Does Government own You?


For thousands of years, humans did not have a form of government which took responsibility to manage and defend a nation or territory. Before government came into picture, the rule of law was based on the inalienable rights of an individual to his or her life, liberty and property. You might have read this principle of what is known as “natural rights” during your school years.

Fights and battles happened when one person or his army tried to violate this natural set of rights, and take away the life, liberty or property of one individual. That was not at all acceptable, and it was perfectly fine for the aggrieved individual to wage a fight against the aggressor.

With the advent of a system of government, people came under the government’s governance mechanism. In return for infrastructure, safety and security, the people were ready to pay taxes to cover the costs of governance. In essence, a social “compact” was struck between the society and the government which was elected by the society. The government assumed primacy in all matters pertaining to the state, running of the governmental affairs, dealing with other states, protecting the people, investing in infrastructure, et al.

The influence of the government on the society or any individual in the society is nothing short of phenomenal, whether we are living in a democratic society or not. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are no option to live “outside” of your society or country’s system of governance (after all, we don’t choose our parents or country of birth!). We can carry our thoughts which will never be subject to any external controls, but even our thoughts are subject to controls once explicitly expressed. This is the situation in many countries.

So, the question arises: which part of you the government owns? Whole or some part? The physical part or the mind part? Are we really fully free in any society? Does the government own us? Can the government take away our “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and property? Where does the government stop?

And so on and so forth………..can the government dictate to us on what we should be doing? Is it a facilitator or commander of your talent and skills?

Do we have the option to break our social “compact” and return to the nomadic way of life?

Do we subjugate ourselves to the primacy of the government which rules us? Do we totally give up?

Well, of course, we all know that the situation is not so dire in most countries. The government does not intervene in your personal life, unless there is a law and order problem. It really does not care.

Some governments, however, try to own you, commandeer you, and punish you if you commit offences not palatable to them. Taking away a citizen’s life, as we have seen recently appear to be quite extraordinary (I am referring here to the Kashoggi case in Istanbul). While I am stunned by the apparent indifference to the murder of an innocent civilian citizen in a diplomatic facility, let us not forget the foreign intelligence agencies of the top nations of the world routinely carry out targeted assassinations around the world, in countries where they do not have any jurisdiction. Torture, cruelty, killings and threats are all normal practices practiced every day in the name of national security, or if that does not work, in the name of regional security / protection of valuable allies / in the cause of world peace, etc.,

So, in a nutshell, be prepared at any time to be owned by your own government apparatus. And, if your country’s government is very closely connected with the the government(s) of the most powerful nations of the world, then you are in for an even scarier ride if your thoughts are on the wrong side of what these governments think is right. How about sympathizing with the suffering Palestinians, Uighurs, Yemenis or Rohingyas, just to name a few?

Food for lot of thought, I should say, pun intended!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th October 2018

Why do people get angry?


Anger Management is an old topic that I had covered sometime in the past.

After many years of experience taming my anger about things which I should anyway get angry about, I can safely say that anger is not a totally useless feeling.

You should feel angry about things which are pertinent to you as a person or to the society in which you are living. Anger falls under a range of emotions that we, as human beings feel and experience. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, if you do not feel angry about things which are unjust or which are harmful to you or to the society, then there is really something wrong with you. After all, we are all not saints.

Clearly, if you are wrongly targeted by someone, or you are wronged in an inappropriate manner, you should be angry, nothing wrong about that.

But then, getting angry does not mean that there is a free hand for expressing it in a violent or offensive manner. Most folks translate the feeling to wrong actions – even throwing things around the house for something which has gone wrong, is totally inappropriate. In the past, I used to get the urge to throw or destroy things in my way, after I got angry in the worst possible manner. It took me quite a while before I managed to control my behaviour. I realized that the destructive streak in many of us goes along with the strong feelings generated by anger, which is instigated by some very unpalatable happening. It is totally inappropriate and wrong to pursue that course of action, as destruction is not the way to resolve your anger.

It is best not to follow any examples for anger control and management, as it is a very personal effort. It is not connected with energy or passivity of an otherwise calm individual. Provacation has a price, and it exerts a damage. It is critical to avoid unnecessary prompts inducing unnecessary anger. For instance, I have seen people who are very angry with the way government behaves, or who are quite upset with law enforcement and its deficiencies. We should have the wisdom to distinguish between things which we can and cannot control.

This does not mean you cannot comment on the state of affairs. However, my point is that we should learn to separate emotion from our opinion. We should also recognize that there are always two sides to the coin, and everyone will have their own point of view. It is not that only our opinion is the most sacred one of all.

Anger is also relative – if we demonstrate our anger in an aggressive manner, we should not be shocked with a powerful retaliation of anger at a higher level. We should therefore be careful about directing our anger at unintended recipients, or even in a specific way as things could go rather wrong.

Anger also increases your stress and possibly your blood pressure. Why then initiate it? Stress harmone production caused by the anger feeling is not good for our health, and has long term implications. Blood pressure is a killer, as we all know. So why indulge in an unproductive feeling which causes destruction and produces unwanted health problems?

In a nutshell, while feeling angry is in itself not bad, connecting with anger in an emotional way and behaving in a destructive manner as a result, are not good signs of a stable person. Stability and calm demeanour are critical parameters for managing the anger that you feel on any matter inimical to your composure.

Inciting supporters against non-supporters is a good example of instigating fear, anxiety and anger amongst people out there in the open. President Trump managed to accomplish this act from the highest level of office in all of the U.S. I do not have to write more about the damage done to the democratic fabric of the American society in this context. We need to ask President Trump to control his anger and frustration about everything around him. Especially the anger he has shown towards the mainstream media which has not been useful or helpful at all.

Control your anger while understanding the cause of it, and deal with it in a calm way.

Have agreat weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th October 2018

Long Winding Road


As I sit down to write this post, I am influenced by the vast expanse of bluish-green water body surrounded by a green forest that looks at me everyday. It is a rarity in the concrete-dense Singapore that you get both a huge lake (reservoir) and a forest just in front of your building. I guess people will pine for such a view, though there are many seaview apartments in Singapore, or even ones overlooking a hill or greenery. But the combination of both water and greenery just outside all our windows and balcony mesmerizes me regularly, and throw in the beautiful sun setting in the evening into the water, and there you go, the poet in you will come out. In my case, I am no poet, so my blog post writer comes out!

My rumination today is about life – the long and winding road that we had crossed, and more such road ahead of us. I am thinking on what constituted my life and its long road till now – it has been a good journey, though there were plenty of surprises and some disappointments, like everyone else must have endured. I was shown the path to the main road by some very important people like my parents and one of my teachers in secondary school, and I followed that path. But once I hit the main road, I was in full control of it all by myself, with occasional guidance by some other important people who kept popping up along my “own road” – these are your guides and might include a variety of folks : your own family, your relatives, your classmates, your friends, your business colleagues, your bosses, your peers, your subordinates, your remote acquaintances, and so on and so forth. In my own road, I have been lucky to receive guidance and counsel from a few people who I cannot forget under any circumstances. There were detractors too, and I cannot forget them either.

But one thing I am clear in my head – it was just me who drove my own car along this long winding road. Nobdoy even taught me how to drive my own car! I figured out how to service my car, at what speed I should travel, who should be my car companion(s), and where to load up on petrol – if you see what I mean. Sometimes before my wedding, my car was empty, I was the sole occupant, and that is the time I gained my independence, individual thinking, acceptance of my own “self” as I was, and my own moral compass. I led my own life, and refused to be drawn into any kind of stereotype. Of course, I had the big challenge when someone understood where I came from just purely from my name: that is a tough one to crack as I was expected to behave and perform in a particular way, which I did not do most of the time.

If you do not fall into that behavioural pattern, then sometimes your “own road” could get longer, as you are outside the mainstream and too individualistic. I had this problem early on in my career and had to develop a response mechanism based on how well I did in my work. This carries on through your life, and your ability to steer clear and keep the head above generic conformity required to maintain a specific pattern actually increases and eventually makes you a deep thinker.

In my life, I had to change my “car” and take a “different road” once in a while, and that requires courage. The thing which requires a big courage is of course choosing your life companion. A wrong companion will derail your life for sure, but a good companion can make the journey a pleasant happy one while enhancing your ability to deal with steep curves on the life road. When I had to make a decision to move from Singapore to Mumbai in 2006, I depended a lot on my wife’s advice – it made the difficult shift a bit easier and allowed me to reach a level in my corporate life which I was looking for. You also add companions as you travel further – I mean your children. They will be your companions for quite a long while, but eventually will get down and choose their own set of car / road / life companion. They may proceed on an entirely different road, as is to be expected.

So, each one of us have our own vehicle, companion(s) and road. Sometimes our roads intersect and we happen to meet. Such meetings are essential especially when it involves an old friend, a classmate, a distant yet good-minded relative, or even your own children. You should ensure that such meetings continue to happen and cherish them for the memories they bring along as you continue your journey towards the end of the longish road.

Is there an end to your own longish winding road?

What do you think?

If you have lived your life well and have not committed any harm to others, there is actually no end to your road.

Am I blabbering? No. You are thinking death signifies the end of every individual’s road. Not true.

As a person loved by your own family and friends, as a human being who contributed in a positive sense to this world, as a life companion to your spouse, as a companion to your children, as a mentor to many colleagues in your professional life, your soul will linger on. For the soul, the road never ends, and it is permanently “marked” as your road with your name on it. Other people will remember you for many things, but most essentially for the good things you did.

So, your road goes on. On and on. Forever. And, your soul keeps travelling on it.

You just need imagination and a serious sense of purpose in your life to visualize what I am saying here, and I am sure you do. Think about it. Do good things to others. Contribute to the well being of all your “life companions”, and persuade them to follow their own conscience.

At the end of the day, it is our conscience and soul which matter to this world.

Your road never ends friend. Keep going, and Do good.

Have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

21st October 2018

Value of Human Life


It is a shame to see how worthless your life can be, if you are born and living in a Third World country.

In this context, as you rightly guessed, I am going to mention Africa, India, Middle East, some Asian countries, and China. May be there are plenty others, but as examples the above will do.

If you are born in a Western country, you can more or less rest assured that your country will fight to save you if you are incarcerated in any other country. If you are in your own country, you can be sure that no one is just going to take away your rights and your own right to your own life that easily (of course, here I have to mention rather strongly about how easy it is to take away a life in the most developed country on the planet – I mean the U.S. where the proliferation of guns has led to anarchy in most down town areas of large cities and elsewhere as well – like Churches, pubs and most of all, schools). However, notwithstanding such occurrences, the Western nations protect their own citizens wherever they are living, in general, at least by representing the case in a foreign court of law, and persuading foreign governments in the cause of their citizens.

Contrast that with the absolutely indifferent attitudes that governments of Third World nations depict towards their own citizens, specifically those still living within the respective borders. Human Life is simply worthless, and can easily be sacrificed in thousands of situations, which in general, won’t be tolerated in Western nations.

Look at the casual manner in which a Saudi journalist was murdered and dismembered in his own country’s Consulate in Istanbul couple of weeks ago, because he did not toe the line of the Saudi ruler. Look at the way in which China arrested a leading, well-known actress and the President of Interpol on the pretext of tax evasion or corruption, without a public hearing. Look at the way India treats its journalists and TV channels. Look at how easy it was for a train driver to kill 60 people celebrating a festival with fire crackers in North India couple of days ago – where lies the responsibility and where is the accountability?

Middle East and Africa have a whole lot of human rights violations, and that includes Israel’s unacceptable actions against unarmed Palestinian civilians. I like Israel as a nation with incredible human talent, but the way it treats non-Jewish folks needs urgent remediation. It has to think about the larger human tragedy at its borders which is not going to disappear. The tribal nature of many Middle East and African countries is hampering their development and integration into the global society. Economic integration might happen, but social connectivity will be very hard if they do not mend their ways and approach towards the critical importance of human life, human talent, and human contributions, irrespective of cultural angles and long-held customs. You can see some of these same tribal culture in North India in several states.

Look at how Myanmar has treated its Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority (I have written about this very sad situation) and is now struggling to take them back from Bangladesh, which demonstrated incredible humanity by hosting the Rohingyas in temporary camps and provided them with food.

Look at how President Duterte of the Philippines has tried to eradicate the drug menace in his country by simply choosing the option of murdering the drug addicts, drug peddlers, and innocent bystanders by brute police force. No elected official is a god, and remember, he has killed more than 12,000 citizens in a short span of 30 months or so in a highly religious, Catholic country.

The international community is weak in its protestations and actions against most of the above atrocities. What can it do, when sovereign nations make unfathomable, illegal and non-humanitarian decisions? Not much, you may think.

There is of course, a lot the international community can do, with the support of the Western nations. However, if the U.S. does not show strong commitment towards firmly eradicating some of the more egregious actions, then the world will continue to discount the value of human life.

The right to life needs to be strongly enshrined and promoted irrespective of political or sovereign affiliations. What is the difference between one human life in a Third World country and another in a Western country? None, in my opinion. No dollar value can be ascribed to any human life.

Well, that might sound moralistic, but it is not. The idea that someone’s life is only worth USD 20,000 in India at the bottom ladder of society, whereas that same life is worth USD 300,000 in another country doing similar work with similar family situation, only cries for a better and more non-judgemental view of life on this planet.

Looks like the pen is not stopping – I can write another couple of pages, I guess. This is a topic which has come to my mind quite often, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you also start thinking seriously. If the famous MBA schools cannot address this generic problem of evaluating and assessing the value of human life, then do you think that the MBA students are getting a real education for running their own lives?

THINK!

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

20th October 2018

Networking Neurons


As we grow older, we tend to keep our wisdom to ourselves nowadays, unlike our predecessors who pushed us when we were young or even middle-aged with their pearls of advice and wisdom from their own lives.

As the modern age progresses super fast in the 21st Century, our post-50 generation is losing its relevance rapidly as we are bothered that we might be out of touch with modern realities of life on the planet. Our children sometimes communicate that sense to us when they think that our ideas are old-fashioned or our words of wisdom are totally out of place. That is not surprising, as our children are obviously much closer to experiencing the reality of the lives of their generation with their classmates, friends and colleagues.

However, I certainly believe that there is a lot of factual advice that can be gleaned from our lives and our minds, as we are not exactly “old generation”. We form the link from the 1950s/1960s to the 21st Century, and have experienced the marvels of technology and what it feels to be in a digital world. Our lifestyles have modernized and changed for the better.

Yes, we do not wish to nag our children and their friends with unsolicited advice for sure. I am sure they will find their own way, while “at least” looking at how we have built our lives and currently living our dreams.

This thought process leads me to an existential question: if we are not talking that much within our households about the lessons of life, and focusing more on the mundane things of day-to-day life, then how does our brain build up to the next level of complex thinking? If sophisticated and analytical thinking goes out from our daily life, then what happens to our brains? If our brain is not able to provide a consulting service to even the folks around us, do you think we can sell its capability to external parties easily?

The potential decay in brain power can only be arrested if you network with a variety of people outside your usual circuit. My job affords me that capacity in which I meet at least 5 to 10 strangers every week. The development of your brain to be in a position to network with strangers and extract their mental capacity into your own thought process is strategic to your existence. We should never let our brain to fend for itself – we are no longer in an individualistic society of the 20th or 19th/18th/17th centuries when an individually capable scientist or philosopher conceptualized a discovery on his/her own. Things have changed a lot over the past 6 decades or so – now teamwork leads to bigger and better discoveries or theories.

So, in a nutshell, my theory here (!) is that the neurons in our brains need to keep growing. And, at a fast rate. The neurons cannot just grow if you just read or write (like this blog!!!). You need to get out and meet strangers who are more likely to infuse the neuron growth that you want.

That now brings me to the essence of networking fundamentals. Most of us are shy when we walk into a room full of mostly unknown people (this happens to me a lot), or attend a big conference. We mostly tend to ourselves, keep looking at our big smartphone, acting busy, et al……….we generally refuse to voluntarily connect with someone we don’t know.

Imagine you walk into a group and introduce yourself to a group of, let us say, 3 people chatting with each other. You can see a hint of surprise, but quickly they smile, shake hands, and become willing to exchange business cards. Once you introduce yourself and what you do, they sound more interested. May be a potential business meeting could come out of it in the near future – it has happened to me many a time.

I cannot emphasize more the critical importance of networking to your business and more importantly, the development of neurons in your brain!

Sounds fascinating?

Network more and keep a diary of who you met on your calendar. Try to recall the faces of the persons you met after a week. Try to think of the meeting or conference or lunch you attended. Try to think of the topic you discussed with a particular person.

You will see quickly that this “brain food” of networking works, and you can train your brain to flourish on it. Daily nurturing is needed for the brain. It is like going to the “brain gym”, so to say!

As our brain cells in the hippocampus areas start to “network” and constantly form “associations” with things and people, you will discover you not only recall peoples’ faces but also their names and the places where you met them. You will be able to recall the name of the restaurant wherein a dinner party was hosted by a business partner, and who all attended from either side of the table. And so on, and so forth.

So, if your wisdom cannot be articulated in a family environment, so be it. Unleash your brain’s networking neurons on strangers that you meet. They will be impacted positively, and so will you be.

Try it today!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th October 2018

96 and other movies


Over the past 10 days or so, I had the opportunity to see 4 movies, which is rather unusual. Nowadays, it has become my regular habit to see some Netflix serial to relax and I have become a fan of Netflix based on the variety of shows and movies that they present. I recently saw “The Angel” on Netflix which is a full movie involving Egypt – Israel war and relationship.

Since I was visiting Chennai last week, my family booked not one, but two movies which anyway they were planning to see in theatre – I was just added to the ticket list! I thought why not, let us see Kollywood fare for a change [Kollywood stands for movies produced in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu capital city in South India, as against Bollywood which identifies movies produced out of Bombay, or Mumbai, the movie capital of India].

My sister selected “96” and “Johnny English Strikes Again”. The first was a unique love story and the second was Mr Bean in action as a British intelligence agent. Again, unusual selection of movies for a change!

Apart from the above, I also saw “Imaikka Nodigal” yesterday, which is a rather strange, unusual Tamil thriller.

OK, now let me give you a quick rundown on what I think of these movies. These are not full movie reviews, just my short opinion. So, my view may not corroborate with what a generalist population thinks or how you feel. I refuse to fall into the cult of heroism of any movie actor or actress, which unfortunately plagues much of India. Whether I like an actor’s acting or not is not a reflection on what I think about that actor – it is the result of the actor’s acting under a particular set of constraints, directed by a director who may or may not be able to bring the best out of the actor, and also contributed in large measure by co-actors.

Given then that I am not a typical “movie buff” or a “hero/heroine follower”, I was pleased with the above selection overall. Let me outline my views as below:

“The Angel”: This is a true-life story of Ashraf Marwan, who was the son-in-law of Egyptian President, Gamel Abdel Nasser. Probably Marwan was a double-spy working both for Mossad of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. He is also probably the only hero felicitated in both Egypt and Israel as a national icon who persevered for peace between the two countries. The complex question of whether peace in the Middle East is worth the sacrifice of passing military secrets between two of the most critical nations at war is forever a challenging one to decipher. The mind of Marwan is portrayed as complex and sort of, convoluted. He struggles with himself while trying to do his job and save his family. His job becomes rather difficult given that he is viewed as an ineffectual son-in-law of a powerful President (Nasser). Israel’s Mossad handles Marwan well in the beginning but loses its confidence when key assertions by Marwan do not pan out.

An interesting and dramatic history lesson, “The Angel” is a fascinating watch – especially for us who are far removed from the Middle East.

“96”: This is a beautiful Tamil language movie centred on the teenage love between the two prime characters. It has an excellent cast, and a great director. The movie can be considered to be “slow” paced in today’s world. While I was seeing the movie, I was wondering what I did during my Grade X! Nothing unique, as I was not in a co-ed school anyway. This movie will prod you to reminisce on your school days, especially on the stupid things – I am not meaning the teenage infatuation here! Sorry!!

Nostalgia gets a new meaning when you experience what the characters go through in this movie. It happens to be a love story which did not go well, but it could have been anything. How the hero and heroine (who could not consummate their love) deal with a long night without even so much as touching each other is very well shot by the director and beautifully acted by the two actors. You would guess that they are on to “something” and that is what the friends of the two actors also think, going by visual and body language. Nothing of that sort happens though, and the heroine returns to her family while longing for what she has lost in her life by some stupid reaction. See the movie for learning what she did in college!

“Johnny English Strikes Again”: Absolute nonsense made enjoyable by the antics of our favourite comedian of all times, Mr Bean. I would not gone to see this movie in a theatre spending some serious money as it is all the same nonsense anyway when it comes to British spy stories. This is a ridiculous story about some software bloke who steals the identities of all secret service agents in Britain, and so the government leans on Johnny English to save the Queen’s country from blackmail. The unique point in this movie is the depiction of “older analogue” technologies by an agent who has not yet comprehended the latest digital technologies of spying and warfare. He still wins (he has to, of course), but then everything about this movie is not realistic or believable at all. For some time passing and laughter, yes go and see it. But is it worth spending money on? No, not at all. Mr Bean should stop acting in such totally stupid movies when even the common man thinks it is totally rubbish when Mr Bean cannot even handle an app on his smartphone and trashes it. How is he even going to get his position on the map? Give it a miss.

“Imaikka Nodigal” Absolute thriller with lots of twists and turns. I did not expect the last 15 minutes which reveals who is the actual murderer on the loose. The suspense is kept on for almost the entire duration of the movie and the audience suspects that it is someone who has been revealed by the director early on in the movie – but that does not turn out to be entirely true. This movie is in the league of high quality Hollywood movies of the same genre. That a director of the calibre of Anurag Kashyap from Bollywood can act so well (he is the menacing serial killer in this movie) is a huge surprise. The director has done an amazing job – excellent movie.

Enjoy your weekend, folks! And, see some good movies!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th October 2018

 

 

 

Laughing Stock


The widely covered and reported saga of Brett Kavanaugh for appointment as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has become a laughing stock for all the world to witness as an example of things which have gone wrong in the U.S. democratic system of governance.

It was apparent from the beginning that the FBI had not conducted a thorough check of the background of Judge Kavanaugh. At least it was clear that the FBI had not dialled back even up to his Yale college days, an investigation of which would have provided grist upon his bad drinking habits and sexual exposition.

While what happened at age 17 or 18 should not be of major concern after 36 years have passed (though disturbing if you had seen the testimony of Dr Christine Ford in the Senate Judiciary Committe hearing), the key aspect for any public appointment, and more so for a judicial appointment, is integrity, and it was apparent that Judge Kavanaugh lied in his testimony about his drinking problem. Lying is clearly a non-starter in pursuing public office, and apart from this, it was also clear that the Judge was a wild adolescent and then a wild adult during his Yale college days. I cannot recall any other appointment which has caused such a major controversy, partisan split, and serious doubts about the adequacy of the candidate (not his competency).

In India, the Judicial Collegium shortlists and recommends judicial nominees for the government to approve. While there has been a serious disconnect between the Indian Supreme Court and the government on the last such appointment a few months ago, the government had to ultimately yield to the Collegium. There is no public hearing for public service appointments in India.

I am not suggesting that the Indian system of selecting judges is better, but it is important to recognize alternative systems are in place around the world. Not that there is no controversy – we know that the last judicial appointment led to a tough public fight between the Supreme Court and the government, represented by the Law Minister (India’s equivalent of Jeff Sessions).

Of course, the whole world looks up to the example of the U.S. democracy in full action, as it played out in this case in a totally public fashion. Every day, right through all of September, the world witnessed the intense testimonies and the tough questioning of Judge Kavanaugh at the U.S. Senate.

There is one long-standing and widely respected (though now widely adopted) principle in public service life in democratic nations, and that is simply the following: even if there is an iota of doubt about a nominee for high office in the minds of the selectors, as to his/her complete suitability, competency, integrity, and commitment, then that nominee needs to be thoroughly investigated, and in most cases the nomination should be withdrawn for the greater good of the larger public. The loss of faith in the ability of one to discharge public duties and service cannot be sustained if there is a slight doubt on one’s integrity.

The argument that the nominee’s reputation and future are irreversibly damaged by unsubstantiated and unverified allegations, and so these accusations should be dispensed with forthright, is not amenable to a logical and rational interpretation on how nominees should be prepared for a totally open and transparent yet risky interrogation and investigation.

Given what has transpired, especially the emotional outbursts of Judge Kavanaugh against Democratic Senators who questioned him vigorously and his explicit allegiance to President Trump and the ideals of the GOP, it would be rather interesting to carefully watch how Justice Kavanaugh plays out and leverages the conservative majority in the Supreme Court in the months and years to come. Don’t forget the fact that the Supreme Court appointments are for lifetime, and so what happens to the decisions of the Supreme Court now tainted by overt partisanship is no longer anybody’s guess – it will hit Americans in a way they would not have imagined till now.

Well, the idiosyncracies of democracy are well known. Unfortunately, there are significant negatives and inefficiency in the system of checks and balances.

Let us see how this drama unfolds in critical legal policy issues confronting the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2018

Traffic Anarchy


I have been in Chennai, India for the past couple of days.

I do not have my laptop with me during this trip, so I am keying this blog post on my iPhone, for the first time ever! Its a bit strange though, however not that inconvenient to type.

The rainy season has started in Tamil Nadu State, with the threat of a cyclone coming during this weekend. While the State Government has issued warnings via a “red alert” for this Sunday 7th October, people don’t seem to be bothering, and everything looks normal on the roads, with occasional drizzles and some good rains during night times. I did not see many folks with umbrellas, which seemed strange, given the potential hazards of getting drenched in heavy rains anytime during the day. I became like the local folks, and decided not to take the umbrella yesterday when my mom proferred one with the warning that rains were coming – I walked out like an absolute local with no cover over my head. And it was drizzling a bit, and I enjoyed it, though I had no intent of getting drenched in the rain!

I got into an auto rickshaw, the affordable three-wheeler still dominating the streets of most cities and towns in India. I had booked the vehicle using the OLA app (similar to UBER or GRAB app), which provides dynamic real-time pricing, and had lot of difficulty in securing one due to the rains. It was annoying to keep getting the same message “no autos are available now – please try again later”, and also keep seeing an ever-increasing price every time. Finally, I had to pay more (like a surge price), and get an auto, it took nearly 30 minutes overall, which was not a pleasant waiting experience. Of course, I am not blaming the OLA app itself, as it cannot do much if even the higher real-time pricing does not elicit a response from the auto drivers who are waiting nearby to my location.

Now, let me come to the traffic part.

Indian cities (except a couple) are notorious for their disorganized and uncontrolled traffic conditions on even the arterial city roads. The road in which my apartment is located is known for its bad traffic all day round, with couple of large shopping malls, many apartment blocks, cinema theatres, a bus terminus, a major hospital and a large IT company building, all located within a stretch of less than 1 KM. I have to almost always make a U-turn just ahead of my apartment to get to the city, and that other side of the road is always super congested.

I suggested to my auto driver that he should take a short cut via some lane instead of joining the bursting traffic on the other side of the road, as I was making a rather short trip to the post office nearby and did not wish to waste a lot of time on the road.

He thought for some 5 seconds and decided to U-turn on my side of the road itself, and started driving against the oncoming traffic to my horror! He asked me not to worry!! The beauty was that the traffic coming against us “slightly” adjusted their traffic curvature to accommodate our vehicle, making a “sincere” attempt to avoid hitting us!!! This “adjustment” is a unique part of the driving culture in India.

After some 30 metres or so, he deftly turned into a side road and proceeded in the “right” side of the traffic, and was able to reach the desired traffic junction undercutting all of the traffic chaos on the other side of my main road by making appropriate quick turns!

Looks like many folks (except cars and heavy vehicles) are doing the same motions to undercut the traffic, with the potential threat of a traffic cop stopping the vehicle anytime, and issuing a traffic violation ticket, or demanding a hefty “contribution”.

Coming to think of it, it is not possible to get control of the city traffic situation in most cities of India without some sort of “ERP” system like that of Singapore – ERP stands for Electronic Road Pricing, and it is a dynamic road pricing system which increases the cost to drivers at peak traffic times. There will be huge protests if such a system is introduced in India, but I believe that there is no alternative due to the lack of proper, well maintained roads and also lack of adequate road space and improper/illegal constructions occupying road corners. Singapore has successfully and effectively used ERP to control traffic congestion for the past two decades.

With the rains hitting Chennai, I could see the very badly maintained roads taking further hits, creating big holes on the roads which are dangerous to all drivers, especially to the smaller vehicles such as autos and two wheelers. Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs?

The traffic situation is bad especially during the rains, but I discovered the joys of listening to music like Abba, Boney M, and Ed Sheeren using Spotify app on my iPhone. Music one likes or loves to hear would reduce the the stress on Indian roads. Now I am downloading more songs via Spotify! Hopefully, other drivers will resort to some such non-distracting driving aids while encountering the chaos and the poor roads.

In any case, there is no escape from going outside the cosy house and doing your job. Millions of people endure this traffic anarchy right through the day, and they must be always wondering “when is someone going to put an end to all this chaos?”.

Have a wonderful, rain-soaked weekend, folks! At least the folks in South India!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th October 2018