Monday, May 4, 2015

An agreement is worth something only if you can make it expensive for the other side to violate it

Said : Arun Shourie in an interview with Rakesh Sinha, National Editor (News Operations) of The Indian Express (published in the May 4, 2015 edition) which claims to follow the Journalism of Courage.

The interview appears under the heading "Let’s not be in a hurry to resolve border dispute with China : Arun Shourie." Shourie has meticulously analyzed the current scenario of the Indo-China relations and highlighted the challenges facing the country in dealing with this Asian Tiger. He has advised to learn from the past mistakes of leaders like Pandit Nehru and also urged PM Modi to involve experts like General Raghavan and Shyam Saran who have spent years and years studying China, and its methods. "When you meet them (Indian experts), reflect carefully on views and assessments that are contrary to your instincts," he added.

Some of the other quotable quotes of Shourie from the Express News interview are reproduced below :
Pakistan is the immediate problem, China is the principal challenge in the long run — and in part Pakistan is a problem because of China. 
Indeed, China is facing many problems. But China’s problems are not going to solve ours: all they can do is that they may give us a little more time.  
China views India as a potential nuisance — one that must be kept busy in South Asia. And it has a willing instrument in Pakistan to do so.
Shourie's views can be useful but they just provide a kind of precautionary tool that may be used while dealing with the Chinese leaders. But when asked "So in your view what should the government be doing?," Shourie could hardly provide any meaningful answer which can be termed as something novel or even new.

At the end, I realized that although Shourie's analysis and observations are quite important and can be really useful but there is no reason to believe that PM Modi is ignorant about them and he is not seeking experts' opinion. We may not be knowing his list of advisers but I am sure he must be listening to them. He is a good listener but to expect him to take the ultimate final decision contrary to his instincts will rather be not only too much but also be impractical. The so called Experts, including Shourie, also form their opinions based on their instincts. 

Somehow, reading Shourie's views has strengthened my thinking that to analyse a difficult and complex situation may be quite easy or free of any faults but to deal with it may not be as easy as many experts think or advise. That's why leaders at the highest level eventually tend to postpone such issues. Perhaps Shourie also, therefore, as per the headline of his interview, rightly (consciously or unconsciously) advices "Let’s not be in a hurry to resolve border dispute with China." Is it not  because we have no other viable alternative?

Monday, April 27, 2015

"Golf is a public relations tool that businessmen use to hook government officials"

Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf club, is located in Hainan.
This CNBC newsitem describes how President Xi Jinping is making his mark in the campaign against corruption, which has toppled senior party and military leaders.   

Now anti-corruption investigators have turned their eyes to golf : "sport for millionaires and a capitalist pastime," in line with state-run news media's depiction of golf as yet another temptation that has led Communist Party officials astray. Golf has been called the 'aristocrats' game because of its high cost and unique glamour. 

The government has shut down dozens of courses across the country built in violation of a ban intended to protect China's limited supplies of water and arable land. Communist party officials have been forbidden to golf during work hours "to prevent unclean behavior and disciplinary or illegal conduct."

According to  Xinhua - Chinese news agency - the Communist Party of China's (CPC) anti-corruption agency has opened a column on its website where corrupt officials' confessions are published to "warn, deter and educate". China, it appears, has declared war on golf courses. 

According to another press item, it is widely publicized that Xi Jinping does not want government men betting on golf games, he does not want them doing on-course deals or taking golf "jollies". In plain, he does not want them playing golf and being associated with the sport of Barack Obama, with the game that Chairman Mao dismissed as the "sport of millionaires". Golf is being bracketed with gambling, prostitution and drugs being used as a public-relations tool that businessmen use to influence government officials.

Recently, anti-corruption inspection teams from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Network visited central China's Electronic Information Industry Group Co., Ltd. (China Electronics) and found two top executives involved in golf related corruption. In the period from 2013 to 2014, they made eight repeated visits to Beijing for a golf course, using public money to play golf. The Party Discipline Inspection Commission is taking action in the matter. 

It is worth noting that after taking the helm of the CPC in November 2012, Xi Jinping vowed to fight corruption, targeting both high-ranking "tigers" and lowly "flies".

Friday, April 17, 2015

“As a celebrity/star I am not an individual — I am a spectacular representation of a living human being, the opposite of an individual”

LaBeouf at the premiere of
Fury in Washington D.C, Oct. 2014
(Department of Defense
photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Said : Shia Saide LaBeouf (Born: June 11, 1986 in LA), an American actor and director who became known among younger audiences as Louis Stevens in the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. 

He made these remarks in response to email to Variety‘s questions that appeared in NY Film Editor Ramin Setoodeh's post yesterday.

The 28-year-old actor believes that celebrities are ‘Enslaved’. When asked about his feelings as an artist, LaBeouf said : "The craft of acting for film is terribly exclusive and comes with the baggage of celebrity, which robs you of your individuality and separates you. The performance work is democratized and far more inclusive. As a celebrity/star I am not an individual — I am a spectacular representation of a living human being, the opposite of an individual. The enemy of the individual, in myself as well as in others. The celebrity/star is the object of identification, with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. The requirements to being a star/celebrity are namely, you must become an enslaved body. Just flesh — a commodity, and renounce all autonomous qualities in order to identify with the general law of obedience to the course of things. The star is a by-product of the machine age, a relic of modernist ideals. It’s outmoded."

LaBeouf is the executive producer of “LoveTrue,” an experimental drama from director Alma Har’el (“Bombay Beach”) that merges fiction and documentary, with vignettes set in Alaska, Hawaii and New York. 

See a clip of “LoveTrue” featuring actor Will Hunt below :

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"The majority of ultra rich Russians, who in some way may have something to fear have, a long time ago, prepared spare airfields and put in place plans for a quick emigration or, God forbid, evacuation of their family"

Alexei Koval

Said : Alexei Koval, operations director at City Magazine, which offers lifestyle and investment tips to "successful people" in Russia's main cities, reported a Moscow Times report of March 29.

According to the report "Russia's Super-rich Stay Loyal to Putin Despite Ruble Crisis Blow," wealthy Russians have resorted to self imposed modesty by cutting down their visible spendings on luxurious life style items e.g. cars,  jewellery, leisure holidaying overseas, ostentatious celebrity parties, etc. 

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly appealed to leading businessmen to bring their money from offshore accounts back to Russia warning them about the possibility of West expanding the sanctions over Ukraine which will close off the inflows further.

The report highlights the fact that Russia's super-rich are feeling the pinch from the economic crisis but they have so far remained loyal to Putin.

“The Russians can turn us into ash in less than an hour.”

(Picture Source)
Said : Martin Hellman, an emeritus professor at Stanford and adjunct fellow at the Federation of American Scientists who specialises in nuclear risk, as reported by the Newsweek’s Europe correspondent Elisabeth Braw in her yesterday’s post “Putin is ‘Playing the Madman’ to Trick the West.”

The Newsweek article quotes Hellmen saying that in the past couple of years, Putin has gone out of his way to keep Russia’s arsenal in the forefront of the public consciousness.

“Nuclear weapons are the card that Putin has up his sleeve, and he’s using it to get the world to realise that Russia is a superpower, not just a regional power,” he explains.
“The West should do as marriage therapists advise: admit one’s own mistakes, thereby making it easier for one’s spouse to admit his.”
Martin Hellmen
According to the article, Hellmen calls it the Madman Theory and confesses that a bit of perceived madness is essential to nuclear strategy. “The West hasn’t properly caught on to Putin’s Armageddon game. With Putin what is needed is to prevent the madman game from ending in tragedy”, Hellman argues warning that “The Russians can turn us into ash in less than an hour.”

The article analyses various aspects of Putin’s personality and the CIA’s role in preparing personality profiles of foreign leaders besides the work of independent personality analysis experts and psychologists in this area.

The article rules out the possibility of Putin stepping down to enjoy a pleasant retirement (like many world leaders) with his $200bn fortune that he’s reportedly amassed.

So, what’s the way out? Hellman is reported to have suggested that “the West should do as marriage therapists advise: admit one’s own mistakes, thereby making it easier for one’s spouse to admit his.”

The recent suicide-cum-mass murder by the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, of the Germanwings flight by crashing the plane in the French Alps is being largely seen as the result of his deep rooted mental condition. If, God forbid, Putin follows a mental trajectory similar to that of Lubitz, the whole world will perish. I find already there are serious discussions taking place, the world over (in pubic domain) about Putin's mental condition. A number of top influential people have even gone to the extent of calling him mad. One of the important lessons that we must learn from the Germanwings tragedy is that mental fitness is supreme and if we have diagnosed some one of the level of Putin having serious symptoms of mental disorder then it cannot, and should not, be taken lightly. The handling of such a person by the global community has to be quite cautious, coordinated, secret and aimed at preventing the worst while assuming the worst case scenario. This also requires top world leaders to be 24x7 ready to prevent the worst from happening and to promptly respond to any eventuality. 

"Be less grandstanding with Putin," Hellmen's advice can be quite handy in this case. Also, the suggestion of a recently departed Moscow ambassador, who was close to Putin, as reported in the Newsweek post, also deserves serious consideration. "If you’ve got a madman in power, a country’s nuclear weapons take on a completely new dimension.” 

In a nutshell, Putin, like any ultra high pressure glass vessel, is required to be handled with extreme care.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

There is “a complete absence of fear” in Silicon Valley right now, and more people than ever before are employed by companies losing money.

Bill Gurley

Said : Bill Gurley, General Partner, Benchmark Capital and the prominent investor behind Uber and Snapchat. He said this at the 22nd annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival (held in Austin, Texas, held from Friday, March 13 through Tuesday, March 17.) during an interview, on March 15. The interview was conducted by award-winning journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell on the SXSW stage.  

"There is no fear in Silicon Valley right now," Gurley said. "A complete absence of fear." Clarifying his stand on the bubble threat, he said : "We are in a risk bubble, not a tech bubble. We are taking on a level of risk never seen before in the history of Silicon Valley." Observing that more and more companies are today becoming dependent on venture dollars, Gurley cautioned that good companies need to be mindful of irrational venture capital funding to support competitors.
According to Steve Tay (@iamstevetay), who tweeted the entire interview live, Gurley opined that driverless cars must be virtually perfect to be acceptable to consumers. "It's shifting from drinking and driving to texting and driving. Let's just have less people drive," he said. Commenting on car sharing services like Uber, he said : "A product like Uber is absolutely transformational in any country or region it goes into." According to Gurley, Uber was the largest job creator in the San Francisco area accounting for over 300,000 drivers on the road. Another point, Gurley said, was that millennials now view cars as utility and not a social statement. This makes Uber a much better way to utilize the resource as 97% of cars are estimated to be idle.
Acknowledging the role of risk in success of a venture, Gurley said : "The further you get away from risk, the more people forget about it." At the same time he observed that "We've reduced number of casual risks in exchange for more catastrophic risks."
According to Southwest Interactive, Gurley and his partners at Benchmark led the early venture investments in GrubHub, Nextdoor, OpenTable, Snapchat, Stitch Fix, Twitter, Uber, Yelp and more. He writes a blog on the evolution and economics of high technology businesses called Above the Crowd. Gladwell, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996, is the author of five New York Times Best Sellers, including David and Goliath, The Tipping Point, What The Dog Saw, Blink and Outliers.
Bill Gurley is interviewed by 
award-winning journalist and author 
Malcolm Gladwell on the SXSW stage.

Friday, March 6, 2015

“Flight 370 showed that in today’s very connected world, the idea that we cannot know where every airplane is at any given moment has become unacceptable”

Rémi Jouty (Picture source)

Said : Rémi Jouty, the director of the French Bureau of Investigations and Analysis (FBIA), commenting on the ongoing search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (a Boeing 777), which took off from Kuala Lumpur Airport and vanished en route to Beijing on March 8, 2014 with 239 people aboard. The FBIA has been advising investigators on the case.

According to a news report by Michael Forsythe and Keith Bradsher in The New York Times of March 5, 2015, the investigators are also considering, what they call, “rogue pilot theory,” as the most plausible explanation among several because some of the investigators and experts feel that deliberate human intervention, most likely by someone in the cockpit, may have caused the aircraft. A retired chief pilot of Malaysia Airlines, Nik Huzlan, is reported to be one of them. 

Incidentally, Huzlan has been a close friend of Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot who flew the plane that fateful day, since last 30 years.

Picture source
Huzlan, while clarifying that he had never seen anything in more than 30 years of friendship that would suggest that Mr. Zaharie was capable of such a deed, said : “Based on logic, when you throw emotion away, it seems to point a certain direction which you can’t ignore.” “Your best friend can harbor the darkest secrets,” he reportedly added. The co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, is also being seen as the likely culprit.
Picture source
Four ships under contract by the Australian and Malaysian governments are searching the likely site spread over an area of 23,000-square miles in the Indian Ocean. Nearly half the area has been scoured so far but no trace of the missing plane has been found and the mystery over its disappearance continues. The job is expected to be completed by May.
Picture source
In an era where a missing mobile phone can be located in moments, it is hard to believe that a wide-body jetliner can simply vanish like the Flight 370. The need for closer flight tracking measures, including real-time streaming of flight data, is again being discussed within the aviation industry. It is reported that the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body, wants that "all airliners should be equipped to have the ability, by November 2016, to automatically report their position at least every 15 minutes, twice as often as the current average of around 30 minutes."