Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Can Trust be Restored?

In my Inbox this morning, I see a mail with the title given above.

The global crisis cannot be resolved without paying attention to this question.

I commend the link to you:
http://www.cpjustice.org/content/can-trust-be-restored Sphere: Related Content

Friday, February 20, 2009

New School Curriculum for Hinduism in the State of Virginia now propagates the Hindutva version of "New Hinduism"

Hindu Press International (HPI), on 21 January 2009 which may or may not be true (I have not been able to check it).

The School Curriculum's original description, of what a course should cover, apparently listed two “essential questions” and six items of “essential knowledge for Hinduism.”

Previously, the "essential questions" for Hinduism were:
- What are the characteristics of the Hindu religion?
- How did Hinduism influence Indian society and culture?

The first of these was changed to:
- What are the beliefs of the Hindu religion?

That, claims HPI, brings Hinduism in line with Christianity, Judaism and Islam where the term “beliefs” is used and not the "undignified and non-religious" term “characteristics.” It is interesting that HPI considers the standard for what is dignified to be Christianity, Judaism and Islam - and gives away the non-Hindu criteria that are used by the VHP and its allies.

Apparently, the points of “essential knowledge” for “Hinduism” previously read:
* Caste system in religious law based on occupations
* Belief in many forms of one major deity
* Reincarnation: Cycles of rebirth based upon karma
* Karma: Future reincarnation based on present behavior.
* Vedas and Upanishads: Sacred writings
* Spread along international trade routes.

This was revised to:
* (Caste system item deleted entirely)
* Belief in many forms of one God
* Reincarnation: Rebirth based upon karma
* Karma: Knowledge that all thoughts and actions result in future consequences.
* Vedas and Upanishads: Sacred writings
* Spread along major trade routes

According to HPI: "These changes served to separate religion from social practices (the caste system) and to correctly state the Hindu view of God, reincarnation and karma". In separating "Hindu beliefs" from "social practices", the VHP is further going down the route of using Western categories to define itself. Traditionally, we never defined ourselves by our beliefs, but only by our practices. That is why Professor (and later President of India) Radhakrishnan described "Hinduism" as a "way of life" rather than a set of beliefs. The notion of a unitary "Hinduism" is entirely a Western invention, as many scholars have demonstrated in detail elsewhere.

It is also significant that VHP types are absolutist about "the" Hindu view of God. Historically, there have been six "orthodox" views of God in India, along with the many "unorthodox" views....

The HPI story concludes: "Congratulations to all involved. This is the first time any state’s curriculum has been adjusted to reflect the Hindu point of view on our own faith.". It is indeed a sad day when one modernised view of Hinduism is allowed to trump traditional as well as more widespread views of Hindu faiths, beliefs, customs and traditions.

The physical terrorism of Hindutva outfits on the ground in India is matched by the intellectual terrorism of Hindutva outfits not only in India but also abroad.

It may be news to our deliberatly unscholarly Hindutvans, but reincarnation was not an original Hindu belief (it is not found in the Vedas, for instance, though it can be "read back" into one or two passages). In any case, the notion of reincarnation is not consistent with the rest of the Vedas which are thoroughly non-vegetarian (as are the majority of Hindus even today). Rather, the notion of reincarnation is a Jain invention. Later, a version of reincarnation was also adopted by Buddhists some of whom, as a consequence, became vegetarians (even today, there are many non-vegetarians among Buddhists). In any case, reincarnation has a proper philosophical basis solely in Jainism. It is only as Jain and Buddhist ideas influenced us that we started accepting reincarnation and vegetarianism. And it is only through Jain and Buddhist imitation of Greek iconography that idolatry spread in Hindu circles - there is no evidence of it in the Vedas.

Messages of protest may be sent to: beverly.thurston@doe.virginia.gov Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Strange but true: To save the planet, give up eating beef

As my father-in-law once said to me "You would say that, wouldn't you". But he was speaking about something entirely different.

Yes, I am a Hindu follower of Jesus, and yes some Hindus consider the cow sacred, and yes many Hindus do not eat beef.

But that is not the reason I am wondering today whether giving up eating beef would help save the planet from global weather disturbances.

See the story: http://planetsave.com/blog/2009/01/29/80-percent-of-amazon-deforestation-stems-from-cattle-ranching-2/

As most of the Amazonian deforestation comes from the AMERICAN addiction to beef, it does not immediately matter whether Indians or Asians or Africans or Europeans give up eating beef (though it may well matter in the long term). In the immediate short term, if Americans gave up eating beef, or at least reduced their consumption of beef by let us say 50%, that would almost instantly halt the speed at which the Amazon is being deforested.

So please spread the message to all American that you know: "Want to reduce climate disturbances? Reduce the amount of beef you eat!"

For the record: I'm vegetarian.... Sphere: Related Content

The Ten Major Challenges that Faced Leaders on 11 August 2008

I chance upon the fact that, on the 11th of August 2008, I responded to a request from a colleague for my thoughts on the "ten challenges that face leaders today".

Because it may interest you, here is my response:

"In general, most people remember no more than 5 things

however, as you have asked for 10 major challenges that face leaders, here they are (below)

1. PRINT AS MUCH PAPER MONEY AS YOU LIKE AND TO HELL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES: The current credit crunch (also called the housing-related crisis) is fundamentally caused by the printing of too much paper money which was started by the US Federal Reserve after the dot.com crash, and expanded even further by them after 9/11, and expanded yet again after the onset of the current crisis. When there is "excess liquidity" in the system, it is clear that inflation will be the inevitable result. Even if "consumer price inflation" (the measure beloved of governments) is held in check, then there will be inflation in real estate prices and/or gold and/or oil and/or art and/ or.... The lead of the United States in simply printing as much money as you like, was followed vigorously by China, India, the UK and other countries, so that there is simply too much money in the global economy. The first major challenge is therefore how to squeeze out "unsound money" without causing a global collapse. The favoured view is that if we slow down the speed by which money is moving around the economy by increasing interest rates, then this will balance the existence of too much money. The speed at which money can move in the economy certainly has an effect on inflation - but it is only one of the two factors that have an effect. The other and more important factor is the sheer amount of money in the system.

2. MAKE AS MUCH WEALTH AS YOU WANT RIGHT NOW - AND DON'T WORRY ABOUT FUTURE RISKS: Most of the "wealth" that has been generated in the last quarter century has been generated by so-called "financial engineering" rather than by actual increase in the real value of goods and services produced. The real value of goods and services produced has of course also increased in these years, but nowhere near as much as appears to be the case. What has caused the illusion? First of course the simple printing of too much money (see Point 1) but also the effect of various forms of leveraged finance (many of which are simply sophisticated bets, though hedge funds also have an insurance function which is easy to separate notionally but has not been properly separated in fact). High Volatility in the Price of Oil, Gold, US Dollar & Euro could well be best countered through the use of alternative monetary systems which are designed to be counter-cyclical.

3. IS AMERICA HAVING PROBLEMS? SO MUCH THE BETTER FOR ALL OF US!: Not so. The USA is still fully 50% of the global economy, and is still the primary engine that drives the world economy. Some of us have political or emotional reasons for disliking the USA, but the brute fact is that if the US goes down, so do all of us. So pray that the consequences of America's misdeeds will be put off as long as possible and that the consequences will come in as slowly as possible.

4. GLOBALISATION IS GOOD FOR ALL OF US, ISN'T IT?: The current model of globalization is grossly out of balance, because it relies so heavily on the continuation of America’s overheated consumerism, on America’s virtual absence of personal savings, and on America’s ongoing massive trade deficits. These economic issues are ultimately moral failings and are of course unsustainable. Instead of a traditional income-driven economy which under ideal circumstances might just make all of this work somehow, America now has an economy driven basically by periodic asset bubbles fuelled by manufacturing and energy-related trade deficits and by cheap credit generated through financial engineering (see points 1 and 2). And it is this artificial prosperity which has until now made the U.S. economy and in turn globalization look much healthier than they really are. For example, in Germany, whose business and economic models most closely resemble America’s, the middle class has plummeted from 62% of German society just eight years ago to only around 50% today.

5. IRAN IS ONLY A PAPER TIGER, IT WON'T REALLY PRODUCE NUCLEAR WEAPONS - AND EVEN IF IT DOES, WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? The problem is that neither the USA nor Israel will accept a nuclear armed Iran, so as long as Iran pursues nuclear power, war will at least look inevitable - with all the political, social, economic and environmental effects of a war in the middle-east.

6. SOLVING THE IRAQ CRISIS IS A SIMPLE MATTER OF DIVIDING IT INTO THREE POLITICAL ENTITIES AND WITHDRAWING WESTERN FORCES. Well, these are two issues. The first (the division of Iraq into three) may or may not help stability. The remaining issue is one of rising Islamic Sectarian violence worldwide. Muslims used to be divided between quiescent minorities in non-Muslim states, and Muslim-majority states that operated in the world of realpolitik. Now we have those of course, but we also have various fundamentalist forces, some of which espouse violence not only against non-Muslims but also against fellow-Muslims.

7. GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH: Scientific opinion may be divided regarding whether or not global warming is occurring and, if so, whether human actions are responsible. However, there is no division of opinion about the increase in unseasonal weather worldwide, with an increasing number of hurricanes, typhoons, droughts and floods, and their impact on food and water shortages worldwide. Clearly, human actions may well have some effect on the weather, so it is no wonder that legislative solutions are being touted, and we certainly need to do all we can to bring in alternative energy solutions: Solar, Geothermal, Bio-Waste, Hydrogen-, Hydro-, Wind-, and Hybrid-Power - if for no other reason, then because they present new opportunities for economic growth worldwide. Consumer activism has clearly already helped, and Carbon Emissions Labelling of products may well help too. Sustainability-oriented accounting (rather than present systems of accounting that systematically ignore sustainability-related issues) are clearly ahead.

8. NEW TECHNOLOGIES ARE ALWAYS WELCOME: Beware! New technologies such as such as Quantum Computing will speed "existing technologies" which are behaviour modifying such as the convergence of Biotechnology with Genetics, Informatics and Nanotechnology - not to mention the threat that is posed by the promised release in 2012 of the next generation of humanoid robots which will be capable of doing almost everything that humans can do, but better/faster/cheaper. The only areas left out of foreseeable robotic capabilities are creativity, management, business and politics.

9. THE THREAT OF PANDEMICS IS OVERBLOWN: that is possible, though it is not entirely ignorant people who warn us of the possible spread of pandemics (including Avian Flu) and of Biosecurity hazards.

10. PHILANTHROPY: Though giving is declining (even in the West) as a percentage of income, the sheer amount being given each year continues to increase around the world at present. The rise of Social Entrepreneurship to counter complex global challenges, as well as the rise of concern regarding ethics and responsibility in the areas of business and investments must also be heartening - and these provide us a positive note on which to conclude this survey of the challenges facing the globe.

ends Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In these times, in what should you invest?

As a friend asks this question, I point out:

Investment is a matter of personal circumstances and of one's personal risk-appetite, so no one can tell you what to do. Others can, at best, make recommendations which you have to evaluate and then accept or reject as you feel appropriate because, at the end of the day, you are the person who makes any profits or losses, and you are the person who carries the risk.

however, in general terms:

who wants to invest today in shares (or stocks, as Americans call them)? Even if you do want to invest in shares, which sector do you go for? Assuming that you count out the defence sector for ethical reasons, in so far as there are any likelihoods today that can be seen, the only possible growth sectors may be Infrastructure and "green technologies", both of which may be probably now too expensive in terms of P/E? Specifically given that it is government investments that are going to drive these sectors with all the resulting distortions that government interventions always create?

so do you go for bonds? Aren't these too expensive too? And which company's or government's bonds do you trust?

what about cash? If you are sitting in cash, that is being devalued by the day, and will be devalued even more because all governments are printing too much money.

Gold? Isn't that too expensive as well?

Though of course you should have a certain proportion of your money in each of the categories here discussed (as well as real estate, in spite of the current situation - at least the minimum real estate that you need to live in!)....

What about oil/ gas? Well, I have said that I expect it to shoot to $100 within a few weeks - but don't trust my judgement! Look at the facts and make up your own mind!

What I do say, hand on heart, is that you should invest only in businesses that you understand, and preferably where you have personal reasons to trust the management (not merely looking at the paper qualifications and so on).

When I look at the investment opportunities that meet these criteria, there is more than enough to soak up the money that I have available!

Most of my money, however, is invested in things of eternal significance - because, as Jesus the Lord once pointed out, it is where our money is that our heart will be also - and I want my heart to be focused on God, on His Kingdom, on blessing for everyone on earth, and on caring for the creation.

If I do that, Jesus said, then He will look after my daily bread, and I need to be neither afraid nor anxious.

The peace of mind and heart that comes from trusting Him is worth more than all the profit in the world.

Specially in view of the following unlikeable fact:

one day (that's coming up too fast for comfort!), I'll be confronted by the demand to give all my Accounts to the One who owns me and has loaned me for a season everything that I have - not only the money and other resources I have, or relationships that I enjoy, but even the body that I inhabit. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Clean Clothes Campaign and the Better Bargain Campaign

As the global crisis disproportionately hits the poorer classes even in the richer countries let alone the poor ones, and even more disproportionately hits the poorer countries, we should be doing all we can to support them.

I don't know Gerard Oonk of the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), but we have been in e-mail contact for some while.

He sends me the following. I am doing what I can. Perhaps you might like to consider doing so too?:

Giant global discount retailers like Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Carrefour, and Walmart try to lure consumers into their shops with low, low prices. A man´s suit for £25 at Tesco, a woman´s dress for $9 at Walmart, or jeans for EUR8 at Carrefour. How do they do it?

If you´re a worker in the workshops or factories that supply these stores, you´ll have some of the answers - poverty wages, forced or unpaid overtime, no work contract, harsh repression of any attempts to organize to improve working conditions. And it is most likely you are a woman because 80% of the workers are.

The Clean Clothes Campaign, of which the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) is an active member, believes these workers deserve a better bargain. Read the CCC's new research on five top global retailers and learn more about how you can get involved in the Better Bargain campaign.

See: http://www.cleanclothes.org/ and you will find the report ''Cashing In'' (there is also a French version and a summary) on how workers in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand are being treated in the supply chain of the giant retailers and what should be done about it.

Another recent case of ''disposable jobs'' is the plight of the contract workers at Unilever Lipton in Pakistan who are campaigning for permanent job status through their IUF- affiliated ''National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers' of Pakistan''. With 22 permanent and 723 contract workers in Unilever's Khanewal factory, Unilever is a champion of ''impoverishing of labour''. Contract workers earm a third of the salary of a regular workers and don't have social security, medical benefits or pension. The majority of them have worked for more than ten years for Unilever. Read more about this on: http://www.iuf.org/www/en/

You can support the workers in Unilever Lipton by sending a mail to Unilever's CEO Paul Polman. Have a look here: http://www.iuf.org/cgi-bin/campaigns/show_campaign.cgi?c=396 Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 12, 2009

International Federation of Accountants moves to integrate Sustainability

My friend Chee Kin Tang, an active member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) tells me that CIMA contributed to the new Sustainability approach that has been developed by the International Federation of Accountants.

If you are not yet familiar with this, see:
http://web.ifac.org/sustainability-framework/overview Sphere: Related Content

"A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women"

It appears that the champions of the "new Hindu terrorism" know very little, if anything of our history, of our actual culture or of our scriptures.

Certainly, they seem never to have heard of the Kama Sutra, of "swayamvara", and of traditional Hindu polyandry and polygamy.

In an interesting way of protesting against the hooligans who are paid by "the new Hindu fundamentalists" to use violence to impose a "new Hindu" culture on everyone, a group of (nearly all Hindu) women have formed "A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women".

To help stop cultural terrorism in India, check out: http://www.facebook.com/n/?group.php&gid=49641698651&aref=25953303 Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 02, 2009

71% of wealthy Americans are "green" - but how many Europeans? How many Indians?

Fascinating (but totally unsurprising) survey just in, saying that most wealthy Americans Support environmentally- and socially-friendly choices and policies:

The 5th Annual Wealth and Values Survey by PNC Wealth Management, a member of The PNC Financial Services Group Inc., reports that 71 percent of "wealthy" (i.e. with at least $500,000 in investable assets) have socially responsible and green investments in their portfolio. As many as 57 percent say they have up to 25 percent of their portfolio in such investments. Nine percent have between 25-50 percent!

Other findings:
83 percent recycle at home, and 77 believe that “small lifestyle changes can make an impact on the environment if everyone participates.”
56 percent “choose paperless options whenever it is offered.”
53 percent says they will consider environmental issues when they renovate or upgrade their home.
39 percent “plan to buy a hybrid car.”
39 percent say they “do business with companies that have socially responsible corporate initiatives,” while only 15 percent disagree.

If a similar survey was done in Europe, my guess is that the proportions would be roughly similar in Northern Europe, but not as good in Eastern and Southern Europe.

What about China, India, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America....? My guess would be: VERY much lower..... Sphere: Related Content