Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Unreality of Economics

Most academic writing by economists strikes me as further and further away from the realities of life.

I wonder if one reason why our discipline's understanding of real-world economics is so poor is that we are still stuck at looking at "national economics". Even our so-called "macroeconomics" stops at the national dimension.

Our ruling paradigms are "country competitiveness" and other such non-realities

In the real world, however, there are awkward facts such as the following:

- "national" currencies may be largely held by countries other than those which originated them

- "national debt" may not be to the nation, principally

- companies are registered for legal reasons in Country "A" but have as employees, and are owned by (and therefore distribute their profits to), people from many countries - in many cases, the *majority* of owners and employees may not be from the country in which the company is registered

- similarly, people within Country "A" are usually employees of companies "belonging" to many other countries

- investors from Country "A" rarely have all their investments in that country; indeed, the richer they are, the more likely they are to have their investments in several countries

- Central Banks are constantly making "their own" judgements regarding interest rates and money supply, but these judgements tend to be in the "light" of the judgements that other such entities are making

- the perceptions and actions of currency traders in "other" countries can raise or depress the exchange value of "the" currency more than the judgemetns and actions of the Central Bank in question, or indeed more than the judgements and actions of all the most important Central Banks in the world.

I will find it helpful to have my attention drawn to what body of our literature takes as its *starting* point the fact that global economics and global business is all there is, now - though these are of course complicated by inconvenient legal realities such as "countries". Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How stupid is the market becoming? - 2

Earlier this year, I blogged on the above subject in relation to the company, BrainStore, arguing that BrainStore's marketing was ridiculous.

The CEO, Markus Mettler, upset with my Blog (specially as I am a small shareholder), wrote to me (partly) as follows:

"Prabhu: did you realize, that the flower mailing not only contained a vacumized tulip but also contained a DVD with a 30 (!) minute TV report (3 SAT, Nano special) on BrainStore with a case study? I'll gladly send you a copy if you should not have seen it yet.

"Prabhu: did you feel the power of the message "It's possible" in the silk print we sent at Christmas in 2004? It's a message against all the "It won't work, it's to expensive, we have tried it before, never will this fly" etc (that stops innovation and creativity). The "It's possible" message has been in Newspapers (all over)

"Prabhu: did you see the symbolism in the broom? Make room for new ideas. Get rid of the dust blocking your innovation. With a twinkle in our eyes...

("So) we are not at all out for effects. We're not impressed be "Sauglattismus" - a beautiful Swiss German word. We are very focused on common sense, (since) common sense (is) in fact (what) drives us. The search for the essence, the simple, the surprising and yes, the polarizing".

(please note that the bits in brackets are my attempts to make the English smooth or comprehensive when I shorten the CEO's letter to me)

Dear Markus: I must be much less imaginative than I thought! Mea culpa... Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Economist magazine on Milton Friedman

You may have noticed The Economist's Obit on Milton Friedman, which was "Milton Freed Man".

The following would have been my letter to the Editor, if I had got around to it in time:

SIRS - Your unthinkingly fulsome praise of Milton Friedman is inappropriate, even for an obituary.

Friedman did not "free man". Rather, he freed the rich to become even richer - at the cost of the US as a nation, at the cost of increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, and at the cost of worsening the environment:

* The aggressive ascendancy of Friedmanism and its allies has resulted in the growing gap between the rich and the poor that has been highlighted more than once by The Economist itself.

* The influence of Friedmanism and its allies has resulted in the trade and other imbalances that now imperil the United States as a country (though no one there seems willing to face that fact).

* Much more dangerously, Friedmanism and its allies are worsening the climate chaos that bedevils the future of the whole of humanity.

Will Keynesianism be able to rescue us from those triple dangers? Perhaps from the first danger, though I have my doubts about that possibility.

In any case, the second and third dangers cannot be overcome except by new global agreements and legislation – which Friedman so chafed against, even at the national level.

Prabhu Guptara
Weinfelden, Switzerland Sphere: Related Content

"Tackling Poverty: The Roles of Business, Government, and NGOs"

For my article, "Tackling Poverty: The Roles of Business, Government, and NGOs", please go to: Sphere: Related Content

Prizes and such matters

"Crispin" from writes to me as follows:

"I have been thinking about "prizes" recently and their ability to stimulate advances or maybe even to work for good. I was wondering what would be the most beneficial outcomes that could be advanced by creation of a small number of prizes? Any thoughts? It would make an interesting post."

I couldn't find an e-mail ID for you or any Feedback form on your website,Crispin, otherwise I would have sent this to you. But then others would not have the pleasure(?) of seeing my response to you...!

Anyway, prizes: certainly, they provide recognition, and that is good. One probably needs to distinguish between the satisfaction and encouragement that prizes provide to a recipient, and the public encouragement of the relevant activity.

The former happens in any case (I think and hope!). The latter is a more complicated matter, because it is linked with the question of publicity.

Having served on a jury or two, I am very aware of all the hard work that goes into selecting a prize winner - sometimes, collectively, the jury will have put in as much effort as the prize-winner! Not to mention the work put in by the organisers or the work put in by the individual(s) who earned the money that funds the prize.

However, all that effort (i.e. doing the work that is being recognised in the first place, as well as the work done by others) amounts to little more than individual satisfaction if there is no resulting publicity. And that is an enormous issue today.

If you endow the largest prize in any field, you are more or less guaranteed to get some publicity.

Small prizes can and do win publicity, but you have to be that much more inventive and creative if you want to get the attention of the media. You may want to look carefully at what the Booker Man Prize for Literature, or what the Nobel Prize Committee does, if you want some pointers regarding how best to win publicity. Yes, that does take a lot of money, but not only money....

So go ahead and endow a number of small prizes, Crispin. They will spread the cheer and satisfaction around to the winners in any case. If you want additionally to encourage the related activity as a whole, on the other hand, go either for a single large prize or make sure that you put enough time money aside for the specific purpose of organising the effort of getting media attention - which is not as simple a matter as merely buying advertising.

BTW, in my view, the USA should get the prize for creating the largest number of prizes (they seem to have prizes for everything). The UK, Northern Europe and Canada come more or less equal second. The non-Reformed parts of the world remain pretty poor in the number of prizes they offer. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Old Age or "Mature Age" or "Ripe Age" or...

At a conference last week, a fellow-participant struggled when he wanted to say the almost instinctive phrase "yound and old".

What he struggled about was the word "old".

He did not want to offend the "oldies" present, so hesitatingly tried "mature", then "ripe"...

I was the second oldest person in the room, so I quickly reassured him that, in every traditional culture, old age was respected not scorned, and that I, at least, had not succumbed to the modern illusion that one can be young forever.

The lie-merchants include many marketing experts, scientists and technologists, who are in the business of selling us the make-believe that we can be young forever.

There is a time to be we are born, and a time to be young, a time to be a professional, and a time to be a coach, a time to die and a time to grow old.

This life is only a moment. The life that comes after this, is for eternity.

I have no qualms about old age or about death, since Jesus the Lord offers each person the life by which one can grow old gracefully, and by which death becomes the door to enter happiness eternally.

Happy is the individual who knows how to grow old gracefully, and happy is the individual who has come to understand how to die in the knowledge that death is going to open the door to a life of eternal happiness rather than eternal regret. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 04, 2006

On "Calaspia", or Kids and Career Choices

When my twin boys' first novel, "Conspiracy of Calaspia", was published one day before their 18th birthday last week, it was a bit like history.

The twins have been working away on their novel (the first of a series of seven novels they've planned, actually) from the age of eleven.

The younger twin, Jyoti, particularly impressed me with his desire to write because he would rather write than sleep, or eat, or play football. He always worked with the older twin, Suresh, because they did everything together - though Suresh has always had other interests too.

When Jyoti decided that he wanted to quit school to become a full-time writer, I was in a quandary because he was only 14.

On one hand, I have always loved literature (and writing). "Always"? Well, not quite. To be precise, from the age of about 14. Later in life, for a time, I even tried to switch careers and become a full-time writer.

On the other hand, I therefore know how tough it is to make a living as a writer. As a father, ought I not to discourage a young boy from making a mistake which he might regret later as the realities of life hit him? Ought I not to even disallow him to be a writer? At the very least, should I not be cautious and suggest that he at least finishes a first university degree - if necessary in literature - before committing himself to any career?

In the end, the family tradition won out. First, at least from my grandfather's time, the tradition has been to encourage individual interests: when my father wanted to depart from our traditional caste-related focus on business, my grandfather paid for him to go to Oxford to study in order to become a professor (he became one of the first Indian graduates in English from Oxford, in 1933). When my father died, with the result that we had almost nothing and my mother had to work day and night in order to bring us up, even then my mother always encouraged me to follow my own interests, however "uneconomic" and "non-career related" they seemed. The great bane of life today is that kids are bored. People don't know what to do with their lives. So if a child has an interest in anything, however "stupid", we should feed that interest, not squash it. Second, our family have been businessfolk for at least the last two thousand years. We ought to know how to calculate risks and when to take risks. In my view, the world has changed fundamentally in the decades since my own teenage years. Today, in any reasonably developed part of the world, you can make a sort of living working at almost any profession, however lowly. However, you can also "make it big" in any profession, if you are the best in the world, or among the best in the world, in that profession. The historic Hindu and Roman Catholic and Tribal-world distinction between "noble" and "ignoble" professions has been broken by the Protestant Revolution. We are all Protestants now when it comes to our daily lives, whether or not we believe in the essential beliefs of Protestantism or are even aware of them: Luther's attitude (or the Bible's attitude) has come to prevail, and every profession is now regarded as more or less equally worthwhile. Though it may still be difficult to be the world champion at road sweeping, you can make as many millions from being a world-class car driver, singer or cook as you can from being the world's top economist, doctor or engineer (these last three being the favoured professions in my teenage years, and most Indian parents still "push" their offspring towards such professions). In other words, the risks are much lower that children will make a disaster of their career if they follow their passions, than if they follow the herd and somehow struggle with their boredom more or less passably.

A straw in the wind was that Jyoti published an article in the Wall Street Journal at the age of fourteen, becoming the youngest known writer to have done so, and I must say that influenced my judgment.

Then, in one of our discussions, Jyoti came with the clincher. He pointed out that if I was willing to support him through, say, ten years of being bored and having to struggle at things in which he was not interested before he could start trying to make a living by his writing, did it not make more sense for me to support him through ten years of an apprenticeship at something to which he is totally committed?

All that sounds terrible "rational" and "ordinary". I was constantly praying that God would guide him and guide my wife and myself as we discussed these matters, so that we would know from God in our hearts the right decision. After all, we are not accidents in a universe that came into being by chance. We are the results of God's deliberate creation and each of us has a specific purpose for which we are born. At least, that is what Jesus taught.

Finally, I agreed that if Jyoti proved that his dedication to writing could create the motivation to study on his own to finish his "O" Levels successfully, then he could really stop going to school and become a full-time writer.

Jyoti did buckle down to studying on his own (not without struggles), eventually doing creditably at his "O" Levels. So he took to full-time writing.

Two years later, the result is "Conspiracy of Calaspia", the first of the Insanity Series. It is thoroughly enjoyable reading. I think they handle the genre of fantasy surprisingly well. Their writing style and their sensitivity to words is better than that of many other published writers who are very much older as well as "established". And the twins have a philosophical point of view which should make the series increasingly interesting for those who have the interest to follow it. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 24, 2006

"Click fraud” poses a threat to the boom in internet advertising

That's the sub-title of a particularly superficial article in The Economist this week (usually, the articles there are very good, and The Economist is one of the few unbiased publications left in the world); the article's main title is "Truth in advertising" and it is available at:

So why do I scoff at this particular piece?

Becaues the real threat to Internet advertising is not "click fraud" at all.

It is rather that no one I know responds to Internet advertising, except to click it off.

The case for Internet advertising therefore seems to me to be based on an illusion.

That bubble will burst as soon as decision-makers realise the basic facts of the case.

Regretfully, decision-makers (like some of those who write for The Economist) don't seem to know the Internet or Internet users at all well.

Has there been any research will quantifies response rates on the Internet at any level OTHER than "clicks"? Does "clicking the ad off" count as a "click"? Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Impressions of life in Madrid, Spain

I am about to commit the sin called "American tourismus" - that is, the sin of visiting a city for an hour and giving one's impressions as if they were authoritative:

Having wandered about the city a little over double the amount of time mentioned above, the following are my observations for what they are worth:

1. Surprisingly few Spaniards speak English - even among taxi drivers! That is particularly astonishing when one considers that Madrid is now apparently the 4th-most visited city in Europe - and at least a sizeable number of visitors must be English-speaking in preference to Spanish-speaking (or any other language that might be mutually comprehensible)

2. In many ways, Madrid reminded me of India - e.g. in the relaxed attitude to time and to orgnisation. For example, appointments usually started 10-15 minutes later than scheduled. Further, the air-travel related schedule from my travel agent said that I had to check-in at Terminal 2 and, true enough, the check-in was at Terminal 2, but the flight was not leaving from Terminal 2, it was going to leave from Terminal 1 - which was a substantial distance away. The terminals (as most buildings) are spacious and have lots of marble but, as in India, no one seems to think it worth doing anything about a few missing squares in the ceiling plasterboard or about the long wire lying around.

3. Quality of life seems no lower in Madrid, now, than in Switzerland - at least at the top to middling levels (there are a few drunken beggars about). Being vegetarian, I did not have a lot of choice in terms of food, but there are the usual Turkish small shops which retail Falafel, and that cost Euros 3.30 there (which I reckon to be about a third less than what that would cost in Switzerland). The city has wide boulevards and at least a few large gardens, as well as plenty of museums....And a single Metro ride to anywhere in the city costs only 1 Euro. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tackling Poverty: The Roles of Business, Government and NGOs

For my article with the above title, published in ETHIX magazine (the bulletin of the Center for Integrity in Business, Seattle, USA), please go to: Sphere: Related Content

Training, Coaching, Mentoring

A colleague asks me the difference between these terms, so here goes:

Training refers to any repetitive activity with the objective of making what is considered to be "best" so ingrained as to be subconscious. So does an athlete "train". Equally, one can "train" a horse or a dog. One can have a "Personal Trainer" for physical fitness, or someone can be a "Dog Trainer" or a "Horse Trainer". The purpose is in any case to enhance performance in what might be considered a one-dimensional way. The dog is trained to do certain specific tasks. The horse is trained to obey specific commands. My "Personal Trainer" ensures that I exercise in the best possible way in order to increase my physical fitness. The word "training" has therefore a repetitive and graduated feel to it.

Coaching is provided by a coach (as in "a football coach") in order to enhance a wider range of skills. The term "coaching" has, therefore, a professional or technical feel to it. You can "coach" me in order to try and improve my abilities for example in public speaking or in time-management.

The word "coach" started being used in 1556 for a "large kind of carriage" and comes into English via the Middle French word "coche", as well as from the German word "kotsche", both originally deriving from the fifteenth century Hungarian word "kocsi", meaning a "carriage made in Kocs," the Hungarian village where it was first made. In the 1830s, "coach" came to be used in Oxford University slang for a tutor who "carries" a student through an examination. The use of the word was extended from academics to sports and athletics from 1861. The word "coaching" has therefore a remedial but also an objective-related feel to it, where the objective needs the rather more flexible deployment of a range of skills or abilities.

The "mentoring" has quite different roots. Mentor is the name of the person to whom Odysseus (or Ulysses) entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, when he set out on what we now call an "odyssey" and which took him, among other places, to the Trojan Wars. Mentor was Odysseus' wise and trusted counsellor as well as tutor to Telemachus. Mentor's name - with a lower-case "m" - has passed into English as a term for a wise and trusted counselor and teacher.

In modern English the term is used in two ways:
First, the word "mentor" refers to a person providing regular or continuous counsel or teaching ("My mentor is Joe Smith").

Second, the word "mentor" is used of an older, influential person who takes a younger, promising person "under the wing," for the purpose of advancing the younger person's career. The older person is then a mentor to the younger one. And the younger person is traditionally referred to as the "protégé" of the older person. This sort of relationship usually comes about for family-, power-, psychology- or relationship-oriented reasons.

In business circles, a new and somewhat inelegant term "mentee" has started being used, where it refers to the person "being mentored" - though the usage is confined to official programmes for such purposes organised within companies.

HOWEVER, the words "coaching" and "mentoring" are increasingly used interchangeably... so much so that some people claim to find no difference between the terms...though I maintain that there is a distinction between the words, "coaching" applying to a rather more narrow academic, technical or professional "objective-related" process; "mentoring" to a wider, life- and wisdom-related process that is more concerned with developing or unfolding the personality.... Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Why the fight against poverty is failing: a contrarian view

A very commonsense article by the above title has been published by Abraham George, the admirable founder of The George Foundation:

The article is to be commended because it articulates some truths that very much need stating: neither NGOs nor government-to-government assistance breaks the cycle of poverty (that is, neither aid nor charity does so); enterprise isthe only things that can help an individual, a family, a group, a locality, a region or a nation to break out of poverty.

However, Dr. George seems either unaware or unwilling to recognise the fact that that is precisely why ruling elites make it so difficult for their people to start businesses or to flourish in them. Indeed, ruling elites even make it difficult for self-help organisations, mutual-aid societies, micro-finance and NGO-channelled aid to get through to their people.

The reason why countries remain poor is because they are ruled by kleptocracies and worse. There is no other earthly reason today for any individual or community to remain poor. The technology of wealth-creation is well enough understood.

The question that remains is: what aspects of their culture predispose a people to allow thieves and murderers to rule over them?

I guess there is one other: What are the culture-change agencies or modalities or spirit that can enable that peoples to awake from their poverty-creating slumber? Sphere: Related Content

Should English-language writers be considered for literary prizes in non-English language countries?

Visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair a few weeks ago, I was startled to hear the Indian writer Paul Zacharia mention that only three per cent of books are translated into other languages (at least that was how I understood his statement).

Then, at another event at the Fair, I heard the President of PEN in Norway respond to a suggestion that the Norwegian Prize for Literature should be awarded NOT only for a work written in Norwegian, but for work in ANY language written in the country.

After these weeks, I still find myself very divided in my response to the suggestion.

On one hand, if (for example) the work of English-language migrant writers is considered for such prizes, then immigrants in Norway have at least some possibility of winning the national prize - which appeals to my sense of social justice.

On the other hand, would such a possibility not merely strengthen the hold of English as the world's lingua franca?

What is good for English-language immigrant writers is bad for the other languages that are, in principle, threatened by the rise of English. This may seem to be a rather large claim to make, till one considers what has happened since the Second World War to French as the language of international diplomacy. Or to what has happened to German as a language for research publications since the 1980s. Or to what is happening in Switzerland, where the usual second language in schools is rapidly becoming English rather than one of the other Swiss "official" languages - which will have consequences for Swiss unity given a generation or two....

Anyway, my conclusion is that countries may rightly want to recognise the work of migrants writing in their own language, but it is best not to try to do so by putting, in the same competition, migrants writing in other languages alongside natives writing in national languages.

Rather, it is best to recognise literary excellence on the part of migrants writing in other languages by means of a special prize established for that purpose. If migrants write in the national language of their country of adoption, then of course they should rightly expect to be considered for the national prize.

Recognising and rewarding merit in the work of migrants needs to be encouraged, but not at the cost of writers who are from the country and write in a national language.

The case of English-language writers in countries which have English as an official language, such as India, is different - and India has found the best solution to this conundrum by having separate prizes for literatures in each of the languages that are recognised by the country (including English).

Certainly in the West, which is still remarkably free, any individual or group can establish a prize for work in any language. Indeed, anyone can establish a prize for anything. So why not more prizes for work in whatever language by migrants? Sphere: Related Content

Should English-language writers be considered for literary prizes in non-English language countries?

Visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair a few weeks ago, I was startled to hear the Indian writer Paul Zacharia mention that only three per cent of books are translated into other languages (at least that was how I understood his statement).

Then, at another event at the Fair, I heard the President of PEN in Norway respond to a suggestion that the Norwegian Prize for Literature should be awarded NOT only for a work written in Norwegian, but for work in ANY language written in the country.

After these weeks, I still find myself very divided in my response to the suggestion.

On one hand, if (for example) the work of English-language migrant writers is considered for such prizes, then immigrants in Norway have at least some possibility of winning the national prize - which appeals to my sense of social justice.

On the other hand, would such a possibility not merely strengthen the hold of English as the world's lingua franca?

What is good for English-language immigrant writers is bad for the other languages that are, in principle, threatened by the rise of English. This may seem to be a rather large claim to make, till one considers what has happened since the Second World War to French as the language of international diplomacy. Or to what has happened to German as a language for research publications since the 1980s. Or to what is happening in Switzerland, where the usual second language in schools is rapidly becoming English rather than one of the other Swiss "official" languages - which will have consequences for Swiss unity given a generation or two....

Anyway, my conclusion is that countries may rightly want to recognise the work of migrants writing in their own language, but it is best not to try to do so by putting, in the same competition, migrants writing in other languages alongside natives writing in national languages.

Rather, it is best to recognise literary excellence on the part of migrants writing in other languages by means of a special prize established for that purpose. If migrants write in the national language of their country of adoption, then of course they should rightly expect to be considered for the national prize.

Recognising and rewarding merit in the work of migrants needs to be encouraged, but not at the cost of writers who are from the country and write in a national language.

The case of English-language writers in countries which have English as an official language, such as India, is different - and India has found the best solution to this conundrum by having separate prizes for literatures in each of the languages that are recognised by the country (including English).

Certainly in the West, which is still remarkably free, any individual or group can establish a prize for work in any language. Indeed, anyone can establish a prize for anything. So why not more prizes for work in whatever language by migrants? Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 10, 2006

Robot thinks "think we taste like bacon": will robots acquire a taste for us?

By this time, you will be aware of the cute robot, designed by NEC System technologies and Mie University, which has been described as "a metal gastronome" and "an electromechanical sommelier". It is supposedly capable of identifying wines, cheeses, meats and hors d'oeuvres. Upon being given a sample, it will produce in a childlike voice an identification of what it has just been given. The idea is that restaurants and individuals, for example, can be told if a wine is authentic without even opening the bottle. However, when a reporter placed his hand in the robot's omnivorous clanking jaw, he was identified as bacon. A cameraman then tried his hand and was identified as prosciutto.

Reactions to this story have varied from dire predictions of robots acquiring a taste for human flesh and therefore to a "robot holocaust", and through "I told you, robots will never be intelligent enough to take over the world", to stories about all the ills that might result from robot mistakes or malfunctions.

But before we become too terror-striken, let's just pause a moment. Are we sure that this was a mistake or malfunction? Note that the robot did not identify both the humans as the same, but one of them as "bacon", and the other as "prosciutto".

We know that humans often start smelling of what they eat (which is why, for example, some people don't like to consume garlic). Is it possible that the characteristics of human flesh also change, depending on the sort of food that one most eats? Further, is it possible that the reporter was particularly fond of bacon, while the cameraman particularly fond of prosciutto? Or that they had just consumed a quantity respectively of those meats before the experiment?

If so, I wonder what the robot would have pronounced if I had placed my hand there. My guess is that, since I am a vegetarian, it might have identified me as a vegetable!

Any prizes for guessing which one? Sphere: Related Content

On Corporate Sustainabilty Reports and the Guidelines from the Global Reporting Initiative

Some weeks ago, I received a copy of a "Corporate Sustainability Report" (CSR) from an Indian company, Reliance Industries Ltd. I was fascinated to read that this was one of the few CSRs that is based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines, which were initially published in 2002.

According to the covering letter from Reliance, as of July this year, only 162 organisations in 33 countries, had published reports recognized as "in-accordance" with the GRI guidelines. Nine Indian companies have produced CSRs and only two of them (ITC and Reliance) have published CSR recognised as being "in-accordance" with GRI guidelines. What's more, Reliance's report is the first report from Indian Oil & Gas sector to obtain "in-accordance" status.

Are the GRI's guidelines too easy, so that even Indian tobacco, and oil & gas companies can gain "in-accordance" status? Or are the guidelines too difficult? How does one explain the fact that in 3 years, only so few companies have found it possible to try and report according to the GRI guidelines? Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The US National Academy of Sciences endorses lack of scientific ethics and lack of business ethics

I am astonished to notice that the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has invited Dr. Robert Lanza, a vice president of the California-based Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), to make a presentation at a special meeting at the NAS, exploring the latest developments in embryonic stem cell science and policy.

So Lanza is leading scientist at a biotech firm that misled the world about a supposedly ethical method of obtaining embryonic stem cells. The story is available at several websites, including
and at:
as well as at:

As far as I am aware, neither Lanza nor ACT have apologised for their earlier unethical behaviour. Nor have they announced any determination to avoid that kind of unethical behaviour in the future. In fact, both Lanza and ACT seem determined to continue with their attempt to mislead the world.

NAS's invitation therefore amounts to endorsement of such non-ethical behaviour.

Further, the NAS has a National Research Council which recently published its triennial review of the National Nano Initiative. The review was required by the lgeislation to cover Artificial Intelligence and the enhancement of human intelligence. Bizarrely, the review states that AI and the enhancement of human intelligence are the stuff of science fiction (a weirdly ignorant statement, to say the least). The review also avoids comment on broader ethical issues (merely stating that they are important and need to be addressed). In other words, the NAS's NRC review has produced zero comment on the ethical front, in spite of that being specified by the 2003 legislation.

The National Nano Initiative has, not surprisingly, largely ignored all the ethical issues.

Therefore, as far as I can see, scientists, businesspeople, legislators and politicians are all involved in producing non-ethical nanoscience and nanotech, which will end up unleashing nano-related crimes against humanity ... unless current attitudes and behaviour can be changed sometime soon. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 30, 2006

Excellent Paper on Needed Educational Reforms in India

I find that my friend Krishan Khanna (Chairman & Founder of i Watch, the Wake Up Call for India) has produced an excellent paper on the subject of the reforms that are needed, in the educational sector in India, if we are to have any hope of solving our looming talent shortage in India.

He has kindly given me permission to publish it here.

Making INDIA a Knowledge Economy

It is necessary to first understand the entire "matrix" in education. Even after 59 years of Independence, the following situation remains as far as the Human Capital Development of our country is concerned:

1. Drop-out rate in schools from KG to 10+2 is (including those who never attended school) 90% to 94%.

2. China has about 1.80 million schools, while we have in India about 1.10 million schools!

3. The "Governance" in Government run schools is very low. In many cases teachers are absent (15% to 60% absenteeism) from schools in rural and urban schools of India and are paid full wages and perks in spite of this! Studies have shown that even the poorest of the poor rather send their children to un-aided schools where fees have to be paid and not to government run free schools. The quality of schooling of such unaided schools is higher than Government schools although the salary of Government teachers is two to three times higher than the teachers of the un-aided schools.See articles and solutions on governance at

4. The existing Indian definition of Literacy (if you can write your name you are literate) needs to be amended to International Standards. This criteria is used in the census for determining the literacy rate.

5. As per the Ministry of HRD the present illiteracy is ONLY 37% or 430 million people, while as per UNICEF and UNDP it is nearly 60% or 650 million people. China has a Literacy rate of about 93%.

6. The first step of making India a knowledge economy is literacy and needs to be given A1 priority.

7. The total amount spent on education is about Rs. 91,000 crores per year. 15% by the Central Govt. and 85% by the State Governments The Education Cess will collect another Rs. 7000 crores per year. This is about 3.3% of GDP. The MHRD has calculated that another Rs. 40,000 crores per year would be required only for additional requirements for Primary Education!

8. We estimate that another Rs. 100,000 crores are required per year just to have reasonable quality of Primary and Secondary education, up to Class 10th., which is where the Central and State Governments should concentrate for the next 10 to 20 years, or till we have at least 95% Literacy and at least 80% of the population who are completing the High School stage or Class 10th.

9. As per our estimates the total expenditure for education is nearly 8% of GDP, about 3.3% from Government and about 4.7% from private participation. This includes funding of unaided schools and colleges + bribes and capitation fees + payment for students studying abroad + tuition classes +coaching classes +private I.T. & Software training institutes. Most of this private funding is confined to urban areas where only 30% stay.

10. About 7% to 8% of the youth who finish the 10+2 stage (pre-university) enter the17, 963 colleges of India. 70% of all graduates are B.A. or Arts graduates. Is this relevant today? Most of these so called graduates are not-employable.

11. Of all new employment taking place nearly 60% are self employed. About New Employment - 1% is with government, 2% with the private 'organized sector' and 97% with the 'unorganized sector'.

12. Presently there is little connect between education and employment generation & quality of life

13. The employers associations, chambers of commerce and other business organizations are fragmented. There is no "National Common Minimum Program" for "education and training of manpower" in India. In most developed and developing countries the Chambers of Commerce (who represent the employers and business) Lead from the front.

14. About 26 million people are added every year to the existing education system, which is like adding another Australia + Hong Kong + Singapore & UAE per year!

15. Presently both the Central Government as well as the State Governments are running in Financial Deficits, of about 9% to 11% of GDP, so the question of additional financing for education will strain not only the existing budgets but also put pressure on other sectors, where funds are being presently allocated.

16. “Licence Raj” runs all Higher & Technical Education in India. Let us Bench-Mark with USA, Germany and Japan, the three largest economies of the World account for nearly 50% of the world's GDP. Do their governments exert similar controls as we have in India? Can we learn from them? There is fierce competition between the institutions in these countries for excellence!

17. China has about 900 Universities, while we in India have 362 Universities. USA has 3600 and Japan has 4000!

18. In India, the fees of the courses, pay-scales to the teachers, appointment of the head of the Institution and the syllabus, are decided by the 58 or more Central and State-Government Boards of Education. Will this create innovation, excellence and world class students?

19. The Coaching Business is getting bigger than the Education Business, entrance examinations for the IIT’s, IIM’s and a few prestigious management schools attract about 600,000 applications (who spend nearly Rs.2.00 lac each for pre-coaching, amounting to Rs.12,000 crores per year, for 6000 seats. These institutions spend hardly Rs.800 to Rs.1,100 crores per year, as their teaching budgets!
20. While 75% to 85% the youth of the developed and developing world learn a skill or competence or trade between the ages of 14 to 35, by Vocational Education & training, in India it is hardly covers 2% to 3% of the population!
21. India has about 5000 ITI’s (Ministry of Labour) and about 5000 Vocational schools (Ministry of HRD), while China has about 500,000 senior secondary vocational schools!

22. India has 300 million able bodied unemployed between the ages of 18 to 50, but they have no skill sets and therefore not employable! Employers in India are facing a huge shortage of skilled manpower. Wages and salaries in India, of skilled manpower are going up too fast. India will not be able to take advantage of the demographic profile of its population, if the youth do not receive relevant and quality Education & Training.

23. We have not seen any co-ordination between the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of HRD as far as VET planning on a National level, is concerned.

24. We in India have NOT still appreciated the fact that, world wide, Education is 5 times or 500% bigger than I.T. or software!

25. India can become an Educational Hub for the world and earn US$ 100 billion per year, after 10 to 20 years! We need to start now, but remove "Licence Raj" first, as was done for business in 1991! India has 7,700 foreign students while Australia has 383,000 foreign students!

26. Because of the “Licence Raj” in Higher and Technical Education, it is estimated that nearly 70,000 to 90,000 students leave India every year for studying abroad. At any given time these 320,000 students cost the country a foreign exchange out flow of nearly US$9.6 billion per year or nearly Rs. 45,000 crores per year, enough to build 40 IIM’s or 20 IIT’s per year. Nearly 1,20,00 students leave India every year for foreign studies.

27. The present problem of reservation will not solve the needs and aspirations of the youth. India needs a larger number of educational Institutions, seats and higher quality in the area of Higher & Technical education. Rationing, quotas and reservation can never address the actual situation. The Central and State governments are strapped for funds even for Primary and Secondary education. The solution lies in complete decontrol of all forms of Higher & Technical education; the same way as business was delicensed in1991!

28. Since 1947 we have tried reservation and controls in the allocation of steel, cement, colour TV's, airline tickets, cars, scooters, etc and have failed. Only increase of supply and decontrol has finally solved these issues.

If INDIA has to become a Knowledge Economy we need to do the following:

1. Aim for 95% to 100% Literacy in the next 10 years

2. Decontrol and involve the management of all primary schools to the local bodies such as Panchayats, Village Groups, Municipalities and local Citizen Groups. Allow the community to manage.

3. Consider the use and issue of "Education Coupons" for school children, so that they can choose the schools of their choice and funding from the government, which would have been dispersed for the funding of Government run schools in rural and urban India, should be paid out. See

4. Scrap “Licence Raj” in Higher & Technical Education, after and including class 11th, to allow innovation, creativity and excellence in Education. See

5. Ensure that 80% to 90% of the population in the age group of 14 years to 50 years goes in for some sort of relevant Vocational Education & Training. See

6. Allow starting of Enterprise Skills Education, ESD, from Class 5th to the 12th. This will teach the youth about how the real world works. Only 100 hours per year required. Nearly 60% of the workforce in India is self-employed. See

7. Start Prevocational classes from Class 8th. Have Vocational Counsellors in all Higher Seconadary Schools. Upgrade all Higher Seconadry Schools for Vocational Education & Training.

8. Have a dynamic interaction between all stake holders, Academia-Industry-Business-R&D-Chambers of Commerce-Student bodies-Parents organizations-Civil society and NGO's. Chambers of Commerce, who represents the employers and business, must lead from the front.

9. Allow private finance and participation in all sectors of education, till we reach the goals as mentioned under item 8 in section one above.

10. Allow tax breaks and incentives for private and NRI funding, for the next 20 years or till we achieve bench marks as mentioned under item 8 in section one above.

Krishna Khannna
Chairman & Founder
i watch…… INDIA Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Further reflections on solving India's talent shortage (aka education crisis)

I have already argued earlier, in this Blog, that the single most effective move for sorting out the talent shortage (or educational crisis in India) would be to entirely deregulate primary and secondary education. Let the market sort out what works and what does not. There should only be final exams at state and national levels, so that there are comparable results.

The present system of inspections and controls only tends to extreme corruption in our BIMARU states, though in other states the situation is not as bad – I make both statements on the basis of recent personal experiences in India.

State aid and subsidies should be gradually withdrawn, and incentives and rewards given to entrepreneurs willing to create schools that take educationally and economically poor students and get them through the state/national exams at above average levels. That will only work if there are state-wide and nationwide exams at which students are incentivised to do as well as possible, so that it is clear who is doing well and who is not – say at ages 8, 12 and 16.

Alternatively, entirely abolish schools and move to internet-based technical and vocational education – and why should a gifted child of, say, 12 have to sit through 4 more boring years of irrelevant and unhelpful subjects in order to study for a Bachelor's or a Master's degree?

Rather than spending government money in creating more schools, colleges and universities, why not offer tax-incentives for IT/ Pharma/ Space/ Nuclear and other knowledge-intensive companies to set up their own programmes for gifted 12-year olds that will produce first-rate scientists and technologists by the time they are 16 or 18 or 20 in the fields in which the companies want or need them? Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Nano food nonsense

I see that a manufacturer has now announced a a chocolate 'slim' shake "containing nanoclusters" which, the manufacturers apparently claim, carry nutrition "directly into the cell".

Unable to verify the claim using Google (which produces only 7 hits when searched for "chocolate slim shake nano direct cell" - none of them relevant), I thought it worth drawing attention to the nonsensicality of the claim.

*All* food is digested by the body (as needed, in the alimentary canal), and is then taken by the blood "directly to the cells" where that nutrition is needed or otherwise should be delivered.

So whether or not a product contains any special "nanoclusters" is not relevant to the process.

Certain "nanoclusters" could conceivably *impede* the process but I can't think of why or how they would *enhance* or by-pass the process. And, if they did so at all, they should certainly not help you to stay slim and/or lose weight. Rather the opposite! Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 20, 2006

Is colonialism always bad? (The case of Japan in Korea)

Though it does not raise the broader question (above), and though it is not going to be liked by Korean nationalists, a new book documents the positive impact of Japanese colonialism on Korea (Young-Iob Chung, Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945: Capital Formation and Economic Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. xv + 390 pp. $74 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-517830-0).

Being Indian, I usually think of the question of colonialism in terms of British colonialism in India.

This book provides a useful comparative perspective. I have followed the development of Japan for some time, though my interest has been in Japan post-WWII, and this book significantly extends my knowledge into an earlier period.

It is politically unfashionable to defend colonialism, and I am not sure that there is any moral justification for it.

However, colonialism is "natural": more vigorous and able societies have always colonised less vigorous and able societies in human history - and will probably always do so.

Positively, this enables an inferior culture to learn rapidly and deeply from a superior culture in ways that the colonised culture is usually unable to do because of institutional barriers to learning.

Beyond that generalisation, I guess it is right to assess each colonial legacy in terms of how much it deliberately destroyed versus what it positively tried to contribute.

So British colonialism was better than French or German or Russian or Chinese colonialism in the twentieth century, because the British did not deliberately destroy anything except what they needed to in terms of their economic interests, and they put a certain proportion of money and effort back into the history, archaeology, economic development, infrastructure, education and culture of their colonies. By learning as much as they taught, they left behind new colonial-style institutions that became fundamental to the self-definition of their ex-colonies in almost every case. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 19, 2006

British Airways' new campaign against religion

It is interesting to see the furore developing in the UK over Nadia Eweida's wearing, on her necklace, a cross.

Nadia Eweida is of Egyptian descent and has for years been a highly-regarded employee of British Airways, but she was suddenly asked to remove her cross because it was held to be no longer in conformance with BA's regulations regarding uniforms.

The cross in question is the size of a five-pence piece or, for those not familiar with old British coins, about the size of three thumbnails.

Media discussion seems to be focusing on whether or not wearing such a symbol is "essential" to Christianity. However, that is entirely beside the point.

Why has British Airways suddenly starting persecuting people who wear a cross?

This is not, I understand, because BA is anti-Christian.

It must therefore be because British Airways believes that eliminating the cross will help health and hygiene. As well as the punctuality with which aircraft take off and arrive. Not to mention the level of service to passengers.

This is a victory to the campaigning atheists and secularists who are fortunately gaining ascendancy in British Airways.

It is indeed admirable to see atheists, secularists and British Airways now joining the band of those who do not tolerate beliefs that deviate from their own. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 16, 2006

Open Letter to the Indian Finance Minister on co-operatives

Dear Finance Minister

Much of India's progress over the decades since India's independence was due to the encouragement of India's co-operatives.

However, the most recent national budget has imposed taxation on co-operative bbanks.

This is an entirely unnecessary and backward step. It will not raise much by way of revenue for the government but will discourage these banks and make life even more difficult for them than it is already, in terms of competition from the commercial national and international banks.

Co-operative banks serve the poorest sections of Indian society and need continued encouragement, not discouragement.

I urge you to remove this new taxation on co-operative banks and restore the situation to what it was before the current year

yours sincerely

Prabhu Guptara Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 23, 2006

He may have been an unknown Indian but he was honest, capable and reliable

Today, I am sad and upset at the news that my friend Oswald Chakravorty has passed away from this earth. We knew each other from our early teenage years (he was a little younger than me but we overlapped at St. Stephen's College, Delhi). I am particularly pleased that I was able to speak with him on the phone twice on the last day of his life here.

Not only am I happy to have known him, I am immensely proud to have known him because he was one of what has unfortunately become a rare breed nowadays, an honest and reliable Indian. He knew his capacities as well as his limitations, and whatever he said you could consider done - no silly excuses at the last minute regarding why something that had been promised could not be done.

Oswald had no self-pity or mawkishness about his condition. He knew that health is ultimately in God's hands, and each day is a gift to be enjoyed but also to be used in the best possible way. He was not merely a Christian but he was one of those Christians who is a follower of Jesus the Lord. So, whatever the circumstances, he simply continued on the straight and narrow, focusing on loving God and loving his neighbours in whatever ways seemed possible.

I admired him, moreover, because he had much more practical wisdom than I have.
As a government servant he was, among other things, Secretary of a particular Housing Association, and you may know that there are numerous Housing Associations in Delhi. His was the only one, of which I know, that was completed both on time and to budget, and he did it all for the sake of the community without cadging a single rupee.

An extraordinary achievement in terms of project management of course, but even more extraordinary in the context of our thoroughly venal culture and our highly corrupt environment where most people consider it normal and indeed essential to give and receive bribes. It takes a living fish to swim against the current.

So he may have been unkonwn but he was extraordinary.

Even as he was dying of cancer, he was more concerned about a mutual friend's asthma and what could be done to relieve that, than about his own condition.

I greatly look forward to seeing him again, by God's grace, in the next world, where there will be no more parting.

But, in the meanwhile, we need many more like him here on earth.

As I sit with my memories and my tears, this is my simple and tiny tribute to one who was dear to me, but who was also one of those who makes me proud to be an Indian. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 08, 2006

Do marketing issues outweigh medical benefits in decisions taken by pharma companies?

Well, my question is actually phrased as a statement by Life Extension Magazine: "Marketing issues frequently outweigh medical science in drug company decisions."

That is from a revealing article, titled "Pharmaceutical fraud: How Big Pharma's marketing and profits come before consumer safety and wellness" (available at:

Arising from that, here's another question, this time for you: Perhaps being too concerned about your health is itself unhealthy? Sphere: Related Content

Who to sue when your driverless computer-driven taxi takes you to the wrong destination

So the European Union is financing research into the possible introduction of driverless Taxis at Heathrow, "cyber cars" in Rome and an automatic bus in Castellón, Spain.

Interesting question: if the cyber bus or taxi takes me to the wrong destination or causes an accident in which I am injured or killed, who is legally liable for the damages? Presumably the European Union?

The story is at:,1518,435805,00.html Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Though the ecological disaster is relatively new, all other aspects of the global situation today are as they were in the nineteenth century when the global elite first began to emerge. A way of dealing with the resulting dilemmas was pioneered by the Clapham Circle (led by William Wilberforce) - though that was then reversed by the efforts of the global elite from the 1880s, though more spectacularly from the end of the Second World War and even more spectacularly from the 1980s. That is why the global situation today is relatively similar to what it was when the Clapham Circle was prompted to act.

The members of the Clapham Circle were certainly not perfect - and their lack of perfection is over-enthusiastically attacked by their detractors. One wonders why.

Of course, all lack of perfection should be kept clearly in mind. But not to the extent that it clouds our view, so that we see nothing of the good they did.

Those positive things, in the case of the Clapham Circle include:
- the ability of a (very) few members of the then-emerging global elite to be sensitised to the needs of some of the most oppressed people of their times,
- to enable them to work with grass-roots organisations,
- to study the complex issues so as to master them and in order to identify what needed to be done,
- to be realistic enough to know that they could not do everything that needed doing,
- yet to not allow that to discourage them from setting two incredible goals: that of changing the whole economic basis of society through history, and that of bringing about a moral and humanistic transformation of one of the most powerful but also one of the most corrupt countries that the world had seen till then.

Even more incredibly, they largely succeeded in accomplishing both goals.

So we have a lot to learn from them. Till now, most humanitarin organisations concerned about global issues (such as the UN Global Compact) have only words to show, instead of any real achievements.

Though of course even mere words can have large effects - and I am sure that the combined effect of such words is somehow behind the combined donation of US$98 billion by Buffet and Gates to development-related causes.

We may all therefore be encouraged to go on with our words (the Clapham Circle did use a lot of words too, and Wilberforce wrote one book which was probably the key to transforming the whole moral and humanitarian climate of England then).

But let us also seek to supplement, as the Clapham Circle did with such astounding but little-appreciated sacrifice, our words with some real action. Sphere: Related Content

We haven't even learnt to manage the old sciences well

The latest reflection on our inability to manage the "old sciences and technologies" well is found at:

"Before pharma-giant Glaxosmithkline (GSK) was sued by the state of New York in June 2004, over two million children and adolescents in the United States were popping Paxil to treat their depression. Doctors comfortably prescribed the drug because published clinical trials – while showing mixed effects on children – did not reveal anything overwhelmingly negative. It was the best information they had, and it turned out to be completely misleading."

In fact, studies had already showed that taking Paxil might actually increase the risk of suicide, according to New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer.

The Novopress story features, among other such gems, an internal memo that instructed the company to manage the release of the data “to minimize any potential negative commercial impact”.

Apparently, pharma companies don't publish the results of all the tests they run. Nor are all the tests run in an objective way. And the pharma industry sponsors around seven out of every ten scientific studies quoted in the top four major medical journals – Annals of Internal Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Pharma in its modern form has certainly brought enormous benefit to humanity. If it were publicly financed, with IP being licenced by society to efficient producers in exchange for a reasonable profit, with proper monitoring of the results and consequent amendments to the system, pharma could benefit humanity many times more than it does.

In spite of being able to organise "old" pharma in the most efficient and least harmful way, we continue to rush headlong into the newest sciences and technologies even though that we will need to be even more careful if we want them to do good rather than harm. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 04, 2006

Scientific hypotheses versus scientific laws

I've always wondered why it is that a scattering or group of people confronted by the same set of facts will usually come up with such hugely different explanations regarding what the facts represent, whether the facts relate to politics, literature, history - or even the physical sciences.

What's caused the latest round of my "wondering" is a discovery in Indonesia over which paleoanthropologists are apparently squabbling "like fifth graders" (according to Time magazine). Or, in the words of Britain's newspaper, The Independent, these scientists are "at war".

The discovery is that of skeletons (though only one of them with a skull) of nine midget-sized humans who lived between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago.

What the paleoanthropologists are quarrelling over is whether this is one of the most significant paleoanthropological discoveries of the last half century (as it would be if the skeletons represent the discovery of a "new human species") or whether this is merely the discovery of a group of prehistoric humans that suffered from certain deformities.

The full story is at:,1518,434604,00.html

The Der Spiegel online story concludes: "How can it be that staid scientists working on the basis of the same measurements reach diametrically opposed conclusions? Who's right? There is a depressing sense in which the little man from Flores is revealing the truth about the paleoanthropologists: It seems as if his bones can provide evidence for whatever hypothesis promises research funds, fame -- or both." Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 02, 2006

So Iran's defiance is final

Iran is not the first country to defy the United Nations. Nor will it be the last.

But each time the UN is defied, it provides the institution the opportunity to rise to the crisis and come out of it stronger or weaker.

As usual, the result will be momentous not just for the UN but for what kind of civilisation we want to build for the future.

If regimes bent on doing wrong will not be stopped by diplomacy, it will be interesting to see whether the UN will simply re-write the rules for the future of civilisation or will find sufficiently robust ways to stop such regimes. Sphere: Related Content

Finally, a balanced picture of nanotech risks

I have often mentioned the risks of nanotech and other such modern technologies. The truth is that I am also very excited by the latest developments in science and technology. I studied for my school and university exams by candlelight, so even electricity is a miracle so far as I am concerned. I taught myself to type at the age of 17 or so, because I was so fascinated by the technology, and have kept up with all the transitions from the ancient system of keystrokes to golf-ball typewriters and on to word-processors and the internet and blogging and now podcasting and the rest. I mention all this not to impress you with my knowledge but simply to communicate how fascinated I am by the latest developments in science and technology - though I remain self-taught in a disorganised fashion. However, I do lean against the contemporary view that everything that is possible must be good and we must simply push ahead with it regardless of social, political and economic consequences. As a result I worry that my Blog gives an unbalanced picture of where I stand.

Now, I am pleased to say that I have finally found an article that is accessible and free which gives (to my mind) a balanced picture of the pros and cons at least of nanotech. So I commend it to you:

I will be interested to have your views on it. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Money now officially more important than human life according to US government?

The US Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, has made it clear that the US government now values money more than it values health safety.

He did this when he indicated that "an economic motive was behind the government’s delay of nearly three weeks before informing the public about the contamination, as the government anticipated foreign rice importers might reject the product". The "contamination" was of rice for human consumption with experimental genetically modified rice strain known as LL Rice 601, and Mr Johanns said the USDA spent the time preparing tests. This seems to reveal that, till this point, the US government had no system for such testing in place (though many US companies do test).

Till yesterday, 30 August, the US government had not even given the food safety authorities in the European Union details of "the extent of the contamination, origin or timeframe for when this happened". Legally, no biotech rice strains may be imported or sold in the European Union and, last week, the EU tightened requirements on U.S. long grain rice imports to prove the absence of the genetically modified strain.

Presumably, the EU has not had any information either regarding what, if anything, the US government can do about the situation, as that country does not even have any "cohesive government regulation" according to a just-released report issued by the Food and Drug Administration and written by a 20-member committee of farmers, academics, manufacturers and others.

The US government's report both points out and demonstrates that there is little consensus as to how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should regulate genetically engineered crops and animals. Currently, companies selling genetically enhanced crops submit safety data voluntarily to the FDA even though they are not required to do so. The US government claims that the majority do so.

Some committee members argued there should be a mandatory safety review for all such products, pointing out that nearly every other developed country has such a system in place. Naturally, other committee members disagreed – after all, some of them represent precisely the money-related interests referred to at the start of this article.

The committee's members "have different points of view regarding how strongly consumers feel about having information about whether their food is genetically engineered and whether the food should be labelled as such".

The report, titled "Opportunities and Challenges in Agricultural Biotechnology: the Decade Ahead", is available on the USDA website, at:,

There is no evidence on the basis of which it can be asserted that the individuals on the committee opposing such oversight are, or are not, representatives of commercial interests. However, the committee includes representatives of Cargill, Dow Agrisciences, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Monsanto, Procter and Gamble, and Syngenta Corp.

You may be wondering why I am beating the drum regarding genetically modified food. After all, Secretary Johanns stated that based on "available scientific data.... there are no human-health, food-safety or environmental concerns associated with this G.E. rice."

However, scientific data sometimes misses the obvious. It is clear to anyone who has seen a random sample of US citizens that the obesity epidemic in the USA has perhaps something to do with overeating but is in very many cases totally unrelated to overeating. The "obesity" is a result of some sort of physical malfunction, and that this malfunction affects US citizens disproportionately in comparison to citizens of other developed nations.

According to the USDA, 70 percent of processed foods on grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients.

That may or may not have anything to do with the US version of "obesity". But does it not indicate that there is certainly something to investigate here?

If nothing else, the US needs to have some facts regarding what percentage of "obesity" is caused by simple over-eating and what percentage by other known or unknown factors.

Time for Secretary Johanns to stop making the usual reassuring noises and defending money interests, and instead to put a little money behind some targeted research into the relationship between the prevalence of GM products in the USA and accelerating health problems there. Sphere: Related Content

Should farmers have filed a courst case (suit) against Bayer CropScience?

I am interested to see the story titled, "Farmers file suit over biotech rice contamination", which is at:

This naturally raises the question of whether the farmers are right to file a suit against the company.

In my view, till evidence surfaces that Bayer CropScience was in breach of any rules or regulations, the company has no case to answer.

The body that the farmers should be suing is the US government, and the US Department of Agriculture, for creating a framework in which a reasonably responsible company such as Bayer CropScience could have found itself in such a situation.

The problem is not the company, it is the government which allows such testing without adequate safeguards.

There is of course a deeper question regarding the way in which such regulations are set up, and the role of lobbying by commercial companies in the creation of looser regulations than is proper.

But that is a wider and deeper question that could be opened by a suit against the US Government - but will not be opened up by a suit against the company. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Iran Nuclear Intentions Revealed

In an article under the above title published today, Sunday, 27 August 2006, Stewart Stogel argues that Iran's nuclear intentions are military, not civil - on the basis that Iran has only two nuclear power plants close to operation, both of them Russian-built reactors in Bushehr on the Persian Gulf coast. The two are light, not heavy, water reactors, and they produce far less bomb-grade nuclear waste. Now Iran is opening a heavy water plant, so...

However, the above argument is highly simplistic.

As anyone who is acquainted with India's experience of the nuclear sector will affirm, these are at best relative matters of quantity.

The science, technology and facilities involved in "peaceful, civilian" nuclear programmes and "military" nuclear programmes are exactly the same.

The peacefulness or maliciousness lies in the intent. That is not judged best by declarations (India too was making similar declarations!) but by actions. If any country opens its facilities to international inspection, its intentions can be confirmed.

Without international inspection, the intentions can only be guessed to be at least partly malicious.

Stewart Stogel's story is at: Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why India, Inc. needs to stop bleating and to get on with real action

According to Boston Consulting Group's recently-released study, "The New Global Challengers" which looked at 3000 companies from "rapidly developing economies" and selected the top 100 for detailed study, China has 44 companies in this list, while India has only 21.

We might also want to keep in mind that China's income per capita (at just over US$1300) is more than twice that of India (just over US$600).

What is the main reason for this difference in performance? Everyone knows and everyone agrees that it India's lack of investment in social and infrastructual development. Whose fault is that? Clearly, the fault of the Indian elite. We have been far busier indulging ourselves than thinking through and doing what needs to be done.

Our political class has begun to wake up. But when it urges simple and clear steps like a quota system to help the "Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes" (SCs and STs) who we have oppressed for thousands of years by means of our religious caste system, what is the response of our business class? Corporate India simply increases the volume of its bleating.

Mr R Seshasayee, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), speaking on 29 July 2006 at the launch of the CII report ,"Affirmative action for social equity in the work place", could only offer excuses such as that the private sector "could not build an egalitarian society on its own" and that the private sector "could at best be part of the solution". Mr Seshayee is a business luminary who I respect greatly because he is one of the few, apart from the Birlas, who has actually recognised the problem and done something about it. Mr J J Irani is another. However, all of them seem to have become victims of group think.

The affirmative actions proposed under the report, said Mr Irani, "will be done without compromising on competitiveness, in a perfectly voluntary manner". There are two phrases here, and both of them strike a false note. First, no one has asked India, Inc. to compromise competitiveness. In fact, affirmative action is entirely about IMPROVING India's competitiveness by increasing the supply of educated and trained people - a shortage of which is increasingly holding back the country as well as industry. Second, there is nothing voluntary about this report - it has come as a result of the extreme pressure that has been applied by the political class on CII and Assocham. If CII and Assocham wanted to do something about the problem voluntarily, what stopped them recognising it and acting on it for the last fifty or hundred years?

In any case, what is apparent is that the private sector is reluctantly prepared to do only the minimum necessary to help India's (and the private sector's own) continuing growth.

So what is the private sector offering to do? Well, for a start, CII and its sister body, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), "will soon formulate a code of conduct for their members to facilitate them take concrete steps". So CII and Assocham think that codes facilitate action?! No wonder India lags China. We still put real action way down the line behind nice-sounding talk.

Even after the codes are formulated, they will not immediately become binding but will "progressively be adopted by their respective members from October, 2006"!

And even after they have begun to be adopted, actions will be initiated only "from 2007".

So what are the mighty actions that the combined power of CII and Assocham will accomplish? Well, they will establish coaching centres in 10 universities for 10,000 students. What will be the budget for setting up these coaching centres? What will these centres coach people to do? How long will be the courses in these centres? How will the effectiveness of the coaching be judged? We haven't been told....

Further, CII and Assocham will attempt to help 100 people from the untouchable and other oppressed classed to start(presumably small) businesses. Did you get that number? Not a million, not a hundred thousand, not ten thousand, not a thousand, but one hundred! Come on CII! Come on Assocham! Are we supposed to take this seriously?

Oh, I forgot about the FIVE scholarships for study abroad and the FIFTY scholarships in the national institutes!

But I am being uncharitable. CII and Assocham have also promised to "work towards greater representation of SCs and STs in their workforce". Do these august bodies not know, or are they simply refusing to recognise, the difference between input and output? Input is the work that might or might not be done. Output is what will be accomplished. What matters is not what work they do "towards greater representation". What matters is whether representation will actually be increased. How will we know whether representation will actually have increased if we don't know what the representation IS at present? So the first step that anyone serious about such matters would have taken would have been to commission a study of how much representation there is at present. Then in a year, or in subsequent years, we would know how much progress has, or has not, been made.

One last matter: by what refined and exalted process of strategic analysis did India's business elite hit upon these as the most important steps for addressing one of our key constraints to growth? Sphere: Related Content

America's GM rice (Continued)

I forgot to say, in my last post on the matter that Bayer had abandoned the weedkiller-resistant strain in 2001 after field experiments between 1998 and 2001 had shown the strain to be less effective than others.

Worryingly, it is not at all clear how that GM rice, which is not okayed for human consumption in either the US or the EU, entered commercial stocks for human consumption.

So it is equally unclear whether other GM rice has, or can, enter stocks for human consumption.

Till there is sufficient light on this mess, my conclusion is to steer clear of rice from the USA. Sphere: Related Content

More trade for India's north-east?

Because of entirely understandable concerns regarding security, India's north-east has not been opened to trade with China.

However, if India really believes its own rhetoric about improved relations with China, then those security concerns should be a thing of the past, and the area should be opened to trade with China.

Since that is not the case, it is clear that the Indian government rhetoric about improved relations with China extends in reality only to very specific contexts that do not, at present, include India's northeast region.

However, there are no such concerns about India's relations with Thailand, so Thailand's move to develop trade relations with this part of India should be warmly welcomed.

My only reservation is that the present Thai initiative is confined to the State of Assam, whereas there are at least as lucrative trade and tourism possibilities in relation to Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya.

As soon as Burma's repressive elite (which calls the country "Myanmar") re-enters the civilised world, there is even more scope for all these states to do business with that country.

The story regarding the Thai initiative is at: Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 25, 2006

Top British Scholars of Islam

There are many lists of top scholars of Islam around, but I have not found one for British scholars of Islam. So here is my list of those that I have found most helpful:

1. Akbar Ahmed

2. Haroon Ahmed

3. Hani Al-Siba'i

4. Ruqaiyyah Waris Masood

5. Thomas McElwain

6. Tariq Modood

7. Abdal-Hakim Murad

8. Farhan Nizami

9. Ziauddin Sardar

10. Patrick Sookhdeo Sphere: Related Content

Why is Iran imposing a total information blackout on its people?

Simple, because the Iranian government has something to fear: the power of truth.

Unless a government has plenty to hide, there is no need for it to go around smashing satellite dishes that its ordinary citizens use to listen to broadcasts from abroad.

If it allowed its own media to operate uncensored, Iranians would not *need* to listen to foreign broadcasters.

See the story at: Sphere: Related Content

Calling Wafa Sultan the Arab equivalent of Martin Luther King may be excessive

Though it is pretty close to the truth.

Wafa Sultan certainly has MLK's verbal power and passion.

The question is whether the Arab masses are ready to rise as the black population of the USA was ready to rise when MLK called.

See Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why do authorities in supposedly free countries suppress facts?

Before I say anything else, I think I need to reassert two things:

1. Governments are good things, and democratic governments are in the long run the best because they are (or can be) held accountable by their citizens

2. Science and technology are good things and ought to be supported and nurtured, provide they are being led by people with a lively conscience and desire to do good to humanity rather than simply make money or gain greater power to impose their will.

As you and I know, both the assertions above and being challenged by developments in our modern world.

The latest instance has just happened. We are all aware that the safety of GM products is currently not established - and, moreover, that no government or company is investing what needs to be invested in establishing this.

Well, as long ago as January, some GM rice that should never have been approved for commercial planting, was detected to have contaminated normal rice that is for human consumption.

For whatever reason, the company that detected the problem either did not even try, or tried unsuccessfully to alert others to the problem. Bayer became officially aware of the problem only in May but did not notify the US government till the very last day of July. And then it took the US Dept of Agriculture 18 days to inform the public.

This is not the first time that scientific, technological, business and governmental organisations have suppressed the truth- let us recollect Space Shuttle Challenger which blew up before our eyes (and Space Shuttle Columbia which disintegrated before our eyes), and range across DDT and tobacco and breast implants...

So why do companies and governments refuse to recognise the truth about problems in the area of science and technology? Because and because companies are locked into the business of beating other companies to the market and of course in the market - and because governments are locked into the old and out of date business of helping "their" companies succeed against the companies of other countries.

But the brute fact is that the world has moved on. Companies belong less and less to any one country (in terms of shareholders, employees, suppliers or customers), so the world community should simply ban governments from supporting companies based in their countries, whether in terms of research or in terms of tax-breaks or anything else. All countries should be required to undertake a transparent process of tender that is equally open to companies wherever they may be based. The US has gone futhest in this direction but it clearly cannot continue in this direction if the rest of the world does not move too.

However, that is not the reason that companies and government are so reluctant to face the truth about the inadequacies of scientific and technological safety. It is because the entire system for doing so is deficient across the world and needs urgently to be examined on a worldwide basis.

You may also want to see my earlier posts on these subjects, specifically "Did they jump or were they pushed?"

BTW the story regarding the GM rice is "Biotech Firm, Govt. Hid Rice Contamination from Public", and can be viewed at: Sphere: Related Content

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fighting bureaucracy: India vs. Switzerland (Continued)

My Swiss friend tells me that she has been informed that a "letter of recourse" will take 4 to 6 weeks to get a response. A "letter of recourse", readers of previous posts will recollect, is the procedure in Switzerland for redress from inaccurate, inadequate or inappropriate actions by a bureaucrat or by the bureaucracy in general.

By contrast, I read that the Bombay bureaucracy is now responding within 5 days.
See Jamal Mecklai's article posted yesterday, "A beacon for a new India", on his experience with India's Right to Information Act, which is the way one can now fight bureaucracy in India.

Five days! Not bad for anywhere in the world! Sphere: Related Content

Should all Indians back the Indo-US nuclear deal?

For the clearest statement in favour of the Indo-US nuclear deal, see

This argues that, due to changed world conditions, India is breaking out of the "nuclear apartheid" imposed on it by the West and that every Indian should welcome this.

From India's point of view, this is undoubtedly right. But anyone who argues only from the viewpoint of what is good for India is looking at reality with one eye closed. Every Indian has to also open the closed eye and look also at what is good for the world.

If India's admission to the "nuclear club" because of the Indo-US nuclear deal results in the virtual elimination of the NPT (as it will), that will make it much more difficult to tame rogue regimes who want to gain nuclear missiles and bombs, such as Iran and Korea (and in future other countries, some of whom are already signalling their desire and indeed their "right" to do so).

I am not arguing that Indians (or anyone else) should oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal. I am arguing that all of us, round the world, need to give thought to what replaces NPT.

My view on this has already been made clear in my post of 24 June, titled: "Capital punishment versus mass murder in the case of rogue states and rogue groups" Sphere: Related Content

Can government-owned companies outperform private-sector companies?

The answer from India continues to be a resounding "YES!"

In Dun & Bradstreet's latest Survey of India's top 500 Companies, released last week in Mumbai, India's government-owned companies, which are called "Public Sector Undertakings" (PSUs) in India, have "stolen the limelight".

The seven PSUs are: NTPC in the power sector, ONGC in oil and gas, Steel Authority of India in iron and steel, NALCO in non-ferrous metals, GAIL in gas-processing, transmission, & marketing, MMTC in trading, and Shipping Corporation of India in shipping and logistics.

For the full article see: Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Should the Indian government spend money on promoting the HIndi language?

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reports from New Delhi on 19 August 2006 a statement from Mr Anand Sharma, the Minister of State for External Affairs, to the effect that Hindi should be included as one of the languages used by the United Nations "as it is spoken by a substantial percentage of the world population".

China has been able to get away with arguing similar rubbish because, even though there is no such language as "Chinese", some Chinese language or other is spoken by substantial minorities in practically every country in south-east Asia, as well as by sizable numbers in many other countries.

The proper Hindi language, regretfully, is spoken almost nowhere outside India - though some variety of Hindi (or more precisely Hindustani or Creole) is spoken in Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, South Africa and Trinidad/Tobago, as well as in Pakistan (where a variety of the language, called Urdu, is written in a different script but is otherwise basically the same language). In any case, I make that a maximum of eight countries - and even within them, there is not one country (including India) where Hindi is the principal language.

Since the primary job of the United Nations is to facilitate interaction not between people in general but between its member-nations (192 of them), India only makes itself look foolish by making such patently absurd requests or demands.

Minister Anand Sharma is also reported to have said that an international Hindi conference will be held in New York early next year as part of efforts to popularise Hindi in the world. Apparently, regional Hindi conferences are held every year in different countries. In 2006, these conferences have been held in Australia, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo. One wonders how much is spent on these activities and what criteria are used to assess their effectiveness.

Nor is it clear whether any analysis has been undertaken to evaluate the benefits of holding such conferences verses those of teaching our own people basic literacy - or computer skills or English or medicine or any number of other essential things.

The more significant matter to consider is why India's elite is pushing Hindi, when the majority of Indians (the Dalits and associated oppressed classes) regard the "standard" languages such as Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati as part of the web of oppression by the upper castes, and work hard at learning English which they regard as the language of liberation.

If the government genuinely wants to liberate the oppressed people of India, of course, it should be pushing neither Hindi nor English, but the regional variants of these languages which are closer to the hearts of the masses (such as Bhojpuri and Bundelkhandi). Dalit-speak is not the same as elite-speak.

However, I welcome the initiative because it will certainly make our foreign policy available to, and encourage debate on it from, a much wider proportion of our populace.

The Ministry's Hindi website is at Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The curious passion for changing brand names

I have wondered for some years now at the curious contemporary passion for changing brand names.

On one hand, companies are happy to put the "value of their brand" on the balance sheet in recognition of the value of the brand name.

On the other hand, they seem to have an increasing passion for throwing away that value by changing their name, thus writing off billions from the balance sheet - not to mention the confusion that causes in the marketplace.

I can only put this down to the gullibility of Company Boards and the abilities of the PR industry. Sphere: Related Content

The market may be king - but it is also an ass

I knew that rents were expensive in south Mumbai (though it will always be "Bombay" to us old-timers!).

However, I am startled to learn from an expatriate there that he pays a rent of more than twice what he would expect to pay for similar accommodation in northern Europe (which is much more expensive than the USA)!

Naturally, the laws of supply and demand dictate all prices, unless governments distort them - but you do wonder how stable that sort of price level is.... Sphere: Related Content

Is India really number one in IT?

According to the recently-released Global Information Technology Report (GITR) for 2005-6, India has only just overtaken China and Russia in the IT stakes. India ranks 40th in the GITR, China 50th and Russia 72nd. See:

The GITR's Networked Readiness Index (NRI) covers a total of 115 economies in 2005-2006, to measure the degree of preparation of a nation or community to participate in and benefit from ICT developments. The NRI is composed of three component indexes which assess:
- the environment for ICT offered by a given country or community
- the readiness of the community's key stakeholders (individuals, business and governments), and
- the usage of ICT among these stakeholders.

However, I take comfort from the view of another recent survey, conducted by US-based Internet firm, comScore Networks, that India's online population is growing at the fastest rate in the world.

This story is at:

If that is so, it can't be long before the world's most populous nation achieves the first rank in the Global Information Technology Report's Networked Readiness Index? Sphere: Related Content

How far should you go to prove that you are ethical?

In a ruling that is unprecedented worldwide, Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission has demanded that Australian pharma companies toughen their code of conduct to stop drug firms trying to influence doctors' prescribing by buying them lavish meals and expensive wines.

Apparently, a huge controversy erupted in Australia in July this year over the practices of drug companies in marketing their products, when one of the top national newspapers, The Australian, revealed that the drug giant Roche had spent $65,000 a year earlier, treating 200 cancer specialists to meals and fine wines at Sydney restaurants. That's an average of Australian$325 each, which does seem a tad excessive - though it is not clear whether this figure was only for food and wine or for travel and associated music as well.

However, the industry body Medicines Australia has decided to appeal against the CCC's decision, on the grounds that it would involve too much work.

I agree. It seems to me much simpler to lay down a more modest yet still quite acceptable upper limit of say Australian$250 per person.

Moreover, I can't see how integrity and high standards, or indeed competition, is affected by the practice of lavishing meals and wine on doctors. In my view, doctors are among the most hard-worked sectors of society, and though they are generally well rewarded monetarily for their work, I can't see what harm is done by drug companies taking them out to an extremely lavish meal each year - specially if their competitors are doing similar things anyway.

I expect that the monetary value of any Australian doctor's time is much more than Australian$325. In other words, the doctors are only getting the value of their time (or less).

Moreover, I don't know if it has occured to the CCC that even cancer specialists can only afford nice meals and wine so many times a year - not only their bankers, but also their general physicians will readily agree.

The MA's appeal will be heard by the three-person Australian Competition Tribunal, a process that could take several months.

Rather a waste of time, don't you think?

The story is at:,20867,20155548-2702,00.html Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Were they pushed - or did they jump?

A story from AP reports that a US federal judge has ruled U-S agriculture officials violated environmental laws in allowing four companies to plant genetically modified corn and sugarcane in Hawaii to produce experimental drugs between 2001 and 2003.

U-S District Judge Michael Seabright ruled that the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service flouted both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act because the officials failed to conduct preliminary environmental reviews before issuing the planting permits.

EarthJustice representing plaintiffs in the cases said the decision is the first federal court ruling involving biofarming.

For related stories see: Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Are Indians now living in a police state?

Even if you are only going about your daily business in India, whether you are an Indian or foreign citizen, you can now be legally detained by the police without an arrest warrant and without permission from the courts.

The technical ruling from India's Supreme Court is that police are not required to have warrants to file First Issue Reports and detain suspects. All that is needed is that someone (presumably politically powerful enough) complains against you or me.

According to the Times of India, this ruling relieves police and prosecutors of the requirement of "prior sanction" from the federal or state governments, or a local prosecutor.

This idiotic ruling by Justices G.P. Mathur and Dalveer Bhandari of India's Supreme court, has at one stroke removed the foundational freedom of movement from all Indians - as well as from all citizens of foreign countries in India.

As I read the judgement, from now on, people in India (whether Indian or foreign) enjoy freedom from detention only at the pleasure of politicians and the police.

If I am wrong, I hope that a suitably qualified person will enlighten me.

If I am right, the matter probably needs to be taken up by the Indian Parliament, or by a suitable international body. Sphere: Related Content

Unusual Chinese robots

A photo gallery, assembled by by Roland Piquepaille, of unusual Chinese robots is at:

That includes a four-finger robotic hand able to play organ, and robots which can act as waiters in restaurants in Hong Kong or pull rickshaws near Beijing. Piquepaille likes the robot rickshaw puller the most of all these.

A more interesting question is posed by Jason Chen: Which of these is the scariest?

Chen votes for the robot chimpanzee made by the Chinese Academy of Sciences: "Now we won't have to worry about monkeys taking over the world (Planet of the Apes) or robots taking over the world (every other Sci-Fi movie). It'll actually be monkey robots. And we can identify them by their cheap Chinese-made Disney knockoff shirts". Sphere: Related Content

"Peace, peace", they say, and there is no peace

I am relieved that the ceasefire has been declared, and that Israel and Hezbollah have held it so far.

The question is: will the elected and internationally-recognised Siniora government in Lebanon succeed in disarming the Hezbollah and establish effective government control of southern Lebanon (in which case there may indeed be peace), OR will Hezbollah try to capitalize on its perceived political success and continue to try to take greater control of Lebanon?

The only thing that can strengthen the Lebanese government is massive influx of international military aid. If the presence of 15,000 UN troops becomes an excuse for not providing that military assistance to the Lebanese, then it is certain that the Hezbollah will not be disarmend and peace will not continue, because the declared aim of the Hezbollah is to eliminate Israel, and that unrealistic aim is what they will try to continue to pursue if they influence Lebanon even more than they do at present.

A ceasefire (difficult as it has been) is the easy part of the task. If Hezbollah is not disarmed (a key component of the ceasefire agreement) then credibility of the U.N. will not be helped either. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 13, 2006

India's "internal Iraq"

The sectarian fighting going on at present between the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds in Iraq, has its parallel in India's north-east, which has seven of India's 29 states, and is surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The largely hilly northeast is linked to the rest of India by only a tiny strip of land that is, at its narrowest point, just 32 km (20 miles) wide - which is of course why the Chinese attacked here in their unprovoked war against India in 1962.

In spite of the strategic, cultural and resource-related importance of the area, India's northeast is little known, even to most Indians.

It is home to not three (as in Iraq itself) but over 200 ethnic and tribal communities - and two dozen groups which are or have been involved in guerrilla warfare in support of their "nationalist" demands.

Nine of these rebel groups, having entered peace talks with the Central government in New Delhi, are at present observing ceasefires. Others are observing ceasefires voluntarily. But some are not. And the question is: how long will this situation continue? Will it deteriorate or get resolved?

The rise of Maoist rebels in the whole of India's east is an additional worrying factor.

Can India, will India, tackle its "internal Iraq"?

I have written on this area since 1977 or so, but for a recent story on this matter, see: Sphere: Related Content