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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Raghuram Rajan why is he unfit from a common man's view

In the case of Raghuram Rajan, I am not qualified enough to comment, but I was given to understand that he is very knowledgeable, capable, talented etc but abysmally poor in his knowledge of ground realities of functioning Indian economic scenario and tries to extrapolate his wonderful knowledge acquired from the great Western economic models , especially the model of US of A as he learned from his text books which operate strictly by rules and under the eagle eye of a highly policed state. But India is a different story, for example scams of the magnitude of 2G, CWG, Coal all at more or less within a span of 5 years would have crippled an economy totally but in India it was just headlines for some days , lively debates increasing TRP rating for some news channels engaging lot of verbal nonsense, political circus item for politicians of various parties etc . It did not cripple the economy because India has several and actually more powerful parallel economies with their own unwritten efficient operational mechanism, India is the classical example of what the great American Economist and its ambassador to India kenneth Galbraith termed as 'functional anarchy'. we all experience it on the roads everyday where 95% do not follow any rules of traffic but despite that almost 99% reach their destination safely and one percent meet their fate for the collective mistake of the 95% per cent. This anarchy manifests itself everywhere , even in place where we are supposed to observe sanctity and reverence as in temples. when it is beneficial to us or when it does not affect us directly very much we have no complaints or we do not bother about it because we are used to it or we conveniently philosophize it with various irrelevant justifications including luck, chance, astrological factors etc. So, to operate or function in sensitive posts in such scenarios what is needed is humility combined with an ear to have wide consultations with experienced hands and diplomatically jostle along co operating or at least making a pretense of cooperating with all the existing system based [if we can call it as such ] control mechanisms and ensuring a certain amount of convincing assurance to all the stake holders which include a vast majority of unorganized lenders, borrowers, business operators [including unlicensed factories/manufacturing units, unauthorized financial institutions, unrecognized educational institutions [some times better than recognized ones in quality], manufacturers of duplicate of many big international brands[ how many computer users use original windows software in India including some big corporates]. I remember a real case of a manufacturer of duplicate MICO spark plug [a Gujarathi biz man sending it through a original dealer of MICO spark plug to the original manufacturers as a return of damaged or disfunctional spark plug and the original manufacturer returning it back saying that there is nothing wrong with the piece and it was in fact as per all standards a perfect one, upon which the dealer asked the original manufacturers whether he would be interested in getting it manufactured in India at one 25th the original cost of manufacturing and the original company willingly outsourced it . there are many case studies like that in India, China, Korea, Taiwan etc. The entire gray market for all the top brands in the world are run by few Sindhi biz groups and the very people in US of A and Europe buy from these fellows. present day world economics is euphemistically called by many names like globalization, MNCs etc but in reality there are many islands of lobbies, mafias of all rule breakers in tacit links with rule makers who operate ,sorry manipulate, the markets, commerce, trade , economics, trends etc. So it is indeed a very tough task for even the most well informed and extremely knowledgeable persons to hold vital posts involving every day accountability [ a non existent factor in Indian operations] and constant watch and scrutiny by all the stake holders as well as bench sitters and media muffs who will sit on judgment on everything and it is all the more tough for a person who has had lessor experience of regional ground realities. It is as difficult and as uncomfortable for chaps born and brought up in metros in upper middle class or rich households to squat on the ridges /sloping banks of a paddy field [varappu] and slide the shit on the fields covering all private parts but the village folks do it everyday with extreme ease. I use this simile purposely because of the difficulty involved and delicate nature of the task

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Indo-China relations and the Ritualistic patterns of behavior

Very well written and we need not stick on to the past on any issue because life is always happening in the now and in the present context, everything is contextual/situational. There is no point in following only rituals or following things ritualistically in any domain of life. But unfortunately from individuals to institutions to international diplomacy /relations follow this and lead their followers to lead a shallow life.
There is also no point in patting and pronouncing that relations are normal as if it is an achievement by itself, this applies to all relationships. I can get into examples and detailed logical explanations for all the points indicated above.

For want of space and time I would like to sprinkle around some quotes of  Dean Hannotte, a great Psychological Counselor and Author  which will convey many factors, more lucidly, connected with such issues as discussed in this article:-
1. " "Normal" is just a euphemism for "lacking ambition".
2. "All euphemisms grow into damnations".
3. "Don't read history and weep. Create the future and laugh".
4."There's never a right attitude for taking the next step. Just get there."
5."All political correctness is a desperate attempt to avoid analytical effort."
6"Power leads to abilities. Powerlessness leads to despair. Which one is better?"
7."People always think they know as much as they need to. Until, suddenly, they don't."
8."A genuine education requires forgetting old falsehoods more than learning new truths".
9."If you need to be unconventional, unconventionality will find you and lead you by the hand."
 10."If you don't believe you can do something, you'll never find out whether in fact you could have."
11."It's better to long for something authentic than to accept something false and call it "good enough".
12. "To be well-adjusted means that when monolithic social forces change capriciously, you comply robotically".
13."You're welcome to join the conversation, but please leave your guns, your umbrellas, and your citations at the door".
14."Running away is always the easiest tactic, isn't it? Unfortunately, as a strategy, it's about as effective as saying, "I quit."
15."Dead historians didn't understand the issues we're now facing. With every advance in psychological sophistication, recorded history becomes less relevant".
16."Enlightened self-interest drives all human progress. So don't worry, just act in your own self-interest. You owe that much to all the people who will learn from the example you set."
 17."All social evolution is a work in progress. All innovations start out "half-baked". It takes generations for any progressive movement to understand what the hell it is really trying to do".
18."Lord Acton said "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Adlai Stevenson said "Power corrupts, but lack of power corrupts absolutely." Dean says, "Power empowers. Next question."
19."It's easy to believe our existing skills and insights fully prepare us for life, but actually new situations that require genuine growth can pop up at the worst times and impose the most inconvenient punishments."
20."Those who are really smart understand that in disputes it's better to be wrong than to be right. If you're wrong you have an opportunity to learn something. Only people who are allergic to learning need always to feel they're "right".
21."I have a feeling that lots of discoveries are awaiting our notice. Not only in the hard sciences, but all around us. In how we think, how we relate, how we treat one another, how we view progress. We're just beginning to become civilized"
22."I enjoy cherry picking passages in books that bolster my own conclusions. But what really helps me is hearing the views of others who are able to defend their opinions and, if I'm lucky, teach me something I simply hadn't considered before".
23."All serious life changes make you feel like a fish out of water at first. Then, once you've learned to crawl on dry land, you'll realize how much you have evolved and how much more alive you feel. And you'll never go back to living in the water again."
 24."Many inventions are dreamed up because they reflect the best our imagination has to teach us about ourselves. When it comes to choosing between discovering more about the world around us, and inventing a better world we can build with our own hands and hearts, I vote for imagination".
25. "Ideologies aren't science. They're contour maps of human ambivalence and confusion, what people feel when they don't know what to think. People who take ideologies seriously are the first ones to conclude that human nature is so intractable that a science of human nature is impossible".
26. "When high school football teams pray for victory, all they're doing is saying, "We deserve victory more than the other guys." There is never any evidence offered, and for a very simple reason. They know that imaginary friends in the sky aren't in the least offended when you lie to them."
27. "We should applaud all progressive movements. All negative and foolish practices need to be opposed, especially religious and economic. There is no one "war for the future". There are millions of people all doing their best to make different sorts of contributions. It's not a song, it's a symphony" .
28. "Archimedes said, "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." In psychological terms, this means: Find the biggest issue around and give your life to it. Whatever small effect you have will eventually have large effects on all the lesser issues out there."
29. "Do you need proof that social progress comes from personal growth rather than political might? People who are skilled and insightful solve their problems peacefully and with an eye to satisfying all disputants. Governments solve their problems like reptiles: whoever is bigger and stronger wins. Do the math".
30. "People confuse memory with consciousness. They often say, "I tie my shoes unconsciously." And this is partly why Freud's oxymoronic theory of an "unconscious consciousness" appeals to the gullible. I believe we're perfectly conscious when we tie our shoes. But it's such an unimportant event that we habitually remember none of the details afterwards."
31."I know that people do bad things. But that does not mean there are bad people. When a child thinks, "That man did a bad thing! He's a bad man!" he's falling into the philosophical error of reification, the big brother of deification. His mind perceives a true fact, but his heart blows it out of all proportion; his emotions have defocused his critical thinking. This cocoons him in a false sense of security, since he mistakenly believes that he now knows everything he needs to know about what he has just experienced. It makes him not more, but less, capable of dealing with that flawed man in the future"
32."The world is full of talented and bright people who fail to create anything of lasting importance to others but who nevertheless lead interesting and occasionally instructive lives because they insist on demarcating themselves from social traditions. Unlike conventional people who settle down early in life, forget their dreams and wait to die, people who are true to their human potential are alive for the duration. They ask questions. They change their minds. They are living clumps of froth riding the crests of ocean waves, occasionally born aloft by a gust of wind to land on a new perch and view new wonders, while the great ocean beneath slumbers on unaware." 
Also links related to rituals and ritualistic behavior

Friday, June 27, 2014

Genetic Engineering

old but good one  i saved this article some 15 years back Gene dream
I used to have regular correspondence with Nikki van der Gaag in early 90s here she writes

Let us  finds out what is going on in the secretive world of genetic engineering.
By the year 2007 - in ten years' time - we may be living in a world
very different than the one we inhabit today.
Not because of war, or catastrophe, or disease, but due to something
that most of us think of as a subject we learned at school - biology.
Or, to be more specific, biotechnology: the science of genes.3
So how are genes going to change our lives? We can't be sure, but we do know that two out of three of us die for reasons connected with our genes. More than 4,000 conditions, such as sickle cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis, are caused by damage to a single gene in the foetus. Many others - cancer, AIDS, arthritis - are the result of something going wrong with the genes that defend the body.
If scientists can identify either the gene causing the disease or why the gene is defective, and work out a way to put this right, then the curative potential is enormous. Already genetic testing can tell when a foetus is likely to be born with cystic fibrosis, spina bifida or Downs Syndrome. And by the end of the century the Human Genome Project will have identified the three billion genes that make up a human being. This will provide the complete reference that scientists need to progress with such genetic research.
The possibilities for eradicating disease are enormous and very exciting. But there is a catch. Biotechnology and genetic engineering also have the potential to be used in ways which could take that change into the realms of sci-fi - or horror movies.
'Our society went into the age of nuclear energy blindly and we went into the age of DDT and other pesticides blindly. But we cannot afford to go into the age of genetic engineering blindly. We must move into this exciting new era with an awareness that gene therapy can be used for evil as well as for good.' W French Anderson, Director of Gene Therapy Laboratories.1
The line between evil and good; between dream and nightmare, is an unbelievably fine one. Identifying what genes can do raises the possibility of a new Frankenstein - of thinking that we can 'create' people with 'perfect' genes. Take one example. If we can test for genetic diseases, we can also start to predict more cosmetic features of a foetus - height, weight, hair colour, eye colour. Individual parents might well be able to choose a foetus not on the basis of whether it will suffer through being born, but because they want a blue-eyed blond-haired boy. Aborting foetuses shown by genetic testing to be female is already widespread in many countries. Once the technology is there, the people who can afford it will use it.
We are at the moment in the unique position of being able to draw a line between what is ethical and what is not. Many people would argue strongly that choosing a child for such superficial reasons should not be allowed. But those same people may choose otherwise when it comes to decisions about their own children - provided they can afford to do so.
As George Monbiot, British activist, academic and ecologist put it: 'Not everything that is possible should also be permissible'. And this is where the issue becomes very tricky.
Scientists can already isolate a gene and, by use of a virus, transfer that gene into another species. This means that there are pigs with human genes, mice that glow green in the dark, and tomatoes with fish genes.
Some of these experiments are being done to find the cures for diseases; others to improve crops or to give the food we eat a longer shelf-life. Some are conducted just to see what is possible.
But who decides what is permissible?
The answer is that everyone is passing the buck. The scientists say that they do the science; it is not their job to ask the questions. Although some governments are setting up ethics panels on biotechnology, these are very much in their infancy, and many still say that the decisions belong to the scientists. International legislation is sadly lacking because bodies like Codex (Codex Alimentarius Commission on Food Labelling) are hugely influenced by the biotechnology industry and as a result recently found they couldn't come to a decision at all!
The ethical questions are being put to one side as genetic exploration becomes the new universe, ready for exploration - and exploitation.
The stakes are high. The biotechnology industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world. The Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) estimates that the market for environmental biotechnology will increase from $40 billion in the early 1990s to $75 billion by the year 2000 in OECD countries alone. The corporations who own the industry control what research is being carried out - and who gets the funds. Seventy-five per cent of research in biotechnology is driven by the economics of agribusiness. Scientists find it hard to refuse money for research, although some, like John Fagan, Professor of Molecular Biology in Iowa, rejected $613,000 of US federal grant money on the grounds that the DNA research that was being required of him might lead to 'dangerous applications' of his work.
The corporations make other great claims for their biotech baby. David Evans of DNA Plant Technology in California is not the only one to claim that biotech will feed the world: 'anything that improves the taste, availability and variety of produce for the US consumer should have an overall positive impact on the citizens of the world's health and wealth'. 2 Monsanto, which is rapidly becoming one of the world's largest biotechnology corporations, believes that biotech will revolutionize agriculture: 'we are looking at double the population of today and there are limits to land... we therefore need to improve agriculture'.
There is a catch here too. It is true that genetically engineered crops are likely to have higher yields. And people are going hungry. But the equation is not such a simple one. Hunger is about distribution, not just about quantity. As Julie Shepard, a consultant at the British Genetics Forum, points out: 'The world's starving do not make good customers.' She begs corporations to 'please stop promoting biotechnology as a technical fix for hunger. It is misleading since it ignores all other underlying causes of starvation'.And it doesn't bode well for the Third World. Margaret Mellon, director of the agriculture and biotechnology program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US, is quite clear about this: 'Companies go where the money is, and there is more money to be made in cantaloupe for Americans than in cassava for Africans.' Vandana Shiva, physicist, ecologist and leading campaigner against the biotechnology industry, is even more categorical: 'Bullshit! Far from feeding the world, people are going to starve because of genetically engineered foods. More and more peasants will see their crops substituted through biotechnology.'3
Biotechnology goes hand-in-hand with intensive agriculture, with single crops grown in huge fields. The majority of Third World farmers are small-scale, farming a number of crops. By switching to genetically engineered seeds they have to change their traditional practices. They are also in thrall to the transnational corporations which provide the seeds. Corporations like Monsanto (see Flying pigs and featherless chickens). In India, farmers using Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds pay an extra $50-$65 per acre as a 'technical fee' over and above the price of the seed. There are other conditions as well, says Vandana Shiva: 'They have a contract which allows Monsanto to come in and investigate their farms three years after they have planted the seed. In addition, the farmer and heirs are liable to Monsanto - they can only use Monsanto chemicals and if they are found using anyone else's chemicals they can be fined by Monsanto. I call it totalitarianism.'
So if genetic engineering is not going to feed the world, is it at least better for the enviromnent? Unfortunately, again, the answer is "No'.
First, the results of genetically engineered crops are at best mixed and at worst disastrous. Both weeds and insects in the surrounding areas have been known to develop immunities which turn them into superweeds and superpests.
Second, biotechnology actually reduces the world's biodiversity by promoting certain species over others. Of the world's 220,000 plant species, only 150 are grown commercially and just 20 provide over 90 per cent of the world's dietary energy. We are already massively over-dependent on a fraction of the species available. Genetically-engineered (and transnational-controlled) seeds will reduce this active stock even further. 5 Farmers in countries such as India are setting up their own seed banks in order to preserve the existing variety of seeds rather than having to use those promoted by the biotechnology corporations, for whom the Third World is a huge potential market.
A market to sell to, but also a resource to plunder. The World Resources Institute reckons that more than half the world's plant and animal species live in the rainforests of the South. For the biotechnology corporations, these species could be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The gene from a wild Asian strain of sugarcane saved the sugarcane industry in the south-eastern US from collapse. The gene which is the cure for a potential (usually Western) disease could also be hiding somewhere just waiting to be 'discovered'. It's a bit like a replay of Columbus 'discovering' America.
The corporations call it 'bioprospecting' - though some call it 'biopiracy'. Scientists seek out unusual plant, animal - or even human - genes from places relatively untouched and unexplored by the West. They bring them home. If they are lucky, they find a useful application for the gene. And the corporations which funded the original research make a lot of money. According to the US consulting firm Frost and Sullivan, the worldwide market for cell lines and tissue cultures brought in $427.6 million in corporate revenues in 1996. 4
Corporations are particularly interested on the genes of indigenous peoples, who have lived isolated from the rest of the world. The Human Genome Diversity Project, a multi-million dollar scheme which aims specifically to gather indigenous peoples' genes, has met with huge opposition. This is partly because the indigenous peoples object to the commodification of life and partly because they feel they are being exploited. They see Northern corporations making big money out of their plants, out of their own genes - and they get nothing in return: 'Over the last 200 years non-Aboriginal people have taken our land, language, culture, health - even our children. Now they want to take the genetic material which makes us Aboriginal people as well,' complains John Liddle, Director of the Australian Aboriginal Congress. 5
In order to make money, corporations argue they must have exclusive rights to the genes. This means patenting them. Technically, a patent is an exclusive private property right which lasts between 17 and 20 years. Originally, patents protected inventors and anyone seeking a patent still technically has to prove that it is an 'invention'.
But how can a human gene be an 'invention'? It couldn't - until 1980 when the US Supreme Court in the case of Diamond v.Chakraborty granted a patent on bacteria that could digest oil, developed by Ananda Chakraborty, an employee of General Electric. By a four-to-five margin the Court ruled that the 'relevant distinction is not between animate and inanimate things but whether living products could be seen as 'human-made inventions'. Andrew Kimbrell, an attorney and President of the US-based International Centre for Technology Assessment called it 'one of the most important judicial decisions of the twentieth century'.6
Since then, thousands of patent applications have been filed - 99 per cent by Northern corporations. These include plants, seeds, animals and human tissue. Patenting has become a cut-throat business. In the US, the number of new litigations over biotech is up 69 per cent over the two previous years. 9 It is also a secretive one: as corporations rush to patent, the scientists have to protect the results of their work. The US-based Council for Responsible Genetics points out that this 'stifles innovation and impedes scientific progress'.
Many governments in the South were clear about their objection to biotech patenting, but Northern ones, strongly influenced by the powerful corporate lobbies, muscled in. At the negotiations over GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) the US argued that in trying to prevent patenting, the developing countries were attempting to impose unfair trade barriers. In 1992 the TRIPS (Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights) was agreed under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This agreement made it compulsory for all countries belonging to the WTO to allow patenting - or 'intellectual property rights' as it was grandly called. The power of the transnationals seemed complete.
And yet the debate is by no means ended. Perhaps the most important legislation in relation to biotech currently under consideration is the European Union's Patent Directive, which is a draft law to give special protection to the biotech industry, especially genetic engineering. If it goes through it will mean that virtually every living thing (plants and animals, though not humans) and every one of its parts and genes (including those of human beings) may be patented so long as their production incorporates a process 'which nature cannot accomplish by itself'. Animal suffering is tolerated as long as it is not 'disproportionate to the objective pursued'.
If passed later this year it will give a green light to similar legislation in the rest of the world.
At the moment the light is still on amber. As Nicanor Perlas of the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives in the Philippines points out: 'We are the first generation in human history to have the opportunity to scrutinize this technology in advance of its widespread application and commercialization.'8
But time is running out. If we are to join our voices to those who campaign against the genetic bulldozer which sweeps aside all the ethical questions for the sake of profit we need to be clear where we stand. Blanket condemnation serves no purpose other than ruling out research which could truly benefit the human race. We need to be specific.
First, there is no need for genetically engineered foods. They should be banned, or, at the very least, clearly labelled so that people have a choice. Various polls have shown that in Europe, the majority of people are against eating genetically engineered foods.
Second, there should be no patents on life. Life cannot be owned; nor can human genes or human tissue.
Third, the Human Genome Diversity Project should be stopped. The South has been exploited enough already. We need to support indigenous peoples in their current struggles - not try to preserve their genes.
Fourth, we should not be carrying out field trials or genetic research without examining the ethical and environmental implications. There need to be more controls over who owns the research and what research is ethical or not. Moves to set up national and international bioethics bodies are a step in the right direction - provided they remain independent of the biotechnology corporations. There need to be more global agreements on genetics.
Finally the public should be involved in the decisions that are being taken. They affect us all. They are our concern as well as our responsibility, for they will help to shape the future of our world. In order to do this, we all - from Indian farmers to Western consumers - have to take responsibility for the gene dream before it turns into a nightmare.
As Vandana Shiva put it: 'I call biotech and patenting and so on the colonization of the future. And I think it is something we can't allow to be colonized. The colonization of the past only has some victims in the world. The colonization of the future has us all in solidarity'.

1 W French Anderson, 'Gene Therapy' in Scientific American, September 1995.
2 Ricarda Steinbrecher, 'From Green to Gene Revolution', The Ecologist Vol 26 No 6 Nov/Dec 1996.
3 Interview with Nikki van der Gaag.
4 RAFI Communique The Human Tissue Trade Jan/Feb 1997.
5 RAFI Communique Biopiracy Update:A Global Pandemic Sept/Oct 1996.
6 Andrew Kimbrell 'Breaking the Law of Life' in Resurgence May/June 1997 Issue 182.
7 Nature Biotechnology Vol 14 May 1996.
8 Nicanor Perlas, Overcoming illusions about Biotechnology Third World Network, 1994.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Machiavelli's The Prince

Lecture on Machiavelli's The Prince
[This following remarks are the text of a lecture delivered in Liberal Studies 302 at Malaspina University College (now Vancouver Island University) by Ian Johnston in February 2002. This document is in the public domain and may be used by anyone, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged. The lecture was part of a panel presentation offering differing views on The Prince]
[Quotations from The Prince are taken from Machiavelli, The Prince, ed. Quentin Skinner and Russell Price (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)]
For comments or questions, please contact Ian Johnston

The previous two lectures offered us a glimpse of two major ways of interpreting Machiavelli—both based on the a reading of the text which takes Machiavelli at his word, that is, as a serious political thinker sincerely offering an analysis of political life with recommendations about how to succeed, and hence a political theory worth attending to.
My take on this book is representative of a widely held (but distinctly minority) view of The Prince, namely, that the book is, first and foremost, a satire, so that many of the things we find in it which are contradictory, morally absurd, and specious are there quite deliberately in order to ridicule two things—first, the Medici family itself and, second, the very notion of tyrannical rule embodied in the government of the Prince (hence, the satire has a firm moral purpose—to expose tyranny and promote republican government). Such a way of reading this text, it should be clear, is distinctly at odds with any reading which assumes that Machiavelli's analysis and text are totally without ironical undercurrents which qualify, indeed contradict, his literal "message."
As I say, what I am going to present is a minority view, although there is some evidence to suggest that many of the first readers of the book read it in this way (i.e., as a satire). Some later thinkers, like Rousseau, have also been part of this interpretative camp and found the book an extremely funny attack on the very things the literalists like to take so seriously. However, if the book was intended as a satire, then I think one has to concede that it must be one of the most famous examples ever written of a largely unsuccessful satire, to judge from the number of readers who respond to what Machiavelli says here with literal seriousness, missing the ironic intention.
I don't mean to suggest by that a particular failure on the part of such readers. If The Prince was originally written as a satire and if (as is evident) a majority of readers fail to recognize that, then the fault lies in the writing—the ironies are not sufficiently clear throughout (for whatever reason) or, alternatively put, are too lightly shaded or require too much of a contemporary Florentine sensibility, so that the literal meaning overwhelms the moral purpose (as if, for example, readers of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" either heartily endorsed the notion of eating children as a solution for the economic difficulties of Ireland or were indignant at the inhuman morality of the author, both groups failing to see that the proposal is ironic throughout).
Now, apart from the response of Machiavelli's first readers, there is some contextual evidence to suggest that the meaning of The Prince might not be as straightforward as it first appears. Machiavelli seems to have been a life-long republican in his politics, he was punished (and tortured) for that by the Medici family to whom The Prince is dedicated, and the Medici family, or at least certain members of it, were not universally well regarded in Florence. Moreover, Cesare Borgia, whom Machiavelli holds up as a role model, was viewed by many contemporaries as something of a brutal fool or, at least, a colossal failure. In addition, the literal meaning of The Prince is starkly at odds with Machiavelli's other political writings in which he reveals his staunch faith in republican virtues. And we might recall that Machiavelli was an accomplished writer of satiric drama. These contextual facts could remind us that a satiric construction on this text might find some basis in Machiavelli's life and times.
However, as you know, I don't by nature place much value on contextual arguments (since they can so often go in any direction one wishes—hence the old saying: if you torture the contextual facts sufficiently, they'll confess to anything), so I'm going to confine my comments to Machiavelli's text. I don't have much time in the lecture to make my case, but I'd like to draw your attention to some ways in which certain ironic and satiric possibilities open up for me as I read the book.
[This issue of the weight one gives to contextual evidence is particularly interesting the case of The Prince, since a letter was discovered in 1810 in which Machiavelli talks about his book in a way which indicates he meant it to be taken literally as an attempt to gain the favour of the Medici family.  Even if we assume the letter is genuine (and there is no compelling evidence not to do so) that does not rule out other possibilities, given that we don't know the motives behind the letter (was Machiavelli being entirely candid?) or that, like a number of other authors, Machiavelli may not have been a very astute interpreter of his own work.  No matter what he intended or says he intended, our task is to respond to the text as we have it.]
The Tension in Machiavelli's Moral Vocabulary
One feature of Machiavelli's style which exerts a certain ironic pressure on the reader is the yawning gap he creates between a conventional moral language and the immoral activities he is proposing, a common satiric technique. Here's an example from The Prince:
I believe that this depends upon whether cruel deeds are committed well or badly. They may be called well committed (if one may use the word 'well' of that which is evil) when thy are all committed at once, because they are necessary for establishing one's power and are not afterwards persisted in, but changed for measures as beneficial as possible to one's subjects. Badly committed are those that at first are few in number, but increase with time rather than diminish. Those who follow the first method can in some measure remedy their standing both with God and with man. . . . Those who follow the second cannot possible maintain their power. (33)
There's an inherent tension here between the words indicating Machiavelli's approval or disapproval (well and badly)—words which, in common speech and writing tend always to have important moral connotations—and the acts which he is analyzing. The style calls attention to the moral absurdity of Machiavelli's universe (as his parenthetic comment makes clear). If people can break God's laws in the most serious way and later "remedy their standing with God," then the notion of taking one's standing with God seriously, by any Christian orthodoxy, makes a mockery of religion or, alternatively, the phrase is a way of making a satiric mockery of the suggestion. In a society in which one's standing with God was, for many people, more than one more political strategy, the phrase would carry significant satiric weight.
Machiavelli, it strikes me deliberately rubs our noses here (and elsewhere, although not so clearly) in the moral absurdity of what he is proposing. It would have been relatively easy to avoid using moral language altogether (as he does in much of the text), for example, using instead of words like "well" or "badly" words like "efficient," "inefficient," "prudent," "imprudent," and so on. To bring into play moral concerns in the vocabulary is to do more than merely state that efficiency is more important in politics than morality: it is (potentially, anyway) to remind the reader of the satiric point that the literal recommendations empty the world of any significant value:
The main foundations of all states (whether they are new, old or mixed) are good laws and good armies. Since it is impossible to have good laws if good arms are lacking, and if there are good arms there must also be good laws, I shall leave laws aside and concentrate on arms. (42)
If we accept the loaded term "good" in its usual moral sense, then this statement is a truism, and Machiavelli's advice is unnecessary—the virtuous use of force is indeed the essential foundation of a just state. But if, to understand what Machiavelli is driving at, we have to empty the term "good" of its moral meaning (something his argument requires), then his vocabulary here tends to remind us of the moral emptiness of his argument, which removes from moral language its moral meaning. To see the potential satiric effect of the above statement, try substituting "effective" or "efficient" for "good." Such a substitution does not affect the literal meaning of what Machiavelli is saying here, but it removes the latent ironies calling our attention to the major satiric point of the text: the ruler's obsession with efficient power at the expense of everything else is absurd—it neutralizes any vocabulary of value.
One can make the same point about the ironies Machiavelli directs against his own advice. For example, high on his list of things the Prince needs to attend to is his own security, and he goes to great lengths to point out the various things the Prince can do (or must do) to keep himself safe. Among my favourite examples is the following: "In fact, destroying cities is the only certain way of holding them" (18). Now think about this for a moment. The only sure way to maintain one's power is to destroy the very thing one wishes to have power over—that's the final security Machiavelli is recommending. What is the value of something one has to destroy in order to assure oneself that one's control over it is complete. This is a reductio ad absurdum, but it is clearly the logical outcome of what Machiavelli is recommending. And it's very difficult for me to read that particular sentence as anything more than a satirical blow against his own recommendations and (more importantly) against the princes to whom his advice is directed.
The point is that Machiavelli's satire is emphasizing how a dedication to immoral behaviour (even under the pretense of moral conduct, an important quality in the ruler) makes the word morally absurd and makes the language of morality meaningless and political action without enduring value. Many of Machiavelli's comments keep reminding the would-be prince that he must pay attention to moral qualities like "loyalty," and form "good alliances," and so on, but his text points out that by following his recommendations such words are emptied of significant meaning and thus the enduring value of what the prince needs to stay powerful is gone. How can one appeal to the prince to think about "good laws, strong arms, reliable allies and exemplary conduct" when the moral language which makes these valuable is empty. If one is prepared to abandon morality in order to achieve certain ends, then how is one to apply a significant moral vocabulary to justify the end or expect people to respect a moral vocabulary essential to human trust?
Machiavelli himself calls attention to the absurdity this creates (both moral and political absurdity) when he provides his advice to rulers about alliances. First he says that allies will be grateful for the help one provides, so there is nothing to fear, once the alliance has gained a victory: "men are never so dishonourable that they would attack you in such circumstances and display so much ingratitude. Moreover, victories are never so decisive that the victor does not need to be careful, and especially about acting justly" (78). But on the very next page he cancels this advice: "a ruler should be careful never to ally himself with a ruler who is more powerful than himself in order to attack other powers, unless he is forced to, as has been said above. For if you are victorious together, you will be at his mercy, and rulers should do their best to avoid being at the mercy of other powers" (79). First he gives us advice about how to make honourable and just alliances and then denies the possibility of what he has just recommended. In the climate of fear and paranoia created by Machiavellian principles, words like "honourable" and "just" are without content and cannot provide any reliable basis for one ruler to trust another.
As if to underscore the absurdity of his advice at this point, Machiavelli launches into one of the first of his melancholy reflections on the impossibility of providing workable advice based on any coherent principles:
No government should ever believe that it is always possible to follow safe policies. Rather, it should be realised that all courses of action involve risks: for it is in the nature of things that when one tries to avoid one danger another is always encountered. But prudence consists in knowing how to assess the dangers, and to choose the least bad course of action as being the right one to follow. (79)
Such a view is, of course, a recipe for paranoid politics: no matter what one does, the success is only momentary. Lasting security in politics is unattainable, so one is, in effect, committed to a ceaseless scramble to keep one's head afloat with whatever bad means are available. This vision of politics, which Machiavelli (as I shall mention later) comes back to repeatedly raises the obvious question: Why bother? If this is what politics is reduced to, then Machiavellian policies make no difference (if anything it makes matters worse), and it might be a great deal more prudent to try to base one's politics on moral principles or, if that is not possible, to abandon the endeavour.
Interestingly enough, this seems to have been one of the major conclusions Shakespeare is moving towards in many of his political plays (and Shakespeare, who had probably not read Machiavelli's book but who was familiar with the basic principles of Machiavellian politics, at least in their popular manifestation, is the great commentator on The Prince). Once the power-seeking Machiavel has destroyed the moral weight of public language (by breaking his promises), there is no moral language for him to use in order to consolidate his own kingdom. His own conduct has created a situation where he cannot trust anyone, and no one can trust him—hence the civil wars must go on and on in an increasingly absurd confusion. A politics based on solely on efficient power generates resistance in the form of another efficient power (that's inevitable, given that a lack of trust generates fear), and the clash continues until power eats itself up.
Shakespeare, of course, is no naïve sentimentalist yearning for a world in which all rulers are virtuous. He understands that modern politics requires certain Machiavellian skills. But without providing a clear answer, his plays raise again and again disturbing questions about the self-defeating logic (personal and political) of a political program based merely on those skills. A satiric reading of The Prince would argue that that's precisely what Machiavelli is calling attention to as well.
This point is commonly underscored in arguments about the ends justifying the means. If the means permitted are judged solely on the short-term attainment of one's power goals, then the end one reaches is not only precarious but empty of value (or rather, precarious because it is empty of moral value). What relationship, personal or political, can be maintained when no one observes basic moral principles (like keeping promises) in order to attain those ends? The political and moral absurdity of this position appears in Machiavelli's first basic principle:
From this may be derived a generalisation, which is almost always valid: anyone who enables another be become powerful, brings about his own ruin. For that power is increased by him either through guile or through force, and both of these are reasons for the man who has become powerful to be on his guard. (14)
Given that modern political life requires alliances, agreements, shared programs of efficient power, and so on, this first principle would seem to be another reductio ad absurdum:: any such alliance for whatever reason is ruinous. How in such a climate is political life possible?
In fact, one might wonder why, in a world governed by Machiavellian politics, anyone would obey a Prince.  If human beings are really what Machiavelli says they are (greedy and power-hungry animals) and if the reality of political life is constant deceit with no shared language of trust, then why would anyone with any power at all trust a Prince?  Of course, fear might keep a lot of people quiet and obedient (as Machiavelli points out), but fear would drive anyone with the power to resist and a knowledge of the prince's Machiavellian platform to fight against the prince, even if there were not immediate reason for conflict (for without a language of trust, the future is always radically uncertain and dangerous).
The Irony of Machiavelli's Examples
This point about the ultimate futility of what he is recommending becomes repeatedly apparent in many of Machiavelli's examples (and these, of course, form the core of his argument). If he is indeed keen to persuade people to adopt the tactics he is recommending, then why does he so often select people who were political failures and (more pertinently) why, in the midst of praising them so effusively, does he constantly remind us of those failures? The purpose of such examples is clear enough if we sense a satiric intention behind them.
The famous example here is Cesare Borgia, whom Machiavelli clearly sets up as a role model for any future prince. 
If the whole career of the Duke is considered, then, it will be seen that he succeeded in laying very strong foundations for his future power. I do not consider it superfluous to discuss it, for I do not know what better precepts to offer to a new ruler than to cite his actions as a patters; and although his efforts were in the end unsuccessful, he should not be blamed, because it resulted from extraordinarily bad luck. (23)
This makes the Duke's example something like the famous saying "The operation was a success but the patient died." What is the point of "laying very strong foundations for . . . future power," if you end up dead. If Machiavelli's most powerful example, his favourite role model, whose actions are the embodiment of what Machiavelli proposes, is a notorious failure (for whatever reason), surely that casts some interesting ironic light onto the entire slate of Machiavelli's recommendations. This is surely an important possibility when Machiavelli, having highlighted Cesare's extraordinary bloodthirstiness and duplicity, stresses the futility of all his efforts and adds (in what strikes me as a very sardonic tone), "Having reviewed all the actions of the duke, then, I would not wish to criticise him; rather, he seems to me worthy to be held up as a model. . . . . given that he possessed a great spirit" (28). But what, one is entitled to ask, is at all worthy or great about that list of atrocities and lies, especially when the final political result was failure? The thought arises that perhaps if Cesare had really understood what those words mean, his career (and the political conditions in Italy) would have been significantly better than they were thanks to his glorious adventures.
Later in the text (60), Machiavelli compares Hannibal and Scipio, in order to commend Hannibal's harsh discipline and criticize Scipio's more humane treatment of his soldiers. But every schoolboy know what happened to these two men: Scipio defeated Hannibal, and the Roman destroyed Carthage. The force of this comparison calls into question the very reason Machiavelli is praising the loser's qualities. After all, the final test of one's pragmatic efficiency is victory—the loser, in Machiavelli's world, has failed. So why is he keen to hold up short-term winners and long-term losers for our admiration?
In fact, if The Prince is not a satire, then one has to wonder why Machiavelli seems to go out of his way so often to find examples of people who, like Cesare Borgia, have followed the methods he is apparently recommending, enjoyed some short-term success, and then failed miserably, and why Machiavelli is so keen to remind us of the speed with which they came to grief?
After all, if he were fully committed to the program he seems to be offering, then he could have come up with a great many better examples of successful Machiavellians, those who applied his skills and succeeded over a long period (there are some of these, of course, but one wonders why there are not a great many more). And this is all the more ironic, because many of those people whose conduct he appears to be recommending are directly responsible for the situation he wants corrected, so that in places The Prince seems to be saying that if we want to cure the political infection endemic in Italy, we should simply expose ourselves to the same disease in stronger dosages.
In fact, Machiavelli's principal method of supporting his argument by analyzing examples has potentially the satiric effect of inviting the reader to come up with counter examples of people who have ignored the advice he is offering, who have tried as far as possible to keep their promises and to base their political rule on justice rather than expediency, and who have succeeded far better than any of Machiavelli's examples of short-term political efficiency at any price. Such a list would not be difficult to establish.
Machiavelli's Final Recipe for Success
The ironies undercutting Machiavelli's recommended tactics emerge also from what seems to be his final advice to the Prince, out of which one might construct a program very hostile to the very existence of princes
Near the end of The Prince, Machiavelli concludes with some very gloomy reflections on the nature of fortune, on the shifting circumstances rulers face, and on the general impossibility of any success lasting for very long, no matter what the ruler does. What has worked for him to gain power will be the very thing that makes him vulnerable to the next power. In such an unstable world, he finally concludes, it is better to be impetuous than calculating (87). The empirical record, he tells us, does not allow us to draw any other conclusion.
But if that's the case, then what's the point of all the advice in the previous pages? If being impetuous (acting quickly and without much carefully efficient forethought) is more likely to make you fortunate than calculating is, then the entire central thrust of the book is denied and the futility of Machiavellian political tactics is revealed by the very man proposing these tactics.
But Machiavelli is not entirely pessimistic. He repeatedly stresses that the best security a ruler can possess is the loyalty of his people, good laws, and good weapons. One might see in this the subversive point the satire is pressuring the reader to realize. Having reduced his own apparent recommendations over and over again to absurdity, Machiavelli is inviting us to think about the moral components of "loyalty," "good laws," and "good weapons."
And to the extent that protecting oneself from invasion and foreign control is a major political concern of Machiavelli's here, we might see in the following remarks his hidden meaning—the only way out of this political nightmare is a form of government in which tyrannical princes have no place, that is, in free republics.
Anyone who becomes master of a city accustomed to a free way of life, and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it himself, because hen it rebels, it will always be able t appeal to the spirit of freedom and its ancient institutions, which are never forgotten, despite the passage time and any benefits bestowed by the new ruler. Whatever he does, if he does not foment internal divisions or scatter the inhabitants, they will never forget their lost liberties and their ancient institutions, and will immediately attempt to recover them whenever they have an opportunity. . . . (18)
Some Final Comments
Having tried to make the case that Machiavelli's The Prince can be read as a satire, I need to return to my original point—that if it is a satire, it is a spectacularly unsuccessful one for most readers. Why would that be the case?
The most obvious reason why the work does not (for the majority of readers) register as a satire is that, if Machiavelli intended the work to be read that way, his ironies are not sufficiently maintained throughout. It is possible to cull the work (as I have done) for moments in which a satiric tone seems possible (even probable), but that ironic tone is very uneven and (I must confess) often rather tame, insufficiently mordant and funny (although, to judge from some student responses, those who do read it as satire can still find a good deal of humour in its pages).
It may well be the case that Machiavelli intended the contemporary force of some of his examples (especially Cesare Borgia and the other examples from recent Italian politics) to help the ironies register in a much more obvious way. One can see how that might well have affected the receptions of the work among a readership largely made of those for whom Cesare was an object of brutal stupidity and contempt and for whom the Medici were a grave and unwelcome political threat. But if that is the case, then The Prince is a fine example of a satire that has lost much of its bite once the familiarity with the contemporary references is lost (so that, say, the apparent admiration of Cesare Borgia registers as genuine because we have no immediate and shared knowledge of the man in action).
If we do not read The Prince as a satire, then its conclusion still appears morally absurd and politically disastrous. It may well be (as I have said) that Machiavellian tactics make up a great deal of modern (and ancient) politics, but if that is all there is to it (as Machiavelli repeatedly stresses) then goals like the unification of Italy become morally indefensible (unless one resorts to the sorts of defences of those applauding fascism because the dictators made the trains run on time or solved the central European Jewish problem) and politically unattainable (for any long-term plan to unify Italy requires a vision, trust, loyalty in a shared enterprise, and all those things Machiavelli seems to dismiss as inappropriate for a wise ruler—thus, the attainment of Machiavelli's concluding vision of a united Italy would seem to be rendered impossible by the very advice he is providing).
If one wishes to read The Prince unironically, it's possible, as we have heard (from my colleague Norm Cameron's lecture), to attach to Machiavelli's advice some moral vision similar to an early anticipation of utilitarianism--to argue, in effect, that Machiavelli is urging the Prince to think of the greatest good of the greatest number and thus use his unscrupulous tactics for the long-term betterment of as many people as possible.  While this view does not deny the harshness of Machiavellian tactics, it at least seeks to mitigate the moral unease one feels by suggesting that there is a long-term moral goal in view.
The difficulty with this approach (as Dr. Anne Leavitt pointed out in her lecture) is that it is by no means clear that Machiavelli has any such long-term utilitarian program in mind.  It's true he often talks about the economic well being of the people and one could infer (I suppose) from his desire to avoid foreign invasions and constant warfare a concern to maximize the benefits of peace and security.  But if that's the case, one wonders why he is not a great deal more explicit about it.
For one might fairly ask which has a higher priority in Machiavelli's argument: the power base of the Prince or the well being of the people.  When Machiavelli talks about the state, for example, it's not at all clear that he's referring to the people that make up the state rather than to the Prince's power base (and these are not the same thing). And the well being of the people (when Machiavelli talks about it at all) sounds a great deal more like one more tactic for remaining in power, rather than the over all goal of the entire political program.
Moreover, such a utilitarian reading of Machiavelli still leaves unanswered the important question whether the tactics he is recommending are the most effective means of securing the greatest good of the greatest number.  As I pointed out above, given the extent to which Machiavelli's tactics would seem to encourage a politics of paranoia, one might argue that the climate of fear, suspicion, and hostility they would encourage among the Prince's subjects would guarantee a political life in which the continuing scramble for power might well prevent rather than foster the well being of the people (and it would not be hard to derive from the historical record a sufficient number of examples to illustrate the point).