Friday, 27 November 2009

Come Back, Peter Costello, All Is Forgiven

One hardly knows who is doing what to whom in the Liberal Party these days. I like many of the things Malcolm Turnbull stands for (e.g., ETS, the Republic), but I suspect his autocratic and idiosyncratic style will turn off voters just as it's turning off many of his party colleagues. I wouldn't trust either Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott with ten cents, the former because he comes across as somewhat shifty (on TV at least), the latter because he's a religious nut.

I must say I'm fairly satisfied with Kevin Rudd at the moment, although I question his resolve against illegal immigration (Howard was actually much better there) and I have increasing misgivings about his and Wayne Swan's commitment to bringing the budget back into surplus. I don't think these guys really get it on this fundamental economic principle.

So while I don't believe Australia is in a leadership crisis yet, it would be good for the Liberals to get their house in order. It's too late for 2010, because the psephologists tell us the swing to Labor in 2007 was a two-election swing, meaning that 2013 is the earliest the Liberals can hope to make it back. But the earlier they start, the better.

So who do I think is the best leader for the Liberals?

Peter Costello.

I think Peter Costello's journey to the very top has been a series of missed opportunities. He'd been repeatedly stiffed by John Howard who failed (we're told) to honour his promise to stand aside at some stage, and he (Costello) announced his retirement just when things were getting interesting. But who knows, he could yet be persuaded to come out of retirement and take charge.

He's one guy who understands the value of a surplus budget. Heck, he's the only guy in recent history who delivered one. And he took a strong stand in favour of cultural integration as opposed to weak-kneed laissez-faire multiculturalism. I'd vote for him, and definitely if the Labor jokers don't demonstrate serious intentions of fixing the budget soon.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

When Looks Improve With Age

I saw a photo of (Lotus Notes creator and now Microsoft's Chief Software Architect) Ray Ozzie recently, and was struck by how smart and distinguished he looked.

A quick search for other photos of Ozzie turned up this shocker from 1974.

Yes, I know they all looked like that in 1974, but it was still quite a jolt to see.

This reminded me of that other famous person who was known for growing more handsome and distinguished as the years went by - Gianni Agnelli of Fiat.

Here's the young Agnelli...

And the same man after a few decades had worked their magic.

I guess there are advantages to starting off ugly. Things can only go in one direction thereafter ;-).

Monday, 16 November 2009

Recipe for Protein Potato Mash

Protein Potato Mash

Mashed potatoes taste great, but they're very starchy, and in these health-conscious times, starch is a no-no ("No starch for me," said Tom stiffly). Here's a recipe to take some of the guilt off a deliciously salty mashed potato dish.

3-4 Desiree potatoes (the kind you can cook with the skin)
1 tin Cannelini beans (you can use any bean or combination of beans instead)
1 cup hommus (chickpea paste)
1 small cup of green peas
A handful of pine nuts

3 cloves of garlic
1 chilli pepper (Jalapeno)
1 piece of ginger (same overall size as the garlic)

Cooking oil (grapeseed oil is best)

Grind the chilli-garlic-ginger mixture into a paste.

Chop and steam the potatoes in the microwave for 10-15 minutes using a steaming container until well-cooked.

Steam the green peas in the microwave for 3-4 minutes using a steaming container.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons of grapeseed oil, pop mustard seeds into it and wait till they start to crackle.
Add pine nuts and chill-garlic-ginger paste and saute for a few minutes till pine nuts turn light brown. Add the steamed potatoes and stir for a while. Drain the cannelini beans and add to the mix, stirring constantly.
The potatoes and beans should start to get mashed. Add the hommus and keep stirring. Add about a tablespoonful of salt little by little, taking care to ensure that the amount is just right for your taste.
I prefer to let the mixture get somewhat dry and powdery before adding the green peas, but you could add them while the mixture is still "wet" and stop after stirring them in.

Serves 2-4. Will serve as a standalone dish or stand in for a daal.

Oh, and hommus tends to be a wee bit bitter, so I also added a tablespoonful of maple syrup at the end without telling anyone ;-). I know, it's whatever meets my eye...

Recipe for Mushroom Soya Pasta Noodles

Mushroom Soya Pasta Noodles (Satay flavour)

I'm forced to make this combination dish because no one at home likes mushrooms or soya nuggets, and only some like noodles or pasta. So if I'm going to make a dish that most or all others will avoid, I may as well use every hated ingredient at one go and enjoy the dish all by myself!

1 tin of whole champignons (mushrooms)
1 cup of soya nuggets (e.g., Nutrela/Nutri Nuggets or some such)
1 cup of pasta shells
1 packet of noodles (e.g., Maggi)
1 small cup of green peas
5-6 cloves of garlic
1-2 chilli peppers (preferably Jalapeno)
Red chilli powder
1 bottle of Satay sauce
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil (Grapeseed oil)

Boil the soya nuggets with a spoonful of salt and a spoonful of red chilli powder for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Boil the pasta with a spoonful of salt and a teaspoonful of oil for about 15 minutes. Drain under cold water for a couple of minutes and set aside.

Boil the noodles without tastemaker in 1 cup of water for about 10 minutes until no longer "wet", and set aside.

Steam the green peas in the microwave for 3-4 minutes using a steaming container and set aside.

Grind garlic and chilli peppers into a paste.
Heat grapeseed oil, pop mustard seeds into it and wait till they start to crackle.
Add garlic-chilli paste and saute for a couple of minutes.

Add champignons and stir for a while, allowing mushrooms to cook.

Add soya nuggets, pasta and noodles one after the other, stirring all the while.

Flavouring options:

Add Satay sauce to the mix, stir well for a few minutes, then serve. Serves 2-4. Satay sauce is a bit overpowering in its flavour, so although the result is quite delicious, the individual character of the ingredients is sadly suppressed. As a milder alternative to Satay sauce, add any masala or herb powder, with salt as required. In the latter case, some chopped spring onions (with stems) or coriander will provide a colourful garnish.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Indian Blind Spot towards Pakistan

I realised today that I have been guilty of the same blind spot towards Pakistan as so many other Indians.
For all their sophistication, Indian elites continue to understand Pakistan primarily with reference to the events of 1947. Anything else is incidental, not essential. The established Indian paradigms for explaining Pakistan, its actions and its institutions, its state and society, have not undergone any significant shift since the Partition. The tropes remain the same: religion and elite manipulation explain everything. It is as if the pre-Partition politics of the Muslim League continues to be the politics of Pakistan—with slight non-essential variations. More than 60 years on, the factors may be different but little else has changed.

That quote by Pakistani journalist Khurram Hussain sums it up accurately. He goes on to say
This view is deeply flawed. It reflects a serious confusion about the founding event of contemporary Pakistani society. The Partition has a mesmerising quality that blinds the mind, a kind of notional heft that far outweighs its real significance to modern South Asian politics. The concerns of the state of Pakistan, the anxieties of its society, and the analytic frames of its intellectual and media elites have as their primary reference not 1947 but the traumatic vivisection of the country in 1971 (emphasis mine). Indians have naturally focused on their own vivisection, their own dismemberment; but for Pakistan, they have focused on the wrong date. This mix-up has important consequences.

I would encourage as many people as possible to read this article, especially Indians. It is an eye-opener, because Indians typically do not realise how traumatic the 1971 war must have been to Pakistan. India's own defeat at the hands of China in 1962 is seared into the collective consciousness of more than one generation of Indians and is responsible for a deep and abiding distrust of China throughout the country. And this is even without an event as traumatic as the vivisection of the country. Indeed, contemporary commentary on the Indo-China border war now pins the blame on Indian foreign minister Krishna Menon's aggressive "Forward Policy" which had the effect of provoking China without actually having the military might to back up that aggressiveness. To the credit of the Chinese, they withdrew to their pre-conflict positions after making their point.

If Indians can be permanently scarred by such a relatively minor humiliation, one can imagine how much deeper the psychological wounds must be for Pakistanis, who lost half their territory (in terms of population). Indians have been naively oblivious to the impact of the 1971 war on their neighbours, and hence the entire approach to Pakistan has been one of righteous indignation - a country under attack from a "state sponsor of terror". But this is a great example of the saying, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter." Pakistan sees itself as the wronged party. India is an existential threat to that country because it has dismembered it once before. Never mind that India isn't interested in doing it a second time. What matters is that Pakistanis believe it can happen again.

Looking at how difficult it is for Indians to trust China after 1962, one can readily understand that Pakistanis would be extremely unwilling to trust India after 1971.

And so I have a curious idea for a solution to the eternal India-Pakistan conflict. I don't believe the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute will necessarily solve the fundamental issue, because Pakistan needs something stronger to assuage its hurt. Pakistan will have to wrest Kashmir from India in a war that it wins. That is the only way 1971 can be avenged.

My idea is that the Indian government should apologise (yes, apologise) to Pakistan for breaking up the country in 1971. It has nothing to do with right and wrong and everything to do with emotion and moving forward. If the two countries are to move past the distrust, then Pakistanis must be made to feel India's genuine lack of interest in further harming their country. It would be better still if the leaders of India and Pakistan stood on a stage at the Wagah border and alternately apologised to each other's people for a list of perceived wrongs. That would clear the air and make other problems easier to solve, such as Kashmir.

The prize is a South Asian Federation that will be bigger and potentially greater than China.

Cool Slogan for Troubled Economic Times

I thought of a slogan along the lines of "Make Love, Not War":

Exploit Technology, Not People

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Recipe for Bread Upma

Wondering what to do about that slightly older loaf of bread once you've bought a fresh one? Too much of a waste to throw away, yet a bit dodgy to consume...

Try a bread upma snack. This is another of those offbeat, male-only recipes handed down from father to son :-).

8 slices of bread (you do use multigrain, don't you? That's the best from both a health and flavour perspective)
4 medium sized red (Spanish) onions
1 red hot chilli pepper (preferably Jalapeno, my favourite - slurp!)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Any cholesterol-absorbing butter alternative
Cooking oil (grapeseed oil handles heat much better than olive oil, I'm told)
Chopped coriander

Process (two parallel processes, in fact):

Process 1:
Chop the chilli and onions. The chilli pieces should be really fine. We want a pervasive spicy taste, not islands of dynamite.
Heat a couple of tablespoonfuls of cooking oil, pop the mustard seeds into it and wait till they start to crackle. Add the chopped chilli and saute for a while, then add the chopped onions and stir until well-fried.
Add one or two teaspoons of salt depending on preference.

Process 2:
Toast the slices of bread in a regular toaster until nice and brown (that's to ensure that any nasty effects of the mild staleness are burned away).
Apply small amounts of the butter substitute to soften each slice, then cut the slice into 16 square pieces (3 cuts in each direction).

Merge process:
Add the toasted, "buttered" bread pieces to the fried onion/chilli combine and stir well for a few minutes.
Add chopped coriander, turn off heat and continue to stir for a couple of minutes.
Serve hot.

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite :-).

I would have included a photograph because it looks really yummy, but then it was all gone before I could get my camera!