I Am Legend

The movie starts off good but the ending is not fun at all. The book on which it is based has a much better ending. I rate it 6/10.

I am Legend is an interesting movie.

Its first half, where Will Smith seems like the only human left, is great. The zombie-like infected humans are a bit odd and not too interesting. But the ending of the movie sucks. What was that about God there? That part reminded me of the movie Signs. A much better ending would have been like that of the book where a perspective change makes him realize that he’s the monster in the new world.

I would rate the movie 6/10.

Pakistan Election Aftermath

Musharraf’s allies lose big in Pakistan but the Bush administration is still pro-Musharraf. A coalition government of PPP and PML-N is in the offing.

The elections are done and the results are out. Since I love maps, here is a map of the results by constituency, courtesy of Dawn. You can click on it for a larger version.

Map of Pakistan election results

And here are the results by party:

Party National Assembly Punjab Assembly Sindh Assembly NWFP Assembly Balochistan Assembly
PPP 89 76 64 17 7
PML-N 66 102 4 5 0
PML-Q 42 61 9 6 17
MQM 19 0 38 0 0
ANP 10 0 2 29 1
MMA 6 2 0 8 6
PML-F 4 2 5 0 0
PPP-S 1 0 0 5 0
BNP-A 1 0 0 0 5
Independents 28 33 6 6 11

The previous government in the center and in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan was by PML-Q which supports Pervez Musharraf and they lost badly. In fact, most of their prominent leaders, like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Sheikh Rashid, etc., lost.

Also, the religio-political alliance MMA lost to the secular Pashtun Nationalist ANP in NWFP. Both ANP and JUI, the component of MMA strong in NWFP, have traditionally been powerful in the NWFP. In the last elections in 2002, ANP was defeated roundly by the MMA and this time the reverse happened.

In my opinion, the unpopularity of President Musharraf was one reason for the dismal performance of PML-Q. According to the IRI survey in January,

  • 57% say that Musharraf’s performance has lowered their opinion of the army.
  • 72% are dissatisfied with Musharraf’s job performance.
  • 75% want Musharraf to resign from the office of President immediately.
  • Only 8% think Musharraf is the best leader to solve Pakistan’s problems.
  • Musharraf’s favorability rating is 16%.
  • 62% will feel much better and 17% somewhat better about the future of Pakistan if Musharraf were to resign.

Let’s also look at the Terror Free Tomorrow survey also conducted in January.

  • Only 10% strongly approve Musharraf’s job performance and 20% somewhat approve while 18% somewhat disapprove and 50% strongly disapprove.
  • Musharraf’s favorability rating is 30%.
  • 47% strongly agree that Musharraf should resign immediately while 23% somewhat agree.
  • Only 16.5% think Musharraf is the best leader for Pakistan. When poll respondents were asked for a second choice of leader, only 3% chose Musharraf.

PPP and PML-N have agreed to form a government together. This should make for a stable government in that it won’t be hostage to small parties and independents. On the other hand, the two largest parties would naturally be each other’s competitors and have quite different priorities which might result in the coalition breaking down.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) brokered an agreement on Thursday to form governments at the Centre and the provincial levels and to sort out the modalities for the reinstatement of judiciary in parliament.

“We have decided to work together and move together for the future of the democracy in the country and to strengthen parliament,” said Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif while addressing a joint press conference here on Thursday evening at the Zardari House after holding two-hour-long talks.

[…] The breakthrough reached by the two major political forces of the country, who jointly share 70 per cent mandate of the people of Pakistan gained through the elections, was also important in the sense that Asif Ali Zardari showed flexibility, demonstrating his willingness to join hands with the PML-N for the reinstatement of the deposed judges.

The two leaders, who appeared jubilant and confident during the press conference, also announced that there would be no cooperation with the pro-Musharraf parties. “There is no pro-Musharraf group or political force in the country,” said Asif Ali Zardari when asked whether he was ready to extend cooperation to the pro-Musharraf political parties.

It was also agreed that parliament would decide whether it was ready to work with the president or not.

[… Nawaz Sharif] said both the parties would work together to form the governments and implement the Charter of Democracy in letter and spirit. “We accept the mandate of the PPP with an open heart and wish that the PPP completes its five-year term. We will wage a joint struggle for the restoration of judiciary and the Charter of Democracy will also be followed,” Nawaz maintained.

When asked about the modalities for the formation of the government, Zardari said that everything could not be discussed in a two-hour meeting and they would continue to meet to sort out all the hiccups in this regard.

When asked if he would move away from the commitment if the United States exerted pressure on the formation of government, Zardari replied that he had not submitted to the pressure that was put on him during eight years of jail, then how he could yield to the pressure exerted upon him from any corner.

To a query, Zardari said that he was thankful to Mian Nawaz Sharif who agreed that the very first order the government would pass would be concerning a request to the United Nations to help the Pakistan government to uncover the hands behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. “It will be the top priority of the next government,” he added.

[…] When Asif Ali Zardari was asked if both the parties intended to take the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) into the fold of the government of national consensus, he said, “We are looking for a broader government and there are reservations on the MQM. But we want to move ahead for the better future of the democracy in the country and we even want to talk to all those political forces whether they are in parliament or outside the parliament.”

Meanwhile, the PML-N party has designated Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif as its parliamentary leaders in the center and Punjab respectively. Since both of them were barred from election earlier, they will have to get elected in the bye-elections.

PML-N does not have a majority in the Punjab assembly but it is now wooing PML-Q members who broke away in 2002 to come back.

Since ANP is the largest party in NWFP, they would also be part of the coalition.

And the Bush administration seems to be as stupid as ever.

The Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and U.S. officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid.

U.S. officials, from President Bush on down, said this week that they think Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally, should continue to play a role, despite his party’s rout in parliamentary elections Monday and his unpopularity in the volatile, nuclear-armed nation.

The U.S. is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year, Western diplomats and U.S. officials said Wednesday. If reinstated, the jurists likely would try to remove Musharraf from office.

Bush’s policy of hanging on to Musharraf has caused friction between the White House and the State Department, with some career diplomats and other specialists arguing that the administration is trying to buck the political tides in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

Zardari’s response can be seen here.

In the post-election government formation phase, Asif Ali Zardari’s first love continues to be the PML-N though both the presidential camp and Washington are pressurising him to go for an otherwise awkward coalition with the PML-Q and other pro-Musharraf forces.

Background interviews reveal that Asif Ali Zardari has been offered governments at the Centre and in at least three of the four provinces if he distances himself from the Nawaz League. However, he told those who approached him that he did not consider the Q-League a political entity. Despite reservations of some of the PPP leaders from the Punjab against the N-League in the central executive committee of the party that met here in Islamabad on Wednesday, Zardari endorsed the idea of making a coalition government with the political parties like the PML-N, ANP, etc. Asif Ali Zardari while talking to this correspondent on Wednesday night also expressed his confidence that the two top-most popular parties – PPP and PML-N – would sort out the issues to make a workable coalition, both at the Centre and in the provinces.

Although, Zardari did not talk of Washington’s pressures, sources in the party confirmed that the Americans had brought tremendous pressure on the PPP co-chairperson to make a coalition government with the likes of the PML-Q and MQM but not with the PML-N.

Alienating the major political parties in Pakistan is not something that the US should strive for right now.

Pakistan Elections

Pakistan is having elections today. Violence has taken its toll though in dampening any enthusiasm. There are also worries about rigging.

It’s February 18 in Pakistan now which means elections to the National and Provincial assemblies are happening today.

The last year or two have not been kind to Pakistan and more than the election results, there are worries of bombings like this one on Saturday in Parachinar (Kurram Agency, FATA).

A bomb explosion rocked a rally organised by the People’s Party here on Saturday, killing 40 people and bringing the election campaign to an unpropitious end.

The bomb, planted in a car parked near the election office of a PPP-backed candidate, went off even as a procession terminated at the place. Syed Riaz Hussain, the candidate, escaped unhurt.

Although the exact nature of the blast could not be ascertained, Political Agent Syed Zaheerul Islam told Dawn that it was a suicide attack.

He put the death toll at 37 and the number of the injured at 93.

Doctors said that 110 wounded people, 50 of them critical, had been brought to the town’s main hospital. Seven shops and 10 vehicles were damaged.

The explosion sparked riots in the town and a number of abandoned houses and shops were torched. Troops opened fire to quell the disturbances, injuring several people.

Polling opens at 8am (0300 GMT) and closes at 5pm (1200 GMT).

There are also fears of rigging in favor of the Musharraf-backed PML-Q, headed by the Chaudhries of Gujrat.

A spokesperson for Mrs Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is leading in opinion polls, said the vote was “not going to be a free and fair election”.

The party accused the pro-Musharraf PML-Q of plotting to stuff ballot boxes.

Mrs Bhutto’s former rival, Nawaz Sharif, whose party is also ahead of Mr Musharraf’s supporters in polls, said a “massive rigging plan” had “been implemented”.

Mrs Bhutto’s widower and successor as party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, said in an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper that his party would have “no choice but to take to the streets” if the elections were rigged.

Two opinion polls, by International Republican Institute and Terror Free Tomorrow, conducted January 19-29 have been released. Here are their results for the different political parties.

Party Terror Free Tomorrow International Republican Institute
PPP 36.7% 50%
PML-N 25.3% 22%
PML-Q 12.0% 14%

As for MMA, or rather JUI-F as Jamaat-e-Islami is boycotting the elections, it is not expected to do well even in the NWFP.

In my opinion, the Terror Free Tomorrow poll is closer to the truth for the PPP share. Of course, in a first-past-the-post system, it is difficult to guess the number of seats each party would win from such country-wide opinion polls. Cynic that I am, I believe Musharraf is fighting for his political life and hence he (or his PML-Q surrogates) would not hesitate a bit in rigging the elections. The rigging need not be massive; only as much as is needed to result in a hung parliament and some large number of seats for PML-Q.

As to who to vote for, I am not in Pakistan, so I cannot vote. If Benazir Bhutto hadn’t been assassinated, I would have endorsed her PPP as the party to vote for. The reason is simple: PPP is the largest and really the only party with support all over Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto was a leader of stature. Yes, I lived through her earlier stints in power and am familiar with the large scale corruption and lack of any achievements of her government. But I don’t consider Pakistani politicians to be angels; rather the task of the voter is to choose the lesser evil and Bhutto’s party seemed like the best bet (among political parties only, of course) for a democratic Pakistan. Unfortunately, the way the PPP has handled Benazir’s succession has put me off. Appointing a 19 year old Bilawal as the boy king and then appointing Asif Zardari as his regent reminds me a lot more of absolute monarchy than of democracy. Plus voting for a party led by Asif Zardari is not something I can do.

Among the other major parties taking part in the election, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is the only one that has made an issue of the large scale sacking of higher court judges done by Musharraf last November. I believe that to be worthy cause and so I recommend that everyone vote for the symbol “Lion” of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group.

And finally here’s some fun at the expense of Pervez Musharraf when Jemima Khan interviewed him recently.

I’m also disappointed, I tell him. The corrupt got off scot-free. And now it looks as though he will shortly be doing business with the very same politicians he wanted to get rid of.

Disarmingly he agrees – something he does a lot of. And I sense it’s genuine rather than appeasement. He argues that he had no other choice but to deal with the existing leaders of the main parties. This is a little disingenuous. The national reconciliation ordinance which he passed in October 2007 effectively guaranteed lifelong immunity from prosecution to corrupt politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, her husband Zardari and others, and enabled her to return to Pakistan to contest elections. He asks if he is being recorded. I say yes. He hesitates, then answers tellingly, “Yes, I agree with you [that charges should not have been dropped]. But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country.”

I press him further. Surely even in spite of pressure from outside, given his feelings about the effects of corruption on Pakistani politics, those charges should never have been dropped. There should have been a proper judicial process.

I put this to him. “No,” he replies, “because they would have all joined and then I would have been out.” At this point he looks a bit wild eyed. He quickly adds that, of course, being in power has never been his ultimate goal. How much easier it would be, he adds wistfully and a touch unconvincingly, if he’d just resigned to play golf.

[…] Later when I point out that his old opponent Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), has vowed that if elected he will reinstate the judges who were unconstitutionally deposed by Musharraf, he retorts incredulously, “It is not a dictatorship here! How can you reinstate judges if you become prime minister? How?” This rhetorical question comes from a man who on 3 November dismissed 60 per cent of the superior court judges, including three chief justices, in anticipation of their ruling against his re-election as President while still head of the army. Many remain under house arrest.

[…] When I ask about the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is still under house arrest, he denounces him as “the scum of the earth – a third-rate man – a corrupt man”. And the lawyers’ movement? The lawyers have vowed to continue protesting on the streets and boycotting the courts until the deposed judges are reinstated and the constitution is restored to its pre-3 November status. “With hindsight,” he replies solemnly, “it was my personal error that I allowed them to go and express their views in the street… We should have controlled them in the beginning before it got out of control.”

And so it is a fight only for Musharraf’s kursi, his staying in power for himself, just like it has been since that day in October 1999 when Musharraf first seized power in a coup.

When Victims Become Killers

This is an academic book looking in detail at the history of Rwanda and its neighbors and how that led to the 1994 genocide. Despite being difficult to read due to dry writing, I recommend it highly.

When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda by Mahmood Mamdani was recommended to me by Sepoy of Chapati Mystery.

It took me forever to finish this book because it is a difficult read. The density of information is good, but there’s also the dry, academic style of writing.

Mamdani covers the big picture of Rwandan history and how that led to the 1994 genocide. His central thesis is that Hutu and Tutsi identities are basically political identities forged over the years before, during and after colonialism. Mamdani also discusses the history of the whole region (Uganda and Congo etc.) and how that affected events in Rwanda.

Overall, it is a good companion to We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch which focuses on the genocide itself.

Alien

Alien is a good science fiction/horror movie from when I was growing up. It was fun to watch it again.

With Netflix, it is sometimes fun to watch old movies that you might have seen but barely remember. And so I got Alien, the science fiction/horror flick from the 1980s.

It’s a good movie and I enjoyed watching it since I couldn’t recall much of the plot.

I rate it 7/10.

Super Tuesday

Today is Super Tuesday with lots of primaries and caucuses. We urge everyone to vote for Barack Obama.

Today is Super Tuesday with lots of primaries and caucuses happening. If you live in any of the following states,

Primaries:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. California
  5. Connecticut
  6. Delaware
  7. Georgia
  8. Illinois
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Minnesota
  11. Missouri
  12. New Jersey
  13. New Mexico (Democrats only)
  14. New York
  15. North Dakota
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Tennessee
  18. Utah

Caucuses:

  1. Alaska
  2. Colorado
  3. Idaho (Democrats only)
  4. Kansas (Democrats only)
  5. Montana (Republican only)
  6. West Virginia (Republican only)

go out and vote for Obama.

Georgia is also voting today and we are supporting Senator Obama.

Since the opinion polls on the Democratic side show a close race and the delegates are awarded to candidates proportionately, I expect Senators Clinton and Obama to divide the delegates almost equally. Hence the Democratic nomination battle will go on.

On the Republican side, Huckabee should be able to do well here in the South. McCain is expected to do better overall since he has a huge poll advantage over Romney. Also a number of the Republican contests are winner-take-all which is expected to help Senator McCain.

Let’s go over the candidates still in the field.

Barack Obama is a great orator. I admit sometimes his poetic flourishes leave me high and dry but at other times he’s really good, for example, his speech at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. As for Obama being all talk and no substance, that’s not true at all. Read Hilzoy and Katherine as they write better about their support for Obama than I can and I agree completely with them. I also admit that I like wowing my Pakistani friends with Obama’s full name: Barack Hussein Obama.

Hillary Clinton is an okay candidate and she’s definitely much better than the Republicans. However, her concept of executive power is closer to Bush than I am comfortable with. Plus she has never really explained her Iraq war vote and I am all for punishing politicians for wrong votes. She has also surrounded herself with the hawkish elements of the Democratic foreign policy experts, all of whom were dead wrong about Iraq. As for her argument about experience, that’s just wrong. Let’s face it, if we wanted to vote for an experienced candidate, we would have voted for Biden or Dodd. The three Democratic frontrunners all don’t have much experience.

John McCain wants to stay in Iraq till hell freezes over and I ask is he senile? McCain also thinks that generals decide policy. May be as President, McCain will be working under General Petraeus. McCain is for war and for surges. All of that repels me a lot. On the other hand, McCain is the only Republican against torture and for immigration.

Mitt Romney was a moderate governor of Massachusetts. Then he saw an opportunity to be a real conservative for the Republican Presidential nomination. Now nobody knows what Romney stands for. My guess is if Romney becomes President (very unlikely), he’ll rule like the technocrat that he was in Massachusetts, but I might be wrong.

Mike Huckabee sounds like an average, decent guy. You can at least see some humanity in him. And his populist talk, though not backed up with any policy plans, is good too. But then he wants to bring the constitution in accord with the laws of God. And Huckabee is really ignorant too, with no policy shop in his campaign and no knowledge of international affairs at all.

Ron Paul is batshit crazy. He might be right about Iraq, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, but he sees conspiracy theories (Trilateral commission, NAFTA superhighway, etc, etc) everywhere. And then there are the racist remarks in his newsletters in the 1990s. According to Reason, Paul didn’t write those newsletters. But his associates that did are still with him even now and Paul raised a lot of funds on the basis of these newsletters which went under his name. While in the debates Ron Paul has talked about the Iraq war and the constitution, he has campaigned a lot more like a conservative, focused on immigration, abortion, etc. See his anti-immigrant ad for example.

Go vote for Barack Obama!

Pursuit of Happyness

A good movie about a father and a son who survive in homeless shelters while the father is going through a stockbroker internship.

The Pursuit of Happyness is based on the real life story of Chris Gardner who worked as a medical technology salesman, but decides to take up an unpaid internship as a stockbroker.

The movie is good and Will Smith acts well as Chris Gardner.

I rate it 7/10.