Archive for October, 2017

An Army Wife …

Posted on October 31, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career |

I am an Army wife and I relish every second of it — the good, the bad and the occasionally ugly. For some reason, I feel incredibly proud of being a military spouse even though I wasn’t the one who had to get through an extremely tough entrance test, go to the Academy and train to be a soldier. But my association with someone who did do all of that — my husband — gives me a lot of pride and pleasure.

Maybe it’s because of what they say — Army wives are the silent ranks, standing by their husbands and holding fort while they are away on duty. That’s a pretty important job. And yes, it’s a full-time job to be an Army wife. We are constantly moving, we belong to every place the Army takes us, we are experts at packing years up in black painted boxes, we stay away from our husbands for years at a stretch, our love for saris is well known, we are rumoured to party like rock-stars and we deal with everything in between.

Our civilian friends have a lot of things to say to us: “You are so strong!” and “How do you do it?” being the most popular ones. I also get “But what about your career? ” a lot from concerned friends and random acquaintances who worry about my having a big degree and not slogging my ass off at a corporate to show for it. The fact that I am a published author, and am still working full-time isn’t satisfactory to them. “But you studied so much!” they sigh. To all this I say eh, can’t please everyone.

“Army wives are the silent ranks, standing by their husbands and holding fort while they are away on duty. That’s a pretty important job. ”

But here, I have five crucial aspects of an Army wife’s life that outsiders may not know. Sure, you’ve heard it all. But do you really know how we deal with it? Do you want to know? Well, here you go:

1.Duty calls – and How!!!

This one is obvious. This is the husband’s profession, and the job requirement is such that the duty calls are, and will always be, over and above everything else. For us spouses, the Army is the first wife who demands a lot of attention and gets it each time. Add to it the dangerous job description and the inability to plan a holiday or even a family function, because duty can call literally anytime. Pretty daunting, right? But we wives learn on the go. We learn to respect our husband’s profession, the challenges it comes with and the demands it makes. And though we may sometime crib about not getting enough time with the husband, most of us are pretty damn proud of his profession. I am!

2.Separations will test your mettle

As a result you will either get tired of living like a single mom every two years or so, or you will realise that distance really does make the heart grow fonder. Seriously, our civilian friends will never understand how tough it is to pack your life in 22 boxes every two years and move to SF (Separate Family) — a term that I assume all Army wives hate as much as they fear the words ambush attack. I’d like to say this to all our civilian friends — separation is never easy. We never get used to it. We miss our husbands incredibly, but life has to go on and we don’t think there is any point in discussing it to no end. We do not need sympathy. Be friendly, don’t give us your pity — we don’t need it.

“[Y]ou will either get tired of living like a single mom every two years or so, or you will realise that distance really does make the heart grow fonder.”

3. Hierarchy of the wives

Ah, the most controversial topic of all time! Yes, it is true that a few wives wear their husband’s rank as if they’ve earned it themselves. And it is also true that there is a lot of stuff happening that most of the wives don’t see fit for the current century (and hence detest the entire Army Wife Club idea). Personally, I wish we had less of the unnecessary drama and more of productive exercises. I wish we had respect for each other in every situation, and not be rude or condescending with each other.

But what people dn’t know is that the wives form a major support group in the Army. I have made amazing friends in the Army wife circle that I would not trade for anything in the world. Our friendships last for ages, survive several postings and phone-number-changes, and grow stronger with every military milestone of our lives. We bond over our unique trials and tribulations and support each other (who else can understand us better?). And oh, we also bond over etiquette classes (it’s an inside joke for my girls. For those who didn’t get it, read my book) and shopping tips for just about every town or city in India.

4. Constant moving – new home

You’ve heard about it a lot, but you will never understand it until you are an Army wife. It’s mighty tough. And I am not even talking about the packing and unpacking, the broken crockery and crystal, or the part where your husband’s stuff goes to a different station and yours to another. I am talking about the leaving the friends part, the having no career part, the kid’s good education and uninterrupted growing up part.

Then there are small but still important issues like finding a new tailor and changing your phone number every two years. But we Army wives have the obvious things covered, and we learn to deal with the separation and the moving. In fact, I quite enjoy the life of a constant traveller. But leaving behind a life that you struggled to set up is always tough. We look forward to the new location, but we always leave a part of ourselves behind.

5.Our kids are the best

Really, they are amazing. Army kids are strong — stronger than us at times. They are resilient. They are well adjusted, confident and gregarious — even the shy ones. The life skill of taking to a new place, new friends and a new life comes easily to them. Or in proper Army lingo, our kids easily acclimatise to changes. That has to be the highlight here, really, because Army kids are a constant source of inspiration and awe to me. Watch them closely, there’s a lot to learn.

This list can be a hundred points longer, I know, so if you have anything else to add to it, feel free.

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Japanese Bullet Train takes India for a Ride …

Posted on October 31, 2017. Filed under: Business |

https://thewire.in/192863/india-japan-yen-loan-mumbai-ahmedabad-bullet-train/

Now that the hype over the bullet train has subsided, it is time to do some cold calculations. India will borrow Japanese yen 150,000 crores [equal to Rs 88,000 crores today], bearing 0.1% interest, with a 15 year lock-in period, repayable in 50-60 years. Looks attractive indeed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have commented: the loan is “in a way free”. The prime minister was evidently not briefed properly, as the following analysis will indicate.

Today Re 1 buys 1.72 yen, ten years ago Re 1 could buy 2.80 yen and, 32 years ago, say on February 26, 1985, Re 1 could buy 19.77 yen. On February 26, 1985, the exchange rate of dollar/yen was 261 and that of dollar/rupee was 13.20. Divide 261 with 13.20, you get 19.77. So, had India borrowed 150,000 crores yen on February 26, 1985, today, that is after 32 years, the principal amount of loan (without interest) would have swelled 11.49 times (divide 19.77 by 1.72). Depending on repayment schedule and lock-in period of loan, the multiplication factor could have reduced from 11.49 to 6 or 7 on a conservative estimate. This is simple arithmetic and no rocket science.

So, can we not predict what fraction of a yen, Re 1 would buy after 50 years? If the rupee’s purchasing power has dipped from 19.77 yen in 1985 to 1.72 yen today, then after 50 years can a rupee buy anything more than just a fraction of a yen? Unlikely, unless yen interest rate shoots up and rupee rate becomes close to zero, which is highly improbable. Therefore, this 50-year yen loan, with a 15 years lock-in period, is anything but free. It is in fact a rip off. By the time the loan is repaid in 50 years, India would have shelled out Rs 300,000 crores at least, or even more, depending on how quickly the loan is extinguished. This excludes interest of 0.1% on yen loan which would add to the cost. Yen is a dangerous currency and it would be imprudent to ignore its track record.

India can ill-afford to keep such a huge liability in yen unhedged. But even the cost of hedging rupee/yen exchange risk would be prohibitive. Initially India would be required to buy Yen 150,000 crore forward outright in the international market, and keep doing rupee/yen swaps – sell yen spot and buy yen back forward, matching with each due date of loan repayment installment. This process would continue till the entire loan is extinguished. This is called roll-over swap, which corporate in India execute to hedge currency exchange risk in external commercial borrowings. But, such swaps, on each occasion, would entail huge costs for the simple reason that forward delivery of yen against rupee would be at a premium so long as yen interest rate remains lower than rupee.

It is axiomatic that forward delivery of a currency yielding lower rate of interest would always be at a premium vis-à-vis the currency yielding higher rate of interest. The yen interest rate is now close to zero. The rupee repo rate (rate at which banks borrow from the Reserve Bank of India) is 6%. Thus, multiple swaps executed till the currency of the loan would be hugely expensive as forward premia would have to be paid by India on each swap. India would thus end up paying well over Rs 300,000 crores (multiplication factor 3.4 taken) on a most conservative estimate. Notably, rupee/yen quote will not be available directly in the international forex market; consequently, dollar being the intervention currency for India, swaps would have to be performed through dollar/yen quotes. Rupee would thus have be converted into yen only through dollar.

The above figures/calculations do not take into account 0.1% interest burden on yen loan. Today, interest rate in Japan is hovering around zero to fractionally negative, like in Sweden. On September 7, 2017, the Central Bank of Sweden held its benchmark interest rate at (minus) – 0.5%. Similarly, the Central Bank of Japan has slashed interest rate to just shade below zero. Tokyo Inter Bank Offer Rate (TIBOR) is around 0.06%. A ten year Japanese Government Bond yields barely 0.04%. Therefore, 0.1% interest rate that Japan would earn from India is a very lucrative investment opportunity for Japan, which is struggling to fight deflation for over 15 years. More the lock-in period/tenure of yen lending in India, merrier it is for Japan, and costlier it is for India.

Also read: The Long and Short of India’s Bullet Train

Did India really need this loan of $13.5 billion (Rs 88,000 crores = Yen 150,000 crores today) with a forex kitty of over 400 billion dollar? Would Japan proceed with the project if India declines to avail of the loan? These questions can have disturbing answers. Ideally, India should have considered purchasing only technology for bullet train without taking loan from Japan.

And now about the technical feasibility and economic viability of running a bullet train on a 507 km Ahmedabad/Mumbai track. This is Japan’s second export (in 53 years) of Shinkansen technology, after Taiwan, where it didn’t succeed. Japan did not transfer technology to Taiwan. Japan would obviously like to monitor track maintenance and other operating requirements on an ongoing basis to ensure its accident free track record and punctuality. So, Japan is unlikely to transfer technology to India. A study carried out by IIM, Ahmedabad, indicated that a 100 daily trips would be required between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to make the bullet train financially viable. About 35 trips are reportedly being planned.

Overall, the yen loan is a rip off, the project’s economic viability is suspect and India is unlikely to receive technology. Why commit Rs 110,000 crores of public funds then? Obviously, mediocrity is ruling the roost and experts with domain knowledge are not being utilised – a tragedy for India.

Bishwajit Bhattacharyya is former additional solicitor general of India and a senior advocate in the Supreme Court.

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US vs N Korea 1950/2017 …

Posted on October 27, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The NY Times –

North Korea is gleefully shooting missiles over Japan and splashing them into the Pacific Ocean. With astounding technical felicity, it is building a weapons system that may soon be able to hoist hydrogen bombs into Los Angeles, Chicago or even Manhattan.

Meanwhile, two neophyte leaders with strange hair and thin skins are insulting each other in bizarre ways. President Trump called Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and threatens to “totally destroy North Korea.” Mr. Kim called Mr. Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and threatens to “definitely tame” him with “fire.”

With a quiver of nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles, the North Korean leader seems to have a good shot at doing what his father and grandfather did — living despotically to a ripe old age and dying from natural causes.

Yet deep in his dictatorial DNA, Kim Jong-un surely knows the risk of provoking a full-scale war with the United States. It did not go well for his family the last time around. During the Korean War (1950-53), his grandfather — Great Leader Kim Il-sung — cowered in bunkers as American bombs flattened his cities and legions of his people died.

What this should teach American policy makers — especially our history-challenged president and his blood-and-soil backers — is that a North Korean offensive strike is unlikely. That is, unless the Kim regime is provoked, perhaps by a particularly warmongering early-morning tweet, into believing that its existence really is at risk. The Trump administration needs to keep Kim family history in mind. It is a criminal enterprise focused on long-term survival, far more adept at enslaving its people than fighting big-boy wars.

Sadly, the United States has largely forgotten the lessons of the Korean War, even though that conflict cost the lives of more than 33,000 American combatants. The causes of this collective amnesia are varied: The Korean War ended in an inglorious tie that was impossible to celebrate. It produced no Greatest Generation myths and few memorable movies. Then came Vietnam — the first war to be truly televised, a war that is still being parsed on public television. Vietnam seared itself into our literary and cinematic culture, blotting out Korea, the Forgotten War.

In the summer of 1950, when North Korea started the Korean War with Soviet backing, Kim Il-sung was just 38 years old — a willful, pugnacious, wet-behind-the-ears dictator, not unlike his grandson today. In secret meetings with Stalin before the invasion, Kim delivered wildly enthusiastic and laughably wrongheaded analyses of how the war would unfold when his army stormed into South Korea.

He predicted that a formidable pro-Communist guerrilla force would spontaneously rise up in the South to fight with the North Korean military. It did not. He promised that the South Korean people would rally round his leadership. They did not. To top off his dubious claims, Kim assured Stalin that a North Korean victory would come in three days and the Americans would not intervene. The war has never ended; Americans still patrol the DMZ.

At his dacha outside Moscow, Stalin didn’t completely buy what Kim was trying to sell. He warned his eager Korean acolyte, “If you should get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger.” But the old Soviet boss wanted to torment the United States. So, he approved and supplied the invasion, while ordering Kim Il-sung to make it look as if South Korea had started the war.

The United States, of course, did fight back. President Harry S. Truman, Congress and the public were outraged by the invasion, interpreting it as a challenge to America’s character. In less than a week, Truman approved the use of ground forces.

After a halting and discouraging start that cost the lives of thousands of G.I.s, the American war machine became a murderous, unstoppable force. Using bombs and napalm, the United States Air Force blew up and burned down virtually every population center in North Korea. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, estimated that “over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population.” That’s about 1.9 million people.

American troops — fighting with South Korean and United Nations forces — shredded North Korea’s invading army, occupied Pyongyang, and marched north to the Chinese border, effectively erasing North Korea. Mao Zedong then stepped in, unwilling to tolerate American soldiers on his doorstep. Mao’s top general, Peng Dehuai, quickly sized up Kim Il-sung as a battlefield nincompoop. Calling his leadership “extremely childish,” Peng elbowed Kim out of the chain of command and made him a helpless spectator to his own war. Vast numbers of Chinese troops died to save North Korea from Kim’s bloody mistake; they kept his regime from becoming a footnote in Asian history.

Propagandists in Pyongyang have always lied to the North Korean people about this well-documented history, claiming that South Korea and the United States stealthily started the war and the Great Leader brilliantly won it. But his descendants and their military planners know better.

For all its Orwellian blather, the Kim family dictatorship has survived this long by being coldly rational, even as it projects wild-eyed belligerence.

If war were to come again, the regime must reckon that it is much less likely to get significant support from the countries that were the Communist mother ships of the mid-20th century. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a gangster shadow of Stalin’s Soviet Union. China’s political stability depends on vibrant trade with the West. What’s more, Kim Jong-un — with the timing of his nuclear tests and missile-launching antics — has gone out of his way to antagonize the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. North Korea, as a result, is more isolated than ever — even as it becomes a global nuclear threat.

The United States has to accept the obvious: Kim Jong-un is never going to give up his missiles. But he knows that if he uses them, he’s going to die or live in a bunker like Granddad. His nuclear hardware is most valuable on the shelf.

Mr. Trump should holster his “fire and fury” and cease uttering what Kim Jong-un accurately describes as “unprecedented rude nonsense.” Instead, Washington needs to settle in for an extended cold war with the Kims: strong military preparedness, energetic spying, flexible sanctions, quiet negotiations with China and Russia, and openness to conversations at whatever level is possible with North Koreans. It would help if Washington made unilateral gestures. Accept a North Korean ambassador in Washington. If possible, send an ambassador to Pyongyang. Acknowledge the heinous bombing of cities in the Korean War. Try to help the North Korean people feel as if the world is not against them.

War could still come and the United States would be lax if it wasn’t ready. The maturity of Kim Jong-un is questionable. Dazzled by the beauty of his weapons, he could try to use them to take control of the entire Korean Peninsula. But his family’s shattering history of wartime overreach suggests he knows better.

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Globalization – What it Means …

Posted on October 25, 2017. Filed under: Business |

THE ORDINARY VIRTUES – Moral Order in a Divided World By Michael Ignatieff

A century ago, on the eve of World War I, the global advance of science and material prosperity made perfectly reasonable men look forward to a new era of humanitarianism and peace. In 1914, in search of that dream, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie established the Church Peace Union, which later evolved into today’s Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

The 20th century did not work out as Carnegie imagined. In our own day, globalization has proved to be the most mixed of blessings. Nevertheless, the institution Carnegie fostered has continued to propagate his ideals. To celebrate its centenary, the Carnegie Council posed a question whose premise reflected the idealism of a vanished age: ”Is globalization drawing us together morally?”

The organization turned for an answer to Michael Ignatieff, who, as a moral philosopher now serving as rector of Central European University in Budapest, might have had good reason for wishing the proposition to be true. But Ignatieff is also a journalist who has seen humans do horrible things to each other.

One of the chief merits of “The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World” is that the author discovered in the course of his research — or perhaps he knew all along but slyly withholds the insight — that he was asking the wrong question. The right question is: “How can we hang on to decency in a world where old patterns, good and bad, have been disrupted?” In addressing that challenge, Ignatieff’s admirable little book represents a triumph of execution over conception.

“The Ordinary Virtues” is a shotgun marriage of moral philosophy and global junketeering. Ignatieff traveled with a team from the Carnegie Council to Brazil, Bosnia, Japan, Myanmar and South Africa, as well as to Los Angeles and New York City’s borough of Queens, where they met with civic groups, as well as men and women on the streets.

With the exception of passages on Bosnia, which Ignatieff knows well, and Fukushima, which he writes about movingly, the reader rarely feels the sense of immersion-in-the-other that fine journalism, including Ignatieff’s, provides. The touching-the-bases format appears to have been the result of an imposed schedule. Nevertheless, locality itself matters, for it is locality, rather than globalization, that is the book’s true subject.

Ignatieff concludes that globalization has, in fact, shaped certain fundamental aspects of the moral reasoning of his interlocutors. The spread of democracy and of the idea of human rights universalized the notion that citizens have a right to be heard. The people Ignatieff speaks with have not only a sense of standing, but of equal standing. And even nondemocratic leaders find they must satisfy the aspirations of ordinary citizens.

But more democracy does not necessarily lead to more respect for human rights. Ignatieff furnishes the dismaying example of Myanmar, where brutal military dictators agreed to a peaceful transition to a political party led by the Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Her example,” Ignatieff writes, offered Westerners “vivid, personal proof that the yearning for freedom, democracy and rights was universal.” But it was not so. “The Lady,” as she is reverently known, now presides over a regime that persecutes its Muslim minority, known as Rohingyas. Ignatieff finds that scholars and activists — the typical bearers of global moral discourse — support the ugly crusade.

What went wrong? Ignatieff explains that Myanmar is a plural society that never answered the primal question of who is “us,” and who “them.” Majority rule thus unleashed resentments that autocrats had suppressed, just as it had in the former Yugoslavia.

In fact, globalization had not only failed to overcome an ancient divide but had widened it, for now local Muslims were seen as the advance guard of a mighty wave. Not just these Buddhists, but “Buddhism,” was now at war with “Islam.” All politics is not local, Ignatieff writes, but political responses are rooted in local loyalties and antagonisms.

Yet this stubborn resistance to the universalisms that govern moral thought in the West is itself an alternative source of just behavior. This is the collection of habits and intuitions that Ignatieff calls “the ordinary virtues.”

People need a sense of moral order, he argues; they need to feel that their life has meaning beyond the mere struggle to survive. They need to feel that they have acted rightly. But before whom? Not before an abstraction like “mankind.” They think instead about themselves and people like them, family and friends, caste and community. This sense of kinship is in turn the foundation of the ordinary virtues: loyalty, trust, forbearance. This is what Ignatieff finds in Rio’s favelas, in the municipal workers of Fukushima, in the haggard, persistent survivors of genocidal violence in Bosnia.

Of course if we flip over the card of the ordinary virtues we find the ordinary vices: resentment, pettiness, chauvinism. The sense that moral obligation extends only to “us” is the source of the blood-and-soil nationalism now spreading across the world like a virus. The saving grace, Ignatieff argues, is that these intuitive moral systems are in constant contact with those of other people, and of the institutions that surround us.

Thus in a polyglot neighborhood like Jackson Heights, in Queens, diversity works not because immigrants believe in it as a principle, but because their “moral operating system” has been shaped by the community’s “tacit code of welcome,” its respect for privacy and, above all, the prospect it offers everyone of “a way up and a way out.”

Collective behavior is the consequence of a series of pragmatic accommodations. Difference is tolerated in the interest of group survival; it is not intrinsically admired.

Ignatieff notes that people in Jackson Heights live “side by side,” not together, and concludes that “it may be the case that the only realistic way for diverse populations to live together is to live side by side.” To adopt the ordinary-virtues perspective is to accept that such liberal principles as “cosmopolitanism” will probably not flourish outside laboratory settings like the university campus.

The ordinary virtues and vices are a human given. So is the inner world of moral intuition. The variable is what lies outside, which is to say institutions, understood in the broad sense of social structures of belief and practice, whether in the form of the corner barbershop or the political party.

Ignatieff concedes that the centrality of institutions has become a cliché of development economics and state-building. What distinguishes the ordinary-virtues perspective is the claim that institutions matter above all because they shape private behavior. “If the test of a decent society is that it allows people to display these virtues easily,” he writes, “what policies and institutions do we need to create so that virtue can remain ordinary?”

The problematic word in that sentence is “we.” If “we” believe that we should, and can, promote democracy abroad, then we seek — humbly, of course — to help democratic practices take root. But if people resist the moral abstractions we peddle — if that resistance is “an enduring element in ordinary people’s defense of their identities” — then our humility must be so much the greater.

The moral choices of people in Bosnia, or even Jackson Heights, are founded on a world they know, and one we don’t. Think, for example, of the lives lost and the billions of dollars wasted trying to install a Western legal system in Afghanistan. Perhaps we would have been better off helping Afghans achieve Afghan justice.

If globalization will not save us, then there are no big, all-inclusive answers — not technology or democracy or spiritual rebirth or anything that happens to everyone everywhere. There are only small, local answers, though they may well incorporate the technologies or policies dreamed up by the benevolent globalizers.

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Macaulay’s Best …

Posted on October 25, 2017. Filed under: Books, Great Writing, Personalities, The English |

Lays of Ancient Rome, a series of very popular poems about heroic episodes in Roman history which Macaulay composed in India and published in 1842.

The most famous of them, Horatius, concerns the heroism of Horatius Cocles. It contains the oft-quoted lines:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”


PS As a rival you might enjoy

https://improveacrati.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/ulysses/

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Great Books on Life, Closure And …

Posted on October 25, 2017. Filed under: Books |

By Benjamin Shull —

I read Tolstoy this year to plug a literary gap unbefitting a book -review editor. Getting started was no easy task. His two pre-eminent novels, “War and Peace” and “ Anna Karenina, ”clock in at more than 1,200 and 800 pages respectively, the former so massive that Henry James called it a “loose, baggy monster.”
Count me a fan of monsters.

Published in 1869, “War and Peace” nominally centers on Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, but it more broadly surveys the effects of Europe’s early-19th-century conflicts on several Russian families.

Its scenes shift from the landed estates of Moscow and St. Petersburg to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Its main characters include Pierre Bezukhov, by turns an illegitimate son, Freemason and Napoleon’s would-be-slayer; Andrei Bolkonsky, the sardonic and military-minded prince; Natasha Rostova, the young woman who comes to love both; and of course, Bonaparte, le petit caporal himself.

“Anna Karenina” came eight years later. It relates the trials of its title heroine, a strong-willed woman who has an affair with the charming Count Vronsky, bearing his child and the wrath of Russian society in turn.

“Anna Karenina” has its own cast of unforgettable characters — “Stiva” Arkadyich Oblonsky, Anna’s jaunty, epicurean brother; and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin, the idealistic landowner (and Tolstoy’s self-modeled proxy).

Like Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna,” the settings and people that populate these two books have conquered my mind. It’s a common experience for readers of great literature.

In last year’s “Books for Living,” Will Schwalbe recounts how he sobbed after he’d read “David Copperfield” for the first time, distraught that he’d miss the characters so much. Later in life, when asked if writing a book about his late mother would give him closure, Mr. Schwalbe remembered reading Dickens as a teenager and realized that closure wasn’t necessary when you could continue to talk with the deceased and the fictional alike.

“Just because someone is gone,” Mr. Schwalbe observes, “doesn’t mean that person exits your life. I remember vividly the day during that hot summer when I finished David Copperfield. But my engagement with David and Little Emily and Steerforth and Dora . . . had just begun.” So it is with Pierre and Prince Andrei and Anna and Stiva.

Though there’s plenty of heartbreak in “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” each is also enormously life-affirming. Before Anna’s tragic fate crescendos, we find Levin and his wife, Kitty, at the bedside of his dying brother, Nikolai. Levin dreads death, but his remarkably poised wife helps him face it with courage.

As Nikolai drifts away, Levin (in Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation) manages to keep his gloom at bay:

“In spite of death, he felt the necessity to live and to love. He felt that love saved him from despair and that under the threat of despair this love was becoming still stronger and purer.”

Nary a paragraph later, Nikolai since passed, Kitty learns she is pregnant, as one mystery of life supplants another. Thinking about this scene has been a comfort for me since.

Both works are in every way “books for living,” rife with guiding principles for life. Themes of magnanimity and forgiveness figure prominently in each.

In “War and Peace” there is a remarkable scene toward the end of the book in which Prince Andrei is wounded at Borodino. At the field hospital he finds the also-wounded Anatole Kuragin, whose attempt to seduce Andrei’s fiancée, Natasha, had led her to break off the engagement.

Andrei had wanted revenge, but in the blood-soaked camaraderie wrought by war—Anatole ultimately has his leg amputated — Andrei feels nothing but love for his former enemy and fellow man.

Though Tolstoy colorfully renders the battle scenes of “War and Peace,” he still manages to make war seem insignificant.

The book notably departs from its narrative at times to showcase its author’s meditation on history and the course of human affairs. Tolstoy’s conception of a historical process driven not by great figures but by the interplay of countless interconnected phenomena has influenced my own convictions about the world.

Because the forward march of history is so incomprehensibly beyond our grasp, in Tolstoy’s telling, it seems to throw our own freedom into doubt. He writes in his epilogue (again, courtesy of Mr. Pevear and Ms. Volokhonsky): “For history, freedom is only the expression of the unknown remainder of what we know about the laws of human life.”

That’s a humbling thing to read after spending 1,000 pages living with these iconic literary figures.

These books may well change the way you look at the world. The characters, settings and messages will stay with you for as long as you want them to.

Mr. Schwalbe must have had Tolstoy in mind when he wrote that books “are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life.”

It’s on that note that this humble editor recommends you read “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.”

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Deleted Post …

Posted on October 23, 2017. Filed under: Pakistan, Regimental, Searching for Success |

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1971 War – Sabuna Drain Battle -Another Version …

Posted on October 17, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Pakistan |

http://hilal.gov.pk/index.php/layouts/item/1589-memoirs-of-sabuna-bund-battle-sulaimanki-fazilka-sector-3-6-dec-1971

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Clinton on Grant …

Posted on October 15, 2017. Filed under: Books |

GRANT By Ron Chernow – reviewed by Bill Clinton.

This is a good time for Ron Chernow’s fine biography of Ulysses S. Grant to appear – as we live with the reality of Faulkner’s declaration, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

We are now several years into revisiting the issues that shaped Grant’s service in the Civil War and the White House, from the rise of white supremacy groups to successful attacks on the right of eligible citizens to vote to the economic inequalities of the Gilded Age. In so many ways “Grant” comes to us now as much a mirror as a history lesson.

As history, it is remarkable, full of fascinating details sure to make it interesting both to those with the most cursory knowledge of Grant’s life and to those who have read his memoirs or any of several previous biographies.

It tells well the story of a country boy’s unlikely path to leadership, his peculiarities, strengths, blind spots and uncanny powers of concentration and courage during battle. It covers Grant’s amazing feats on horseback at West Point, where in jumping hurdles “he exceeded all rivals,” clearing the bar a foot higher than other cadets.

His mediocre grades have long obscured his interests and abilities: He was president of the literary society, had a talent for drawing and was trusted by classmates to mediate disputes.

His service in the Mexican War is covered briefly, but it contributes to our understanding of his later military and political life. Grant’s often harrowing experiences and extreme efforts to care for the wounded still on the battlefield taught him both about the conduct of war and about war’s political implications.

He believed that the victory over Mexico, with its huge territorial gains, intensified disputes over slavery and led directly to the Civil War.

The major encounters of the Civil War are deftly included, as are the business failures and bouts of drunkenness — never proved to have happened during major military campaigns, despite what his enemies often asserted.

Chernow, the author of “Alexander Hamilton” and other biographies, judiciously quotes from Grant’s own memoirs, and he also shows how they were a miracle of sorts, produced by a dying man racked with pain from throat cancer, in a final effort to leave his family some amount of financial stability. “Somehow,” Chernow writes, “in agony, he had produced 336,000 splendid words in the span of a year.”

“The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant” ends shortly after the surrender at Appomattox Court House, and as Chernow states in his introduction, many biographies of Grant skip over his presidency as an “embarrassing coda” dominated by multiple scandals.

As Chernow puts it, “It is sadly ironic that Grant’s presidency became synonymous with corruption, since he himself was impeccably honest.”

For all its scholarly and literary strengths, this book’s greatest service is to remind us of Grant’s significant achievements at the end of the war and after, which have too long been overlooked and are too important today to be left in the dark.

Considered by many detractors to be, as a general, little more than a stoic butcher, Grant, in the written terms of surrender at Appomattox, showed the empathy he felt toward the defeated and downtrodden — conditions he knew from harsh personal experience.

The terms presented to Robert E. Lee carried “no tinge of malice” and “breathed a spirit of charity reminiscent of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.”

He notably allowed the exhausted and starving Confederate regulars to keep their mules and horses, knowing from the rough experience of his failed Missouri farm (Grant presciently named its log cabin “Hardscrabble”) that only by putting in a crop as soon as they returned home would these destitute farmers — and their families — have a chance to survive the coming winter.

Grant also knew that if the country had any chance of being brought back together, it needed something other than a harsh peace. In making national healing a priority, he — like Lincoln — took the long view.

Grant’s tendency toward empathy with the downtrodden and defeated would return again and again, and not always to his advantage or credit.

He didn’t hesitate to appoint family and friends far above their abilities, and to remember even the smallest favor done on his behalf while he was a struggling civilian.

There’s a wonderful exchange in the book when Grant as president offers a political appointment to a friend from his prewar days in St. Louis, when he was broke and dependent on his slave-owning (and openly contemptuous) father-in-law. Grant reminded the friend that “when I was standing on a street corner … by a wagon loaded with wood, you approached and said: ‘Captain, haven’t you been able to sell your wood?’ I answered: ‘No.’ Then you said: ‘I’ll buy it; and whenever you haul a load of wood to the city and can’t sell it, just take it around to my residence … and I’ll pay you for it.’ I haven’t forgotten it.”

After Appomattox, and the assassination of Lincoln, Grant moved to what he then called Washington City to lead the Army through the war’s aftermath. Chernow notes that, as a general, Grant had nearly always fought on unfamiliar ground, which required a kind of concentration that could support a state of continuous reassessment.

Washington was also unfamiliar ground, and continuous reassessment was just as vital to political success as it had been to victory on the field. Grant proved a quick study, even after he had professed to be “no politician.

For example, he saw early on that the new president, Andrew Johnson, who many feared would be much harsher on the South than Lincoln would have been, had begun to lean hard — and dangerously — in the opposite direction.

“Mr. Johnson,” Grant writes in his memoirs, “after a complete revolution of sentiment, seemed to regard the South not only as an oppressed people, but as the people best entitled to consideration of any of our citizens.”

Needless for Grant to say, this favor of Johnson’s fell to white Southerners only. He began to bring the weight of the presidency down on the side of those who championed what became the infamous Black Codes, designed to force freed slaves to continue to work on plantations in conditions much like those before emancipation.

As Grant’s and Johnson’s political differences grew wider, Grant, as General of the Army and immensely popular, began to suffer the ire of the increasingly besieged Johnson, who demanded fealty and, when frustrated and convinced of disloyalties real or imagined, tended to lash out.

“It grated on Johnson that Grant,” Chernow says, “a mere subordinate, had been endowed with … godlike powers over Reconstruction.”

Contrary to Johnson’s claim, the power Grant had to oversee the fate of the postwar South was hardly godlike. A former social club named for the Greek word kuklos, or circle, the Ku Klux Klan had begun “to shade into a quasi-military organization, recruiting Nathan Bedford Forrest as a leader” — and vowing “to ‘support a white man’s government’ and carry weapons at all times.”

By the time of Grant’s election as president in 1868, the Klan was targeting black voters and their supporters with “murders and mutilations in a grotesque spirit of sadistic mockery.” The Union that Grant had been instrumental in saving as a general was splintering anew even before he took his oath of office.

As Chernow writes, “If there were many small things Grant didn’t know about the presidency, he knew one big thing: His main mission was to settle unfinished business from the war by preserving the Union and safeguarding the freed slaves.”

And there was a very real chance Grant, and with him the country, would fail.

For that new mission, Grant needed cabinet members, staff and advisers every bit as masterful as his wartime lieutenants. His choices were notably hit-and-miss, but his very first appointee from a Confederate state proved to be one of his best. Amos T. Akerman of Georgia, Grant’s second attorney general, was “honest and incorruptible” and “devoted to the rule of law.”

When Congress created the Department of Justice the same week as his appointment, the attorney general became overnight the head of “an active department with a substantial array of new powers.”

Those powers were sorely needed to fight the Klan and what Chernow appropriately calls “the worst outbreak of domestic terrorism in American history.”

Grant signed three bills, collectively known as the Enforcement Acts, to strengthen federal powers in combating Klan terrorism, which had already claimed thousands of lives – the vast majority of them black. After the laws were in force, “federal grand juries, many interracial, brought 3,384 indictments against the K.K.K., resulting in 1,143 convictions.”

Almost as important as the convictions was the message they sent. As Akerman told his district attorneys, “If you cannot convict, you, at least, can expose, and ultimately such exposures will make the community ashamed of shielding the crime.”

By the end of his first term, scandals had begun to take their toll, but at the same time the Klan — at least in its original incarnation — had been essentially destroyed.

“Peace has come to many places as never before,” declared Frederick Douglass, an ally and admirer of Grant’s. “The scourging and slaughter of our people have so far ceased.”

However short-lived, it was an important victory not only for an enlightened version of Reconstruction but also for the beneficial use of the powers of the federal government to promote the general welfare and safety of all Americans – not just some.

As president, Grant appointed a record number of African-Americans to government positions all across the board, including the first black diplomat. Douglass once noted “in one department at Washington I found 249” black appointees, “and many more holding important positions in its service in different parts of the country.”

Early in his presidency and at the height of his popularity, Grant had also been a booster of the 15th Amendment, giving former slaves the vote, and many believe his support was key to its ratification by the states, which was far from guaranteed.

Grant himself minced no words in describing the magnitude of the amendment’s passage, saying in a message to Congress upon its ratification, “The adoption of the 15th Amendment … constitutes the most important event that has occurred, since the nation came into life.”

He knew the right to vote is the heart of democracy and did not hesitate to defend it, a legacy today’s Supreme Court and Republicans in Washington and across the country should embrace, not abandon.

Chernow shows a fine balance in exposing Grant’s flaws and missteps as president, and the ill-fated turn that Reconstruction took after a promising start, while making it clear that Grant’s contributions after Appomattox were as consequential to the survival of our democracy as any that came before.

As Americans continue the struggle to defend justice and equality in our tumultuous and divisive era, we need to know what Grant did when our country’s very existence hung in the balance.

If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.

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1949 Set the Course of Chinese-American Relations …

Posted on October 15, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A FORCE SO SWIFT – Mao, Truman and the Birth of Modern China, 1949
By Kevin Peraino Reviewed by ORVILLE SCHELL

Kevin Peraino’s absorbing book covers that tipping-point year, 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party came to power and things not only changed radically within China, but also for Chinese-American relations. After several decades of close ties to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, including a wartime alliance, the United States plunged first into cold war with China and then hot war (in Korea), followed by several decades of almost complete diplomatic separation.

“A Force So Swift” chronicles these epic changes through the eyes of a star-studded cast that includes President Harry Truman, the diplomat George Kennan, United States Representative Walter Judd, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, with the United States secretary of state, Dean Acheson — whose foppish handlebar mustache was described as “a triumph of policy planning” by the New York Times columnist James Reston — playing the dramatic lead.

Instead of putting readers “present at the creation” of the postwar global architecture in Europe, Peraino’s narrative puts them present at the genesis of that storm system of ambiguities and contradictions that came to grip Asia once Mao defeated Chiang. “I arrived just in time to have him collapse on me,” Acheson lamented. This so-called loss of China has echoed down through the decades so that today the United States still finds itself groping for how best to deal with an even more consequential China.

Acheson fancied himself a pragmatist who, like his director of policy planning, George Kennan, viewed Mao’s victory as the result of “tremendous, deep-flowing indigenous forces which are beyond our power to control.” Because of wanton corruption, Chiang’s “house appeared to be falling down,” leading Acheson to call for “strategic restraint,” and for building “a great crescent” of containment around China so, as Senator Arthur Vandenberg put it, Washington could adopt “sort of a wait, look, see policy.”

Being a devout Christian and a believer in freedom of the individual, Madame Chiang was appalled when Acheson came out with a China White Paper that he himself described as a “giant firecracker.” It declared that “Nationalist armies did not have to be defeated; they disintegrated” and that “the unfortunate but inescapable fact is that the ominous result of the civil war in China was beyond the control of the government of the US”.

Indeed, as President Xi Jinping has more recently tightened state controls over important aspects of life, despite all the hopes about the tonic effects of “engagement,” the path of China is now farther away from liberal democratic norms or a convergence with American interests than during the beginning of the reform era four decades ago. Then, many party leaders openly aspired to see China evolve in a more constitutional, law-based direction.

But instead of being led by an elite trained abroad (and not just in engineering, business administration and the sciences), allowing them to feel comfortable on both sides of the East-West divide, ranking Chinese leaders today remain so encumbered by the party’s official historical narrative of humiliation, victimization and “hostile foreign forces,” and so pumped up on nationalism, that even close personal friendships with American counterparts are grounds for suspicion.

Even though almost seven decades have elapsed since 1949, the enduring gap between the two countries’ political systems and values continues to widen and incubate worrisome levels of suspicion. Without being able to interact with the openness and ease of their Nationalist forerunners, current Chinese officials charged with bridging the still wide East-West gap are deprived of an essential building block.

For example, I am not aware of a single ranking party official or military officer in China who has a foreign spouse. What is more, the party now squeezes out as untrustworthy those Chinese whom it fears to have been overly influenced by the West, and even seeks to ostracize those foreign voices with which it disagrees.

As a result, a whole set of muscles essential for any two societies to interact in a fulsome and healthy manner is going missing.

While the United States and China enjoy growing volumes of trade, investment and travel, an increasingly impermeable membrane is simultaneously now being interposed between decision makers that deprives the two countries of critical tools in being able to develop a more convergent future.

Despite China’s remarkable economic “rejuvenation” and new wealth and power, there has been no commensurate restoration of that elusive quality possessed by Chiang’s Nationalist officials, and even his wife, that allowed them to be more comprehensively engaged with the outside world. The absence of this elusive cosmopolitanism constitutes a serious obstruction between the two countries, hindering their ability to reset the terms of the game and get along. And it’s hard to see any quick remedy.

Washington must once again decide, as Acheson asked in 1949, “what is possible, what is impossible, what are the consequences of some actions, what are the consequences of others?”

The relationship, always a difficult one, once again begs reinvention. However, unlike the world of 1949, so dramatically described by Peraino in his timely book, our current globalized world renders separation not even thinkable.

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and a longtime writer on Chinese history and policy.

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