with one’s own self is bad enough, but when you erect your likenesses spending crores from public exchequer, questions are bound to be raised. Beside statues of herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram, she has also installed some 60 statues of elephants — her election symbol — costing upwards of Rs 50 crore. What public purpose they serve is known only to the czarina of Lucknow who thinks she is always right.

For the layman, they are a classic example of utter waste of taxpayers’ money in an erratic ruler’s weakness for winning praise and influencing people when electoral diminishing returns have set in. There is no way that they come in handy in ameliorating the lot of the suffering millions of a state where development has yet to register. Also, statues are not eligible to vote. Nor do they help in making one a prime minister.

The courts are bound to ask questions about the sheer wastage of public money. The Dalits themselves can’t be too happy wallowing in misery while parks and statues dedicated to Ms Mayawati grow bigger and bigger. What a pity the country has to pay such a heavy price before she learns to get out of her megalomaniac inclinations.

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What Pranab should do
Resume reforms, boost infrastructure

The 2009-10 Union Budget, slated for July 6, will see Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee trying to reconcile demands for tax breaks made by vocal sections of society with compulsions to make increased allocations for the UPA’s popular rural empowerment schemes. This year the focus will be on providing wheat and rice to the poor at Rs 3 a kg. Since the delivery system is notorious for leakages, the need is to ensure that money meant for welfare schemes reaches the targeted beneficiaries. Some experts have suggested direct cash transfers to the poor. Farmers too have demanded direct payment of the fertilizer subsidy. This is debatable. Since food prices have remained high and these hit the poor the most, the budget should, however, boost agriculture, better management of water resources, food storage and processing to minimise waste.

As the Mumbai attacks exposed security lapses, the Finance Minister should spare enough money for strengthening internal security. Apart from terrorist incidents, frequent power cuts enraged the public. Since power is also critical to step up agricultural and industrial growth, the Finance Minister should significantly step up infrastructure spending. Highway construction, hopefully, will pick up under the new minister and funds should not be a constraint. Airports’ expansion cannot wait any further if passenger harassment and incidents of near-miss are to be avoided. Though India has not suffered from the slump as much as other countries, recession-hit export units need more help, particularly because these are labour-intensive.

Post-election, the UPA has raised public and foreign investors’ expectations about reforms. The budget should open up retail, insurance, media and civil aviation to foreign investment. The government is inclined to resume disinvestment of PSUs to raise money. The Budget may take up the issue. However, it is the complicated tax structure that requires greater attention of the Finance Minister. It needs to be simplified to avoid litigation and ensure greater tax compliance. Mr Pranab Mukherjee should roll out the Goods and Services Tax to raise government revenue and spur exports. Individual and corporate demands for tax cuts may not materialise as the minister is in a financial tight spot and who has many other sections of the people to attend to.

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Hubs for NSG
It will reach the trouble-spot faster

Tuesday’s launching of the 241-commando National Security Guard (NSG) hub in Mumbai is welcome. Significantly, three more hubs have become operational today in Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. The creation of four NSG hubs in different regions is part of the Centre’s comprehensive security package for the country. There is no doubt that these hubs will shorten the response time of the crack commandos in countering any terrorist action. The one in Mumbai is timely because 26/11 had exposed gaping loopholes in security at various levels. As the NSG headquarters are situated in Manesar (Haryana), 40 km away from New Delhi airport, the delayed arrival of their crack team in Mumbai meant loss of time to flush out the terrorists.

Highly trained and motivated, the NSG commandos did a splendid job during the Operation Black Tornado at Nariman House, Oberoi and Taj hotels, but more lives could have been saved if the commandos had managed to reach earlier. Moreover, they shot dead nine terrorists who were heavily armed with AK 47s, 9 mm Chinese pistols and high explosive hand grenades. Clearly, had the NSG not eliminated the hardcore terrorists, the latter could have prolonged the operation and claimed many more lives. Its brief was clear and challenging: save innocent lives; and keep the collateral damage to the minimum.

The creation of four NSG hubs will give a boost to the security effort. At the same time, the Centre would do well to further modernise the facilities and equipment of the commandos to help perform better. They need spacious and ultra-modern firing ranges, obstacle courses and training areas. In the backdrop of the Mumbai experience, they should be given exclusive aircraft, ballistic shields, hydraulic door-openers (to gain access to rooms without using explosives), special hi-tech equipment (for easy communication even during the noise of the battle) and bulletproof helmets. Also, they should be given ample public and governmental support for discharging their duty to the nation.

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Thought for the Day

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. — Hippocrates

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ARTICLE

Threats from Maoists
Time for multi-pronged strategy
by Gen V. P. Malik (retd)

AFTER the terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26/11, Lalgarh in West Midnapore district of West Bengal has once again brought into focus India’s continuing vulnerability in internal security. The Lalgarh police station in the Maoists’ “liberated zone” had remained besieged for eight months. One can imagine the kind of governance that exists in such areas.

Who are CPI-Maoists? What have they been up to? The CPI-Maoists are an offshoot of the Naxalite movement of the 1960s, which resurfaced as the CPI (ML), the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in the 1980s. On September 21, 2004, the CPI (ML) and the MCC merged to form the CPI-Maoists. A statement issued by them on October 14, 2004, said, “We hereby declare that the guerrilla armies of the CPI (ML), the PWG and the MCC of India have been merged into the unified People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA). Hereafter, the most urgent task of the party is to develop the unified PLGA into a full-fledged liberation army and transforming the existing guerrilla zones into base areas, thereby advancing wave upon wave towards completing the new democratic revolution.”

Since then the CPI-Maoists, indulging in politics, insurgency and terrorism, has grown alarmingly. Its moderate-to-intense activities have spread to 180 districts in 17 states. Sixty districts in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra are seriously affected; eight of them being critical. They now talk of a Red Corridor-Compact Revolutionary Zone, extending from Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati in India.

The Maoists have over 12000 underground cadres, armed with hundreds of LMGs, SLRs, AK and INSAS rifles, mortars and rocket launchers. Their most potent weapons, however, are mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which they have been using effectively to ambush police patrols and convoys, police stations, and remote railway stations. Last year, 231 security personnel were killed in the Maoist-affected states as compared to 75 in J&K and 46 in the Northeast. The Security forces-to-insurgents’ casualty ratio, which should be around 1:5 in counter-insurgency operations, was 1: 0.7. Their spread and success in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up. The failure of the armed police and paramilitary forces to inflict even a moderate level of attrition should be a cause for concern.

How do we tackle this menace? The bane of the counter-Maoist strategy is lack of lucidity in analysis and consistency in formulating and implementing a viable strategy, primarily due to an elusive consensus among political parties and between the Centre and the states. As we saw on June 22, 2009, when the Central Government, rather belatedly, declared CPI-Maoists as a terrorist organisation under Section 41 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Mr Prakash Karat promptly rejected that. Despite all their defiance and terrorist activities, he would like the Maoists to be engaged in a political dialogue. Can that work, given their agendas, violent activities and contemptuous attitude towards parliamentary democracy?

On April 13, 2006, while addressing the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security, Dr Manmohan Singh had enunciated the “walk on two legs” strategy to counter Maoist violence. Its military and development approaches were to be implemented concurrently.

The Constitution has vested policing authority in the state governments. The Central government feels incapable of affecting the quality of policing; a source of much of the problems in managing internal security. The state governments refuse to recognise the linkages between basic policing and internal security. They have neither the money nor the inclination to upgrade the quality of the state police or to raise extra forces without substantial financial help from the Centre. So, they let the internal security situation deteriorate.

The military approach cannot work unless there is better coordination between the Centre and the states, and the law enforcement agencies (state civil and armed police, central police organisations and paramilitary forces) across the country are re-invigorated, well-trained, equipped, and managed. The responsibility without resources at the state level, and the lack of accountability at the state and Central levels must be resolved soon. The state governments must implement the recommendations of the National Police Reforms Commission of 1979 and orders of the Supreme Court on the PIL filed by ex-DGP Prakash Singh in letter and spirit; not half heartedly as has been done in some states. The police and paramilitary forces tasked to combat the Maoists must be armed, equipped and trained adequately and facilitated administratively for their missions.

Some time ago, the Army had proposed that for revamping the state armed police, central police forces and paramilitary forces, trained Army personnel with 8-10 years’ service be laterally inducted into these forces. They will not only bring in some Army ethos and culture but also save state money on training. The laterally inducted men will benefit by serving longer (more saving due to the late receipt of pension) and within their own state. The Army will also benefit. It will be able to maintain a younger age profile. This point has also been recommended by the Standing Committee on Defense in the Parliament as well as the 6th Central Pay Commission. After watching the progress of the Lalgarh operation, I believe that the first step in its implementation should be to post Army instructors in as many police training establishments as possible.

The development approach is even more important than the military. The spread of Maoism is an indication of sense of desperation and alienation that is sweeping over large sections of India who have been marginalised, exploited and dispossessed in their tribal homelands, and failure of the administrative machinery at the grassroots level. What we need is a comprehensive Centre-state strategy, which should include broad-based domains of national and state policies including accelerated economic development, social justice, security and media policies. Employment, land reforms and development of road infrastructure in tribal areas must be given the highest priority. It should address dedicated and effective governance through good administration, a prompt and fair judiciary, and a law and order machinery that inspires public confidence.

Over two centuries ago, Kautilya wrote, “Of the four kinds of dangers-internal, external and combinations of internal and external — internal dangers should be got rid of first; for it is the internal troubles, like the fear from the lurking snake, that are more serious than external troubles.” Internal dangers invariably invite external elements and dangers. The internal security situation in the country, therefore, demands urgent multi-pronged actions by the Centre and the states.

The writer, a former Chief of Army Staff, is currently President, ORF Institute of Security Studies, New Delhi.

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MIDDLE

Searching for frangipani
by Amreeta Sen

The frangipani flower was very common in my childhood. Large white flowers with pink or yellow centres lay scattered on the ground while we played. Sometimes they wafted down gently on our heads as we carelessly brushed them away. They were the frangipani days, when the flowers twirled around us and we did not notice them. For they were so much a part of us that we forgot that they were there. And we grew up.

The flowers disappeared. We did not even realise that they were not there because the days were busy and filled with so much else. It did not matter that the faint scent of frangipani had gone.

And then one day I was in Bintan with my family playing about in a pool surrounded by shiny black rocks, when a gnarled old tree graciously flung down a handful of forgotten white flowers with pink centres, on us. “What beautiful flowers”, I said, lifting up a handful as they floated gently by. A memory stirred. Later I asked one of the hotel attendants the name of the fragile blooms. “Frangipani”, he replied.

So I discovered the frangipani again in Indonesia. And I also discovered that I had even left its name by the wayside.

Back in a city, reeling under one of the cruelest summers in recent years, I set out to look for the glowing white flowers. But they proved to be strangely elusive. “The trees had been cut down, they didn’t grow here anymore…they had never grown here…”were what many people told me.

My gardener searched along with me but there came a time when even he was ready to admit defeat. “Not here”, he shook his head. The crows cawed mockingly overhead.

And then one day I saw them again. A great tree with creamy blossoms arching over a defeated house, waiting to be pulled down. With joy I brought home a cutting and planted it with hope. A frangipani tree would grow again.

Broad green leaves grew thick on the scrawny branches as the city yearned for rain. The gardener watered the infant plant more tenderly than he watched over the others. I was impatient — where were those flowers, those starlike flowers of yesterday?

The garden closed in on itself as the longed for raindrops did not deign to fall. The frangipani put forth more leaves and not a single flower. The city simmered and glistened as an unnatural summer raged.

There is still no rain in my city. And the frangipani still has not blossomed. But I have brought it home once more. And the name has been remembered. There has been an effort to restore much of what had been lost….but maybe it will take more than memories to make the frangipani put forth flowers once again.

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OPED

Jubilation in Iraq on US pull-out
by Ernesto Londono

Iraqi policemen celebrate during a withdrawal of US troops in Baquba, 65 km northeast of Baghdad, on Tuesday.
Iraqi policemen celebrate during a withdrawal of US troops in Baquba, 65 km northeast of Baghdad, on Tuesday. — Reuters

Iraqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks on Monday in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation's troubled history: As of Tuesday, this is no longer America's war.

Six years and three months after the March 2003 invasion, the United States will withdraw its remaining combat troops from Iraq's cities and turn over security to Iraqi police and soldiers. While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles will largely disappear from Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq's other urban centers.

"The Army of the U.S. is out of my country," said Ibrahim Algurabi, 34, a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen now living in Arizona who attended a concert of celebration in Baghdad's Zawra Park. "People are ready for this change. There are a lot of opportunities to rebuild our country, to forget the past and think about the future."

The looming deadline has also created enormous fear and uncertainty among many Iraqis, who believe that the U.S. military pullback will open the door for insurgents to increase their attacks. Iraq remains a perilous place for the American troops stationed here, and they continue to be the top target for extremist groups. On Monday, some normally congested streets were virtually deserted after dark, as Iraqis appeared to heed warnings of impending attacks by insurgents.

But city streets were also largely empty of Humvees and U.S. troops. Those Iraqis who ventured out were in the mood to party, celebrating a moment that the Iraqi government has said represents its return to full sovereignty.

"Out, America, out!" a group of sweat-drenched young men chanted on Monday at a Baghdad park as the sun was setting. They jumped up and down to the deafening beat of drums and the wail of horns.

Across town, the virtual absence of American troops and helicopters, the cheerfulness of Iraqis in military uniform, and the cries of joy gave this scarred, bunkered capital a rare carnival-like atmosphere. Iraqi police and army cars were decked with ribbons, balloons, plastic flowers and new flags. A few Baghdadis drove under the sweltering midday sun honking horns as passengers hung out the windows waving flags and yelling euphorically.

In Basra, the sentiment was inscribed on walls with spray paint: "No No Americans." Another graffiti artist instructed: "Pull your troops from our Basra, we are its sons and want its sovereignty."

Banners were strung around Baghdad proclaiming: "On the day of sovereignty, we're lighting candles for a better future."

Anchors on state-run television wore folded Iraqi flags over their shoulders, and the station kept a graphic of a small Iraqi flag waving under the date "6/30" on the top left corner of the screen.

At the Zawra Park celebration, one of the largest in the country on Monday, revelers sang songs popular during the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s.

"To the front lines we go," they sang. "Our bullets in our magazines." Then, spraying water from bottles at the crowd, they began chanting: "America has left! Baghdad is victorious!" Iraqi policemen, many wearing body-armor vests without plates, bobbed their heads, taken by the moment.

Americans now enter a new phase in this war. As of July 1, they will have to behave as guests in a foreign land. "There was a time here where we had pretty much carte blanche to do whatever we wanted to do," Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the top U.S. spokesman in Iraq, said recently. Going forward, he added, "all missions are coordinated with the Iraqi government."

Some officials have begun saying privately that the best-case scenario would be to depart with a "modicum of dignity."

Doing so will mean contending with a resilient insurgency, volatile politics and a growing assertiveness among Iraqis whose patience with the U.S. presence long ago wore thin.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the cities a "great victory." He has not mentioned the thousands of U.S. lives lost in Iraq, or the billions of American tax dollars spent here. Between now and the August 2010 deadline by which the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is slated to end, U.S. troops will retain a significant, if less visible, presence in Baghdad as well as Mosul, in northern Iraq, and Basra, in the south. U.S. soldiers anticipate that they will have to defer to Iraqi leaders and commanders more often than not in order to conduct business in the cities.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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RTI ineffective in Haryana
by Ranbir Singh

The government of Haryana implemented the RTI Act in 2005 for realising the goal of good governance. But, the experience so far shows that it has remained elusive on account of various reasons.

The very purpose of the RTI to ensure transparency and accountability of the governance apparatus could not be realised because people are unaware about the existence of the RTI Act and hence cannot be expected to make use of it.

Another constrain is the appointing of junior officers as PIOs who are not able to get cooperation of their colleagues and support of their superiors for gathering information demanded by applicants. The junior functionaries remain accountable under the RTI without having the requisite authority for playing the role in an effective manner.

PIOs tend to give inadequate information and hide crucial facts at the instance of their superiors. They use ambiguous and ambivalent language in their responses. Consequently, in most cases, they follow the letter of the RTI Act but violate its spirit in a brazen manner.

The mandatory provisions for self-disclosure of information are rarely followed by the authorities. The needed information is either not published or is not given adequate publicity. Websites of various public authorities too are either non-existent or rarely updated. Some of the public authorities have not even cared to display the names, phone numbers and addresses of their PIOs, APIOs and the appellate authorities at public places.

Most of the PIOs do not have adequate knowledge about the Act and the rules. The main reason is the virtual absence of state training policy on the RTI Act. The capacity building of the PIOs has not got the priority it needs.

The problem has been compounded by the appointment of such officials as SPIOs and APIOs as are devold of the needed academic and professional background. Illiterate sarpanches have been appointed SPIOs for gram panchayats. Likewise, gram sachives, some of whom are not even graduates, have been made APIOs.

Adequate budgeting provisions have also not been made for the supply of information. The PIOs and APIOs are not paid any honorarium for the additional work which is regarded by them as unwanted and unnecessary. Hence, most of them do not discharge this unwanted duty in a sincere manner.

A major bottleneck in the information regime of Haryana is the inadequacy of infrastructure. The SPIOs are not provided separate office, the facilities of phone/fax/e-mail or secretarial. assistance. Most of them do not have computers and internet facilities. Some of those who have got these are not computer savvy. They cannot use these facilities.

Records are not maintained in a proper manner. In some offices indexing of records is conspicuous by its absence. Annual statements and reports are not maintained. The online maintenance of the record and its updating are an exception rather than a rule.

A major hurdle in the way of the success of the information regime is the heavy cost that information seekers are required to bear. Even the application fee is five times higher in Haryana than at the Centre. It is Rs 50 instead of Rs 10 per application. Besides, the cost for the supply of information per page or in the form of disc and floppy is so high that it dampens the enthusiasm of information seekers.

The RTI is also being misused by mischievous persons for harassing their colleagues. It is also used for blackmailing the authorities by some undesirable elements. Moreover, there are numerous instances of applicants demanding irrelevant or frivolous information.

Voices have also been raised against the composition of the State Information Commission. It has been packed by those retired bureaucrats who were in the good books of their political masters. Appointments have been made on political considerations and some undeserving persons have been adjusted at information commissions.

This has put a question mark on the impartiality, efficiency and judiciousness of the Commission despite the fact its record has so far been beyond reproach.

Another problem relates to inordinate delays in the disposal of appeals by the commission. Although the Act has fixed the time limit for the PIOs and the appellate authorities for deciding the cases, no such time frame has been made for the commission. It has created a great deal of backlong.

Be that as it may, the RTI regime in Haryana has many hurdles. But there is no need for despondency. The RTI regime is at an infant stage and teething problems are bound to be there. But at the same time requisite changes must be made in the Act in the light of the past experience. The necessary infrastructure too must be created. All-out efforts should be made for introducing e-governance in the state so that the required information is available online.

However, more important in the context of the RTI regime is the need for changing the mindset of the people at the helm of affairs. Equally important is to create awareness among the masses and undertake capacity building of the PIOs.

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Too busy to do anything
by John Kelly

For the past three months, I have been carrying around in my briefcase a prescription for new eyeglasses. Do I HAVE new glasses? No.

Why? Because I'm too busy to get them.

Because I haven't gotten new glasses, and thus see the world as if looking through a scratched and dirty aquarium, I have trouble telling which is the right earbud and which is the left earbud on my iPod, the tiny gray "R" or "L" on a white background not being very legible. I've been meaning to mark the right one with a red dot so it would be easier to insert into the proper ear before jogging on the treadmill in the morning.

But I've been too busy to find a red marker, which hasn't been a hardship because I'm too busy to jog on the treadmill.

I'm too busy to do ANYTHING.

I'm too busy to replace the stained and tattered ironing board cover over which I drape a dress shirt every morning. There's a nice new cover sitting on top of the dryer, and every time I iron a shirt I think, "I really should change this, but I'm much too busy right now."

Sitting on my desk at home is a letter that suggests I owe money for long-term disability coverage, money that I thought was being automatically deducted from my paycheck. I have been too busy to check whether this is the case.

I have been too busy to respond to a few dozen pieces of reader mail, which teeter in menacing, accusatory mounds in my office.

I have been too busy to return assorted Washington Post photo files to the photo library and which molder under the piles of reader mail. I have been too busy to clean my office.

I also have been too busy to make, one, a dentist's appointment and, two, a doctor's appointment.

I WAS too busy to make an ophthalmologist's appointment, but I made it, saw the eye doctor and got a prescription. Which I have been too busy to get filled.

Is there a fine line between being too busy and being, oh, I don't know, LAZY?

This thought worries me. Sometimes I will sit for hours in front of the television pondering it. Am I, I wonder, procrastinating? Am I not doing these things not because I'm too busy, but because I don't WANT to do them?

But then I catch myself. Who wouldn't want to go to the dentist? Who wouldn't want to call an insurance company and dicker over a vague and annoying charge? Who wouldn't want to put a red dot on an iPod earbud?

No, these are all mission-critical things that I am just too busy to do.

Or perhaps I am just good at ignoring things. It's amazing the irritating things you can live with. When we moved into our house five years ago, we vowed that the first thing we were going to do was remove the ridiculous plantings in the back yard. The previous owner had stuck flower bushes and hostas in the middle of the lawn and surrounded them with little scalloped concrete borders.

I mowed around those things for five years, until My Lovely Wife took it upon herself to yank them out. She apparently is less busy than I am, since she somehow finds the time to do all sorts of household tasks.

Part of the reason I am reluctant to leap into ambitious projects, I think, is that I was severely affected by reading "Madame Bovary" in college. You will recall that Madame Bovary's husband, Charles, is a timid doctor in a provincial French town. There is a crippled stable boy in town upon whom she urges him to operate. Despite his clubfoot, the boy, Hippolyte, is quite agile. But Charles agrees to perform the procedure. The leg gets infected and has to be amputated.

I think of that every time My Lovely Wife asks me to do a chore.

I recently asked her to help me remember things I've been meaning to do that I've been too busy to get to.

She said: "Is that because you actually want to do them or because you're writing a column on how you've been too busy do them?"

Er....

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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