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