Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cash and Ash force Icelanders to turn to humor

 One beautiful article from AFP - Original article here

Economic implosion, then volcanic explosion: not since the Viking raiders has Iceland been associated with so much tumult in Europe.

There are only 317,000 people on this barren north-Atlantic island and until recently, with the exception of eccentric pop singer Bjork, they'd barely caught the outside world's attention.

But now Iceland is famous -- infamous, even.

The Eyjafjoell volcano on the south coast may have caused relatively little damage here since erupting last week. Only 700 people, mostly farmers, are affected and no one has been killed.

Yet in Europe, ash from the hard-to-pronounce volcano has inflicted spectacular disruption, shutting down the continent's air travel network and stranding passengers around the globe.

The ash cloud is the second storm from this once quiet corner in the near past.

During the 2008 world economic crisis the country's high-flying main banks collapsed, taking with them the savings of 340,000 people in Britain and the Netherlands and forcing Iceland, until then among the world's wealthiest nations, to seek an IMF bailout.

When the British and Dutch governments demanded 3.9 billion dollars compensation, furious voters in Iceland used a referendum to tell their powerful neighbors to get lost unless they came back with a fairer deal.

A joke gleefully repeated since the volcano erupted relates that Britain "wanted cash, but because the Icelandic alphabet contains no letter C, they got only ash."

Another quip goes like this: "When Iceland's economy died, its final wish was that its ashes would be spread across Europe."

That humor is one way Icelanders are dealing with the shock of turmoil in their formerly stable country -- and with finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of being cast as villains abroad.

One joke perfectly catches the absurdity of tiny Iceland, which doesn't even have a standing army, going out to bully the world.

"You mess with Iceland?" goes the gag, in full Mafioso mode: "We shut down all your airports."

The laughter masks soul-searching about how Iceland got into such a mess and about who should be held responsible.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Australia - India Student Attacks - Real Story behind it all

Allegations in the Indian media over the attacks on a section of Indian students by Australian origin people have been flying thick and fast over the last 6-8 months. Racist overtures linked to the attacks have taken the sheen off the Australian higher education sector which at least until the episodes started falling out of the closet was the 3rd largest revenue earner for the economy Down Under.

However a recent Times of India story reveals what could possibly be the real underlying story. An intricate mix of wrong policies by the Australian government in the education sector, the desire of students from 3 Indian states seeking PR (permanent residency) linked El-dorado abroad, the sinister nexus between private vocational course institutions in Australia and agents masquerading as educational providers and luring students, a weak visa approval system - all combining to create the disaster portrayed by the media.

Here are some eye opening facts (excerpts from the ToI article)
  1. To focus solely on race, as the Indian media had done, detracted attention from the more important factors that caused the crisis in the first place. 
  2. The most significant factor by far was the decision taken by the previous John Howard government to open up the vocational education sector to private groups and link it with migration. This was the government's logic: invite young people to study in the country in order to boost earnings from education; persuade them to develop vocational skills needed to grease the wheels of the economy; give them permission to do part-time work even while they took their courses; above all, dangle before them the carrot of PR status two years after their arrival, provided they acquired a certain number of points in their studies. 
  3. The policy was disastrous on many counts. Individuals with no experience in the educational field, including a shop assistant from Kerala, were allowed to open colleges. The government did not bother to find out how they functioned.
  4. The handiwork of Indian agents — nearly 1,700 at the last count — whose job was to lure prospective applicants with tall promises. In return for an investment of Rs 12-15 lakh, Most of the agents' 'victims' came from three states — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and, above all, Punjab. The agent's commission ran-ged between 15-20% of the overall expenditure. 
  5. Aiding, if not quite abetting, the agent was Australia's lax visa regime. The visa-seeker had to furnish proof that he had enough money in the bank to pay for the travel, tuition fees and lodging and boarding costs for two years. This was easily done by obtaining a loan for 3 months to be deposited in a savings account.
  6. Last but not least, the lack of a support system on arrival for the student led him to be associated with students who had arrived just like him - work long hours part time for  lower wages than local populace, get paid in cash making him/her a target of local anti-social youth.

Getting an idea how complex the root of a problem really is. And to assume that racism is the only thing that is true about all these attacks as our media chose to portray. As people who consume news, we should be more discerning.