Archive for April, 2018

India – why it cannot progess …

Posted on April 29, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

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Facts belie Modi Xi Bonhomie …

Posted on April 29, 2018. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom, Personalities |

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Curious Case – Govt and NGO in tandem …

Posted on April 29, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

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Names – Roads, Scholarships, Towns …

Posted on April 26, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

As Received –

“What`s in a name?” Shakespeare asks in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose/ by any other word would smell as sweet.”

Perhaps that`s true if you are in love, and Romeo`s Montague house matters not a whit to Juliet who belongs to the rival house of Capulet. But if you are in politics, or assailed by political correctness, things look very, very different.

You may remember the furore caused by the change of name of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Road in August 2015. The decision was taken by the New Delhi Municipal Council in 15 minutes flat. That wasn`t the only speed record: Dr Kalam had died only the previous month, so commemoration came fast. Obviously sentiment was on his side. But was history?

Amazingly, just a couple of months earlier (in April 2015), the government told Parliament that many requests had been received for changing names, but the 1975 guidelines on the subject were against it. The guidelines said: “Changes in the names of streets/roads etc not only create confusion for the Post Offices and the public, but also deprive the people of a sense of history.” For that reason, suggested changes to the name of Aurangzeb Road like Guru Gobind Singh Road, Guru Tegh Bahadur Road and Dara Shikoh Road were rejected.

There was a bit of an historical irony involved here: both Tegh Bahadur (the ninth Sikh guru) and Dara Shikoh (the heir-apparent of Emperor Shah Jahan, and older brother of Aurangzeb), were executed by Aurangzeb. Would the history of India have taken a different turn if Shikoh, who, like Akbar, was secular in his outlook, defeated Aurangzeb in the battle for the throne?

Just there, you see how road names reveal so much of history, which is a good reason to keep names intact, whether they commemorate the good, the bad or the ugly.

But we are not alone in this. There have been recent controversies in England and in the United States about Cecil Rhodes (at Oxford University) and Confederate memorials (in the American South). Both raise interesting questions.

Cecil John Rhodes was a British mining magnate and S African politician who instituted and funded the Rhodes scholarship for post-graduate studies at Oxford in 1902. At the last count, eight Rhodes scholars (including Bill Clinton) went on to become heads of state and many others rose to high positions in many fields.

There are a number of Indians too, like Girish Karnad, Montek Singh Ahluwahlia and Siddhartha Mukherjee. The Rhodes is also important because it led to over a dozen international fellowships being set up, like Marshall and Fulbright

The problem with the scholarship lies in its charter: It was set up “for the furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making of the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire.”

In 1902, these must have seemed laudable motives for an Englishman; to-day they make you cringe.  Consequently, there has been a campaign to rename the scholarships and remove Rhodes’ statue from Oxford`s Oriel College.

How can you cancel the name of the benefactor of a scholarship? Did its nearly 9,000 beneficiaries, more than half of them still living, have to subscribe to Rhodes’ views? Should they have accepted the scholarships in the first place? We can think of a dozen similar questions of this nature, instead of which we should look at the positives: the character of the scholarship changed with time, and has done a world of good to students in 100 countries.

The US question is a bit more complex. Demands arose for the removal of statues of General Robert E Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, leaders of the Confederate army which fought in the American Civil War over the issue of slavery. These demands became stronger in the wake of the June 2015 Charleston Church shooting in which a white supremacist shot dead nine African Americans.

Now the questions: However repugnant and barbaric slavery was, wasn`t it part of American history? Wasn`t the Civil War an important milestone? Weren`t Lee and Jackson heroes for a large number of people? By removing the statues, and other Confederate memorials, aren’t you wiping out parts of the country`s history?

In this case, however, the American Historical Association has unexpectedly favoured the removal of the memorials on the grounds that in this case, to remove the monuments “is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history.”

This isn`t as specious as it sounds because their reasoning rested on the fact that most of these monuments were erected between the 1890s and early 1920s as well as late 1950s to mid 1960s, basically to assert white supremacy when civil rights movements were beginning to sprout. It`s a nuanced position, worth considering.

The arguments for and against will go on and on. And we haven`t even touched upon the case of Adolf Hitler!

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Targeted Killings – Rise and Kill First …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Books |

All Countries have clandestine Targeted Programmes. Notably Russia, the most notable assassination of which was Trotsky who enjoyed the highest security in Mexico but had his skull crushed by an ice axe as he pored over his papers.

The assassin was Stalin’s chosen killer who first befriended Trotsky, becoming his close friend and confidant. He served his sentence of 20 Years before returning to Russia – for his reward or retribution? As Stalin had long since died a possibly unnatural death. 

Internally too, Countries have ‘elimination programmes of possible irritants – and India seems to be no exception! Here is a review of a Book on this subject relating to Israel and it has become a Bestseller.

RISE AND KILL FIRST’ is a New York Times’ Best Seller. It is the first definitive history of the Mossad, Shin Bet, and the IDF’s targeted killing programs, hailed by The New York Times as “an exceptional work, a humane book about an incendiary subject.”                                                                             .

 The Talmud says: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Israel’s DNA.
From the very beginning of its statehood in 1948, protecting the nation from harm has been the responsibility of its intelligence community and armed services, and there is one weapon in their vast arsenal that they have relied upon to thwart the most serious threats:
Targeted assassinations have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, sometimes in response to attacks against the Israeli people and sometimes preemptively.
In this page-turning, eye-opening book, journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman—praised by David Remnick as “arguably [Israel’s] best investigative reporter”—offers a riveting inside account of the targeted killing programs: their successes, their failures, and the moral and political price exacted on the men and women who approved and carried out the missions.
Bergman has gained the exceedingly rare cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government, including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Mossad (the world’s most feared intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop what had once appeared to be unstoppable: suicide terrorism).

 Including never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of key operations, and based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has gotten exclusive access over his decades of reporting, Rise and Kill First brings us deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities.                                                                                        .

Bergman traces, from statehood to the present, the gripping events and thorny ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped the Israeli nation, the Middle East, and the entire world.“A remarkable feat of fearless and responsible reporting . . . important, timely, and informative.”—John le Carré.                                                                                  .

“Ronen Bergman has set out in incontestable detail the history and scale of Israel’s use of extrajudicial killing as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. His material is stark and sensational, but he steers a steady course through it, even pausing along the way to debate the effectiveness and morality of his subject. The result is a compelling read whatever your point of view.”—John le Carré.                                                                                                .

“This remarkable account of Israel’s targeted-killing programs is the product of nearly eight years of research into what is arguably the most secretive and impenetrable intelligence community in the world. Bergman, an investigative reporter and military analyst, interviewed hundreds of insiders, including assassins, and obtained thousands of classified documents.”—The New Yorker.                                                                                     .

“America’s difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas we may face in the future are beautifully illuminated by the longer story of Israel’s experiences with assassination in its own endless war against terrorism. . . . Americans now have a terrific new introduction to that story with publication of Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First. It’s easy to understand why Bergman’s book is already a bestseller.                                        .

It moves at a torrid pace and tells stories that would make Jason Bourne sit up and say ‘Wow!’ It is smart, thoughtful and balanced, and the English translation is superb. It deserves all of the plaudits it has already received.”—The New York Times Book Review.                                                          .

“Blending history and investigative reporting, Bergman never loses sight of the ethical questions that arise when a state, founded as a refuge for a stateless people who were targets of a genocide, decides it needs to kill in order to survive. . . . This book is full of shocking moments, surprising disturbances in a narrative full of fateful twists and unintended consequences.”—The New York Times.                                                                        .

 “Authoritative . . . a chilling portrait of the evolution of the assassination program . . . Bergman has a reputation as an indefatigable journalist who has developed hundreds of informed sources in the defense establishment over the past two decades. . . . Since World War II, Bergman calculates, the Jewish state and its pre-state paramilitary organizations have assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.”—The Washington Post.                                                                                                               .

“A must-read . . . [Bergman is] Israel’s premier chronicler of the country’s principal spy services—the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), Shin Bet (its internal security organ) and Aman (military intelligence).”—Newsweek.                           .

“A textured history of the personalities and tactics of the various secret services . . . makes the case that Israel has used assassination in the place of war, killing half a dozen Iranian nuclear scientists, for instance, rather than launching a military attack . . .                                                                                       .

[Bergman] says that while the [United States] has tighter constraints on its agents than does Israel, President George W. Bush adopted many Israeli techniques after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President Barack Obama launched several hundred targeted killings.”—Bloomberg


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Vaastu Laws …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Here are some random time tested Laws from the Ancient Indian Science of Vaastu for Building a Dwelling …….

1. The Plot should be a Rectangle or a Square. The slope, however slight, of the area within the Boundary Wall should be sloping towards the North or East. The drainage within should be flowing towards N or E.

2. The Built Area should have an open space all around it between the Built Area and the Boundary Wall – uncovered and where one can walk around in the open – if only a minimum of one to two feet alround.

3. The Gate to the Plot and Building should be towards the North or East.

4. The Master Bedroom should be towards the South of the House with Head of the Beds towards the South or East and feet towards the North or West. The Office or workplace should have one facing E or N

5. The Prayer Room should be towards the North – East or in the Center of the House.

6. The Kitchen should NEVER BE IN THE SOUTH or WEST.  It could have a Store or Servant Room to shield it from that Direction.

A. The Stove should be such that one stands and faces the North or East as one works. However the Stove and Sink should be displaced and Not immediately opposite.

B.  The Water Taps and Sink should be towards the South or West so that one faces that direction as one works..

7. The Water Tank at the top should be in the SW Corner. However the Underground Water Tank should be on the North or NE side of the Building.

8. The Staircase should be towards the S or W and the Stairs – always an odd number – should slope or come down towards the N or E If if the Stairs are in a Stairwell, then they should climb clockwise from the Bottom.

9. Avoid mirrors in the Bedrooms or have them facing S or W.

10. If the Room ia above a Porch, then it is advisable to have the ends of the Porch curved rather than flat.

Happy Building ….

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Adventures of a Techie turned Farmer …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

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TATAs TCS Strides Strong …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Business |

How did TCS manage to buck the trend when Indian IT companies are struggling with emerging technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence hitting their conventional business models and visa restrictions in the US impacting their revenues?

TCS has been quick in adapting to the changing business environment. “Our full-year growth has been lower than it has been in the recent past but our Q4 growth gives us optimism that we are back on to double-digit growth,” CEO Rajesh Gopin ..
It says building capabilities using talent from its nearly 4,00,000 workforce and help incubate new ideas keeps it relevant in a market that is witnessing technology shifts.

Last year, TCS launched an ambitious artificial intelligence product, Ignio. Indian IT companies have so far always sold their AI platforms as part of services and TCS is among the first to sell it as a standalone product. “TCS has taken a different app ..


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Modi n Muslims …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

Mr. Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a columnist for – Modi’s failure to confront violence – 

When Indians elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi three years ago, he promised “development for all.” If he’s serious, he needs to do a better job of convincing members of India’s 172-million strong Muslim minority that this vision includes them.

You can hardly blame Indian Muslims for feeling jittery about the turn their country has taken. A stepped-up campaign against cow slaughter by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party threatens the beef and leather industries, both of which employ Muslims in large numbers.

The BJP in March entrusted the leadership of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, to Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk whose violent anti-Muslim rhetoric had until recently marked him as too extreme for such high office. Meanwhile, Mr. Modi, quick to tweet about far-flung tragedies across the world, finds it hard to stir himself to condemn violence against Muslims in unequivocal terms.

Mr. Modi’s supporters tend to bristle at the charge that he isn’t living up to his promise of even-handedness toward all Indians. They argue that in a country of India’s size and complexity, you can hardly expect the prime minister to comment on every stray incident.

Some believe that secularist media elites selectively highlight crimes where Muslims are victims while playing down those where they are the victimizers. They point out that in a speech last year, shortly after an attack on Dalits—the Hindu group formerly known as untouchables—Mr. Modi proclaimed that cow vigilantes angered him, and that most of them were social undesirables masquerading as cow protectors.

When he speaks, Mr. Modi tends to say the right things. Last year, he told a gathering of Sufi Muslims in Delhi that Islam “literally means peace.” He has sworn his commitment to India’s secular constitution by calling it his government’s “only holy book.” Apart from Mr. Adityanath, most of Mr. Modi’s picks for top positions—cabinet ministers and chief ministers of states—have been sober figures who tend to choose their words carefully.

Mr. Modi’s fans see nothing amiss in his silence now. He may not have condemned the murder in April of Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old Muslim dairy farmer who was beaten to death by a mob that accosted him on a highway while he was transporting cows for his business.

But by the same measure, the prime minister has also remained silent about a bloody feud in the southern state of Kerala, where communist thugs sometimes murder workers from the Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, the group that supplies the BJP with both foot soldiers and top leadership.

It’s unreasonable, some party members argue, for Muslims, who tend to oppose the BJP, to expect special attention. Under party president Amit Shah, the BJP has figured out a way to win elections without their votes.

The trouble with all these arguments is simple: They are parched and lawyerly, more suitable for a petty block-level politician than for the leader of the world’s largest democracy. That Mr. Modi condemned cow vigilante violence last year shouldn’t foreclose his condemning it again this year, or demanding that BJP-ruled states clamp down on it.

And while it’s true that the prime minister needn’t comment on every act of violence in a nation of 1.3 billion people, it’s equally true that he must speak up clearly on those that stand out.

Last month, vigilantes in the BJP-ruled state of Jharkhand lynched seven people—four Muslims and three Hindus—in two separate incidents on the same day. One of the victims, Mohammed Naeem, was captured on camera pleading for his life in a blood-drenched undershirt before being killed.

Police were on the scene, but they only watched. They were reportedly too afraid of the mob to interfere. Like several other victims of recent violence, Naeem was a cattle trader, though in this case the murder appears to have been spurred by false rumors about child-kidnapping gangs spread over the messaging service WhatsApp.

Had Mr. Modi condemned the Jharkhand killings and condoled with the victims, Hindu and Muslim alike, it may have assuaged the fears of those Muslims who, not unreasonably, see a pattern in such crimes. Not doing so opens the prime minister to the charge often made by his opponents that he cannot speak up clearly against anti-Muslim violence because some of his party’s supporters rejoice in it.

For India, the long-term consequences of allowing religious minorities to lose faith in the secular state could be disastrous. Regardless of their voting preferences, the government cannot simply wish away the 14% of Indians who are Muslim.

Some BJP supporters may view Islam as an alien faith and fervently wish that Muslim conquerors had not set foot in Hindu India a thousand years ago. But this only makes it more important for Mr. Modi to distance himself clearly from the toxic anger they represent.

If the prime minister really believes in “development for all,” then he shouldn’t be miserly about reassuring his fellow citizens that he means it.


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Modern Version of Braille…

Posted on April 24, 2018. Filed under: Personalities, Searching for Success |

Learning to read and write was a challenge for Louis Braille. While many kids struggle to read, Braille was blinded at the age of three by an infection following an accident in his father’s leathering workshop. Unable to see words on the page, his best chance at literacy was at his fingertips—literally.

Frustrated by existing communication options (most blind people used the Haüy system, where Latin letters were embossed in paper), Braille set about developing his own tactile writing system when he was still a child. By the age of 15, he’d created a simple, efficient system of dots and spaces contained in compact cells that allowed a reader to comprehend each letter in a single touch.

Since its creation in 1829, braille has remained the predominant tactile communication system in the world. It’s been modified for dozens of languages and allowed countless people to read and write. But braille, which is read by fewer than 10 percent of blind or visually impaired people, is far from perfect. That’s why, almost 200 years after braille was created, Andrew Chepaitis decided to disrupt it.


The top row shows a standard alphabet. The middle row shows ELIA. And the bottom row depicts braille.


Chepaitis is the president and CEO of ELIA. For almost 20 years, he and his colleagues have been developing a new tactile learning system that was more intuitive and accessible than braille.

“The reason Braille used dots was because the easiest way to create a tactile alphabet was to take the point of a pen and push into a piece of paper,” says Chepaitis. “That was great. That was a revolution.” But, he argues, technology has advanced beyond pen and paper, so tactile fonts should, too.

Chepaitis has thrown out braille’s dots in favor of a system of raised symbols form from curved and straight lines. Whereas braille was loosely based on a military code, ELIA mimics the shape of typical English characters wherever possible. An ELIA C looks almost identical to the C seen in the standard alphabet, except the ELIA C rises above the paper. But for a letter like W, which a tactile reader could trace in many directions (is it a V? Two Vs? One W?), ELIA has completely transformed the character. In the ELIA system, a W is a small box with a triangle wedge at the bottom, essentially a simplification of the switchback in a standard W.

After six years of sustained research on 175,000 participants, ELIA launched its Kickstarter campaign on April 18 to bring attention to their work and raise funds to produce its tactile reading frames. The company also announced it would release a customized HP Inkjet printer for ELIA fonts this fall.. A specialized HP Inkjet printer, the machine stimulates a chemical reaction that puffs up the paper in all the right places, allowing a blind reader to feel the letters on the page. With this new technology, Chepaitis hopes to rectify a number of the problems he sees with existing tactile codes.

While thousands of people say braille has changed their lives, on a purely statistical level, the code’s impact has been rather limited. Of the 8.4 million people in the United States with a visual impairment, only about 100,000 read braille. Those who are literate in braille are more likely to graduate high school and to secure employment. But the rest of the population continues to struggle.“Most of those who read braille were born blind,” Chepaitis says, “while 99 percent of people who are blind lose their vision later in life.”

Unfortunately, it’s harder to learn braille later. The National Federation of the Blind offers courses on braille and other tools for the visually impaired. Each course lasts six to nine months. In that time, the federation says, most people become comfortable using braille in their everyday life, but some will continue to struggle with speed and comprehension. And some never learn braille at all.

By building on the standard alphabet, ELIA hopes to meet people who go blind later in life where they’re at. “For them, they’ve invested years in learning the normal alphabet,” Chepaitis says. But the ELIA team has implemented other innovations in the hopes of making their alphabet easier to use, too. ELIA’s font is bigger than standard braille, because the company’s research suggested enhancing the size of the font even by a few millimeters increases reading speeds. The space between each letter is also expanded, again for clarity. These changes mean that, unlike braille, ELIA letters cannot always be read in a single swipe of the finger. But the company says that shouldn’t be a hindrance: the new tactile reading system can be learned in as little as three hours.


ELIA emerging from a specialized printer.


For all the sweat, tears, and special ink that have gone into ELIA, the system’s success isn’t guaranteed. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it: We are braille advocates in the National Federation of the Blind,” says Chris Danielsen, the federation’s director of public relations. While he thinks ELIA may prove helpful to some individuals, Danielsen remains skeptical of efforts to replace braille. ELIA argues its larger fonts and spacing are better for reading comprehension, but Danielsen contends one of braille’s best attributes is that each letter can be determined in a single touch.

There’s also the matter of accessibility when it comes to writing. Right now, people who rely on braille have roughly three options. They can write with an inexpensive stylus, which the federation sells them for just $10 a pop; lug around a six-keyed “brailler”, which is essentially a tactile typewriter; or invest in a specialized printer. ELIA’s own system is a specialized HP Inkjet printer, which debuts later this year. While Chepaitis is excited about the breakthrough design, Danielsen is worried about the price. A $10 stylus is more cost-effective than an inkjet printer, which currently retails around $200 in its standard form.

“I can only expect—and respect—people who disagree with us and argue this is not a worthwhile endeavor,” Chepaitis says. Still, he continues to believe ELIA’s potential for good dramatically outweighs the negatives. Chepaitis intends for the ELIA system will increase accessibility and reading speeds among users. He also hopes the printer, which took years of development on its own, to improve tactile photo printing. While braille can communicate some of the contours of an image, like the details of a map, ELIA’s puff ink may have more success. If all goes well kids with visual impairments wouldn’t just read the words in their textbooks—they’d get to feel charts, diagrams, and illustrations.

Most of all, Chepaitis sees ELIA as a way of bringing families together. Even if a person with severe visual impairments learns braille, their sighted family members continue to struggle to learn and communicate with them. Because ELIA is based on a standard English alphabet, it can be read both with the fingers and with the eyes. As a result, the company says it’s even easier for sighted people to learn than for the visually impaired. “[If] your mom is losing her vision, and she puts the labels on her canned goods, you can read them, too,” Chepaitis says.


A tactile ELIA skin on top of a standard keyboard.


Whatever becomes of ELIA, one thing seems certain: Braille probably wouldn’t have minded the friendly competition. He once said, “Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge.” For all the resistance it’s received, ELIA is nothing if not a widening of the communication options for the blind and visually impaired.

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