Monday, December 17, 2007

Global Warming, Global Cooling and the New Global Intolerance of Dissent

Not being a practising climate scientist, I haven't been able to come to a conclusion about whether we are facing global warming or global cooling. Indeed, even practicing climate scientists seem divided on the issue.

However, what is clear is that we face a kind of creeping global intolerance regarding dissenting views: the legacy of the Reformation, which produced free speech and free thought (and which modern atheists would like to attribute instead to the Renaisance and to modern atheism) seems to be declining or simply being overwhelmed. But modern skeptics find it difficult to explain how and why intolerance is increasing when their brand of atheism has become the dominant ideology over the last half-century. For those who see the inheritance of the Reformation clearly, the explanation of the new intolerance is equally clear: as the influence of the Reformation has waned, the rise of intolerance is natural and inevitable.

For an example of the new totalitarianism at work, see the post by the British journalist, the Lord Monckton, regarding how he was denied journalist accreditation at the recent Bali conference simply because he is known to be a climate sceptic, and how the machinery of the UN seems to have behaved in ways that one expects from tinpot dictatorships in third world countries: Sphere: Related Content

Is the US system equally fair to asylum seekers from all countries?

Several months ago, I was asked to write a piece on the above topic:

In response, a certain gentleman wrote as follows:

"I am first not an American but a Canadian, so thatcolors my view of the world. I'm also a Canadian whohas been an American resident for the last 16 years,as I graduated from an American college and thenseminary, and have continued to work here. What I have observed is that America since the 1800'shas had a "melting pot" for ethnic identity: come toAmerica, lose your immigrant customs, become anAmerican, work hard and you'll do well here. For thelast hundred or so years, as numerous articles,ranging from Finance & Development (June 1999) to theDeVoretz and Laryea study in 1998 that indicate thatAmerica wants to be a brain drain for all countries;Europe, Asia, Canada, Latin America. It's a smartidea to attract other countries' top talents and putthem to work for you. America does allow for skilled laborers to come, and Ibelieve Jack Welch said it most recently that theAmerican government may have to up the number of H-1Bvisas to allow for skilled workers to come. (Theeffect of outsourcing may be a discussing for adifferent day.) Both America and Canada allow for asylum status, thatis, if your country is persecuting you for somereason, or, according to the USCIS site, "traumaticand painful experiences" that caused you to leave yourcountry. So I think that in all fairness, America is ratherfair in the immigration policy. What America is afraid of, I believe, is a large bodyof people who basically want a free lunch, or worse, alunch at everyone else's expense. And rightly so;we've all heard stories about people who run acrossthe border and basically enroll their kids at theexpense of taxpayers, which the parents are not(they'd have to have a social security number to paytaxes, and illegal immigrants don't have one). Now, I live in a city that has had a lot ofimmigrants, and has been plagued by some of the abusesto immigrants, and we are still paying for our pastsins. In the past, there were Italians, the Irish,Puerto Ricans, and numerous other ethnic groups. Theyalways got pushed to the bottom of the social peckingorder and were often underpaid and put in dangerousjobs (much like the Chinese immigrants who worked onthe transcontinental railroad in the 1860s and 1870s). Of course, to love my neighbor as myself would meanthat I should not put them in demeaning, dehumanizing,or dangerous roles -- but at the same time, if I knewthat I had broken a law, would I not submit myself tothe authorities and suffer just punishment andconsequences?"

My response was along the following lines:

I agree and sympathise with your position below. However, where we differ is regarding your statement "Both America and Canada allow for asylum status, that is, if your country is persecuting you for some reason, or, according to the USCIS site, "traumatic and painful experiences" that caused you to leave your country....So I think that in all fairness, America is rather fair in the immigration policy."

My disagreement with you arises for the following reason: you seem to be unaware that NOT all politically persecuted asylum seekers have equal status in seeking asylum in the USA.

There is a politically-determined quota system that decides how many political refugees from which country are admitted. For a purely mythic illustration, the US "system" decides every year how many to allow from Pakistan and how many from India; the system might decide to allow in 10K from Pak, and 9K from India, or the other way around or zero from Pakistan and a 100K from India, or whatever. Some countries are allocated very few places, some are allocated no places, and some are allocated lots of places.

Naturally, the US has every right to decide how many to admit and from which country. But the process for allocating the respective "asylum seats per country" is not transparent (behind-the-scenes political jockeying is what determines the countries and the numbers).

That is what I meant when I argued that the system is not fair by objective standards (that is, by God's standards) .
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sex, the "profession" of prostitution, and philosophy

Among a group of acquaintances, primarily Indians, a discussion was started by one of us who was horrified at the actual social and physical conditions that exist in the world of prostitution in India (this is well documented in publicly accessible records but of course few of us like to think about such things).

Some others in our group defended the practice of prostitution on the grounds that there is nothing wrong with pleasure in exchange for money.

One used the term "oldest profession" in the discussion to provide a sort of historical legitimacy to prostitution.

Another responded to this with: "Its interesting how we have provided social acceptance to the term "the oldest profession". Is prostitution a profession? How many commercial sex workers do it because they enjoy it? (like people do in most other professions?)? Is it a profession to which we would happily send our wives and daughters?"

This prompted the following reflections from me, disconnected as they are:

A profession is an occupation, vocation or career governed by a self-regulatory body which enforces adherence to an ethical code of practice and supervises the communication of specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science, usually through systematic training and acquisition of proficiency certified by some formal examination and the award of an appropriate qualification.

So it is clear that "sex work" is not a profession. Any expression such as "oldest profession" simply tries to disguise an unpalatable reality – in other words, such an expression is simply a lie.

This is not to make any comment on the question of pleasure. Sexuality is pleasurable, otherwise I am not sure whether its messy side would be indulged in.

In all cultures, sexuality is bounded by long-term mutual commitment on the part of those who consent. Prostitution (sex for money) provides the pleasure without the relationship. That is to say, the money exchange substitutes for the long-term relationship. In every society, there will always be people who will (at least for a period) resort to short cuts or the easy way in terms of providing pleasure for themselves without regard to the long-term consequences. But any such short-cut or easy way will always interfere with any existing or future long-term relationship.

I guess there is a sort of parallel in hiring a servant to look after a baby or an aged parent. That is different from looking after the baby or parent yourself. Naturally, some services can be bought. But the very process of buying the service distances you from the personal commitment (and therefore the relationship) involved. In other words, it changes the relationship.

No society believes that faithfulness (which is different from "possessiveness") is easy. That is why sexual pleasure is bounded by moral, social and psychological factors in every society, even in what is reputed to be the "free" West.

Of all the philosophies regarding sex, the most difficult of all is the philosophy of Jesus according to whom the ideal sexual relationship is one man and one woman for life, in which care and nurture and understanding each other provides a superior context for, as well as quality of, sexual pleasure. Naturally, in the historical gospel accounts regarding him, his teaching was not based on personal experience but on first principles going back to his understanding and teaching regarding the origin of the universe and of human beings.

However, the most difficult teaching of Jesus was at least one of the factors that, according to social historians, led to the rise of the West from being one of the poorest parts of the world to one of the richest.

It is also interesting that the teaching of Jesus instinctively finds resonance in societies such as ours (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain....) in which there is no other basis for any teaching about one man-one woman in our own traditions, so that most middle-class Indians favour at least theoretically the notion of one man-one woman, even though all our great teachers and scriptures nowhere put forward such a notion. Hindu tradition is traditionally polygamous and polyandrous as can be seen in the Vedas, Puranas, and so on; Islam allows four wives and innumerable "temporary wives", Buddhism and Jainism have very little to say on the subject. The sexual antics of many of our great gurus are common knowledge but do not detract from their supposed "holiness" because, in our tradition, such gurus are "liberated" from the moral constraints that are supposed to apply to ordinary mortals. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 10, 2007

Goa - a land of coconuts in which it is difficult to find coconut water!

One of the puzzles of India is why we have such difficulty in providing basic things even for tourists - which presumably would be at high profit, if one did suplly them.

Try and get coconut water or indeed simple fruit at almost any restaurant in Goa and you'll see what I mean.

You'll find plenty of beer, wine, whisky - as well as coca-cola and other varieties of coloured water.

And if you are vegetarian, Goa is a tough place in which to survive..... very little variety in the kinds of dishes available - as against the huge variety of non-vegetarian dishes.

So Goa is great for non-vegetarians and alcohol-imbibers....but I'm afraid I go to Goa on sufferance.... Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 08, 2007

passports, visas and the limits of achievements

A friend from a Western country writes asking if I can help find a job for an Indian friend, who we may call Vinod for the moment.

Unfortunately, Vinod is one of the many tens of thousands, in Western countries, who have an Indian passport and no appropriate visa for working in these countries.

My friend pleads with me to try to find some solution as Vinod is both extraordinarily gifted and extraordinarily hard-working.

As someone who is very familiar with this problem over many years, I had to say that
it does not matter how gifted or hard-working you are, your passport and visa-status define your minimum and maximum possible achievements in this world.

Though it does not seem that way to many of us, specially when we are young, there is after all Someone outside ourselves who determines where we are born, and to whom we are born. That Someone therefore defnies the entire framework with which, and within which, we have to work out our lives. Sphere: Related Content

Summoning some gods to a court of law?!

A friend draws to my attention an interesting story on a BBC website, concerning a dispute regarding the ownership of 1.4 acre plot of land on which stand temples dedicated to the gods Shri Ram and Shri Hanuman - and the question is: does the land belong to the gods or to the priest?

**Hindu gods get summons from court **
A judge in India summon the Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman to help resolve a property dispute.
< >

This will be a fascinating case, setting a precedent for the millions of temples across the land.

And it will be most interesting to know what the priest is proposing to do with the land IF he gets ownership of it:

Demolish the temple and build a mall?!

But is that really more lucrative than having a temple in the first place?

Unlikely. So my guess is that the priest wants to leave the 2 temples to continue producing money on their own, but sell the remaining land, or build on it for commercial purposes , so as to realise some of the "marginal" value of the land. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 06, 2007

On French versus the US Tax Code

A friend is looking for a European CFO who speaks French.

Another responds: "Unfortunately, most of my CFO friends are trying to learn how to interpret the US Tax Code as a second language"

:) Sphere: Related Content

Schools and solving the world's problems

A report on schools around the world, in the most recent issue of The Economist, concludes with the following : "...across the world, the less students know about science, the more optimistic they are about the chances of solving the planet's environmental problems".

Not really surprising, since the more students know about science, the more they realise that our environmental problems are a direct result of scientific advancement, and that, though science and technology certainly have a role to play for example in reducing energy consumption in relation to the same output, solving environmental problems is not primarily a matter of scientific or technological advance, but rather of rational analysis and political will (which always boils down to social, psychological and spiritual resources).

AsI have written elsewhere, the means to address the world's ecological as well as economic problems are already available and have been available for some time. It is because the means have been systematically ignored, specially since the end of WWII, that we have the present mess in the world. Sphere: Related Content

sand ecology

A report on schools around the world, in the most recent issue of The Economist, concludes with the following : "...across the world, the less students know about science, the more optimistic they are about the chances of solving the planet's environmental problems".

Not really surprising, since the more students know about science, the more they realise that our environmental problems are a direct result of scientific advancement, and that, though science and technology certainly have a role to play for example in reducing energy consumption in relation to the same output, solving environmental problems is not primarily a matter of scientific or technological advance, but rather of rational analysis and political will (which always boils down to social, psychological and spiritual resources).

AsI have written elsewhere, the means to address the world's ecological as well as economic problems are already available and have been available for some time. It is because the means have been systematically ignored, specially since the end of WWII, that we have the present mess in the world. Sphere: Related Content

Which will be the world's reserve currency in 2035?

In view of the current decline of the dollar, one of the most respected international commentators on financial matters has recently gone on record with the following statements: "By the time the dollar has lost its (reserve currency) status, somewhere around 2035, the Chinese renminbi or even the Indian rupee - not the euro - will be best placed to take over its mantle. ...The biggest risk to a RMB-standard by the mid-21st century is that between 2007 and 2035, there is likely to be major political change in China. This may be as smooth as the "velvet revolution" in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989 or it may be as tumultuous as China's own cultural revolution of the 1960s. However, if China is delayed or diverted by politics, it is not clear that this provides an opportunity for Euroland in 2035. India's economic and political path, by contrast, appears well set. China's one-child policy makes it all the more likely that India will end up with the largest population and, one day, the largest economy in the world".

Being Indian, I am naturally flattered by such views. It is also true that China's population is set to decline before India's, and that India will in all probability be the most populous country in the world, from something like 2035. However, the world's most populous country has not always had the largest economy - think China from about 1875 to a few years ago. By contrast, think of a rather small country (France) having one of the largest economies in the world from approximately 1625 - 1825; or think of another small country (the UK) having one of the largest economies in the world from about 1825 - 1950; or indeed think of one of the smallest countries in the world by population (Sweden) which had the world's second largest economy between 1775 - 1800. In other words, size of population has often had relatively little to do with size of economy.

Regretfully, therefore, I must decline to agree with the basis of my colleague's prognostication about the world's currency in 2035 - though, as I say, being Indian, I hope that he is right on other grounds nevertheless :)

My own sober view is that there will be no single reserve currency within the current global system as the system is multipolar and unstable, and will continue to be so till any country (possibly Russia? - unpalatable thought! - but possibly in alliance with Europe, which may make this more palatable!) establishes military superiority. Which explains why the world's arms sales are soaring, as every country is now rushing to arm itself in order to expand its reach and/ or in order to defend itself. China may collapse in the future, but it won't be because the Chinese are stupid. It will be because they have an inappropriate system which will make it very difficult for them to negotiate the future. India has an appropriate system (democracy) but it is as yet unclear whether the secularists will win the culture war currently underway or whether the Hindu fascists will win; the latter would like to take the country back to the middle ages - if not earlier! Russia has an inappropriate system (at present Putin's de facto dictatorship) but, with its relatively sparse population, it will have plenty of gas on which to base its growth - though it will also face the danger of collapse because of its inappropriate political system. Europe has both the right system and the right culture, so my bet is on Europe, possibly in alliance with Russia - or possibly Russia will be a part of a reconstructed Europe by then. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Should we support NGOs?

A friend writes on a list that I subscribe to: "NGOs hold up development in deeply impoverished rural areas offering much, delivering little and spreading fear amongst local people. Ultimately the locals begin to realize that without development they can never achieve the lifestyle that the donors and management of these very NGOs live on a daily basis - in Islington or Kensington or Double Bay. If you want more on this topic, get the movie "Mine Your Own business" - it's a franklook at the NGO business, the damage they do and they say in their very own words".

My response:

Certainly, there are NGOs as well as scientific institutions/ organisations around the world that are neither as honest nor as effective as they should be.

Equally, there are honest and effective scientific institutions/ organisations - just as there are honest and effective NGOs.

Honest/effective NGOs believe in independent assessment by qualified outsiders - and publish audited accounts which state clearly how much of the money reaches the intended beneficiaries and how much gets eaten up in administration et al.

A similar point might apply to scientific institutions/ organisations, except that the whole of the "science industry" is vitiated by politics - I mean of the national or "Party Political" sort, since a lot of funding comes from national governments.

Individuals can choose *not* to give to NGOs - and can choose, if they wish to give, the NGO they prefer. They do not have any such choice in relation to taxation.

We all know that underdevelopment is a choice that political elites make in the interests of their own pockets (as can be seen starkly in Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries), and we know that NGOs can do little about that. But what honest and effective NGOs can do is to make some marginal difference to a few lives here and there - which is important for those lives. If someone on this list can point to some organisation dedicated to "shifting" the stance of guilty political elites (not only in the three-fourths world), I will happily join that individual and organisation. Meanwhile, I am committed to making what difference I can through honest and trustworthy NGOs.

On this list, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has often been attacked for being "political". I could pursue this also in relation to some scientific institutions/organisations in India. No doubt others could do so in relation to some scientific institutions/ organisations in other countries - or even most scientific institutions/organisations in relation to certain countries.

Attacking any or all such NGOs/ scientific organisations/ institutions gets us nowhere".

In response, a correspondent responds with an illustration: "Sofia - now a city of 900,000 motor vehicles does not have a garbage dump. Garbage is collected and compressed and baled and then trucked 150 kilometres to a remote disposal site outside the second largest city in he country - Plovdiv. Why? Because of local NGOs with strong political connections. The NGOs have more than strong ties with the Socialists with the main ones in Bulgaria having been founded by the Sons of Communist era Generals one of whom is VP of the country). Why is Plovdiv willing to take the garbage? - US10 million a year I believe".

My response:
The problem in Bulgaria is clearly not NGOs per se but the fact that they are manipulated by the political elite there ... as happens in so many other parts of the world.

Conclusion: We need to scrutinise NGOs just as we need to scrutinise companies - or governments, for that matter. The human tendency to twist for personal benefit whatever can be twisted has to be watched in every sphere of activity. But that does not mean that we can do without governments, companies or NGOs. The difference is that companies rely on investors, workers and customers; and governments rely on the consent of the governed; while NGOs rely on the goodwill of ordinary people. Corrupt NGOs need to be "outed" in order to maintain the credibility of the entire NGO sector. In my view, non-corrupt NGOs do not do enough to "out" the corrupt NGOs. But, at the end of the day, "outing" corrupt NGOs is the responsibility of every human being. Sphere: Related Content

Should Germany ban Scientology?

Readers who know Germany better than I do will not need to be reminded that Hamburg is a city-state and has its own Minister for the Interior. Nor will they need to be informed that Hamburg's interior minister is Udo Nagel.

Some of us lesser mortals have become acquainted with Nagel's name following the story that he is seeking a nationwide ban against Scientology, on the grounds that this cult is an "unconstitutional big business":,1518,521262,00.htmlAs I am not an expert on the German constitution, I will ignore that aspect of this story but here is the rest of it, with my comments in brackets: German officials consider Scientology a business, not a religion, and tax it accordingly. Scientologists, naturally, complain about this as 'religious discrimination'. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) apparently ruled that Scientology is a religion (though it is not clear to me what competence the ECHR has in matters of religion nor am I sure whether the ECHR considered the fact that there can be religions which are big business - probably the best other examples are the Roman Catholic Church, the Moonies and the Hare Krishna). Scientologists enjoy the same freedom as any other business in Germany. Berlin has a Scientology Center, and the famous Scientologist Tom Cruise came to Berlin this year to film a big-budget Hollywood film -- even, after some debate, in restricted Nazi-era buildings. Anyway, Nagel's argument is that Scientology is not only a commercial enterprise but also an "anti-constitutional" group with "aggressively fierce" tactics. The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution has watched the group for years because of its recruitment practices. The German government worries that Scientology, as a foreign organization, wants to win over adherents and influence German politics. "There is substantial evidence that the Scientology organization is involved in activities directed against the free democratic order," the agency has written in official reports. Nagel hinted at his new campaign last summer, when he said that Scientology aimed at nothing less than the "complete repression of the individual." But a single German state can't push through a ban. So Nagel is taking his case to colleagues in other states with the idea of forging a nationwide prohibition.

This is an interesting line for an Interior Minister to take. My own instincts are for religious and business freedom. However, Scientology is a special case in that it seems to use, as the German point of view quoted above indicates, psychological techniques to repress individuals. The question that remains is whether, in a free society, individuals should not be free to belong to groups that repress their "normal" members (apparently, they treat their "star" members as royalty, instead). The only problem with my libertarian view is that once someone has become a Scientologist, it is extremely difficult to get out - and even those who get out find themselves having suffered, and continuing to suffer, physical, mental and emotional harm (at least, that is the claim made by ex-Scientologists).

In any case, it might be argued, from a national security point of view, all that matters whether individuals, repressed or otherwise, pose a real security threat. With Islamic Jehadists, the answer is clear. With Scientology (though I dislike it intensely), I have to say that the answer is not at all clear. So far as I know, no Scientologist has attempted by any violent means to attack any nation state.

I conclude that Minister Nagel is going down the wrong track. There may be very good grounds in German law to proceed against Scientology (and certainly no one should look on Scientology with anything but contempt), but national security has, so far, not (to public knowledge) been a matter of any substantial concern in relation to Scientology.

Scientology is considered, in Germany, a profit-oriented "psycho-group" or "commercial cult" with totalitarian internal structures and undemocratic goals - specifically, one that it is "striving for world power". A German national commission established in 1996 to investigate "so-called sects and psycho-groups" including Scientology, concluded in its report that such groups did not at present pose a threat to society and state, and underlined the constitutional principle of religious freedom as well as the state's obligation to observe strict neutrality in these matters. However, it called upon the Government to introduce legislation for consumer protection in the "psycho-market" and highlighted the need for the Government to inform the public about dangers to health and property posed by psycho-cults and groups. Particular emphasis was placed on Scientology because it allegedly pursues policies of "misinformation" and "intimidation of its critics", according to the report. Scientology has been described as "an unscrupulous commercial enterprise that harasses its critics and abuses the trust of its members".

The way to deal with Scientology is through consumer education and the same kind of appropriate legal action which one takes against other "unscrupulous commercial enterprises" when they are discovered doing something for which they can be taken to court.

Herr Nagel's approach may appeal to some individuals and officials in Germany but it is almost certainly not the right approach. Sphere: Related Content

Islamic Autocracy, Fundamentalism and Refugees

Perhaps some kind soul (preferably Muslim, as that will be more likely to be authoritative) will explain to me why autocrats, specially from Muslim cultures, like to sponsor fundamentalist Islam?

We have seen the phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other countries in the past. Now we are seeing the phenomenon in Malaysia where Hindus seem to be losing their rights.

And I see today that the Constitutional Assembly in the Maldives has just passed an amendment stating that “none except Muslims can be Maldivian citizens”. If implemented, this amendment to the constitution will mean that a number of Maldivians will lose their citizenship and become stateless. President Gayoom's autocratic regime has been promoting militant Islamism in the Maldives, so that it is now common to punish any person who follows, preaches or simply reads texts of other religions until he or she turns to Islam. The President did promise to take measures to combat Islamic extremism after a bomb explosion earlier this year, attributed to an Islamic militant group, injured a number of tourists. However, President Gayoom has done nothing to implement that promise (as far as I am aware) , and the amendment referred to above will be like more meat to the fundamentalist beast.

Meanwhile, there is one other consideration: if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is right, the Maldives will be one of the countries which will completely drown in the foreseeable future as the sea-level rises.

That means that all the 300,000 inhabitants (or whatever the total population then is) will have to become refugees in other countries.

It will certainly be far easier for them to be accepted as refugees in other parts of the world if measures are taken to create a more liberal and tolerant society in Maldives.

Since Islamic societies become steadily poorer than they need to be, it is not surprising that their record for absorbing refugees is not exactly outstanding. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Eyewitness account of the assassination attempt on the Governor of Goa, on a visit to Nagaland a few days ago

As I have not noticed any media picking up the story of the facts regarding the assassination attempt, here is the account of the ambush by the Officer of Special Duty to the Governor, Mr Zumvu:

Facts about the Ambush on His Excellency SC Jamir, Governor of Goa at Changki village area, Mokokchung, Nagaland on November 24, 2007

1. His Excellency SC Jamir, Governor of Goa reached Mokokchung on November 19, 2007 ton a private visit. After completion of his engagements, as per his schedule, he was to depart Mokokchung on November 24, 2007 to Calcutta via Dimapur by Indian Airlines.

2. From the day His Excellency arrived at Mokokchung, intelligence reports from the Administration as well as well-wishing public informed the Raj Bhawan Officials that insurgents were determined not to let him get out of Mokokchung and that they were planning to lay ambush on His Excellency’s convoy when he travels out of the State. On November 22, 2007, it was learnt from highly placed sources that the Ministry of Home Affairs had sent a red alert to the State Government that miscreants were likely to lay ambush on His Excellency when he travels by road. A security coordination meeting was accordingly called the same morning at the residence of His Excellency which was attended by the Deputy Commissioner, Mokokchung, SP Mokokchung, PSO attached to His Excellency and officials of the Raj Bhawan Goa traveling with the VVIP. In the meeting, His Excellency asked the DC to alert all the GBs of the villages along the Mokokchung-Mariani road and sanitize their respective areas. It was also decided that additional security forces would be requisitioned and that Road Opening Parties would be arranged in all the three exit routes from Mokokchung, namely, NH 61 via Wokha, NH 61 via Tuli and State Highway via Mariani. His Excellency decided to go by the State Highway via Mariani. In addition to the security personnel, two bullet proof ambassador cars were also requisitioned, and the same were provided though not in very good condition.

3. Raj Bhawan officials accompanying His Excellency were in constant touch with the Intelligence personnel as well as villagers. The local functionaries of the NSCN were reported to be unaware of any plans to ambush the VVIP. But at the same time, well wishers conveyed their apprehension that even if militants were to do any mischief, it would be carried out by some special hit teams and that the local functionaries would be kept in the dark. On November 23rd evening, highly placed and reliable sources reported that one self styled Lt Col Hopeson Tangkhul of the NSCN (IM) had arrived in Mokokchung for some undisclosed purpose. In spite of the reports of security threat on His Excellency, it was felt that the factions of the NSCN would not dare to violate the Ceasefire by laying ambush on the visiting Governor. Nevertheless, all necessary security arrangements were made and even the SP and SDO © Mokokchung accompanied the VVIP’s convoy.

4. On November 24th morning, the ADC to the Governor and I, the undersigned approached His Excellency a few minutes before 5.00 a.m. and requested him to sit in a bullet proof car at least till Mariani. However, the request was not heeded and the VVIP decided to travel in his own car. His reasoning was that how he could be so selfish as to travel in a bullet proof car when the security personnel traveling with him were in open vehicles exposed to bullets.

5. At 5.00 a.m. on November 24, His Excellency and the Lady Governor got into the vehicle. The two VIP “dummy” cars, my private car and the pick up vehicle used to transport the kitchen attendants and ration which were parked in the compound of the residence, moved out of the gate. All the other police vehicles were parked outside the compound. However, on the road below the VVIP’s residence, the convoy stopped for a few minutes for the security personnel to arrange the convoy sequence. Till the time the ambush took place when the His Excellency had to be shifted out of the VIP Car, I myself did not know in which car the VVIP was in.

6. At about 6.20 to 6.25 a.m. after crossing Changki village towards Mariani when the convoy slowed down at a landslide/sinkage area, huge explosions rocked the area followed by heavy gun fire. The convoy came to a stop as the commandoes got out of their vehicles and quickly retaliated to the gunshots coming out of the thick foliage above the road. There was a heavy exchange of fire for several minutes, followed by intermittent burst of gun shot from the ambushers whose number or positions were not known. I was asked by the driver and the commandoes standing nearby to move on to the nullah/drainage for protection. There were some freshly unloaded boulders of rocks for road repairs near my vehicle and it was there that I and some drivers and unarmed uniformed attendants took shelter. Lying there in the drain I made phone calls to Raj Bhawan Goa, media persons, police and administrative officers in other districts of Nagaland and Assam informing them of what was taking place at that moment. After a few minutes, the SP Mokokchung came running to where I was taking shelter and asked where and how His Excellency was. I pointed towards the next turning and whispered, for fear of alerting the ambushers about the exact location of the VVIP, that the VVIP was in the next turning. At a time when bullets were flying everywhere, the SP ran over towards the VVIP only with a pistol in his hand without taking cover or shelter and not bothering at all about his own saftey. He went round the turn of the highway towards the VVIP and after a few minutes, he came back to where I was and said His Excellency was calling for me. At the same time, he shouted for the bullet proof car which was a few vehicles away from where we were, to proceed towards the VVIP car. This was after 10 to 15 minutes when the explosions and firing started.

7. By this time, it was obvious that the concentration of gun fire was aimed at the VVIP car and not on any of the other vehicles in the convoy. With extreme precaution and taking shelter of the retaining wall, I approached a few metres to where the VIP car was and saw that the VVIP was being taken into the bullet proof car. From the place where I was taking refuge, I could clearly see that as he was being taken into the BP car, his back was exposed to the ambushers’ gunfire. I noticed that the VIP car was driven to the nullah/drain and the edge of the side of the road provided natural cover to the car and that the bullets from the ambushers were ricocheting away on the tarred road unable to touch the VIP car. But the area in which the BP car was parked and in which the VVIP was taken into, was exposed to the bullets of the ambushers. However, the ring round security personnel provided heavy covering fire while the VVIP was being taken into the BP car and after a few seconds, the VVIP was whisked away.

8. A minute or so after the VVIP was taken away to safety, there was a heavy burst of gun fire again. This was promptly reciprocated by the commandoes who were kneeling by the side of the road exposed to the oncoming gun shots. I could see bullets ricocheting away on the ground kicking up dust and smoke a few inches away from them. It was as if they thought they were immune to bullets. From my position, I could see a few fairly large craters along the drain very close to the stranded VIP car. I was later told by the commandoes that four bombs went off simultaneously next to the VIP Car and that a few 2-inch mortars too exploded in close proximity of the car. The ADC to the Governor who was in the VIP car with the VVIP later told me that while getting out of the car to the BP car, he saw two unexploded mortars not even five feet away from the VIP car. He said he picked up one and threw it away below the road, while the PSO did the same to the other.

9. The rest of the convoy was stranded because the ambushers fired intermittently at us. We could not get out of the place for several minutes but once it was noticed by the sounds of the gun shots that the ambushers were retreating, the rest of the convoy slowly moved out of the ambush site to join up with the VVIP some 15 minutes later during which time/interval/distance, I saw that the nearest ROP personnel were no where near the site of the incident. The two uniformed personnel providing road protection/opening were at least a kilometer or so away from the site and they did not appear to be aware of the ambush.

10. The convoy then proceeded towards Tsutapela Gate, Nagaland where security personnel from Assam Police were also waiting and after a quarter of an hour or so, the convoy proceeded towards Dimapur. DGP Nagaland and Additional DGP received the VVIP at the NH 31 and NH 39 junction in Assam and escorted him till Chumukedima. There were also scores of vehicles belonging to well wishers at the Nagaland Check gate to receive and follow the VVIP back to Dimapur.

11. At Dimapur, I was informed by the Assistant Commandant of the 9 IRB which provided the VVIP security and protection till Dimapur, that the site of the incident was “swept” by his bomb disposal party at 4.30 a.m. that morning. Later in the day, I was informed by police officers that more bombs have been detected and that the whole place was cordoned off. Passengers traveling on that route that morning were stranded for a few hours, and some of them phoned up through mobile phones that they heard a very loud explosion. It was learned that the Assam Rifles party had detected more than ten High Explosive Devices and other assorted explosives buried in four places in the drain underneath boulders. Huge impoverished gelatin bombs around which splitters were tied to have more devastating effects were detected and one was exploded by the Assam Rifles party. It was also informed that had even a single one exploded, it would have devastated several vehicles in the vicinity. It was sheer providence that these explosives could not be detonated by the ambushers.

12. I think it was also the large number of commandoes providing security to His Excellency that deterred the ambushers to come closer to their target. There were around 65 to 70 armed commandoes from the 9 IRB and DEF Kohima and other units at the time of the ambush. At Dimapur, when the bullets were counted, it was found that more than 800 rounds were fired by the commandoes in a time span of 25 to 30 minutes.

13. Recalling about the whole incident, I note with particular concern that the ambushers knew exactly in which car the VVIP was in. After the initial melee and confusion when I felt bullets were flying everywhere – and indeed it was so – I noticed that most of the shots were fired at the VVIP car. The dummy cars, it appears, did not fool the ambushers.

14. It was also a quite a coincidence that no ROP personnel were near the site of the ambush. The two uniformed personnel I saw after the ambush were more than a kilometer away and they did not appear to be aware that the ambush had taken place. Or if they were aware, they were taking it pretty cool.

15. The site was said to be swept by the bomb disposal team at 4.30 a.m. that day, as reported to me by the Assistant Commandant of the 9 IRB. The ambushers must have been in a very large number to have planted not one or two, but eight bombs between 4.30 a.m. and 6.25 a.m.

16. Four non-locals whom I presumed to be labourers engaged in road repairs, were standing by the side of the road barely a hundred metres or so from the site of the ambush. I do not know when or how they got there, or what they were doing there, but investigating agencies might get some inputs from them.

Dated Panaji the 2nd December, 2007 (Sebastian Zumvu)
OSD to Governor
Goa Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 01, 2007

how is free trade with China possible without a freely traded currency

In the midst of the polite and not so polite spats (and more) at the EU-China Trade Summit being held in Beijing, I see plenty of European concern about product safety, currency reform and the historically unprecedented and almost unbelievably large trade deficit.

One thing has been remarked on and will probably not be remarked on: the trade deficit is a direct result of the undervalued Chinese currency which makes Chinese goods cheaper in the world market.

How undervalued is the Chinese currency? Tthe Europeans view is that the Yuan is undervalued by probably as much as 25 percent. That is, Chinese goods are up to 25% cheaper than they should be, simply because the Chinese Communist Party which governs China keeps the currency artifically cheap.

But this is a system-flaw that is well-known to everyone who was and is involved in the WTO negotiations: we have so-called free trade, when everyone knows that whoever is prepared to manipulate their currency will win in the marketplace. So a freely-tradeable currency should be a pre-requisite to participation in the WTO "free trade" treaties.

But, for various reasons (mostly to do with their own back yards) none of the dominant powers want to make a freely-tradeable currency a pre-requisite for participation in the WTO "free trade" treaty.

So everyone knew of the danger that some countries would go down the route of manipulating the value of their currency. Now that the Chinese have been systematically making use of the dangerous possibility for some decades, the Europeans have finally joined the Americans in crying over spilt milk.

The way to cure the problem is not to whimper to the Chinese Communist authorities, but to change the rules of the WTO to what they should have been in the first place. Free trade is fine, but only on the basis of a genuinely level playing field. And that includes freely traded currencies from participating countries. Sphere: Related Content

The misuse of language, thought, and other public structures

Someone I know writes to invite me to join an organisation's Board of Governors.

I ask for details of the organisation. He is cagey about this, saying that there have been "a number of hostile attempts to take over the organization". So he and his colleagues have "had to take extreme measures and put together strict procedures and governance. The organization is now restructured. We have a new Ceo and President and a new capable board of directors. The entity 501 c6 is now legally protected by the board, legal team and founding team. Board of governors is honorary and advisory, and we are very careful in providing this information at this time to prospective active board of governors.All of the board of directors would be seeing constitution and by laws for the first time during the board of directors meeting in nyc under strict guidelines. Due to the current sitution and request from our CEO, we have to keep bylaws and constitution on very controlled and restrictive basis".

So here is an interesting situation:

1. You have to agree to be on the board of an organisation about which you know nothing before you are allowed to see the constitution of the organisation (!).

2. There is a Board of Directors that has executive or non-executive authority AS WELL AS a "Board of Governors" that is merely advisory. The right and transparent terminology for any advisory board is of course to call it either a "Board of Advisors" or a "Board of Patrons" (or, possibly, a "Board of Reference" - depending on how eminent the members are). A "board of governors" is usually the governing board of a public entity. The organisation in question is not a public entity and here is a "board of governors" that does NOT "govern"! Given the degeneration and public misuse of language that has been going on for some decades, I guess this kind of usage is not entirely surprising but it does not add to the credibility of the organisation.

3. I note that "The 501(c)(6) is specifically reserved to Chamber of Commerce organizations, economic development corporations, real estate boards, trade boards, professional football leagues (e.g., the NFL), and other types of business leagues. They are characterized by a common business interest, which the organization typically promotes. Organizations under this category are exempt from most federal income taxes. Donations to a 501(c)(6) are not tax deductible as charitable contributions, as is the case in the 501(c)(3) category. 501(c)(6) organizations may engage in limited political activities that inform, educate, and promote their given interest. They may not engage in direct expenditures advocating a vote for a political candidate or cause. Donations to 501(c)(6) organizations are not required to be disclosed" - that quote is from the Wikipedia - which is not entirely reliable but is usually good as a rough-and-ready guide and gives you enough to chew on and double-check with more reliable authorities if you really want to follow something through.

In any case, this makes the organisation whose "Board of Governors" I am invited to join even more curious as, typically, a 501(c)(6) organisation's membership would consist of other ORGANISATIONS and *not* individuals - with the Board of Directors and other such bodies consisting entirely of representatives duly nominated by member organisations. Again, this sort of thing does not add to credibility for the organisation inviting me to join its "Board of Governors".

So here is an interesting case of the connection of language misuse with unclear thought - or possibly deliberate obfuscation.

Does this sound like something put together by an American lawyer? It does sound like that but, actually, it isn't! It is put together by an "ordinary" (or I should say, extraordinary) techie and a group of otherwise highly-educated and highly-regarded individuals - who should certainly be able to think and to organise things individually (and undoubtedly collectively!) much more clearly and logically than me.

It is rather a pity that the organisation is not put together by an American lawyer. At least you would know what to blame. Sphere: Related Content

Tolerant Islam

In the West, it is becoming politically intolerant to question whether Islam produces tolerant and diverse societies. The lessons of some 1400 years of history are mixed on the question - historically, Islam has produced tolerant as well as intolerant societies, depending on the country/ region and time-span being discussed. For example, within India, the Mughal rulers (who were all Muslim) were some of them tolerant and some of them intolerant. Jews were tolerated at certain times/ places in Muslim societies but not in others. And so on.

But what happens when a society becomes increasingly Islamised? That is a question that "politically correct" westerners are loath to face.

Here is the latest news analysis (not by me) of what Islamisation is doing to a historically tolerant Muslim society, Malaysia:

Ironically, the writer is a member of the Hindu fascist organisation, the RSS - and if his ilk were elected to power in India, they would not produce any more tolerant a society for Muslims or other minorities in India. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Would you not like to live for 100 or 150 years?

Yesterday, I received a circular message from a friend:

"Hi Folks

"Dr Francis Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project. He jointly presented the findings at the White House beside President Clinton. I was given his most recent book in the summer and found it absorbing.

"This week he was interviewed on a programme on BBC 4 called “Visions of the Future” presented by Dr Michio Kaku.

"The implications of the writing of the DNA code unfolded in an extraordinary and challenging way.

"In summary the follow on medical research has already produced amazing results. A dramatic example was show of a child born three years ago with a severe combined immune deficiency which resulted in the child on being able to survive only inside a germ free bubble. The life expectancy was very short.

"As a direct result of the Human Genome research the doctors discovered a rogue gene and they were able to conduct a bone marrow transplant to restore the immune system.

"The film of this child leading a normal life was testimony to the power of the discovery.

"Francis Collins went on to explain the projects that were now underway into cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

"In cancer research alone there are12500 separate genome projects. He further explained that with the exponential rate of technological advance, answers would be found to the cause of these diseases within 3-5 years!

"The implications of this research are vast and have many ethical challenges.

"However the most remarkable possibility of all emerged when it was forecast that a dramatic increase would take place in quality life expectancy within ten years.

"Now get this!
"Scientists in this field are estimating the first person to reach 150 years old is probably in his or her 50’s or 60’s!

"Think about it. At my tender age of 61 I may have another 60 years of quality life left! (My wife has packed her bags!)
Work it out for yourself, be pessimistic and say you now have a life expectancy of 120 years. What changes would that bring to mind?
Thoughts would be appreciated!"

As he had asked for responses, mine was as follows: "I take it that you have enough money salted away to keep you in the style to which you are accustomed for the next 60 or 100 or whatever years? Most people do not. That is why these utopias disappoint most people, benefit only the rich, and therefore put disproportionate power in the hands of the rich (as the population drops, even in China, the population of the earth will get steadily older – and, among the old, there will be a disproportionate number of the rich, each with a vote and with plenty of money to influence the votes of those who do not have money....). Not a recipe for social harmony and peaceful progress, I'm afraid.... warm regards, Prabhu" Sphere: Related Content

Bringing the German legal system into line with the needs of a civilised 21st Century

Apparently, from the old pre-Nazi days, the German legal system still has a provision against “Volksverhetzung” (incitement of the people) .

This was presumably designed to stop Nazi propaganda. The assumption apparently was that if you could stop Nazis "preaching" Nazism, then Germans would not become Nazis, but if you did not stop Nazis from "preaching" Nazism, then Germans were so stupid as to become Nazis.

I am astonished that Germans have not risen up in protest against this law, which is surely patronising and unsuitable for a modern democracy.

This highly offensive law is now being used to silence all points of view which are not deemed to be "correct". For example, just weeks ago, a 55-year old Lutheran pastor was sentenced to one year in jail for “Volksverhetzung” (incitement of the people) because he compared the killing of the unborn in contemporary Germany to the holocaust.

Now, I happen to disagree fundamentally with this pastor's point of view, though it is true that, without legalized abortion the number of German children would increase annually by at least 150,000 – which is apparently the number of legal abortions in Germany. But Germans clearly prefer to kill their own children and import foreigners - and Germany is a free country so it is quite possible for Germans to freely decide to commit cultural suicide and hand their country, over the long term, to foreigners.

But that is irrelevant to whether the good pastor has a right to express his opinion. Apparently, in Germany, he (and others like him) no longer have that right. And the courts have the right to decide to decide what he (or you, or I) may say and may not say, even if we interested in contributing to debate about matters of public policy.

Whatever happened to German freedom of speech, to "zivil courage"? I think it was Oscar Wilde who said: "To disagree with three-fourths of the public is one of the first requisites of sanity". Or, as Bergen Evans put it: "Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think. And there is no freedom of thought without doubt". General Colin Powell is reputed to have said: "The right to free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection".

My own view is that the good pastor is wrong, but I would like us to fight for his right to express his opinion. We could start awarding him a prize for "Zivil Courage" or, if we are too timid to do that, by corresponding with him in prison - or, if we are too timid even for that, at least to correspond with his family (which can, I suppose, still be done in Germany without the authorities becoming aware of it?).

I have always believed that freedom of speech is fundamental. It is preferable to have Nazis given freedom of speech so that they can be properly debated and any of their idiocies mocked in public, than to have an entire nation's capacity for debate muzzled by a handful of judges who can decide at their high pleasure what is and what is not permissible to say, discuss and debate.

All the cultural gains in Germany since the Reformation seem to me in danger of being lost, if Germans do not rise up and repeal this backward-looking law and its even more assinine implementation by Germany's current Judges. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, November 12, 2007

Who are the terrorists in Kurdistan?

For a discussion of the Kurd view, see:,1518,516805,00.html

My view is that for the sake of realpolitik, the world has abandoned the Kurds.

But the moral case is clear: every group of people has the right of self-determination.

The Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, and all the other powers involved in the region are igmoring, supporting or pursuing, against an ancient people, an immoral war. Sphere: Related Content

for those who know Norwegian - on Satya Niketan School

Satya Niketan School, Nagod, Madhya Pradesh, India

Satya Niketan School er et pionerprosjekt for kasteløse, fattige barn og ungdom i Nagod, midt i India. Prosjektet ble startet av Chandrakatn Shourie, en høyt utdannet mann fra en velstående indisk familie. Han kunne fått toppjobber både i India og i verden for øvrig. I stedet valgte han å risikere livet for å bygge opp et utdanningstilbud til utstøtte og fattige barn. I 25 år har han jobbet med denne skolen, som i dag har 16 lærere og 400 elever mellom 3 og 17 år. Skolen har for tiden et spesielt fokus på utdanning av jenter.

· Per i dag har skolen stort behov for en elektrisk generator (50000 NOK), tre nye klasserom (83000 NOK), nytt uteareale (116000 NOK), nye pc’er (33000 NOK) og større skolegård (134000 NOK).

· Hvis man ønsker å bidra til skolen, kan man enten ta kontakt med professor Prabhu Guptara direkte eller med:
Indian Ground Work (U.K. Charity No: 327.770)
(Mr Deepak Mahtani, Honorary Treasurer)
118 Boundary Road,
GB - Carshalton, Surrey SM5 4AB, England, UK
Tel: 0044 208-669.9812; Fax: 0044208-288.1434; Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The current economic crisis

As you know, I don't often write on economic or financial matters but the current crisis now looks so serious that I can't resist putting pen to paper.

If we want to understand what is going on, the first step is to entirely forget all that governments and related authorities (let alone the media) are telling us about "sub-prime" matters.

Yes, the sub-prime debacle was the immediate cause of the trouble we are in. But it was and is "only" an immediate cause. We need to dig much deeper.

The second step is to read Ludwig von Mises' book, The Causes of the Economic Crisis (1931) which remains the foundation-stone for understanding business cycles. He demonstrates that economic booms and busts are the inevitable effects of the government's monopoly over money and banking.

Third, there is now a very much more detailed examination of business cycles in Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles by Jesus Huerta de Soto, who argues that fractional-reserve banking is the basic reason for the business cycle. If you don't want to read the entire 875-page tome, then do read Chapter 4, "The Credit Expansion Process", and Chapter 5, " Bank Credit Expansion and Its Effects on the Economic System" - though you may also find useful his Appendix to Chapter 7, " A Critique of Monetarist and Keynesian Theories". The Appendix is on "Life Insurance Companies and Other Non-Bank Financial Intermediaries". He argues that life insurance companies are, or should be, "true financial intermediaries", reflects on the contemporary corruption of traditional life-insurance principles, and brings in mutual funds as well as holding and investment companies as examples of other "true financial intermediaries", before going on to provide some provocative comments on Credit Insurance.

However, de Soto's basic point is that fractional-reserve banking is the basic reason for the business cycle.

Well, here you have two great economists disagreeing: von Mises tells us that the basic cause of booms and busts is government's monopoly over money and banking, while de Soto says that the basic problem is fractional-reserve banking. Which is true?

Actually, both point in the right direction but neither gets at the really basic cause. In spite of von Mises' Jewish heritage, he somehow neglected to examine the possibility that the basic cause is usury. De Soto too refers to usury several times, but does not examine this possibility.

So here is my point of view: the most basic cause of the business cycle is usury. That is then magnified by fractional reserve banking, fiat currencies and government monopolies of money and banking (specifically by Central Banks).

A global economy quite likes booms but naturally does not like (and in any case cannot afford) busts. The simple way to grow beyond the business cycle is to abolish usury throughout the world, and bring in 100% reserve banking, gold-backed currencies and free competition in currencies and money.

Monstrosities such as usury, fractional-reserve banking, fiat currencies and central banking not only have compromised economic stability and freedom, the monstrosities must by their very nature compromiseeconomic stability and freedom. In a globalising society that aspires to be free, these mostrosities are intolerable.

Who is FOR these monstrosities? Basically, governments and anyone else in debt (or who likes to use debt). Who should be AGAINST these monstrosities? Consumers who don't want to be hit by inflation, citizens who don't want their savings to be eaten up by inflation, and everyone interested in nurturing liberty.

Now what has "sub-prime" to do with all this? It was only one example of how the current structure of the global economy encourages money to create booms and busts. So let us use the current crisis to argue for the abolition of usury, fractional-reserve banking, fiat currencies, government monopolies and central banks. If, as a result of the sub-prime crisis, we get away from these key causes of booms and busts, the cost will have been worth paying. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 02, 2007

on the history of "happiness"

following my Blog posting titled: "Even French Philosophers can be wrong on happiness", a correspondent writes:
"You could point to your friend that the whole concept of the pursuit and enjoyment of earthly happiness hails much earlier. It can be found for instance in old Greece in the teachings of Epictetus". He also assures me that his teachers "have found references to 'eudaimonia' - pursuit of earthly pleasure well established in old Greece".

Well, Epictetus was BORN in about 55 AD (according to the scholarly consensus) - that would be over tweny years after Jesus the Lord was killed and rose the time he was able to write anything that would be remembered would another twenty years at least, I imagine - well after the teachings of Jesus had spread through the "old world" of Greece.

The oldest Greek thinker REPUTED to have thought about this subject (and many others) is Socrates (around the 4th century BC) - though we nothing about him except for what we are told about him by his supposed pupils Plato and Xenophon (there is also information about Socrates in Aristophanes, Timon of Philius and later sources), and scholars disagree about whether ANY of what we are told about Socrates is historically accurate.

In any case, Socrates lived well after the time of the Hebrew prophets (sixth century BC - that's nearly 200 years before Socrates).

But the texts to which I was referring from the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus in the Jewish Bible, are put by Jewis traditionalist scholars at the 10th century BC. Even if we, being modern skeptics, take that with a large pinch of salt, Deuteronomy and Exodus certainly predate even the Hebrew prophets by a century or more.

In addition, it must be pointed out that, when scholars write about something, that is hardly likely to be the first time anyone has felt or even thought about that thing.

However, such efforts to establish, on a scholarly basis, who was the first person to WRITE about happiness, do not (so far) modify in the least my basic argument in the original post on the French Philosophers. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 29, 2007

Nagaland: one of the least-visited areas of India

Nagaland is a remote state in the Northeastern corner of India bordering Burma (Myanmar). The population is low by Indian standards (around 1 million). Another 2 million Naga live across the borders in Myanmar and in Manipur. There are 16 major tribes, each with its unique identity and language. Tourist facilities are minimal as the area has been kept isolated from the outside since British times.

All this is changing, says my old friend the historian and aficionado of north-east India, Jayant Shukla, who asserts that "Now is the time to see it in its original state".

Though the cost of entry is high - Home Ministry permission, limited hotel facilities, challenging roads and high cost road transportation, with only one daily direct flight from Calcutta and two flights a week from Guwahati in neighbouring Assam.

However, the isolation also means that large scale commercialization has not yet been allowed to destroy the Naga culture and one can see genuine tribal life in transition.

Every December, Naga tribes gather together to celebrate their uniqueness. Each tribe sends a troupe of dancers, wrestlers, acrobats, archers, artisans, cooks etc to prove to each other that their tribe is the best. Mock battles, feasting, singing during the day, beauty pageants and contemporary rock music bands during the night. This is the Hornbill Festival, and Jayant is using this as the anchor for a visit to Nagaland that he has announced, exploring the social, cultural, historical and ethnic building blocks of this society, which are more akin to those seen in Kunming in Southern China or Northern Myanmar and Northern Thailand, than New Delhi, India.

What a pity that the proposed dates for Jayant's tour don't suit me (30 November to 6 December 2007). However, those dates may suit you and this is an unusual opportunity to go to one of the least-visited areas of India
For details , see: Sphere: Related Content

Is there state-sponsored genocide in India?

India's Tehelka newspaper has, in a sting operation, recorded (and now released) scores of self-confessed rioters speaking out on the 2002 Gujarat riots - "how deadly arsenals were built and transported across the state, how mobs were mobilised and Muslims killed, the role of the police, and even that of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi" - the quote is from The Times of India:

It is clear that the political system in India is entirely incapable of dealing with the situation, as the political parties have their eyes firmly fixed on the elections and will not take any action that may jeopardise their chances of being elected.

So it is now clearly up to the Supreme Court of India to launch a case under the Public Interest Litigation provisions Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The trap of Contract Research

Following my post about a month ago ("Why are Indian pharma firms cutting back on R&D?"), I hear that at least one major Indian pharma company has actually decided to spin off its research department into a separate company.

This will no doubt mean more cash for the owners of the current company and it may even make the spin-off itself quite profitable.

What is questionable is whether it will lead this company into any leadership position in terms of new products, as all the research will be for other (foreign) companies.

This is simply "body-shopping" in a new sector. IT companies have so far made their money by providing cheap labour rather than by producing any genuinely new products, and it seems that our pharma leaders want to follow in the footsteps of their IT peers.

While the spinoff makes sense for the company in the short term, it does not necessarily make sense for the company in the medium or long term. The workload on the scientists will increase and any genuinely innovative research will become even more difficult than it is now.

And what makes sense for a company does not necessarily make sense for a country.... Sphere: Related Content

Even French Philosophers can be wrong on happiness

One of my friends, writing an article, quotes the contemporary French philosopher Pascal Bruckner as having the view that "up until the Middle Ages, happiness was viewed as one's reward, if that was just, only in the hereafter."

Well, I wrote to my friend today setting right the record. Bruckner (who may be right on any number of other things, being a philosopher) is wrong on his history.

In Jewish belief up to the time of Jesus the Lord, there was only the faintest hint of any life after death, and most Jews up to then did not believe in it. The reward for obedience to God was considered to be prosperity and health here on earth (Ex.15.27 and Deut 15.4-6) though this view was modified by the Book of Job and by other the historical books of the Jewish Bible, whose viewpoint seems to be that God is God and He is free to prosper whoever He wants - the relationship between obedience and prosperity/ health is *not* one-to-one because of God's patience in spite of human rebellion - though the relationship between obedience and prosperity/ health holds in the long term.

In any case, it was the communication of the good news of Jesus the Lord with the concomitant radical belief in life after death that led to the idea of happiness "here as well as hereafter" for everyone who follows Him

However, the bringing together of State and Church by the Emperor Constantine, and the compromises resulting in the rise of the Orthodox and Roman Churches meant that what Bruckner says is indeed true, though only of the Middle Ages themselves (and we ought to remember that today's Roman Catholic Church comes into existence only after its rejection of the Reformation).

The original Biblical emphasis on "happiness here as well as hereafter" was recovered by the Reformation - partly by the "main" (or "Magisterial") Reformation, and much more wholly by the "Radical Reformation".

Together, these two wings of the Reformation were the cultural forces that popularised the idea of earthly as well as other-worldly happiness, and that is what led later to the secularised version of happiness to which Bruckner refers (wrongly) as inhering in the Enlightenment - which itself, by the way, led only to the *terror* of the French Revolution (1789) and the reaction against it - resulting eventually in Napoleonic emperorship, from which France was finally freed only in 1870. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The New German Speed, Pace and Momentum

In Munich for a meeting yesterday.

On the way back from Central Munich to the Airport, there is a point in the road where my taxi encounters a traffic jam.

Not being used to traffic jams on German roads outside peak hours, I am curious and ask the driver what the cause might be.

She keeps silent for a moment - and then, as the car swings round a bend, points to a beautiful big board which announces: "Wir bauen für Sie" (more or less, "We're building this for you").

The announcement then provides the total lenght of the motorway that is being (re-)built. And that is a huge distance. All of one kilometre.

Now comes the punchline - Estmimated date of completion?: 2010...!!!

No doubt the bio-mathematically inclined among my readers can calculate and inform me whether this matches, exceeds or is slower than the average pace of a snail. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 15, 2007

How to involve people without involiving people: President Hu at the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party

So President Hu wants to ”uphold the Party’s role as the core of leadership in directing the overall situation and coordinating the efforts of all quarters" while giving the "country’s increasingly diverse and often restive citizens to have a bigger say".

So the idea is to involve people who are not members of the Communist Party in government without the Party ceding control.

Since President Hu has not mentioned any actual ways in which this is supposed to be done, are we right in understanding this as a rhetorical flourish with no substance? Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, October 13, 2007

on a local holiday

I hardly ever take a "real holiday" my family tells me. But that must be the condition of most executives, as we are supported and encouraged by the blessings of mobile phones and Blackberry-type accessories in our usual paranoia about leaving something undone or missing a "wonderful opportunity".

Well, last weekend, my wife and I did take the opportunity to have a real holiday, just by ourselves. And as Switzerland is quite wonderful enough for us by itself, we don't need 7-star hotels to make it even more wonderful for us. We are as happy to take a tent or doss down in a youth hostel as we are with something better. But this time we decided to spoil ourselves a little and went to the wonderful Hotel Seeblick in Emmeten, near Lucerne.

If you have a smattering of German, you will know instantly that "Seeblick" means a "view of the lake" - and what a wonderful view one has of the Lake Lucerne from high in the alps: in the distance you can see Lucerne itself, and you are on the opposite side of the lake from what is called with "Swiss Riviera" with tropical plants, including figs and bananas, growing in the microclimate there. From the village of Emmetten itself, there are two cable car "lines" (as it were) taking you to two different parts of the surrounding Alps. During the summer (just ended) the hotel has tennis facilities for the use of hotel guests (free of charge), though you have to bring your own racquets and balls. The whole of the year, also without charge, you can play Billiards. If the weather outside is inhospitable for any reason, there is also a sauna, solarium, gym, a swimming pool and a German-language library - though I did find ONE book there in English. If the weather is fine, you can go Nordic Walking or (in the winter) snowshoe walking - or, in the summer, use the outdoor swimming pool with its indescribable views. If you want to really spoil yourself (and perhaps even be beautified in the process), there are massage, cosmetic, medical and related facilities for what I found to be reasonable market-related prices (though I don't have an excessive belief in beautification, so I'm afraid I did not indulge). Neither are we mountain bikers or Trampolinists (is that the right word?), so my wife and I couldn't enjoy those either, but the weather was wonderful, so we just wandered gently up the mountains and enjoyed the views and the brilliantly clear and clean air, stopping in one of the mountain huts for a glass of the local apple juice and buying some of the local mountain cheese.

We returned to our rooms (perfectly adequate but nothing to write home about) for a short rest before goingt to dinner - the food is excellent and the service is wonderful as the staff are attentive and friendly, and you feel that this is what the "old" Swizterland must have been like a hundred years ago when the world's elite came to Switzerland to experience real Swiss hospitality before Swiss people became (generally) too financially ambitious to work in hotels and restaurants, and the industry came to be staffed largely by foreigners.

By the way, the hotel has a very nice play area for children (outdoors as well as indoors).

There are also conference facilities for up to 350 participants, and Seeblick was chosen one of FOCUS magazine's "Top Ten Seminar Hotels in Switzerland".

Astonishingly, prices for single rooms start at 77 Euros (that's about 120 Swiss Francs), though single rooms with a view of the lake are 90 Euros. There are usual discounts for long stays and group rates and so on.

Sadly, the hotel's website is only in German at present (as far as I can make out) but if you ring, the staff seem all to speak English and there were lots of foreign guests at least when we were there. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Muslims Seek Cooperation With Christians as a Step Toward Peace"

A news item with the above title in the latest issue of Spiegel Online International (,1518,511167,00.html) discusses a 29-page letter, signed by "representatives of many facets of Muslim life (who) have petitioned their Christian counterparts to help find steps to be taken toward erasing the misunderstandings about each other that often lead to violence".

Any initiative that improves the chances of peace anywhere in the world must be welcomed.

However, the item quotes Prof. Muqtedar Khan, director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, as holding the view that it is "politics, not theology, (which shapes) anti-Western attitudes among Muslims". Professor Khan is reported to have said. "They have a problem with the occupation of Iraq, with the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians; it's not about Christianity."

This is typically self-serving mythification on the part of some Muslims. If the main problems were in fact the occupation of Iraq and the Israeli treatment of Palestenians, how does Professor Khan explain the virtual elimination of Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh, or the elimination of Christians, Parsees and other non-Muslims from most of the Middle East? Not only that, most Christian history of these areas (for example in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Syria) has been erased from the culture - except in areas where it provides tourist dollars - but even there it does not enter the educational system, for example in the teaching of history in these countries. Having said that, I must admit that Hindus don't have anything like a perfect record either. We were responsible for terrible things that happened around the time of the partition of India and Pakistan, and many Hindus are still trying to "saffronise" (or "Hinduise") Indian history. However, the terribleness of Hindu deeds does not compare with the terribleness of Muslim deeds, because India to this day has more Muslims than does Pakistan, while Pakistan and Bangladesh have hardly any non-Muslims. Not that that that is an excuse for what we Hindus did, of course

However, to return to the matter of the letter signed by these distinguished people. I'm afraid there needs to be much more introspection and identification of where Muslim societies have stopped short of Islamic ideals of peace (where applicable) and where Islamic ideas of jihad, and dhimmi and jizya and sharia have to be publicly and comprehensively repudiated, before there is any chance of peace.

For a modern defence of Jizya, see

However, such a defence does n0t and cannot hide the facts that: (a) non-Muslims are discriminated against when it comes to military service in a Muslim state, and (b) there is not, and there cannot be, equality between muslims and non-muslims in any Islamic state.

This is quite apart from the state-sanctioned as well as non-state-sanctioned discrimination and violence that has historically been meted out to non-muslims. As I say, we Hindus have not been guilt-free on such matters either, but there is, at least in India, a secular law before which muslims and non-muslims are equal (and both suffer equally from the inefficiencies of the law). An inefficient secular law before which everyone is equal is better than an inefficient or efficient Islamic law before which non-Muslims are by definition inferior.

The difference between Islamic preaching on the one hand, and on the other hand, Buddhist preaching or modern neo-Hindu preaching or Christian preaching, is that none of the latter seek to establish earthly political power. By contrast, Muslim preaching must, if it is to be faithful to Islam, seek to establish earthly political power. That is the essence of the problem posed by Islam to modern society. Islam is simply incompatible with the modern world. "Moderate" muslims who compromise on this aspect know that they are betraying the Islamic ideal, and "purist" muslims know that they are following the Islamic ideal. That some "purist" muslims then take to violence (let's call them "violent purists"), while other "extremist" muslims don't take to violence (let's call them "non-violent purists") is of course a fundamental difference when it comes to the law of most countries.

My conclusion is that "moderate" muslims have to speak more with "purist" muslims (whether violent or non-violent) in order to take up the challenge of reforming Islam from within. Anything that muslims of whatever variety say to Christians (or for that matter to Hindus or Buddhists or anyone else) is far less important. Sphere: Related Content

The BBC's attempt to ban free speech

According to press reports, Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, has warned senior staff such as Charlotte Green, Brian Perkins and Peter Donaldson to keep out of public debate regarding the effect of planned job cuts of 2,800 people – about 12 per cent of the BBC's total staff.

The BBC is attempting to portray involvement by senior staff in such debate as an attempt by them to merely protect their own jobs.

Even if this is the case, senior or junior staff have the right in a free society to express their views.

However, this is not merely a case of people trying to protect their jobs. It is a matter of experts (people whose job it is to provide news in one of the few genuinely free mass media channels left in the world) commenting on the public effects of the proposed cuts. If these experts should not enter the public debate, who should?

Since the government (and its loyal co-optees Mark Thompson the Director-General and Sir Michael Lyons, the Chairman of the BBC Trust) have their attention focuses primarily on "efficiencies", they are hardly impartial, reliable or trustworthy commentators regarding the public effects of their "effeciencies" - we have all seen the effects of such "efficiencies" in other areas of the public services.

The official line by the BBC is that an internal consultation by Mr Thompson "is the channel for people inside the BBC to play a part in", once a final “reprioritisation” has been approved by the corporation’s governing body next week.

That is like saying that a restaurant's menu has been finalised by management, and the chefs will be given the opportunity to participate in discussions regarding the best ways of preparing the dishes, but that the chefs should not discuss whether the menu is the right one. Sphere: Related Content

Turkey and the Question of the Armenian Genocide

Today's newspapers report that Turkey summoned back its ambassador from Washington on Thursday night in reaction to the US congressional vote labelling the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Adopted by the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee in a 27-21 vote on Wednesday, the non-binding resolution is now to go to the full House in the next few weeks. Interestingly, the Bush administration is opposing the resolution fears the measure will further damage an already strained relationship. If the resolution does get through, this will mark the first time that the USA has in any way recognised the Armenian genocide.

Western scholars that over 500,000 Armenians perished between 1914 and 1918, though Turkey insistst that the figure is "only" around 300,000, while others (mainly Armenians themselves) estimate the number who were killed in these years at 1,500,000. However, the Armenian Genocide is best understood, not as having begun in 1914, but rather as "an ongoing genocide, from 1896, through 1908/9, through World War I and right up to 1923" as the scholar Y Bauer put it in his leaflet, "Can Genocides be Prevented?"

Turkey view is that though hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians were killed, this was due to the collapse of the Ottoman empire and in any case was before the Republic of Turkey was created. But it rejects the idea of genocide and insists that the victims died because of war, hunger, and displacement.

Whatever the facts, it should be obvious that scholarly investigation and debate are the route to unearthing them. But Turkey not only silences domestic debate but even threatens non-Turks who wish to investigate or discuss whatever happened. Cengiz Aktar, an academic and commentator in Istanbul, said: “Turkey has made this a question of honour but it has no other policy. We were more flexible on this issue 20 years ago than we are today.”

Perhaps this is an inevitable result of the rise of Islamic fervour - and those Europeans who wish to encourage Turkey to become a part of Europe need to stop pulling the wool over their eyes as well as trying to do so over the eyes of the rest of the world.

It is only when Turkey is willing to stop indulging in infantile denial and starts being willing to look at ugly facts and then take remedial action, including apologies and restitutions as necessary, that Turkey will be fit to become a member of the European Union. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 05, 2007

Specific steps that can be taken to encourage change in Burma

First, is it worth targeting the 300+ US companies that still do (huge amounts of) business with Burma? Yes. However, it is not clear how long such a move will take to have effect. The first thing to do is to publish the list of such companies and then to put pressure on the biggest ones to actually WITHDRAW from Burma as, e.g., Apple, Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Phillips Electronics and Eastman Kodak have done – but we have 300+ to go – from the US alone! Then there are Chinese and Indian companies, and companies from South-East Asia....

Second, as far as I am aware, the following countries have complete or partial bans on "their" companies doing (additional) business with Burma:
European Union
As most other countries have NO companies doing business with Burma, it will not hurt their economies at all to pass legislation banning their companies from doing business with Burma. This is likely to have much more moral force than mere NGOs pronouncements.

Third, it is unclear to me that China (and India) will heed the world's calls for suspension of arms sales to China. In any case, the SLORC (under its newer name of the "State Peace and Development Council" or SPADC) already has more than enough arms to keep the Burmese nation in captivity for many decades, at least. Suspension of arms sales, IF it succeeds, will therefore do nothing more than apply more "moral force", which has so far been shown to be ineffective. That is why it seems to me that the best step to take is to help the democratically-elected leader of Burma to set up a government in exile, and to declare the SLORC/ SPADC to be a terrorist organisation, as well as all commercial and financial bodies related to it, such as UMEH. China and India should be asked to provide facilities and financing for the real government of Burma to start operating at least in some shadow fashion.

I repeat that IF the above steps do not produce results, the only meaningful pressure that I can see possibly being applied on China is the boycott of the Olympics. I have come across lots of "intuitive" statements that we should not go for a boycott. But I have not read any rational arguments against a boycott (other than the specious one that the Chinese and Indians cannot force regime change in Burma – we don't want them to force regime change, we simply want terrorists to be put under lock and key so that the democratically-elected leader can lead in a democratic way). Perhaps someone can please provide some of the other arguments against a boycott – I am quite prepared to reconsider my position. What boycotts should be applied to India is an open question, and I will be pleased to have suggestions. However, it is clear to me that China and India hold the key.

Next, can someone please clarify the procedure for members of the junta to be held chargeable for genocide under international law?

Finally, I have had most people respond positively to my suggestion that it would be helpful to have a list of the places where demonstrations are going on at Burmese, Indian and Chinese embassies. But no one has actually started such a list, as far as I am aware. Sphere: Related Content


FREE BURMA! Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What can we do regarding the current crisis in Burma (Myanmar)

On the issue of the Burmese military reprisals, a couple of friends who are involved in a certain group with me, raise the question of what actions can be taken, other than press releases and candlelit vigils condemning the violence. As one of them writes, "time is running out".

It is pretty clear to all of us, I think, that expressions of outrage do not move the Junta in Burma

So there are only the following options:

1. An economic embargo - however, we know from past experience that such embargoes hit the poorest the hardest, and that regimes know very well how to insulate themselves from the effects of such embargoes.

2. Military intervention - distasteful as that is, it is an option. However, it is clear that, at present, both this and an economic embargo will be "vetoed" by China (so far, India has not shown itself to be an enthusiastic supporter of democratisation either!)

3. Economic sanctions against countries that implicitly and explicitly support the Junta in Burma - and that is China and India. Again, I remain hopeful, but I doubt that the international community will want to understand the logic of such a move, let alone marshall the moral courage and political will to do this.

4. Somehow persuade the Junta that it is in THEIR interest to open up - we have found this difficult to do in the case of, e.g. Iran and Korea. But it is not impossible, and even North Korea seems to be ready to perhaps we should exercise our joint creative intelligence and wisdom on the sorts of offers to the Junta that would entice them to change.

Barring that, I'm afraid I am pretty pessimistic that we on the outside can do anything much in practical terms.

The resolution of the issue is largely in the hands of the people of Burma. The question is whether their moral strength and capacity for sacrifice is greater than the Junta's devilish strength and capacity to inflict suffering. It was exactly the same question that faced the Protestant Reformers who wanted to free sixteenth century Europe from the military/ economic/ political hold of the Roman Catholic Church, as I have pointed out elsewhere.

However, we should certainly go on candlelit vigils and write letters of protest and so on, in order to keep up the pressure (such as it is) on the Junta.

Perhaps one practical step could be to publish a tally of the number of countries where protests are being mounted outside the Burmese, Chinese and Indian Embassies.... Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why are Indian pharma firms cutting back on R&D?

I gather that Indian pharma companies budgets for R&D have never been particularly generous.

However, I gather that they are being cut even further. Many whole projects have been slashed in at least one of India's top pharma companies, and foreign visits are no longer
allowed at all.

In other companies, R&D has been separated like a pariah into a spin-off.

Insiders tel me that even more changes may come soon - and they may not be positive ones.

It would be useful to understand the reasoning behind this downgrading of R&D.

Do our firms really want to be involved only in generics and never become pioneers and brand-builders? Sphere: Related Content

Dalrymple's view of the Indian Mutiny (or First Indian War of Independence")

A friend writes to ask about William Dalrymple's view of the Indian Mutiny, according to which it was a war of religion, not a protest against the economic policies of the British.

My response:

This is not a new point of view - though it is doubtful if Muslims and Hindus drew a distinction between "religion" and "economics" in the manner that the West had begun to do some centuries earlier - almost certainly by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. And it was always clear to everyone that the British were making a huge amount of money out of India both commercially and as a result of sheer loot from "war booty" - but so had every conqueror - which was why it was not a particular talking-point

However, it was the fear of such "religious reaction" from Indians, on the part of the commercially-minded British East India Company, that was behind the ban on the entry of British missionaries (and even pastors to the British!) in India up to 1827 or so (when Evangelicals forced the Company to open the doors to missionaries....)

But William Carey and his friends (working from Dutch-controlled Serampore) had bypassed the British ban and begun the work which eventually modernised India (just as the Reformation modernised the West) and my view is that the Mutiny was not so much a war of Independece (the trendy Indian "nationalist" view) but the first violent reaction against modernisation in India - the BJP and RSS are the remaining last gaps of that reaction

that Mutiny demonstrated to the satisfaction of the the commercially-minded British that they had been right in their fear - that is why British policy in India was always highly circumspect in matters of religion and culture - in spite of the fact that Evangelicals came to dominate among the British in India till the 1890s certainly (and perhaps till as late as 1900s), so that the "mission" to civilise India proceeded but in a much more subtle way...(there were never very many foreign missionaries in India - if I recollect aright, the total never exceeded 6000 at any time during the Raj and, after Independence, the number of missionaries actually climbed slightly higher for about a decade; today, the number of missionaries is about 100 according to the latest reports)

however, the rise of Darwinism from about 1880 resulted in the decline of Evangelicals and the rise of a fashionable mocking of Evangelicals (e.g. in E. M. Forster's Passage to India)

With the decline of males in the British population as a result of WWI and (particularly) WWII, it was clear that the Empire was going to end - the only question was WHEN... and Gandhiji and the national movement drove the time-table possibly with too much haste (as Cornelia Sorabji always maintained and for which she became persona non grata with the national movement) Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 23, 2007

How can you be too efficient?


As the new divisional boss, demand "out of the box" or (in James Collins' language) "big hairy Big Hairy and Audacious Goal" (BHAG) efficiency and productivity improvements.

When your subordinates provide these BHAG gains, you will of course earn a massive bonus in your first year.

Now, repeat the procedure in the 2nd year.

And, if you have really deserved your bonuses, take careful note of the fact that this is the time to jump to another job.


Because if you don't, your CEO will certainly demand a similar or greater improvement in productivity in the 3rd year, and you won't be able to perform at all becaue there won't be any other real savings that can be made. So the system will seize up if you make additional cuts....

However, I must not forget to mention that you do have an alternative to moving jobs: cook the books...

That's probably how half the current "cooked books" problems have arisen in the past few years. Sphere: Related Content

Already much worse trhan carbon tax would be

One of the main arguments that is mentioned to me against imposing a carbon tax is that it would have a huge impact on tourism.

Well, here I am, sitting in the beautiful city of St Petersburg in the same clothes since yesterday, having arrived yesterday - but Swissair and SAS between them managed not to bring my luggage on the same flight.

Not only that, but I have wasted a huge amount of time trying to track down my luggage - most of the time, frustratingly, trying to get through to the Lost Lugagge Department's telephone number - which seems permanenty engaged.

BTW I am not sure why it is called the Lost Luggage Dept, as the airline knows precisely where my luggage is, and the only problem is that the airline did not put my luggage on any flight till now.

If I was the only person to whom it happened in the last week, I wd just put it down to bad luck or something.

But as it has affected at least 10 out of the 100 people in "my" group here.

Just as the "inner London tax" has reduced vehicular traffic into london by about 25pc, so its possible that a carbon tax would reduce air traffic to the sort of level that can actually be coped with by the existing systems of logistics in relation to baggage.

Certainly, from the viewpoint of anyone in a similar situation - with money and time and effort already spent, the frustration of dealing with systems that don't work, and the disappointment of expectations regarding an enjoyable holiday or potentially profitable business meeting - the existing lottery regarding the random distribution of the sytem's inefficiency is worse than any carbon tax. Sphere: Related Content

Why does Putin's country not work?

The usual explanations of why countries don't work range from poverty through lack of education to corruption.

None of these appear to be true for Russia.

The people are intelligent, higly educated, charning and hard working.

The country is relatively uncorrupt (whatever corruption exists takes place at high levels and does not appear to affect everyday life).

There are of course lots of poor people, but the country is rich - for example, it has spent a vast amount of money in renovatiing the city of St Petersburg. While not all other cities have been so renovated, I am sure that is not because there is lack of money.

So I don't know the answer to the question I have raised. I am just puzzled. Sphere: Related Content