Sunday 25 February 2024

Pro-Choice or Pro-Life: Where do the US Presidential Candidates stand?


Abortion has always been a hot topic in US presidential elections and in the one coming up, it’s even more relevant after June 24, 2022, when the US Supreme Court (in the case of Dobbs) overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling which had guaranteed women the right to an abortion up until the point of foetal viability (about 24 weeks). After the Dobbs decision, 14 states, including most of the South, have enacted near-total bans from the moment of conception. Georgia has banned abortion after six weeks, which is before most women know they are pregnant.

So where do each of the Presidential candidates stand on abortion?

Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, a Democrat and a devout Catholic, supports access to abortion and has called on Congress to codify protections for the right to abortion that were guaranteed by Roe. He has said he would veto any legislation that would ban abortions federally.

Donald Trump

It was President Trump who had appointed three conservative Supreme Court justices, all of whom helped strike down Roe in a 5-4 vote in Dobbs. However, Trump’s stand on abortion seems to be opportunistic. In early 2023 at a Faith & Freedom convention, Trump said there should be some role for the federal government on the abortion issue but most other times has remained skeptical of a federal ban, most recently saying it is "probably better" to leave it to the states.

Trump’s abortion ban skepticism has often times annoyed pro-lifers. De Santis thinks Trump is  “not pro-life” and has said that the former president “flip-flipped” on the issue of abortion.

Most recently, there have been reports that the ex-president, plans to rebrand as a “moderate” on reproductive rights after repeated GOP losses on the issue.

Ron DeSantis

DeSantis has made it clear that he plans to be a "pro-life president." Last April DeSantis signed into law a bill approved by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

DeSantis has not said if he would support a national abortion ban. However, last September, during the course of a Republican presidential debate, in response to q question from Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, DeSantis said that he would sign a “15-week limit” on abortion as president.

Mike Pence

Just like Trump, Former Vice President Mike Pence brags about how he helped in the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade with the appointment of three conservative justices while he was in office.

Pence supports exceptions for abortion access in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of a mother, but not with nonviable pregnancies. He’s called on the rest of the 2024 field to support a 15-week federal abortion ban, at minimum. Pence is the only major candidate who supports a federal ban on abortion at six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant. He has advocated pulling from the market a widely used abortion pill that has a better safety record than penicillin and Viagra.

Nikki Haley

The only female Republican candidate has called for a national "consensus" and to stop "dehumanizing" the issue.  Haley has said that passing a federal abortion ban would be highly unlikely without more Republicans in Congress. But, she has also said she would "absolutely" sign a 15-week federal abortion ban into law.

During her time in the state House of Representatives from 2004 to 2010, Haley backed two “right to life” bills that would have significantly limited abortion access statewide, although neither bill ultimately became law.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy has said he is not in favor of a federal abortion ban. However, has said he is "unapologetically pro-life" and believes that "most Americans share pro-life instincts" too. Vivek prefers to leave regulation of abortion up to the states.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Did Darius Actually Flee From Alexander at Gaugemela?

I recently watched Netflix’s series on Alexander the Great – Alexander: The Making Of A God. A well-made series, I ended up binge-watching it and came away with one big question. Before I tell you about my big question, here’s a brief summary of NetFlix’s Alexander: The Making Of A God:

  • Alexander’s father Philip had sidelined Alexander’s mother and had taken a much younger wife. Alexander is estranged from his father. I read elsewhere that this happened because of a petty quarrel at his father’s wedding party.
  • Alexander’s mother imbued in him a belief that he was the son of Zeus
  • Alexander was bisexual – we see a young Alexander having sex with his friend Hephaisteon, who would go on to become one of his generals.
  • Alexxander was a witness to the murder of his father (Philip) by one of the guards. Netflix even creates a whiff of suspicion that Alexander may have had a role in Philip’s murder.
  • Darius becomes the Emperor of Persia roughly around the time Alexander becomes the King of Macedon. Thus both men are new to the throne. Darius is not really of royal lineage and acquires legitimacy because his chief queen Statira is of royal lineage.
  • Darius and the Persians have only contempt for Alexander, a barbarian in their eyes, whilst Persia is everything nice and noble.
  • At Issus, when the Persian army starts losing, Darius flees. He doesn’t want to run away, but his companions make him do so. Basis justifies the fleeing by saying that Darius’s survival is necessary for Persia’s survival. Darius is Persia.
  • At Issus, Alexander captures Darius’s family, including his wife Stateira and daughter Barsine. Apparently, it is common for the Persian royal family to accompany the Emperor to the battlefield and when Darius fled, Alexander was able to capture the royal family.
  • After defeating Darius (for the first time) at Issis, Alexander does not pursue him. Instead, he goes to Egypt, wins it without any fighting, is crowned Pharoah. Egypt is a source of much wealth – gold and food gains. Alexander also makes a symbolic trip to Siwa and is blessed by the Oracle there. He is acknowledged to be son of Ra. Taking on more divinity (and going even more native) comes to Alexander naturally.
  • Stateira and her daughter Barsine go to Egypt with Alexander. Stateira and Alexander become close. Later Stateira becomes pregnant and dies in childbirth. Netflix suggests that Stateira willingly bore Alexander’s child.
  • After Issus and before Gaugemela, Darius makes various peace overtures to Alexander and Alexander rejects all of them, even if Darius’s terms are generous, because Alexander is ambitious and will settle for nothing less than becoming the Emperor of the whole world.
  • At their second encounter at Gaugemela, once again Alexander dashes towards Darius and Darius flees. Because Darius flees, his troops flee as well and many of the fleeing troops are killed. Darius’s companions insist on him fleeing using the same excuse as in the past – that Darius is Persia and they cannot afford to lose him.
  • Finally, after a year or so on the run, Darius is killed by fellow Persians as he lived in the wild, hoping to fight Alexander through Guerilla warfare. 

My big question is, why did Darius flee at Gaugemela? Why did Darius’s companions make him flee when fleeing causes Darius to lose? The flight at Gaugemela leaves Darius high and dry and he never recovers from that defeat. Why go to the battlefield, if when your enemy charges at you, your only reaction is to flee? Darius is shown as a sturdy man in his prime who practices with his sword a lot after the defeat at Issus. Not too different from Alexander in that respect, though Alexander is much younger. One gets the impression from Netflix that Darius lost at Gaugamela primarily because he fled. Darius is shown to have fled not because his army was losing, as happened at Issus, but solely because Alexander charged at him. The flight at Issus can be understood and justified. The Persian army was losing and Darius needed to preserve himself to fight later. But the flight at Gaugemela doesn’t make sense. Alexander had been in Persian territories for two years and this was a do or die battle. The Persian army wasn’t losing. Netflix shows Darius fleeing solely because Alexander charges at him. Many others have asked the same question.

As they say, history is written by the victors and so the story of the fight between Alexander and Darius was originally written by Greek Chroniclers such as Alexander’scompanion Ptolemy and later repeated by Roman historians. The fact is, Alexander and Darius are real-life figures who battled it out and Alexander/Macedon/Greece did win and Darius/Persia did lose. Maybe Darius retreated only after his troops started to flee and defeat was on the cards and not because Alexander charged at him. I would really like to know what exactly happened at these two battles though finding the truth won’t make a whiff of difference to my life, other than being able to say that Netflix got it wrong and the original Greek chroniclers lied.

Saturday 10 February 2024

Book Review: can't, by Shinie Antony


Can’t is Shinie Antony’s latest offering. The story is set in a series of unnamed small towns which could be anywhere in India. One of the two main protagonists, Nena, is both rustic and polished, knowledgeable as well as naïve, a virgin as well as one extremely knowledgeable about men, in particular her unfaithful husband, someone who attends glamorous soirees with her husband when she is not at home, waiting for her husband to return. An experienced Antonian, I was only mildly startled whenever Antony threw a googly, such as when Nena says that she’s allergic to water and swallows water capsules instead of drinking water.

Tata, not his real name, is the other protagonist. A perfect counterfoil to Nena, Tata is as silent as Nena is loud, young unlike Nena who is in her seventies. After the initial pleasantries for the reader have been concluded, Nena, who derives masochistic pleasure in describing her husband’s voyeurisms to her friends, decides to track down all of her late husband’s past lovers and takes Tata along with her. They travel from place to place, meet various kinds of people and have many unrealistic adventures along the way. Towards the end, Tata finds out what can’t be. I’ll let you read Can’t and figure it out for yourself.

The best thing about Antony’s world is that it is non-judgemental, but, like any other world-class raconteur, Antony keeps observing and observing, making sharp and incisive comments all the while. We are told that ‘Nena’s tales of her husband’s adultery affected women two ways-one type of woman who sees herself as the wife and takes sides, one type of woman identifies with the other woman and stays to hear how it ends.’  Tata tells us that his ‘own mother was neither; all she wanted to do was to borrow a bit of Nena’s sass, her boldness, bask in her rebellion.’ In Antony-land, conversations are always kept on an even keel even when the topic of discussion isn’t from one from a run-of-the mill living room. For example, when her unfaithful husband tells Nena that a girl he knows has got herself pregnant, she doesn’t ask who the girl is. The husband goes on to tell her that the girl is from a conservative family and ‘the boy who plucked her like a ripe grape’ wont marry her and the girl’s parents would kill her if they found out. So, Nena delivers the girl to an airless ultra-bright chamber, places thick bundles of cash on the doctor’s desk and waits for the job to be done so that she can get the girl home. When things don’t go as planned, Nena finds herself worrying about her husband, his blood pressure and nerves, mentally noting that ‘girls who danced too close to the flames would be moth sooner or later.’

Antony is an acquired taste, one definitely worth acquiring.  And as a seasoned Antonian, I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected, to enjoy the sudden drop and to even enjoy the somersault. I found in Can’t most of the things that I have learnt to expect from Antony and some more. For all Antony fans out there, Can’t is a must-read and for those who haven’t read Antony before, it’s definitely a taste worth acquiring. Go on, have your first pint and you will learn to enjoy Antony.

Here are my reviews of Shinie Antony’s previous books:

The Orphanage for Words

The Girl Who Couldn’t Love

When Mira Went Forth And Multiplied

Monday 18 December 2023

Book Review: Boys Don’t Cry, by Meghna Pant


Meghna Pant’s Boys Don’t Cry is a brilliant, though heart-wrenching story of marital abuse. It’s very difficult to believe that an educated woman from a well-to-do and progressive family would put up with domestic abuse, but that’s exactly what Maneka Pataudi does. After a fair amount of abuse, when Maneka aka Manu is on the verge of walking out, there is a reconciliation and peace prevails for a while. Then it’s back to square one and the cycle repeats again. Forget, forgive, move on, suffer again, prepare to walk out, reconcile, forget, forgive, suffer once more. As a reader, I lost track of the number of times this happened.

Pant is an excellent raconteur and her language is simple and straight forward. The book begins on a semi-funny note and then there is a sudden vertical drop for which the reader isn’t prepared. The ending is equally unexpected and Pant makes full use of her writer’s licence to serve her readers an unexpected dessert to end her tale.

Does Manu manage to escape her domestic prison and walk away or is she trapped forever? Do please read this wonderful book to find out more.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

The stars willed for Manu to meet Suneet in New York. It was love at first sight. Manu gives up her job as a TV news reporter in Mumbai and everything else she had to move to the USA to be with Suneet. Suneet was an MBA student – his older step-brother was covering his tuition and Manu was unemployed. Suneet beats up Manu badly before their wedding, but Manu goes ahead with the wedding nevertheless. Why did she do that? Was it because her parents had already spent a lot of money on the wedding? Was it because she wanted to avoid the shame and embarrassment that comes with the cancellation of a wedding?

Suneet is good looking, the sort of handsome man that made him a catch. Suneet’s father is a doctor who used to work for AIIMS. Later he gets a job in Dubai. Suneet’s mother is one of the main villains in the drama and once again we see a case of a woman being another woman’s chief tormentor. Manu is treated on par with a domestic help while Suneet is expected to be treated like royalty. There is verbal abuse all the time and the rare physical violence. Suneet and his parents act in concert, with a lot of planning, to torment Manu. The idea seems to be to subjugate her and make her conform to Suneet’s family’s values and notions of a woman’s place in a household.

Manu knew that Suneet took drugs even before she agreed to marry him. However, he was handsome and was the sort of man Manu could introduce to her friends. That Suneet didn’t gel with any of Manu’s friends from day one is a different matter. Was Manu the typical woman who was subconsciously looking for a husband who ticked the right boxes and when she met Manu, couldn’t say No to him?Towards the end, Manu concludes that Suneet is probably bipolar, offering a possible explanation for his violence and occasionally acts of kindness.

Boys Don’t Cry poses many questions for which there are no easy answers, but that shouldn’t stop us from searching for solutions. In this day and age, there is no reason why women need to put up with domestic abuse. Period.  

Highly recommended!

Saturday 11 November 2023

Book Review: Manasbhai Ka KRA - How organised crime became... more organised, by Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

I just finished reading this hilarious novella. Manasbhai, an old fashioned local goon who operates out of a Mumbai chawl, is forced to hire a HR person when two cleaners hired by him to clean up and dispose of dead bodies, go on strike. That’s right. A Human Resources person, who comes in the form of well-intentioned Sunil, a man hyper-focussed on learning and growth. Sunil would rather work for the mafia and be able to learn new things and grow professionally rather than work for an old-fashioned, staid, legally-run business enterprise where would stagnate. Sunil gels well with Manasbhai's associates and starts to put in place the sort of HR processes which any self-respecting enterprise would have and also rolls out benefits, such as insurance cover for the goons.

I read Manasbhai Ka KRA in a single sitting and it took me around an hour to read it on my Kindle. I’m not going to say too much and give away either the plot or the ending. However, let me say this. Manasbhai Ka KRA shines a light not just on the ways of Manasbhai and his mafia associates, but also shows the lighter (and at times ridiculous) side of HR practices and jargon – from KRAs to appraisals.

Gitanjali Chandrasekharan, is a former journalist who now runs Talered. Chandrasekharan’s language is simple, but elegant and the frequent use of Mumbaiya Hindi adds authenticity to the dialogues. I really enjoyed reading Manasbhai Ka KRA and highly recommend it.

You can buy Manasbhai Ka KRA from here.