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Archive for January, 2012

Staying “Ahead” with the News

January 31, 2012 10 comments

Knowing trivia about Western entertainers is uber-cool – implies The Hindu, (Chennai, India). But knowing anything about Indian Bollywood stars in infra-dig. Duh?

What’s hot …

This recent ad (above) for The Hindu group of newspapers, implies that for an Indian, knowing answers to  questions like “which band was Paul McCartney part of” or “who is the author of the Harry Potter” is “staying ahead”.

But knowing which Indian actress is size zero isn’t.

What’s not …

Sorry Kareena, your diet and yoga are futile (below).  For The Hindu, unless you make news in England or America, you have not moved “ahead.”

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Russia’s Population Problem – Indian men the answer?

January 29, 2012 13 comments

Across Russia and Central Asia, women seem to perceive Indian men through the prism of values that they have seen in Bollywood movies.

Four young Ukrainian women went topless on the balcony of the Indian envoy’s residence in Kiev with placards pronouncing “Ukraine is not a bordello” and “We are not prostitutes”.  The Femen quartet are 'famous' for topless protests against topics ranging from sex tourism to Silvio Berlusconi’s peccadilloes. This time they were protesting the alleged tightening of visa rules by the Indian mission in Kiev for Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group.  |  Image source & courtesy - femen.info

Four young Ukrainian women went topless on the balcony of the Indian envoy’s residence in Kiev with placards pronouncing “Ukraine is not a bordello” and “We are not prostitutes”. The Femen quartet are ‘famous’ for topless protests against topics ranging from sex tourism to Silvio Berlusconi’s peccadilloes. This time they were protesting the alleged tightening of visa rules by the Indian mission in Kiev for Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group. | Image source & courtesy – femen.info

One label for One Nation

A few weeks ago, some women from Ukraine protested when the Indian External Affairs Ministry (MEA) decided that it will restrict visas to Ukrainian women.

The  ministry expected (as per news reports) that some of these women were being purportedly recruited on a short-term basis by political parties to ‘motivate’ party cadre in election bound states of UP and Punjab.

So, the Indian Government decided to scrutinize visa applications from Ukrainian women in 15-40 years age group as ‘probable’ prostitute-candidates.

The Indian embassy in Kiev denied this report.

STOP Press!

Saturday, 18 February 2012 17:57 | PTI | Moscow
The Ukrainian government has decided to press charges against the Femen group for their protest in the Indian embassy.  The Charges – hooliganism and desecration of state symbols.

Active since 2008, Femen Group members have never faced imprisonment – worst being fines or brief arrests.

Wah! Taj

Around the same time, a court in Siberia was hearing arguments on why the Bhagwad Gita was a threat to Christianity in Russia – and must be banned.

Russia has less than 100,000 ‘Hindus’ who spontaneously converted from Christianity to Hinduism under the aegis of the American guru’s Krishna Consciousness Foundation – popularly known as Hare Krishna devotees.

The Tomsk court finally decided that the ban was not justified.

To complete the chain

And then the older story (from 2007) which amused a lot of Indians – and promptly forgotten.

Desperate to reverse a steep decline in their numbers, Russians are coming up with some bold ideas on how to overcome Russia’s demographic crisis.

A Russian feminist has proposed a radical solution to the falling birth rate — importing Indian bridegrooms for Russian girls. Maria Arbatova, writer and TV moderator, who married an Indian businessman a few years ago “after 25 years of keeping marrying Russians”, thinks Indian men make ideal husbands.

“They are crazy about their family and children,” she said presenting her new book, ‘Tasting India’, here. “What is more, Indians, like Russians, are Indo-Europeans, and many Sanskrit and Russian words have the same roots.”

Indian bridegrooms can help ward off a Chinese demographic invasion in Russia, says the feminist: “If we do not balance off the Chinese with Indians, Africans or aliens, by 2050 China will annex Russia’s Siberia up to the Ural Mountains.”

Russia has a population of 142 million spread across a territory five times the size of India. Its population is shrinking at one-third of a million a year. Under a federal programme launched this year, women who give birth to a second or subsequent child are given certificates worth $10,000, which can be used for education, mortgage or pensions. (via The Hindu : Front Page : “Import Indian bridegrooms for Russian brides”).

Joining the dots

Are

  1. Ukrainian women coming to India
  2. To find ‘good’ Indian husbands
  3. Based on an image built by Bollywood movies, very popular in USSR region

Far fetched! See this video.


West – Developed & Deep in Debt

January 26, 2012 3 comments

The entire Developed world is deeply in debt. Will this debt ever get paid?

Britain - A World Leader In Indebtedness! (Source McKinsey Reports). Alt image URL - http://goo.gl/k6soE

Britain - A World Leader In Indebtedness! (Source McKinsey Reports). Alt image URL - http://goo.gl/k6soE

debt problems of the western world go much beyond the current crisis. For one thing, as the authors point out, public debt levels are likely to rise as populations age and governments try to deliver on the promises (pensions, health care and so on).

As public debt levels rise beyond the “danger threshold”, they will tend to pull growth down. This, in turn, could make household and corporate debt servicing far more difficult and countries that are already saddled with dangerously high levels could find themselves in the middle of a crisis. Thus, even if there is a solution to the current crisis in Europe, the “debt” problems of the western world are far from over.

Tailpiece

What worries us about the spirit of good cheer that has suddenly returned to the markets is that it might lead to temporary appreciation in the euro. This, alas, could bring back the spectre of a crisis in the region and revive fears of a break-up in the currency union. One of the pre-conditions for the survival of the union is an orderly deprecation of the currency towards some sort of “fair value” that we think could lie anywhere between 1.15 and 1.20. This would make the beleaguered countries of the periphery more competitive and reduce their incentives to exit from the union. If the currency starts to appreciate again, things go back to square one and the sustainability of the union is back under a cloud of uncertainty. Financial markets tend to be prescient about these things and it is possible that while other currencies and assets rally against the dollar, the euro could at least stay put. (via Abheek Barua & Shivom Chakravarti: Deconstructing debt).

DEBT THREATS (Debt levels as a % of GDP)
Debt Household Non-financial Government Total
US 95 76 97 268
Japan 82 161 213 456
UK 106 126 89 321
Italy 53 128 129 310
Denmark 152 119 65 336
Netherlands 130 121 76 327
Greece 65 65 143 273
Portugal 106 153 107 366
Source: Bank for International settlements & Eurostat  Table source & courtesy – business-standard.com

Clear message

Estimates vary. Assumptions change.

Regardless, of difference in estimates, or the variation in assumptions, debt levels of the developed world are awesome.

The table on top is based on McKinsey Consulting’s estimates released in 2009.

Some figures were revised after McKinsey estimates were made. Like from Ireland. Or after the QE and QEII, US govt debt has ballooned from roughly US$9 trillion to 15 trillion.

The deficit has ballooned to nearly $48,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. This year alone, the U.S. will spend $1.3 trillion more than it takes in.

The debt has expanded at an alarming pace, from $7.5 trillion in 2004 and $5.6 trillion in 2000. At the current rate, Debtclock.org reckons that the debt will top $23 trillion in 2015, though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts the estimate at $17.6 trillion. (via U.S. Debt Tops $15 Trillion Mark Today – ABC News).

Looking at these two sets figures, two questions come to my mind.

One: How does the West+Developed world plan to repay these debts?

Only two things can happen from here. Either governments are going to default outright. Or they are going inflate away their debts, using compliant central banks to keep interest rates significantly below rising prices for many years. Either way, everyone is going to lose a lot of money. Whether it is through a default or inflation doesn’t make much difference in the medium term. (via France and the death of the sovereign debt market – Matthew Lynn’s London Eye – MarketWatch).

Two: If the whole of the Developed world is so deep in debt, it is obvious that someone else has lent them this money?

Obviously, the Developed World is a net borrower – and someone has lent that money to the Developed world – or underwriting this Debt, based on which this debt is being issued.

Since all the major economies of the world (except Russia and China) are deeply in debt, who is doing the lending? Russia and China are in a position to be creditors, only to a limited extent. But cannot account for major part.

This leaves us with the poor countries of the world.

Are the rich of this world, bleeding the poor?


Big Brother State Makes Food Choices For Us

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Why is the State getting involved with what I eat and drink?

English-speaking middle class vermin

A middle-class, English-speaking Indian decides that the neighbouring country liquor vendor must be shut down. Uses CNN-IBN Citizen Journalist promo to get media coverage.

Feeling very sanctimonious, Pradeep Bhatia pushes a reluctant local police station to shut down a small-time entrepreneur. This tea-stall and selling country liquor, was definitely not the type that is patronized by the rich or even the middle-class. Note, in the entire CNN-IBN report, there is no mention of law & order problem from this tea-and-liquor outlet owner or its patrons.

I wonder if he would have done this against a more powerful bar?

Anyways, who is anyone to decide what I will eat and drink? Should the State regulate my choices of food and drink? Can Pradeep Bhatia and the Police Inspector decide what I will eat and drink?

Not in भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra, at least.

Disclaimer: I have no interest in this tea-stall, liquor, country or otherwise. While I am a teetotaler, I see no reason I should impose my preferences on anyone else.

Without Comment – The Great Indian Genetic Robbery

January 24, 2012 5 comments

The ways, means, and behind Western technology and science.

India is rice country. Rice is a critical component of a complex eco-system, tied to legends, used as symbol, essential witness at religious ceremonies and rituals. Such an immense preoccupation with rice would, which is to be expected, call forth its own brand of competence to grow it; so we find a bewildering number of techniques, some of which even today place Indian rice farmers, some Adivasis, in a class far ahead of international science.

In the Jagannath Temple at Puri in Orissa, I was told, freshly harvested rice is presented to the deity everyday, and various varieties of rice, placed in pots, one on top of the other, with a single flame beneath the lowermost, still cook simultaneously. In Chhattisgarh region there is a rice variety called Bora, which can be ground directly into flour and made into rotis. Other varieties have fascinating names, like the kali-mooch of Gwalior, the moti-chur and the khowa; the latter, as its name signifies, tastes like dried milk. The dhokra-dhokri, with its length of grain over 14 mm is the longest rice in the world and the variety Bhimsen has the largest width; there is variety called udan pakheru – because of its long, featherlike structure.

There may have been as many as 1,20,000 varieties of rice in the country, adapted to different environments, and selected and evolved by farmers for specific human needs. These varieties are a product of nature’s desire for diversity, eagerly husbanded by indigenous and non-formal science.

The Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), at Cuttack, had been working on the different problems associated with rice culture ever since it had been set up in the late 1950s. Dr R.H. Richharia took over as its director in 1959, and a number of competent scientists had come up with interesting work that sooner or later would converge into a strategy to produce more rice.

Two major developments totally ruined the prospect of a promised land overflowing with rice and honey. The first was economic: the oil price hike of 1973 effectively limited a fertiliser-based agricultural strategy. It would make Green Revolution inputs so expensive that they would have to be subsidised by Governments if farmers were not to give up using them forever. The second major problem, also irreversible, arrived in the form of disease and insects. The growing of varieties with a narrow genetic base (all with the same dwarfing gene, dee-gee-wo-gen), upset insect ecology and invented entire generations of pests.

In India, the situation was equally horrifying. All of Dr Richharia’s predictions had come true. ‘The introduction of high-yielding varieties,’ noted a task force of eminent rice breeders, ‘has brought about a marked change in the status of insect pests like gall midge, brown planthopper, leaf folder, whore maggot, etc. Most of the HYVs released so far are susceptible to major pests with a crop loss of 30 to 100 per cent… Most of the HYVs are the derivatives of TN1 or IR8 and therefore, have the dwarfing gene known as dee-gee-wo-gen. The narrow genetic base has created alarming uniformity, causing vulnerability to diseases and pests. Most of the released varieties are not suitable for typical uplands and lowlands which together constitute about 75 per cent of the total rice area of the country.

The IRRI counter-strategy against the pests involved breeding of varieties, with genes for resistance to such pests, taken from wild relatives of the rice plant and its traditional cultivars. All of a sudden it seemed critical that massive efforts be made to make as complete a collection of the older varieties: many of the traditional Indicas were found to be important donors for resistance. Gene incorporation strategy, in other words, required vast germplasm resources, most of which were to be found in India. The recruitment of Dr M.S. Swaminathan would be instrumental in the task of collection.

In India, again, Dr Richharia stood in the way.

After he had been retired from service at Chandler’s insistence, Richharia had gone to the Orissa High Court, where for three years, alone, he fought a legal battle that ruined his family, disrupted the education of his children, and brought tremendous strains on his wife’s health. The legal battle was successful, for in 1970, the Court ordered his reinstatement as director of the CRRI. He had redeemed his honour.

In the meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh government had appointed Dr Richharia as an agricultural advisor, and the rice man set about his disrupted rice work once again, with his usual zeal. Within the space of six years, he had built up the infrastructure of a new rice research institute at Raipur. Here, this extraordinarily gifted and imaginative rice scientist maintained over 19,000 varieties of rice in situ on a shoestring budget of Rs. 20,000 per annum, with not even a microscope in his office-cum-laboratory, situated in the neighbourhood of cooperative rice mills. His assistants included two agricultural graduates and six village level workers, the latter drawing a salary of Rs.250 per month. Richharia had created, practically out of nothing, one of the most extraordinary living gene banks in the world, and provided ample proof of what Indian scientists are capable of, if they are given proper encouragement.

An attack of leaf blight that devastated the corn crop of the US in 1970, and which had resulted from the extensive planting of hybrids that shared a single source of cytoplasm, and the continuous attacks on IRRI varieties, impelled IRRI to sponsor a Rice Genetic Conservation Workshop in 1977. Swaminathan attended it as an ‘observer’. The report of that workshop begins with the statement: ‘The founders of IRRI showed great foresight when in 1960-61 they planned the establishment of a rice germplasm bank.’ Nonsense. The certified aims and objects for the institute merely talk of a collection of the world’s literature on rice. The workshop, being held 17 years after the establishment of IRRI, indicated that the germplasm problem was becoming important only now.

After the workshop, IRRI’s covetous gaze fell on Richharia’s 19,000 varieties at the Madhya Pradesh Rice Research Institute (MPRRI). Not only had Richharia now uncovered a fascinating world of traditional rices, some of which produced between 8-9 tonnes per hectare – better than the IRRI varieties – he had also discovered dwarf plants without the susceptible dwarfing gene of the IRRI varieties. His extension work among the farmers would soon begin to pose a direct challenge to IRRI itself.

IRRI staff members journeyed to Raipur and asked for his material. Still moulded in the old scientific tradition, he refused because he had not studied the material himself. He was decidedly against any proposal for ‘exchange’, for this could only mean giving up his uncontaminated varieties for IRRI’s susceptible ones.

So the IRRI did the next best thing: it got the MPRRI shut down!

The ICAR floated a scheme for agricultural development in Madhya Pradesh, particularly for rice. The World Bank contributed Rs.4 crores. The condition laid down was: close down the MPRRI, since it would lead to a ‘duplication of work.’ At a special meeting of the MPRRI Board, Madhya Pradesh’s chief secretary who was not a trustee was present. He had been earlier connected with the Ford Foundation. A resolution was passed closing down the Institute, and the rice germplasm passed over to the Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya (JNKVV), whose vice-chancellor Sukhdev Singh also joined the IRRI board of trustees. Scientists were sent to IRRI for training in germplasm transfer, and Richharia’s team was disbanded.

This time too, they locked Dr. Richharia’s rooms and took away all his research papers. (More @ The Great Gene Robbery  |  Claude Alvares |  13 Jan 2012Vijayvaani.com).

School text books reflect Indian culture poorly: Survey

January 24, 2012 4 comments

Language, logic and liberty. How all three are getting affected in India by English language.

British Colonialism survived. In Indian minds! A cartoon after the Jallianwala massacre of Indian civilians at Amritsar by British troops on 13 April 1919. Captioned 'Progress to Liberty - Amritsar style'. (Cartoonist: David Low (1891-1963) Published: The Star, 16 Dec 1919; Source - http://www.cartoons.ac.uk/record/LSE6183).

British Colonialism survived. In Indian minds! A cartoon after the Jallianwala massacre of Indian civilians at Amritsar by British troops on 13 April 1919. Captioned 'Progress to Liberty - Amritsar style'. (Cartoonist: David Low (1891-1963) Published: The Star, 16 Dec 1919; Source - http://www.cartoons.ac.uk/record/LSE6183).

While correcting the answersheets of a post-graduate dance exam, Kanak Rele, a Mohiniattam exponent, was left aghast when one of the students listed Michael Jackson and Hrithik Roshan as India’s contribution to world dance.

Her Centre conducted a survey of more than 600 textbooks used by students studying in schools affiliated to the Maharashtra state board, CBSE and ICSE board and found that not more than 28% of the information in their curriculum relates to Indian culture.

“Our syllabi reflect our cultural heritage very poorly,” said Kanak Rele.

The survey, ‘Discovering India – A Survey of School Textbooks and Curriculum in Maharashtra,’ was conducted over 13 months by eight researchers and was commissioned by the Union ministry of culture.The survey found that texts such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and tales from Panchatantra, Jataka and Hitopadesha were omitted from textbooks but Aesop’s Fables had been included.

“It is shocking that the south and north-eastern parts of India are almost neglected in the textbooks which are overwhelmingly tilted toward central and north India,” said the survey report, which rated books on different parameters such as tradition and culture, history, heritage, Indian thought and spirituality.

The researchers analysed every lesson in 638 textbooks of three languages Hindi, Marathi and English, maths, science, social studies and Sanskrit and compared references of any of the above parameters to other information.The Secondary School Certificate SSC textbooks fared the worst with only 22% of the information relating to Indian culture, followed by Central Board of Secondary Education had 26% and the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education ICSE 27%. (via Indian culture reflected poorly in school syllabi, finds survey – Hindustan Times).

Sow and reap

Why is this not surprising? Not shocking at all.

After funding and promoting foreign language (English) as the main language for higher education. India signed away its future to those who control English – English media, English Universities, English ideology, English polity.

English everything!

Poor India promotes English language

This shock and surprise displays India’s position on English language – non-negotiable.

Any number of such reports will paper over the root-cause – English language. As the British Empire was sinking under the weight of its own hubris, George Orwell, the apologist-in-chief of the declining Empire wrote:

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past (from Nineteen Eighty Four (1984); by George Orwell).

And the departing British did exactly that.

The Trojan Horse

They sent their foremost propagandists to malform Indian history – before they left. More than 65 years later, we are still trying to clean and correct colonial garbage – which is called Indian history.

English language is like the Greek ‘gift’ of the wooden horse to Troy in the Trojan War.

The ‘gift’ that was the Trojan doom!

Indian History – Blind At Birth?

January 20, 2012 11 comments

Unchallenged rule by Mughals and the British Raj over India, lasted for about 350 years. Cholas ruled longer than that. Why is Modern Indian history so besotted with Mughals and British Raj.

Tandava Nataraja at Rijksmuseum's Asian Art Collection. The Dancing Shiva - Probably a Chola Bronze.  |  Image source and courtesy - rijksmuseum.nl

Tandava Nataraja at Rijksmuseum’s Asian Art Collection. The Dancing Shiva – Probably a Chola Bronze. | Image source and courtesy – rijksmuseum.nl

Research recently revealed that the Rijksmuseum’s monumental bronze statue of Shiva was cast in solid bronze. The thousand year-old temple statue was X-rayed, along with the lorry transporting it, in the most powerful X-ray tunnel for containers of the Rotterdam customs authority. It is the first research of its kind on a museological masterpiece.

At 153 cm x 114.5 cm, the Rijksmuseum’s Shiva is the largest known bronze statue from the Chola Dynasty (9th to 12th century) kept in a museological collection outside of India. Given its weight (300 kg), the statue has always been suspected of not being hollow, as has been common practice in Europe since the Greek Antiquity. As part of an earlier investigation, an X-ray was taken of the statue in a Rijksmuseum gallery in 1999 while visitors were evacuated as a precaution against radiation. Unfortunately, the equipment used at the time (280 KeV) was not powerful enough to determine anything definitively. The Rotterdam X-ray tunnel of the Rotterdam customs authority offered a solution.

Complete surprise

The Rijksmuseum renovation project has provided conservators and curators the opportunity to carry out in-depth research on special pieces from the Rijksmuseum collection, including this masterpiece from the Asian Art Collection. The statue was created ca. 1100 in South India. Each temple had its own set of bronze statues which were carried through the city during major temple festivals. This gives the statues their name: utsavamurti, which is Sanskrit for ‘festival images’. Chola bronzes were considered masterpieces of Indian bronze casting.

Anna Ślączka, curator of South Asian Art, comments, ‘We had expected that the statue itself would prove to be solid, but it was a complete surprise to discover that the aureole and the demon under Shiva’s feet are also solid.’ (via Dancing Shiva X Rayed – rijksmuseum.nl.).

Curious … & Interesting

The Mughals from Babur (First Battle of Panipat – 1526) to Aurangzeb (died on 3 March 1707), ruled for less than 200 years. Even with the largest State treasury of its time.

With a fugitive Humayun, deposed by Sher Shah Suri (from 1540-1555) in between.

Within 50 years of Aurangzeb’s death, after the Battle of Plassey (1757), the British gained power. With the Battle of Buxar (1764), the British gained the dewani of Bengal.

For the British, the dewani of Bengal gave untold riches and the start of a global monopoly over gunpowder. Bengal which was the largest manufactory of gunpowder elements in the world was the keys to an Empire. For the British, making money in India was as easy as shaking a pagoda tree.

For India it was ‘hello famines’. A 100 years of wars with the British followed. The Bengal Famine of 1770 (1769-1773) is much written and analysed.

Lost – even before they began

Within 200 years, the British lost India.

British rule really started somewhere between the defeat of Tipu Sultan (1800) and the annexation of Punjab after the death of Ranjit Singh (1840). By 1947, the British story was over – and they were out of India. To be charitable, take it that British misrule lasted from Battle of Plassey (1757) to Indian Independence (1947).

Cholas

But the Cholas ruled over an equally large empire.

Even though Cholas rule started somewhere in 2nd century BC, their peak was  from 940 AD to 1279 AD – nearly 350 years. And what does Modern Indian history know or how important are the Cholas to modern Indian history?

This statue is just a pinhole peek into the technological advancements in the Chola period.


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