Inability to Handle Emails

Too many emails, forwards, spams and junks are crushing the instant communication network through email. Despite all anti spam wares and anti junk filters there are many unwanted messages keeping jamming our inboxes. Mostly our office updates, mass emails, birthday reminders, event reminders, anniversary wishes and social network updates are the major villains of the electronic communication system. I spend more than 30 minutes to delete the junk messages. Most of these forwards are repeated by friends. No wonder Netizens are not able to handle this trouble. This problem is common among the public figures, bureaucrats and professionals. Those who have wide network also face the same problem. times of India writes on 17 December 2009, Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House emails from the administration of President George W Bush and the Obama administration is searching for dozens more days’ worth of potentially lost email from the Bush years, according to two groups that filed suit over the failure by the Bush White House to install an electronic record keeping system. The two private groups — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive — said they were settling the suits they filed against the president’s office in 2007. It will be years before the public sees the emails as they will go through the National Archives’ process for releasing presidential records.

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Time Killing Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites are the current trend setters and techno fashion definers. But the craze for social networking sites has crossed all the limits. These sites are not only killing work time of the office employees but also damaging the health of the onliners. Too many games and interest pulling subsites are eating heavy time of the netizens. Soon netizens are going to say ‘na na networking’.

Times of India writes on 11 December 2009

Facebook makes you despair? Social networking makes you want to end it all? You may be ready for online ritual suicide with the aid of a “Impress your friends, disconnect yourself,” is the slogan on http://www.seppukoo.com, a site that aims to subvert Facebook by offering its millions of users a glorious end and a memorial page to match. “Rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, ancient Japanese samurai preferred to die with honour, voluntarily plunging a sword into the abdomen and moving it left to right in a slicing motion,” the site notes.

This form of ritual suicide was known as “seppuku”.

“As the seppuku restores the samurai’s honour as a warrior, seppukoo.com deals with the liberation of the digital body,” the site says.

Today the enemy is not other bands of noble warriors but corporate media who use viral marketing to make huge profits by connecting people across the globe.

“Seppukoo playfully attempts to subvert this mechanism by disconnecting people from each other and transforming the individual suicide experience into an exciting ‘social’ experience.”

The site, which uses its own viral marketing strategy to lure in disgruntled social networkers, is part of a protest wave that sees Facebook as a potentially dangerous entity beholden to corporate interests.

But seppukoo.com has some way to go before it attracts anything near the more than 300 million users Facebook currently boasts. On Wednesday it pulled in only half a dozen Facebookers ready to end it all.

Its owners said by email that over 15,000 people had done the deed and over 350,000 Facebook users had received an invite to follow suit.
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Emission Cuts and Copenhagen Talks

All roads lead to Copenhagen this fortnight. World leaders, scientists, journalists, policy makers and stakeholders are converging in the Danish capital to chart out strategies to control climate change. Whether it is going to be an effective summit or another empty talking time is to be watched. From the current diplomatic war over climate change there is less one can read about the genuineness of the world leaders to sort out this complex matter. Every nation and its leader is keen on scoring popularity points rather than finding a long lasting solution to the climate change. George Manbiot writes in The Times of India on 6 December 2009 Climate change is humankind’s most pressing challenge; unless we can reduce the amount of global warming gases we release into the atmosphere, the heating they cause will melt the world’s glaciers, create both droughts and floods, drive many people from their homes as sea levels rise and threaten the world’s ability to feed itself. So why are so few people trying to stop it? We have left the task to governments and experts. Public protests demanding action have been small and muted. Because there is so little public engagement, the governments meeting in Copenhagen are proposing only a fraction of the cuts needed to prevent disaster. They bailed out the banks but seem prepared to let the world’s ecosystems collapse. Surely the world’s people should be hammering on their doors, insisting that they act? I think there are several reasons why this hasn’t happened. The first is a campaign of disinformation by the fossil fuel companies, whose investments will lose value if a strong climate deal is struck. For 20 years the energy industries have sponsored “experts” to tell the public that climate change either isn’t happening or is no big deal. Some corporations have paid astroturf groups — fake grassroots campaigns — to lobby against action on climate change. They have successfully sown doubt and confusion in people’s minds. Another reason is that the most common human response to any crisis is denial. Denial is a survival strategy: if we really came to terms with our own mortality, or with the evils of the world, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. The firmer the evidence of climate change has become, the more people have gone into denial; now in some countries nearly half the population insists that global warming is just a scare story, even though you can see the early impacts almost everywhere. But perhaps the most important reason is that the issue — and the terms used to describe it — are so complex and buried in jargon that many people simply switch off before they’ve understood its importance. When someone tells you that “unless we reduce Kyoto basket greenhouse gas emissions to maintain atmospheric concentrations below 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent, anthropogenic warming will initiate biospheric feedbacks”, you could be forgiven for staring at them blankly. That sentence describes a critically important global issue. But it’s hardly a catchy slogan, is it? Both the science and the policies needed to deal with manmade climate change are inherently complex. As soon as you get beyond the simple story — that the planet is warming up because we’re burning fossil fuels and destroying natural carbon stores — you start to get bogged down in mind-numbing detail. The fact that some scientists seem to be incapable of speaking any human language doesn’t help, but even when they do talk clearly it’s often hard to grasp. I believe there is a real democratic problem here, that is not confined to climate change. As we know ever more about the world, as experts become ever more specialized and governments rely ever more heavily on experts, it becomes harder for ordinary citizens to engage with the issues that affect their lives. In Shakespeare’s day, one person could attain the entire sum of human knowledge. You probably could have got it onto a couple of CDs. Today even the specialists can’t keep up with their own field of knowledge. Arthur C Clarke said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. He might have added that any sufficiently advanced expertise is indistinguishable from gobbledegook. We are shut out, by sheer complexity, from the important issues that affect our lives and so can play an ever less meaningful role in their resolution. This allows governments and other powerful players to hide behind jargon. As issues become more complex it becomes easier to bamboozle us. What can be done about it? I believe that all experts whose work might have an impact on public policy have a duty to speak and write as clearly as possible. I believe that governments have a duty to keep their citizens informed as well as they can, spelling out complex issues in terms that most people can grasp. I believe the media has a special responsibility for investigating and explaining complex stories as objectively as possible. But not everyone who informs us has our best interests at heart. Where climate change is concerned, some of those who communicate most clearly — the PR companies hired by fossil fuel companies — seek to mislead us. Citizens also have a duty: to be as well-informed as possible, so that they can make sensible democratic choices. But we have to accept that this will become ever more difficult as life becomes more complex. George Monbiot is the UK-based author of the bestselling books, ‘Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning’ and ‘ The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order

Teenage Troubles

The biggest challenge today for parents is bringing up children. Apart from offering the children best possible education and nutrition, parents are facing difficulties in monitoring children’s ethical behaviour. Apart from social ethics learnt from educational institutions children too learn from the family. Learning from the family has been labelled by sociologists like Talcott Parsons as “primary socialisation”. But socialisation is under constant threat by technology and consumerism. Whatever ethical norms and behavioural patterns codified by parents and grandparents are on and off broken by the fast moving peers. Curbing this trouble will be the most crucial challenge in the coming days. Amrit Dhillon writes in The Times of India on 2 December 2009 It’s easy to visualise the Pune teenager who arranged to meet her boyfriend the day before Friendship Day recently. Just 15, she must have been flushed with excitement at the prospect of feeling special and desirable, and coming home later from the rendezvous floating in that delicious dreamy delirium that characterises the early days of a relationship. But the boyfriend brought along three friends for some ‘fun’ and they raped her in turns. The following day, the girl hanged herself. In their tragic interplay, i imagine she was seeking love while he wanted sex. Her humiliation and death reveal how the dating game in India is going horribly wrong because boys and girls are playing by different rules. Girls are eager to explore their newfound social freedom to experience the headiness of loving and being loved. Physical desire is obviously an important part of this exploration because the hormones of a teenage girl are fizzing just as furiously as those of any young male. But girls venture into this new world almost utterly defenceless and, as mostly small-town ingenues, are vulnerable to the first predator who comes along. So girls are filmed undressing by their boyfriends. The MMS clips are sent to friends or used for blackmail. Girls who end relationships have acid thrown on them. Girls who reject boys’ advances are stalked and threatened. In the West, young girls absorb vast amounts of information about relationships before acquiring their first boyfriend. From TV programmes and debates, magazines, playground gossip and conversations with mothers and elder sisters, they develop a sixth sense for detecting a false note or a whiff of aggression that could endanger them. More than information, certain ideas have entered their minds. The theories of the feminist movement from the 1970s onwards in the West made women aware of the power dynamic between men and women. The ideas of Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedman filtered down into popular consciousness. No doubt, they were diluted and reduced to slogans by the time they reached the woman on the street but they nevertheless coloured the landscape of her mind. This process has been absent in India where such debates have been largely confined to women’s groups and magazines such as Manushi. Here, girls plunge into the dating game intellectually blindfolded, groping (excuse the pun) for signposts as they navigate this new terrain. They possess none of the psychological tools to discriminate between genuine and fake interest. Having had arranged marriages themselves, their mothers and elder sisters are of no help. Quite apart from the limited help available from their families, even the wider culture around them fails to imbue girls either with sense or suspicion. How can it? For centuries, social norms have imposed strict social segregation. The new freedom for the sexes to mix is so new that society has barely woken up to its implications. Whereas in the West, relations between the sexes evolved gradually, over decades, in India, the process has been squeezed into 10-15 years, jumping from Jane Austen to Paris Hilton in the blink of an eye. As girls, without being forewarned, rush into the arms of their beaux, they misread the signals. Exacerbating their vulnerability is the desire for male attention that virtually consumes girls at this age. Not all young men, of course, are hell-bent on abusing their new access to women. Plenty of them treat their girlfriends with respect. But many, just like the girls, misread the cues. They see a woman in a bar wearing attractive clothes as ‘available’ because they have never been educated by literature, films, books and newspapers to grasp the notion that a woman can be drunk, dressed revealingly and behave suggestively but if she says ‘no’ to sex, it means no. They too are confused. All the old familiar rules have gone and it’s a free-for-all. Just the other day, at least in some circles, they were taught to believe that any woman who displayed pleasure during lovemaking, even with her own husband, was a whore. Now they have to learn that women can pose semi-naked, smoke and drink and yet must be treated as respectfully as they treat their mothers. India has moved from segregation to mingling between the sexes without any of the attendant debates on sex, feminism and contraception. There has been no transition. Many men have leapt from believing that women should be sequestered inside the home to expecting their girlfriends to take responsibility for contraception. Girls pop the ‘morning after’ pill casually, rather than as an emergency measure. The boyfriends are happy to be carefree and few even bother to find out whether there could be repercussions on the girl’s health. Young Indian women need to realise that many of the new sexual freedoms that were hailed initially as ‘liberating’ in the West (such as the availability of the pill) turned out to carry a heavy price. When neither side knows the rules because the rules are still being worked out, the dating game becomes potentially lethal.

Everyone is eager to see technology solving all the problems faced by humanity. But the response to this mass expectation has been dismal. Bio technology which is touted as the one stop solution for all problems is yet to prove its credentials in a big way. Its achievements so far cannot be belittled. However there is a big mismatch between the hopes and reality.

Along with the developments in bio technology there is a parallel growth of controversies. Especially the food products and medicines. It is up to the bio technologists to sort out these troubles and prove to the world that they are savious of future.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw writes in The Times of India on 3 December 2009

Biotechnology is aptly described as the “technology of hope” for its promise to deliver food security, life-saving drugs, alternate energy and environmental sustainability. India has many assets in its strong pool of scientists and engineers, vast institutional network and cost-effective manufacturing. Over 100 national research laboratories employ thousands of scientists. More than 300 college-level educational and training institutes offer degrees and diplomas in biotechnology, bio-informatics and the biological sciences, producing nearly 5,00,000 students annually. About 3,00,000 postgraduates and 1,500 PhDs qualify in biosciences and engineering each year. According to reports, outside of the US, India ranks the highest with 61 USFDA-approved plants and in excess of 200 GMP certified pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.

The Indian government’s national biotechnology development strategy is a comprehensive road map for this emerging sector. The document recognises the challenges of building both scale and critical mass in pursuing a global leadership profile. The biotech industry is poised to deliver a size of $5 billion by 2010 with biopharma driving the growth trajectory. However, funding, infrastructure, regulation and skill competency mapping pose obstacles in this path to the future. Conversely, India is uniquely placed to build a strong competitive edge. It offers an attractive cost arbitrage in research & development at roughly a third of that in the western hemisphere. Key enablers include a large, qualified English-speaking workforce, a network of reputed research laboratories and state-of-the-art pharmaceutical labs and manufacturing facilities. Further, the patient population offers a large, diverse pool for effective clinical research and development.

Ever-increasing cost and time involved in drug discovery and development, fierce competition and pricing pressure are all spurring western pharma companies to have an India strategy. A large number of blockbuster drugs are also set to go off-patent, giving the sector here tremendous opportunities. The industry is collaborating with global giants in clinical trials, discovery and development research, and manufacturing, thus rapidly moving up the value chain. In this age of hyper competition and wafer-thin margins, India’s biotech sector is poised at an inflection point.

Yet the industry continues to face numerous challenges. Foremost is finance. Venture funding has abstained from investing in this sector on account of its high risk profile. Aversion to risk is also seen within the sector, which prefers low risk ventures based on services and generics, shying away from an innovation-led business model. The department of biotechnology has plugged this deficiency through a number of funding schemes. It is for entrepreneurs to avail of these funds and rise to the challenge of innovation.

The sector also faces the same infrastructural hurdles affecting Indian industry. The country continues to fall short on critical enablers such as quality roads and uninterrupted supply of power and potable water. However, beyond these common issues, the sector has its own problems. It requires a streamlined regulatory framework to accelerate commercialisation of products. Numerous regulatory agencies pulling in different directions slow down the process of growth. Bt Brinjal is a good example of how years of intensive research investment are unable to guarantee commercial returns. Human clinical trials are still an unresolved aspect. Further, essential strong industry-academia connections are sadly lacking.

The government can lead the way in facilitating growth by treating biotechnology as a priority sector. R&D is the bedrock on which biotech rests. The government must enable international patenting, which curiously does not qualify for tax deduction, and encourage investment. A regulatory environment that helps the drug discovery process and approves products without delays is urgently required. A five-year tax holiday on new products developed in-house can be a great incentive for R&D. Profits on such products can be mandated for reinvestment in R&D to encourage development of newer and better drugs at lower costs.

The biotech sector needs creativity to harness its potential and assume global leadership. There exists a huge opportunity for growth but only if innovation becomes part of the business ethic and a primary enterprise driver. It is no longer enough to produce clones of pharma products that have saturated the market, which do nothing to add value. Benchmarks must be set high and out-of-the-box thinking must become the norm. Profit margins can be maintained through contract discovery and manufacturing for foreign firms.

Extensive research requires expensive equipment that needs to be imported. The government can step in again by exempting or reducing import duties. It can also approve the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises’s (ABLE) recommendation to set up a biotech fund to support first-generation biotech entrepreneurs up to the ‘proof of concept’ stage. ABLE has also urged the government to exempt venture funds investing in the sector from capital gains tax. That can act as a reward for longer-term investment cycles.

Already a major hub, India has all that it takes to become a global biotech leader. This will not only spur economic growth and provide much-needed jobs, but also ensure that we find answers to modern-day challenges in healthcare, energy, food security, and the environment. However, biotechnology’s promise and India’s potential can be realised only if government and industry work together and draw up a road map to facilitate innovation.

The writer heads a biotech company.

18 More Months in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been America’s curse for the past one decade. What was the last decade misdeeds of America has been paid back. In 80s America trained Afghans with weapons and sophisticated technology to crush Russian forces. The same training is giving nightmares to America for a decade. Unable to get out of the Afghanistan mess the White House establishment has been clueless. Barack Obama the promised savior of America is trying his best to put an end to the American embarrassment in the troubled Asian soil. He might have bought another 18 months to crush the Al Qaeda network but the troubles will continue to complicate his image and leadership. It is better to phase out Allied troops in 18 months the time he had sought and leave it to the managerial skills of decade long trained Afghan nationals. If America cannot deliver the results and make Afghans to take care of their country it is utter shame. Ten years is not less time for this. Times of India writes on 3 December 2009 US president Barack Obama’s outlined plan for a troop surge in Afghanistan, coupled with an exit strategy setting July 2011 as the kickoff point for the withdrawal of US forces, is likely to attract criticism from both sides. Domestic public fatigue with the war may cause some to say he committed too much, while those wanting the US to stay the course will say he didn’t commit enough. But Obama has probably made the best of a bad situation. There are no easy answers in Afghanistan after seven years of mismanagement. Now, to obviate the danger of the Taliban deciding to simply wait out the US presence, a few focus areas are important. The first is ensuring that the Afghan government is in a position to deal with the Taliban once the US withdrawal starts. And for that, the prime necessity is an effective administration in Kabul. Without good governance, Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government will lack the legitimacy it needs to succeed against the Taliban. How exactly Washington can apply pressure without making Karzai seem a US stooge is problematic, but Obama hinted at it in his speech when he spoke of reaching out to local leaders and elders. It will serve both to build effective local governance systems and exert pressure on Karzai to clean up his act if he does not wish to be left out in the cold. Another important facet of beefing up the Afghan government is bolstering the Afghan police and military’s size and capabilities. At the same time, the complementary task of degrading the Taliban’s strength must be undertaken. For this too, reaching out to local leaders is important. But perhaps the crucial factor is Pakistan. If Islamabad allows militants safe havens, all the American efforts will be wasted. A US withdrawal with the Taliban’s Quetta shura still intact would mean that a decade of war and loss of life was for nothing. As for hardliners in Islamabad, they would do well to remember that July 2011 is simply the starting point for the withdrawal. The actual pace of the drawdown will depend on the situation on the ground. New Delhi must not cavil if large amounts of civilian aid flow into Pakistan, since that would shore up anti-militancy forces. It must, on the contrary, stay closely engaged with Washington and with Kabul, keep reminding Washington and other international capitals of the urgency of the task of turning Afghanistan around, and itself remain ready to help.

The north eastern state of Assam has been undergoing tremendous fissures due to the high voltage terrorist activities for many decades. The fragile political situation compounded by the natural calamities and underdevelopment has taken heavy toll on the state. Lack of strong political leadership combined with the total neglect of the centre has made the terrorist control impossible. After Naxal violence, North Eastern terror groups pose major challenge to the Indian security system.

The porous border with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar has been the worst troubles. Luckily Bangladesh government is ready to cooperate with the Indian security agencies to curb the anti-Indian forces. It is now up to the home minister and his officers to put an end to the terror menace in north-east and save the Indian paradise.

Times of India writes on 4 December 2009

Good news has finally followed bad in Assam. The Nalbari attack and just a few days before that, the burning of 12 tankers and derailment of four

train bogies at Jorhat had created the expectation that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) would ramp up its activities. But with the detention of Arabinda Rajkhowa, one of ULFA’s founders and its current ‘chairman’, the scenario has been turned on its head. If ever there was an opportunity for New Delhi to make progress in the state, this is it. ULFA’s pressure points have become apparent in the recent past, perversely enough after the Nalbari attack. The contradictory crosstalk that emerged from some of the organisation’s lower level leaders at that point highlighted the tension between the pro-talks and anti-talks factions within ULFA. Rajkhowa’s capture and New Delhi’s offer of safe passage he is firmly in the pro-talks camp provides an opportunity to focus on this.

The larger takeaway, however, may be about the north-east as a whole. By some accounts, there are over 120 militant groups operating in the region. At least 30 of them demand sovereignty. Factor in highly porous national borders and it becomes apparent that these are not problems New Delhi can resolve entirely on its own. That is why recent events in Bangladesh are heartening. Rajkhowa was not the first arrest. Biswa Mohan Deb Barman, National Liberation Front of Tripura president, as well as two other ULFA leaders and a Lashkar operative have been captured in the past few days.

These point to a new sensitivity to Indian concerns on the part of Dhaka. Without Dhaka cracking down on cross-border safe havens and training facilities, any north-east initiative by New Delhi would be made more difficult. Cooperation on the part of Nepal and Myanmar is a must as well. The revised extradition treaty with the former could be useful here. Admittedly, it may face hurdles due to domestic opposition in Nepal, but New Delhi must persist with low-key efforts to push it through. As for Myanmar, a potential way forward is one that was, in fact, suggested by Dhaka in 2008 when it mooted a counterterrorism treaty between all three countries.

But these initiatives will amount to little if New Delhi lacks political will in engaging rebel groups who want to talk, while putting pressure on those who don’t. Insurgency cannot be defeated unless at least a section of insurgents are weaned away and offered an honourable exit. The offer of unconditional talks with ULFA is a good one, but it is just the beginning. There should be enough of both carrots and sticks to bring rebel groups to the table.

Bad Debts and PSU Banks

The public sector banks are smashing all doom predictions and leaping forward. Despite the revenue addition and steady growth there are several loopholes. One of the grave gap is that bad debts which are mostly forced by rich, mighty and powerful. Day in and day out politicos and burst out business people bee line PSU banks for loans. Knowing fully well that they cannot repay the loan banks are forced to give them the required amount due to political pressures. I am remember the strict saying of a bank manager in Salem to an educational loan request. The boy who applied for the loan belonged to poor economic background. He got 1095 marks out of 1200 in HSLC exam. His parents are long standing small customers in the bank. They make potato chips and live hand to mouth existence. When I pointed out to the manager that he is duty bound to give educational loan to this poor boy, his prompt arrogant reply was “how can this potato maker repay Rs.70,000/- loan? I told him that the finance minister told the Lok Sabha “educational loans must be disbursed without collateral security for high scorers from the weak economic background. He shot at me “oh! finance ministers keep coming and going. Will they rescue if these people don’t repay”. Those strictness apart PSU banks have return off a whopping Rs.25,000 crores last years as bad debts.

Times of India writes on 2 December 2009

When everyone was raising a toast to the success of government-nurtured public sector banks (PSBs) for their canny business sense and for having posted robust growth backed by huge profits in the downturn, these desi financial institutions quietly wrote off bad debts running into thousands of crores in each financial year just to give their bottomlines a clean look.

According to statistics submitted by the finance ministry before Parliament on Friday, the government banks together in the last three years, since 2007, have written off nearly Rs 25,000 crore.

The figures are alarming when compared against the net recovery of these government entities and the fact that a part of these write-offs included one-time settlements (OTS) that the banks entered with its defaulters by agreeing to take a token amount against their outstandings and close the case.

This OTS scheme of banks had led to the fall of many criminal cases being prosecuted by the CBI in various courts, leading to the intervention of the Supreme Court last year. In many such cases the investigative agency had enough evidence of a collusion of bank officials with the “willful” defaulters.

According to government data, in 2007, against a recovery of Rs 9,200 crore, these PSBs had written off more than Rs 9,400 crore. The story was repeated in 2008 when against a recovery of Rs 9,300 crore these banks had written off Rs 8,000 crore. The net recovery in 2009 was about Rs 11,000 crore while write-offs exceeded Rs 7,400 crore.

The government’s claim that it has managed to bring down NPAs from 18% in 1997 to 2% at the end of March 2009 sounds hollow and highlights an alarming trend of “cooking” books to present a healthy status. Though in the previous year, a portion of write-offs also included agricultural loans, the net NPAs of these PSBs at Rs 44,000 crore at the end of last fiscal against an outstanding of Rs 21 lakh crore is likely to see a surge given these banks exposure to commercial real estate.

Total outstanding credit to the commercial real estate of Indian banks, both government-owned and private, at the end of March 2009 was Rs 91,500 crore as against Rs 63,000 crore till March 2008.