24 February 2013

Sunday Reads - White Rose & Life's Screwed

Sunday Brunch!
  • Where have all the subsidies gone. (Indian Express
  • The White Rose: The Germans who tried to topple Hitler. (BBC)
  • The Man who Screwed Osama bin Laden is screwed. (Esquire)
  • The brain is not computable. (Technology Review)
Do you wish to work in Tokyo? Great idea except for that it is the most expensive city in the world!

Sourced from TKB of Reuters

19 February 2013

A Curtain Raiser on China's Cyber Warfare

In the last few weeks I have delivered two talks on the political, economic, and military rise of China; one in Hyderabad and the second in Bangalore. In these talks, I spent a considerable amount of time on the massive cyber warfare being waged by China. 

The unsurprising part is that I had delivered similar talks last year too. In all these talks, there were incredulous faces in the audience when I talked about the industrial and military espionage activities of China, right from the beginning of the 1990s. I particularly emphasized on the nefarious role of the Chinese military in the hacking attacks.

I intend to dwell on this issue in a much deeper way with an article under The Explainer series; but that will come next week. The Explainer on China's Cyber Warfare will focus on the following:

• 1990s – Industrial Espionage; 1999 – Military 
• Red Hackers/Freelancers/Intelligence Agencies
• Varied agendas/U.S.-India-Japan/Nelson’s Eye
• Decentralized approach/Blurry line
• Operation Aurora/2 top IT schools involved

A few members in the audience even questioned my ideas about the scale of Beijing's hacking attacks. One guy asked that if the scale was so large then why it did not get reported in our mainstream media. 


For now, I suggest that you read this piece from Mandiant, the organisation that has exposed China's massive cyber espionage units involving the Chinese military. 

Somewhere it is very satisfying for the teacher in me that I have been sharing the right sort of information even though most find it difficult to accept.

17 February 2013

Sunday Reads - Currency Wars & Bush's Great Work

Resuming the Sunday Reads series.

  • How Wrestling lost the Olympics. (NYT
  • What George W. Bush did right. (Foreign Policy)
  • From Kashmir, a very different perspective on Afzal Guru's hanging. (Outlook)
  • Root causes of currency wars. (Voxeu)

Another defence scam has come emerged. This one involves the purchase of helicopters for India VVIPs. Here's some lowdown, including the below brilliant cartoon, from India Today.

14 February 2013

The Shrinking eurozone

The euro debt crisis is deepening. The eurozone, already in recession, shrank further in the last quarter of 2012. The GDP of the contracted by a higher-than-expected 0.6% in Q4, the biggest fall in output since the start of 2009. 

A recession is usually defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction. In Q1 of 2012, the eurozone economy failed to grow, while in Q2 it contracted by 0.2% and in Q3 by 0.1%. These numbers reveal one startling fact: for the first time since the eurozone erupted, the eurozone failed to grow in any quarter during a financial year.

The major reason behind the fall in output is the austerity drive undertaken by almost all eurozone members, including Greece, Germany, and France. These measures include reduced spending (both private and public), slashed public sector salaries and pensions, and lowered spending on welfare measures (like healthcare).

In an interview with the BBC, Peter Praet, the President of the European Central Bank, is cautiously optimistic about the growth prospects in the eurozone. 
"Some fundamental issues in the labour market, corporate governance are being addressed in a very impressive way," he says. But these reforms do raise some questions about who bears the burden. Addressing these is the skill of politics and that, he says with a laugh and, I suspect some relief, "is not my business". 
The eurozone is dealing with more than these long standing structural issues. There is also the financial debris left by the bursting of a bubble. It was a bubble that enabled governments to borrow cheaply - even Greece was paying interest rates almost as low as Germany.
It also showed up in property markets, especially in Spain and Ireland. So it raises a question for the ECB. Should it have done more to prevent the boom that led to the bust?

Read the complete interview.

Read The Explainer: The eurozone Debt Crisis

12 February 2013

Kim does it! - NK's Nuke Test

North Korea has tested a nuclear device, its third test. The first and second tests were held in 2006 and 2009 respectively. The test has once again underscored the pariah nature of the regime. The Kim family runs the nation like a personal fiefdom, one that does not give a damn about the welfare of its citizens. 
Kim Jong-Un, North Korean leader

The rogue regime is splurging millions of dollars on building weapons of mass destruction even while millions of North Koreans are starving for food, with some even resorting to cannibalism to survive. 

In the light of this latest nuke test by North Korea, I share with you an earlier post I wrote on this highly reclusive nation: The Explainer: North Korea

However, its not all dark there; there is dark humour too. 

06 February 2013

Good Governance & Demographic Dividend

A couple of weeks back I made a 200-minute presentation on the political, economic, and military rise of China and what it means for the world in general and the United States and India in particular.

During the talk, as some readers would recall I talked at length about the demographic makeups in both China and India and how India may trump the Middle Kingdom in the growth stakes because of its demographic advantage.

In his New York Times piece titled India vs China vs Egypt, Thomas L. Friedman writes that:
"Of these three, the one that will thrive the most in the 21st century will be the one that is most successful at converting its youth bulge into a “demographic dividend” that keeps paying off every decade, as opposed to a “demographic bomb” that keeps going off every decade. That will be the society that provides more of its youth with the education, jobs and voice they seek to realize their full potential."
Mr Friedman stresses a great deal on the role good governance can play in this transformation.
“India today has 560 million young people under the age of 25 and 225 million between the ages of 10 and 19,” explained Shashi Tharoor, India’s minister of state for human resource development.  “So for the next 40 years we should have a youthful working-age population” at a time when China and the broad industrialized world is aging. According to Tharoor, the average age in China today is around 38, whereas in India it’s around 28. In 20 years, that gap will be much larger. So this could be a huge demographic dividend — “provided that we can educate our youth — offering vocational training to some and university to others to equip them to take advantage of what the 21st-century global economy offers,” said Tharoor. “If we get it right, India becomes the workhorse of the world. If we get it wrong, there is nothing worse than unemployable, frustrated” youth."
Read the whole piece here.

04 February 2013

Why treat a Juvenile Rapist with Kid Gloves?

In the wake of the horrific Delhi gangrape case (of Nirbhaya or Damini, as the unfortunate victim was addressed by different media channels), the debate over what could be the most befitting punishment for such heinous crimes is still raging. 

Today crimes against women, especially against young girl children, are rising alarmingly. This is because the law is seen as lax and its enforcement ineffective. On February 3, the Union Cabinet passed a new-look anti-rape ordnance

Source: India Today
I believe child rapists should be first castrated and then hanged. If the tardy investigation and judicial processes in such cases can be speeded up, I am sure such punishment will deter others from committing such dastardly crimes. 

Another dimension to the Delhi Gangrape Case is that one of the accused has been declared a juvenile. At present, under the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, a juvenile accused has to be kept in a juvenile correction home or any other reformatory centre for minors. The juvenile faces a separate trial under the JJ Act and the maximum sentence that can be given is only three years. Just three years for exhibiting unparalleled moral depravity and indulging in such heinous crime!

On February 2, The Telegraph of Kolkata published an interesting opinion piece on juvenile crime by Sunanda Datta-Ray. Here's an excerpt:
When two eight-year-old boys committed a gruesome murder in the northern English town of Stockport 152 years ago, the coroner ruled that it isn’t the offender’s age but his “strength of understanding and judgment” that establishes the true “capacity to do evil or contract guilt”. By that yardstick, a youth aged 17 years, six months and 12 days must face up to the consequences of his action like any adult. As the coroner pointed out, the two eight-year-olds who tortured and drowned a two-year-old child on 11 April, 1861, were well aware of the difference between right and wrong. By choosing a “secluded place” for their “horrifyingly brutal” deed and by keeping quiet about it, they had proved their “consciousness of guilt” beyond any doubt.
I believe that the Trial Court, which is hearing the Delhi Gangrape Case, should consider the horrific criminal behavior exhibited by the accused juvenile. Applying the same above principle (mentioned in the English case) the court should rule that it isn’t the offender’s age but his “strength of understanding and judgment” that establishes the true “capacity to do evil or contract guilt”. In fact, this Delhi juvenile not only exhibited a true capacity to do evil but himself is evil personified.

Come to think of it, under the current law this juvenile criminal may walk free after serving just a few months behind bars; in jail he will turn an adult and imagine the serious danger a criminal like him will pose to the society at large.

Today, it is fashionable to talk about changing the attitude of a male chauvinist society like ours; trust me, it never will change for good.

Haryana's Khap panchayat leaders call for lowering the marriageable age of girls to 15 years! Why? These elders say this move will force men to go to their wives for sex and hence they will not look elsewhere! 

These so-called keepers and upholders of our Bharatiya Sanskriti also say that eating Chinese food make men and women horny. Blaming foreign food for the moral depravity of their children is Hamari Mahaan Bharatiya Sanskrit for these elders.

And yes, we live in a society where religious leaders say that a woman’s indecent clothes attract unwanted attention from men. I wonder what such religious leaders have to say when a three-year old child is raped. 

Can we ever change this creepy and medieval attitude toward women? Given the plumbing moral turpitude in our society, for once I cannot help being a pessimistic.

03 February 2013

Sunday Reads - Tehranimal Farm & Algeria's Frankenstein

A few days back, I had delivered a talk on Iran's nuclear ambitions where I had talked about the atmosphere of fear and misery in the world's largest Shia republic. Foreign Policy has an interesting piece titled Tehranimal Farm on how George Orwell, the author of all-time classics like Animal Farm and 1984, explains today's Iran.

Argentina censured by the IMF for fudging economic data. Bloomberg has more on this.

Algeria's policy of supporting the Islamists has comeback to haunt it. As they say, for Algeria the chickens have come home to roost. Read this NYT piece on this topical issue.

"Why we tell lies at work," asks BusinessWeek. "Most of the lying that happens at work is a simple matter of ass-covering. You forgot to do something or elided some onerous task, and a fib squeaks out: a traffic jam that cost you an hour, a “lost” e-mail, or some other missed connection, all in the interest of buying time to recover."

01 February 2013

France in Mali - Triumph for France?

The fighting in Mali seems to be on the wane. The Islamists who threatened France by promising to turn Mali into a French graveyard are nowhere to be seen. Either they are melted away into the Sahara sands to fight another day or have just given up on the formidable task of fighting the top class French military force.

This is France's third major foreign intervention in the last few years. Earlier the French were there in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. In the case of Mali, France is seriously worried that West Africa may turn into an 'Afrighanistan', a kind of homeground of Islamists. 

The Economist lends some insight on the situation in Mali and what the current turn of events could mean for all involved - Mali, France, and the Islamists.

Here's an excerpt:
Mali’s loose mix of jihadist and Tuareg rebel groups has dispersed. The lighter-skinned ones and ethnic Arabs tended to go north into the desert; the dark-skinned ones fled south to the arid farmlands. 
They are less united than before. The aim of the French and their Malian allies is to separate the religious zealots, hailing mainly from Algeria and beyond, from native Malians and the less fanatical rebels.
Read the whole thing here

A Short History of Football - Infographic

Football is probably the most popular game in the world. It is played in almost all nations of the world. 

We in India love football too; however, our love is restricted to international national teams (like Brazil) and club football teams (like Manchester United). You would rarely find, even on facebook, anyone who openly professes his or her love for any Indian football club.

Monsterbet.co.uk has this interesting infographic that captures the history of football. Click on the graphic for a larger view.

Image source: monsterbet.co.uk