The terrible loss of privacy


Privacy is a funny aspect of life.

Most institutions and corporations we deal with in our lives demand that we sign off on dotted lines when it comes to providing them access to our very personal data. Most consumer companies do the same thing. Governments have always asked for our data. However, the phenomenon of giving away our total freedom and personal data to social media giants did not bother us for a long time. Until last week.

I am referring to the data breach on 50M Americans who have accounts with Facebook. Well, this is not the first instance, but in terms of scale it is the biggest ever. There have been hacks on Apple’s iCloud, releasing personal data of celebrities. There have been other hacks such as the bad one on Yahoo mail.

But, people forget and forgive, the reason being that they still need the services of the social media companies, cloud service providers and email operators. There is just no alternative to leading one’s life today – if an individual is not on Facebook, he does not exist – not just virtually, but physically as well! He or she is ignored for lack of digital savviness, or inability to be in sync with the rest of the world which seems to be rushing into Twitter, Instagram, Snap, WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, Google’s variety of offerings including of course Search, and so many such digital tools.

So, things will be back to normal after a few months for Facebook. They will undergo detailed investigation that is reserved for Russian hackers, questioned on Capitol Hill, excoriated in the “adult” networking circuit, and punished in some way, like being forced to implement tougher security measures. Facebook’s reputation currently is in the dumps, and they should not be trusted as they have traded their users’ data. But apart from all this, do you think that anything substantive will happen to them? There are more than 2B users who depend on Facebook for communication. Not me however – I never seriously used the consumer version of Facebook, though I have an account with very sparse data on myself (I however use a corporate version of Facebook behind my company’s firewall for internal teamwork and collaboration, along with other tools such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer).

So here I am – not a regular user of the consumer version of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al, but a serious blogger on this WordPress platform and LinkedIn user. I select what I wish to do, and cannot be led to use some tool that I do not wish to use. Further, I am careful not to accept terms and conditions of these tool makers and platform owners, and do not click to give access to all my data voluntarily. Neither do I agree for unsolicited marketing communications from these folks or their marketing collaborators, though sometimes it is made difficult not to agree.

The question is – what is more important: maintain privacy or lose it due to either the lack of security of the provider or his desire to sell off my data for money? In my case, the answer is crystal clear – I would rather forego the convenience of “checking into” Facebook and detailing what I am up to, or posting my photographs enjoying a vacation with my family, but safeguard whatever little privacy that I still have. It is not necessary for the entire world or my friends and relatives, or for any government, to know what I am doing at this moment (I am blogging now!). It is irrelevant to them, but it is critical for maintaining my sanity. It is not that I am anti-social – I am in multiple WhatsApp groups – but I wish to remain private. I do not respond to LinkedIn invites from people who I have not yet met. I should know the person through a referral or I should have met that person before I would even consider accepting the invite.

Nothing wrong with wanting to be a private individual. However, we know that most teenagers willingly give away their most personal data on the Facebook platform. The issue is that Facebook cannot be trusted to keep that data totally private and secure.  We do not know for sure that the data is safe and secure. We also do not know if they had traded our data for money. We never knew that Facebook gave away the data on 50M Americans to a U.K. Professor for some vague research, who in turn handed that out to the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.

It is more important to spend F2F (“Face to Face”) time with friends, relatives and family, like in the old times. It is more important not to be influenced by hate speech and lectures that are posted on all social media platforms. Did we live without a mobile phone or social media platforms in the past? Did we live a life without networking? We did live well, but I believe we did not learn to adopt technology well in the 21st Century. We just blindly jumped into all that is new without much analysis.

I am not against any of these innovative tools and platforms which have created enormous value to equity investors and users. I think we need to be extra careful in how and why we use these in our lives. Do we give our date of birth or place of birth to our neighbours or strangers? We don’t. We do not share any personal data in public. The same caution applies when we venture into digital space. We cannot ignore the fact that digital platforms are fast proliferating across our lives, and will come to dominate all facets of our existence. We may not be able to order ice cream without a social media account in future, or something as ridiculous as that.

Welcome to a world less private, more intrusive, less secure, and more dangerous as a result.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

I am happy to share the fact that I am now allowed one glass of wine, and I will soon be posting on the wine I had and the experience of de-addiction to wine.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2018

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The impotence of the global order


I return to one of my favourite topics after many months!

It took a serious struggle in the U.N. Security Council for the 15 members to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire for 30 days. What does that say about our global peacemaking council, and what does that say about armchair leaders in world capitals who dictate to their U.N. Ambassadors about how to vote for the Security Council resolution? After all, the 30 day truce was just for delivering food and medical aid to the suffering civilians who have been bombarded constantly.

It is OK for them that innocent civilians die every hour in Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus in Syria. While I am not fond of Nikki Haley’s vituperative outbursts every time she encounters Russia at the U.N. Security Council, I am now questioning the motives of Russia. It is collaborating with Syrian government in bombing the civilian areas in Eastern Ghouta, and apparently, the U.S. or allied forces cannot help the rebels holed up in this region as it will inevitably lead to a war with Russia. While I am also not supporting the misadventure of the U.S. in the Syrian struggle, I think wherever these two great nations have interfered, it has led to serious wars and bloodbaths such as in Afghanistan starting from the late Seventies. What do these countries gain? Of course, power and influence, the ability to maintain a naval or air base, and to counter each other in this global warfare. Unfortunately, the people who are dying are not the military forces of either side, but poor civilians long suffering under the brutal President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. President Bashar apparently likes to clean out his own countrymen along with the rebels fighting him. And, President Putin of Russia is his most ardent supporter.

For good measure, we have Turkey, Iran and Iraq also involved in this war in someway or the other. Turkey does not want the U.S. to collaborate with the Kurds who are helping in the fight against the ISIS in Syria. Iran seems to be having its own plans. In a nutshell, Syria is a total mess.

My suggestion would be to bring the entire country under the auspices of a U.N. Peacekeeping Force. This would require a hardcore negotiation with President Bashar, but Russia will stop any such initiative dead on its tracks, as it does not want any direct U.N. involvement. It suits Russia and the U.S. to directly get involved and oppose each other in a huge proxy battle with the Syrian civilians as the casualty. This is a total and abject failure of the U.N. system and the global leaders who are responsible to bring any genocide to a complete stop. Just because people live in a rebel-controlled area (they have always lived in the area) does not mean they are traitors to the Syrian government. This interpretation is totally wrong and completely objectionable. Where will these people go anyway in the face of continuous bombardment? Why should civilians suffer like this even in the 21st Century? The same is the case in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia bombarding the people there because it does not agree with the political situation in that country. Thousands of people are dead in the Yemen war.

There is no respite in the Middle East, which must be the most bombed region after the battles in the Second World War. The Western nations (the U.S., the U.K., France, Australia) have used all their latest ammunition in the Middle East wars over the past 17 years (and even before that in the Kuwait vs Iraq war). Russia is now trying out its latest gear in Syria to ensure all their equipment do indeed work, and also to demonstrate to Europe and to the U.S. that it has missiles and planes which can deliver big damage, so don’t mess with us………….

Unfortunately, the only global mechanism we have is the U.N. and its almost useless Security Council.

There is nothing much else that can be achieved if the big countries who hold veto power cannot see eye to eye. I also believe Nikki Haley should use her considerable negotiation tactics instead of just shouting at the Russians who simply ignore her. There is just no point – she needs to work with her allies to get Russia into backroom negotiations and offer sops to Russia like not enhancing the already stiff sanctions regime that has been imposed on Russia for its indiscretions in Ukraine and Crimea. One cannot keep punishing a global power continuously, and blaming it domestically for election interference all the time, while expecting cooperation on tough global war-like matters, like in Syria. What is the point? The manner in which Nikki Haley operates is inconsistent with her boss’s approach – and the boss is President Trump, who wants to “work with” Russia, of course.

So, in a nutshell, it all again goes back to super power rivalry. The U.S. diplomats may not like Russia or President Putin. The Western nations may not like them either. But, do they have a choice?

Absolutely not.

And, where is the other super power – I mean, China? Just behind Russia, all the time. You get not one veto, but two.

Negotiate in good faith and without the theatrics and drama.

And, achieve peace for all. Stop the bombing, and save the remaining people, all of them.

Stop the total failure of the U.N. system.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th February 2018

 

Enjoy the “Smallness” of Life


The more I think of it, the more I do – I am referring here to the small, silly things in life that we usually do not focus upon, given our general reluctance to indulge in rather “small” things and what I call as things which appear, prima facie, to be inconsequential. It is funny that we struggle to achieve the “big” things in life (at least what we think are big), and in the process, fail to enjoy what life offers to us. After achieving, or sometimes not achieving, the “big” thing, we set the goal of the next “big” or even “bigger” thing that we should definitely go after in life. And, so the life goes on.

In the process, we forget how to relish, how to enjoy the nice little things that life offers. We do not take the time (as we did many years ago) to enjoy reading the newspaper with a cup of steaming hot cup of coffee, and commenting on certain unsavoury news items to whoever is nearby, most often to our spouses. We would rather hurriedly look at the news headlines of the newspaper, decide it is meaningless quickly, and jump into the smartphone app of the most common news websites, and start browsing while walking, or doing something else. We do not take the time to talk to our own children in a leisurely manner (not just “how you are doing” and “what is happening in school”, and “how did you do in last week’s tests”, etc.,). We do not indulge in excavating the inner selves of people in our own family, while we are prepared to do it to our office colleagues, partners, and clients. We do not even spend time talking to our spouse – he or she might have clues about how to plan or execute certain things, better than we do (they usually are). We do not indulge in “small talk” with our friends who have known us for several decades in some instances. We tend to be formal, and “official”, in terms of communicating our body language to these “receivers” of antenna signals – converting what is essentially a personal relationship to a professional or formal talk.

Why is this happening? What are the reasons for such behavioural tendencies? Who do we not take people around us, those close to us, seriously, and spend more quality time with them?

The reasons are not difficult to find. In most situations, we are stressed out in our own lives (I mean in the simple execution of simple lives); in other situations, we are distracted. In very few circumstances, people find incompatibility, though it is rare after spending few decades in building a partnership with your spouse, or nourishing a friendship with your close friend. However, it is not totally unusual. Our own friends may sometimes desert us causing big pain in our hearts. It has happened to me. After all, everyone has a choice in life to follow a certain path in collaboration with certain others – the immediate ones are the family and close friends. It is understandable that very close friends move away to distant countries and lose touch with us eventually, but it is rather unusual when someone close to you completely drops you and stops responding to you, though apparently you have done nothing wrong. That causes severe pain.

I have come to realise that in life, small things matter a lot more than the big things such as financial gains, material possessions, type of car, et al. When someone connects with you genuinely, sincerely, and in a devoted manner, then life brightens. It may not necessarily for mutual gain of any sort, but rather to seek a true “connection” for lifelong companionship. It is not easy to secure that kind of connection. I have been fortunate to connect with a number of my school and college mates, and few of my ex-colleagues, and maintain those connections on a regular basis. As we all know, for sustenance, relationships have to be nurtured regularly, consistently, and with genuine affection.

In a brand-conscious, status-conscious, and wealthy society, it is often difficult to maintain a life focused on enjoying the small pleasures of life. I remember when I was buying my most recent car, one of my senior colleagues told me that I should go in for Audi, even a second-hand one, as it conveys that you are at a senior level in an organization, and secondly is compatible with the societal expectations. Given the socialist I am, I chose a Nissan which is almost faceless, though I could have gone in for the Audi. Apart from my social ideology, I also realized that in a small city one would need a car only if it is really needed for the family. And all cars take you from point A to point B on almost the same route, under the same road conditions, in similar comfort. So, why bother about more expensive toys?

Another person asked me if I tailor my shirts – I said no. Most of my shirts cost SGD 29, sometimes SGD 39, but I did not tell him that. It is rather puerile that people indulge in such talk, or evaluate you by the shoes you are wearing.

In any case, life is made up of a series of small things which need to be examined and enjoyed. It always is – unless you want to shake up things in a rather big way, affecting people around you. Nothing wrong with that, life can be pursued in many different ways for sure, but do not ignore small things as taking a walk to the nearest coffee shop with your spouse, or going to buy groceries, or fruits and vegetables, or assisting your children to purchase a good non-fiction book and combining that with a nice chocolate cake. In a nutshell, life is small and forgettable for most folks, however we can make it unforgettable by focusing on the small yet important things in our lives. Go for it!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st January 2018

Revolution


If there is a people-driven revolution in any autocratic country, that is a good sign. After all, the legitimacy of even a theocratic state is based on the support of its citizens. There is no god-given authority to any human to rule over his or her “subjects” – such anachronisms continue to damage the real strength of people even in democratic nations such as England. I had recently written about The Republic of England.

The people revolution that is occurring in Iran is a good example of how the citizens of a country can protest, in a non-violent manner, against the social and economic conditions afflicting them. There is actually no real explanation that the Iranian Government can provide, except to flex its police and military muscle. Such things happen even in purely democratic, non-theocratic, non-autocratic nations of the world.

Iran is a special case however. The 1979 people revolution comes to mind, when thousands of protesters took to the streets against the Shah of Iran and the U.S. Government’s intervention in Iranian affiars (the U.S. is very famous for interfering and intervening in the affairs of almost all countries under a coordinated C.I.A. strategy over the past 7 decades). The Shah of Iran was overthrown, and the protesters took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran holding hundreds of hostages.

So, Iran is not immune to civilian and student protests. It is a well-developed country, with a social development and people maturity comparable to many Western nations. The theocratic approach to governing what is the most advanced country in the Middle East has resulted in serious skirmishes with the U.S. which does not, obviously, like to deal with religious figures and considers political figures as too weak to negotiate.

After couple of false starts, here comes another chance for the long-suffering Iranians to assert their human rights, not as stooges of the U.S. or any other Western country, but as rightful owners of their own proud country whose history dates back thousands of years of enlightened civilization and growth. Of course, they are going to be repressed by the police and military in a brutal fashion, which is happening now. More than 20 civilians have been killed in the protests over the last week or so, and hundreds are incarcerated with potential, nay, guaranteed torture in unknown jails or locations.

The human spirit is so strong that it cannot be repressed for too long. We have seen that consistently over many centuries, and that revelation is irrespective of the country, ethnicity, religion or war. It always comes back to assert its superiority over the mundane affairs which holds it back for many years.

In the case of Iran, the U.S. would do well not to interfere. The Iranians know the pitfalls of “external” interference which would quickly be translated as “foreign support” for the protesters by the Government and the military. While President Trump and the U.N.S.C.  Permanent Representative Nikki Haley relish the “big” opportunity to hit back at Iran and extend their unequivocal support for the Iranian citizens, and even call for an emergency session of the Security Council, all these actions and tweets are being interpreted in a rather different manner by the folks who run the religion, the government and the military of Iran. It is not going to be easy to seek a regime change, which has always been the single most important objective of the U.S. despite its ardent denials. The people of Iran have to do what it takes to secure a more positive outcome for themselves and their country without any external help, and that is going to take a lot of sacrifice and time.

In a nutshell, the Iranian people protests again prove that social and economic challenges are more important to people than politics and conflicts and wars. It is irrelevant to them if Iran wins over Yemen or Lebanon, or scores a political victory over Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Qatar. How does that matter to Iranians at the end of the day? Economy is suffering in what could be the most dynamic Middle Eastern country of all for the past nearly 4 decades – even better and stronger than Saudi Arabia. Iran needs to work with other democracies to deliver better results to its own people instead of securing just propaganda wins. If the U.S. continues to impose more severe sanctions against Iran, it is only a question of time before there is an economic collapse or there is a war instigated by one of these countries on some pretext or the other.

Given that the U.S. under President Trump is not going to be nice towards Iran, and would make all attempts to prevent the other top Western nations such as the U.K., England, France and Germany from developing a partnership with Iran in any economic sphere, there is no choice left for Iran. Except to work more closely with Russia and China.

At the end of the day, Iran has to drop its territorial ambitions, drop its political and military interventions/support in other Middle Eastern countries, strictly adhere to the nuclear deal signed in 2015, restrain its ballistic missile testing, and fall in line with the expectations of the world community (not necessarily that of the U.S.). For achieving this, it has to work real hard with the U.N. and few large countries in a deliberate and well-articulated manner over the next couple of years.

That would be the best way to eliminate the potential for a damaging war with the U.S., vastly reduce the economic misery of its people, and realize its scientific and technological ambitions to be a real world leader (the only one from the Middle East, apart from Israel).

Now is the time to do it, without giving further cause to more people revolutions – if nothing is done, something similar to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy is likely to recur.

Cheers to the Iranian people,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

06 January 2018

 

Welcome to 2018


We welcomed the New Year in Singapore with non-stop rains, which played spoil sport for the thousands of party goers assembled at multiple venues for cheering the arrival of a new year. This past year has been a successful one for the Singapore economy with GDP growth almost doubling from its original forecast, and a general uplift in the mood of people with increasing income levels. Real estate prices are climbing yet again after several years of tightening measures by the government. Jobs are available for the right skilled people. Immigration is under check. Workers are adapting to newer technologies. Population of “smart” workers is on the rise. MNCs still view Singapore as a critical piece of their Asia Pacific expansion and growth strategy. Home rents are lower thanks to an oversupply of apartments. New Healthcare initiatives are being rolled out.

However, the world around does not share similar performance as that of Singapore, even in the immediate neighbourhood. While young Asians share an optimism about their future prospects, the Asian governments need to balance their thirst for economic growth and advancement and their strong desire to maintain social order and stability. This is an issue even with developed countries, so it is not new. However, the younger demographics of Asia could pose a tough challenge to governments. The younger generation has been defined by social media proliferation and intense networking, and share a common desire to break away from traditional viewpoints, often espoused with strong vigour by many Asian government leaders.

This is one reason why the Singapore government is infusing its party and ministerial line-up with younger, high-potential leaders. I am sure several other governments in Asia are also thinking and executing along the same lines. It is more critical and important to have an energetic global view of governance and its challenges, rather than just fall in line and toe the party line. Younger generation of today brings unbridled energy, enthusiasm, drive and passion to whatever they do, and if they feel they are not going to be heard, then they will head for the exits – it is not going to be a revolution of sorts, but going where they can be heard and can play a crucial role via contributing to the rise of new technologies. Governments so should devise a strong policy framework to keep their younger talent at home (at least a majority of them), rather than lose them to the same set of developed nations who provide a better ecosystem for such young workers.

The U.S. still remains the bastion of new ideas, despite the damaging influence of President Donald Trump. May be he will go away, and then the new President would liberalize the country and its tech-driven economy, and also further integrate the U.S. with its major trading partners more closely. The world will wait for that to happen. Nevertheless, people with dreams will still find a way to migrate to California.

Now, on another critical topic of interest to all global citizens:

2018 promises to be a year with lot of hopes, aspirations, desires and dreams. Global citizens should unite to stop war threats, and hold the U.N. accountable for ensuring peace in war-ravaged countries. Civilian casualties should completely stop. The International Criminal Court should prosecute more war criminals, keeping its mandate strictly in mind. Lack of peace and war-mongering are the antitheses of economic growth and social development. Let us not forget that there is more investment on offensive weapons and ammunition than on building national infrastructure, providing a higher quality of primary and secondary school education, ensuring a high quality of national healthcare, and other key people-oriented initiatives that governments should consciously implement with the tax payers’ money.

More weapons, higher the stock prices of the defence systems contractors. Who else benefits?

Given that the global wish is to have a peaceful 2018, let us all petition the U.N., the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. President Donald Trump (no choice folks!), to stop all ongoing wars, and not to start a new one, and to commit not to use nuclear weapons irrespective of irresponsible provocations by rogue regimes. This is the best outcome for a peaceful world in 2018. Our collective conscience should demonstrate our joint commitment to demand that our leaders listen to our collective voice, and act based on that voice. People have a vote, a voice and of course, they pay taxes. Expecting leaders to listen is not an “out of the world” requirement.

So, friends, let us dedicate all our joint efforts in the coming months to stop wars. Please run through some of the anti-war initiatives in the following websites:

United National Antiwar Coalition

Peace and Security: UNITED NATIONS

United for Peace and Justice

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (which won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017)

List of Anti-War Organizations

I strongly feel about this anti-war philosophy – every day brings news on atrocities committed by governments, sometimes on their own citizens, and on other governments which are waging wars under the pseudo-umbrella of a “coalition” against all norms of humanity, civilization, and decency. How can killing of innocent civilians and children benefit any country? I fail to understand the concept of “war” perpetrated by countries with advanced weapons against poor, innocent civilians in the name of obliterating an opposing political or religious philosophy that they are not comfortable with. And, in all this, our great U.N. has been found to be wanting, totally lacking of firm leadership.

I can go on and on, but it is very important for all of you to stop for a few minutes and think, especially those of you living in developed countries. The planet is under threat of wars and an impending nuclear cloud. If you think you can escape by virtue of living in an advanced country, you are totally and clearly mistaken with an absolute lack of understanding of these threats which could become rather real in 2018.

Welcome to a challenging, yet promising New Year folks!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 January 2018

The Passing of an Eventful 2017


Today is the last day of 2017.

What an eventful year it was – every year has some significant events which define it. However, 2017 was one of those years which had multiple significant events trying to define it, the most important one being the coronation (!) of Donald Trump as the President of the U.S. in January 2017.

That changed almost every other significant event in the entire world – Trump changed the world order for everything significant. It became a topsy turvy world defined by uncertainty, chaos, confusion, war-mongering, spiced up elections, enhanced killing of civilians, increase in the number of refugees, increase in the severe perpetration of atrocities on ethnic minorities, diplomacy torn to tatters, more urban violence, intolerance towards minority races, testing of long-established alliances, threat to dismantle trade partnerships, ruinous twitter shots, anti-immigrant rhetoric, vilifying genuine polictical opponents, and what not. The list is endless, but the defining moment of the year was the unexpected anointing of Donald Trump as the most temperamental power-mongering trigger-happy IDK (I don’t know or care) president of the most powerful nation on earth.

If the U.S. is making diplomatic and militaristic waves in the North American continent, the U.K. is making a different set of waves in an economic and trade sense, in Europe via its Brexit separation from the European Union. While massive chaos has not followed the Brexit vote, it is likely that the full impact of this separation would be felt in 2018/19, as both entities resolve trade, immigration, security and other issues between themselves. In Asia, the country which is making most of the persistent waves of a destructive impact would be none other than China, which is intent on flexing its military and political muscle towards an unreasonable, unjustified nationalistic expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of the South East Asian countries. While Japan and India are acting as joint counter-balance to the rising influence and belligerence of China, they would not be able to match China, without the active involvement and participation of the U.S.

The most peaceful economic rise is that of India. While marked down by the demonetization and the national goods and services tax initiatives, India is recovering and is on the verge of exceeding a 7% GDP growth rate, soon to reclaim as the fastest growing large economy on the planet. Such a focused, sustainable growth rate is expected to lift 200 to 300 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 to 5 years.

2017 saw military conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria – all in the Middle East. An accurate tally of the human cost of these conflicts is not available, even from the United Nations, but it is safe to assume that a million or more civilian lives has been lost in these countries. It appears that human lives are the easiest expendable commodity that is available to policy makers in both political/government and military circles. This is a pathetic evolution of unnecessary warfare on civilians who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot be defended by their own weak governments. A totally ridiculous situation which even the most sober people in the world are not able to address and resolve to this day.

The ejection of the Rohingya Muslim community by Myanmar is another sad refugee story, which is tainted by lots of blood in the hands of the government and the arumy. The glorified leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung Saan Suu Kyi of Myanmar, has not done herself any favour, by not speaking out loudly and clearly on the ethnic cleansing which has characterized the army operations against the Rohingyas. The United Nations, again, is unable to do anything except giving media interviews.

2017 was positive in many aspects as well. Stock markets everywhere created huge additional wealth during the year. There was strongly positive action in corporate market, with several major mergers and acquisitions announced/completed. Tax rforms in the U.S. have been a positive news for U.S. corporations. Climate change initiatives are in progress, despite the lack of U.S. support and participation. Trade initiatives are in progress, despite lack of U.S. participation (Trans Pacific Partnership, Belt & Road initiative, etc.,). GDP per capita is firmly rising in Asian countries.

So, in a nutshell, 2017 while being a dramatic and significantly eventful year, has not diluted the human confidence on the criticality of economic growth, alleviation of poverty, elimination of wars, sustainability of peace, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., At the end of the day, people need more bread on the table, and if governments can help in achieving that goal so much the better for everyone.

I think we can learn a lot from the happenings of 2017, and could plan execution of important events in our life a little better. Lack of study, analysis and preparation hampers our execution many a time, and we should not let that happen. However, we almost have to pray that a nuclear war is not unleashed on Asia (again). Only one country has suffered from a nuclear war, and that is Japan. Do we want the second such country in Asia as well?

Surely not. Let us hope better sense will prevail over hot heads who have been given the mammoth responsibility to make epochal decisions which affect all of mankind.

I hope you all had a good 2017, and here’s wishing you an outstanding year in 2018 and more success, peace, and health. Forget the money and focus on these three things. You will come to the conclusion that your money priorities were not the right ones to lead a positive and cheerful life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2017

Update on Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.


Many of my St Marys’ High School classmates reverted on the post I published recently The Loss of a Great Life Teacher

I had obviously missed out on some of the key teachings of Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J. Here is a summary of the comments provided by my esteemed classmates from those impactful, influential, and most remembered days at the school in Madurai, that I am publishing on their behalf:

Ganesan says – “………the first thing he wrote on the blackboard was ‘I expect great things from you‘………shall always remember him”

Chander says – “………the 4C of Fr Joseph are ‘Critical, Creative, Cultural and Communitarian‘………”. This needs no explanation, we all understand what the Rev Fr was trying to say.

Chakravarthy says – “………...whomever he has vented his anger on have done well in life. Even if he is harsh, he will come back next day with his trade mark smile. Once he even left our class in anger saying that he didn’t want to handle this class any longer. Very next day he forgot everything and proceeded as usual. That’s him”.

Ramesh says – “………….the drama show for the inmates of (Madurai) jail (prison), put up by Rev Fr………..a great philanthropic deed for those inmates……….”. Ramesh also says – “…………he was the first teacher who visited his students’ houses in those days……….he was a great lover of fine arts………..he introduced the habit of House Magazine,……….and our class was chosen to receive the first prize……..I remember to have received the prize on stage on behalf of our class in 9th standard………..”

Ashraf says – “……….he always used to say ‘I expect great things from you‘……….”

Shihan Hussaini says – “…………..LOSS OF MY FOUNDATION! There are people who are truly responsible for your foundations in your childhood. Fr Felix Joseph was my strongest foundation. He groomed me, moulded me, helped me, supported me and guided me all through my life. When I was in school and when I was out of school. When I was in touch with him and even when I was not. His powerful influence has chiseled many a young mind in St Marys’ Higher Secondary School where he was the Assistant Head Master and my class teacher. His ability to identify talent was phenomenal. I was cast in the lead in two plays that he directed – ‘Punnagaiyin Pugal’ and ‘Nulainthae Teeruvom’. His dramatic portrayal of the various characters and his acting every character out to teach us is vividly in my mind. His love and motivation for English vocabulary and his emphasis on all of us learning new words was legendary. When I expressed my love for oil painting and my inability to afford the materials, he gifted me my first oil paint tubes box and hog hair brush. He encouraged the pursuit of reading. He always gave me a pat on th eback and a word of appreciation when he found me in the school library. Can’t forget how he took the entire class to director K. Balachander’s movie ‘Tappu Taalangal’ and encouraged us to participate in a national film review contest. Individual boys were assigned to write criticism (critique) on various sections of the movie. I was asked to review ‘art direction!’. We won the contest and the first prize of Rs. 200 was shared by the boys. In later days when I was introduced in movies by K. Balachander, I narrated this to the director and he was keen to meet Fr Felix Joseph. Incidentally my first play with Fr Felix was called ‘Punnagai Mannan’ and my first movie with KB sir was (also) ‘Punnagai Mannan’. Fr Felix helped me to connect to Dr Michael Debakey, the pioneer of open heart surgery from Houston USA (after my childish, failed experimental open heart surgeries with white mice) and was instrumental in getting a personal scholarship of USD 100 every year from him (for me). When I met Dr Debakey many years later during his visit to Chennai for a seminar and thanked him, he was keen on meeting Fr Felix. Fr was personally responsible for evolving my acting, mono acting, painting, writing, oratorical, debating and other skills. When he visited me at home in Chennai, he presented my wife with a picture of Mary. He was in touch with my wife frequently as I was not reachable on phone many a time. It’s truly sad that he is no more. He lived a fruitful life shaping young minds and creating moral foundations for his students. I see his influence in every creative work I have done and will do. He will be remembered. Truly, Father, rest in peace………”.

Nanda Kumar says – “………For late comers in lower classes who come to get his signature, he used to tell them ‘Thank You sollittu poda‘……………”.

Anthony Jayakumar says – “………..God bless his soul! He was a great teacher and a wise man. He led a long and fruitful life………….”

KS Sekar says – “………..I can never forgive myself for not visiting him in my numerous trips to Madurai despite Ashraf offering to take me. He was committed to our batch like nobody I have seen. He pushed us to succeed on our own efforts. He beautifully handled academic slackers and extraordinarily brilliant and eccentric minds alike. I interacted with him extensively while at St Marys’. Not once did he try to impose his religious beliefs on me or criticize mine. I will never forget his rule to include vocabulary words in our essays. In my humble opinion, he was a true guru I was blessed to learn from………”

I have tried to capture as much as I could from the various WhatsApp messages. This is a summary which hopefully will stay in one place on the internet for all of us to refer to……..and show to our children and grand children.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th December 2017

 

 

The Loss of a Great Life Teacher


My most impressionable years were spent at the St Marys’ High School in Madurai city of Tamil Nadu State in India. Those days it was a different society, a different education system, and a different method of teaching. I spent 6 crucial years in the secondary school (6th grade to 11th grade), and for three of those years I went through a transformative experience under the tutorship of Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.

I am a member of the WhatsApp group of St Marys’ of my batchmates, and it was through that platform I learnt of the demise of Rev Fr. I also saw his pictures, and it brought back a lot of memories from those days which continue to influence me even today.

Rev Fr Felix Joseph was a firm assistant head master, and a teacher for our class. He displayed immense strength in character while showing his kindness in many ways. Our class comprised of students with varying degrees of talent and naughtiness, and he dealt with each and every student in his own personal style, without causing a fear psychosis. Students were, of course, afraid of him due to his firmness in demanding discipline and class work quality, but that never detracted the students from demonstrating their talents to the Rev Fr. He had a strong interest in literature and cinema, and also in journalism. He published his movie review in a local Tamil magazine, which attracted widespread attention, as Jesuit Fathers are not known to be very social and cinema-oriented.

Rev Fr Felix Joseph took personal interest in the development of many students – he specifically encouraged students with talents in extra-curricular areas such as sports and games, art, dramas, painting, writing, film critique, public speaking, etc., I know of my class mates who have benefited in a significant manner due to his personal involvement, guidance and mentoring. He shaped so many of us who were struggling to find our feet in this world, while goading us towards a better academic performance all the time.

He never tried to instil any Christian religious values – but, he emphasized the importance of a value system to be developed by oneself and to be followed. This is an important distinction when over 90% of the students were from the Hindu religion or philosophy. In this context, I would point out that Indian parents, of the educated variety, mostly preferred to send their children to Christian schools those days. When the school asked us to bring used clothes for charitable purposes, we all brought without any question. When we went around the statue of Jesus Christ with candles in hand, we did that without a religious orientation – we knew that all religions were the same (and still, remain the same).

Rev Fr Felix Joseph was well known for his love of the English Language, English Literature and English Vocabulary. He insisted that we broaden our knowledge of English and its application, by learning a lot of words and reading a lot of books. The value of that work was revealed during later part of our respective lives, when we could all stand our stead proudly in front of any one from around the world and hold our heads high.

A life spent in moulding young minds and lives must have been a rather enjoyable and fruitful life for Rev Fr Felix Joseph. He was a wise man and an excellent teacher of not only the English language but life skills. As a batch of students in a formative stage of our lives, it is not an exaggeration to say that he was the one single teacher who was instrumental in positively influencing all of us and guided us towards the next stage in our lives. I would say most of us survived successfully thanks in no small measure due to his unselfish contribution to our lives.

Rest in Peace Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.

Cheers, and Continue to follow his guidance in the rest of our lives St Marys’ friends,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th December 2017

Humans Losing out to Technology


There are countless ways in which advanced technologies have helped mankind over the years. The current (and future, for sure) rapid pace of technological development, will, no doubt, continue to render advanced capabilities to people, businesses and governments like what we could not have imagined even yesterday.

Technology is almost on a free roll now – nobody can stop its non-stop progress and achievements, and it is the way it should be. The challenge now is adoption and ongoing utilization of technologies – let us not forget the actual fact on the ground that over 3B (yes, billion) people in this planet do not have access to the internet (most of them do not have access to electricity or clean water or sanitation either). There is a lot of work to do before we get everyone in the world connected.

In the meanwhile, the military applications of technology are proceeding at a faster pace, as the world’s super powers race against each other to get the upper hand, which will never be used as there will be no global war between or amongst the super powers due to the possibility of total annihilation of this world as we know it today.

In this context, I was horrified to view the video of the huge destructive impact of tiny drones launched in a warfare situation, put up on social media by Stuart Russell, a University of California Berkeley Computer Science Professor.

Take a look at Future of Life Institute Autonomous Weapons Ban and

Slaughterbots Video CNN article and YouTube video

QUOTE

Professor Russell says “Trained as a team, [the drones] can penetrate buildings, cars, trains, all while having the capacity to evade any countermeasure. They cannot be stopped,”.

He noted that “a $25 million order” can now buy a swarm of such tiny “slaughterbots” that could kill half a city.

Professor Russell said that although A.I.’s “potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense,” allowing the widespread use of machines that “choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom.”

UNQUOTE

These tiny mini-drones which have destructive military uses are now called “autonomous slaughterbots” and are unleashed in a “drone swarm” from the underbelly of a bomber plane. These are now rightfully characterized as “weapons of mass destruction” as a small band of military men can essentially bring a country to its knees by launching a slaughterbot attack which will raze an entire city to the ground and kill millions of people at one go – more effective than a nuclear weapon which is much more expensive to build, maintain and use. In today’s world, even a kid knows what a drone is, but do we really understand how nations can get completely out of control with this technology which is like a powerful machine gun or multi-barrelled missile launcher, the only difference being that the slaughterbots can come in thousands to obliterate an entire battlefield or a city.

There is no current counter-attack mechanism against an attack by slaughterbots. Even more worrying is the fact that the “attacked” cannot easily figure out who is the “attacker”, or where they are located. How do you attack someone who you do not know, or whose location cannot be determined. So, we are now in faceless military attacks, and all that it takes is one small band of rogue folks who know this technology. Let us not forget that both “good” and “bad” guys now have drones, and also that the “good” guys could be indiscriminate in their plans and attacks sometimes.

So, the world is getting to be a deadlier place than it ever was in its history. Drones can target individulas anywhere in the world, and are being enhanced to penetrate any kind of structure to reach to the designated target. Further, drone swarms “act” like a swarm, in the sense that they will coordinate their attack plan with each other, leading to a scalability that does not exist today. We are essentially looking at the collective brain power of a slaughterbot drone swarm, which could be as deadly as a nuclear weapon without incurring all the risks of a war.

Welcome to the slaughterbot era, friends. It is critical that we protest against such weapons of mass destruction, these are much worse than land mines.

Cheers (and No Cheers!),

Vijay Srinivasan

26th November 2017

 

The Gas Chamber


I was in Delhi for just 30 hours this week Thursday to Friday.

My wife had warned me to cancel the trip and return home from Mumbai, but I had to go to Delhi for official work. She instructed me to stay at the hotel and apply eye drops every couple of hours (as I had recently gone through an eye surgery).

While I was in Mumbai earlier this week, I saw frightening news on pollution levels in Delhi. The pollution index crossed 700 which is considered absolutely unsafe for everyone, and I saw a doctor stating that Delhi might have to consider a public evacuation of its inhabitants. Delhi overtook Beijing to become the most highly polluted city in the world.

So, I was surprised to see many foreigners (mostly Westerners and Japanese) happily going out of the airport premises without a protective mask. Only one in ten people were wearing a mask, some were closing their mouths and noses with their handkerchiefs. I had my office colleagues with me, and it was embarrassing to witness the situation in the capital city of the country in front of them. We could not see the buildings on the other side of the highway, it was that bad. A thick smog has shrouded all of Delhi, and the government had closed all schools for the week, and was even trying to close all offices.

I did not venture out except for dinner time, and also kept applying the eye drops though I could feel some irritation in the eyes. It surprised me that there were so many folks walking on the roads as though nothing has changed. It amazes me how Indians continue to treat even an emergency situation with utter nonchalance. I saw that the security guards and other staff in the hotel were not wearing any protective masks, and there I saw the failure of the hotel management in protecting its own employees. The idea seems to be “so what” – if we lose a few staff, Delhi can always provide more people to fill the jobs at the lowest levels – utter disregard for the health and safety of staff members.

It continues to be a public health emergency situation in Delhi. And, as usual, the politicians on all sides were hitting at others and laying the blame elsewhere, and I could not see any actions being taken to address the situation on a war footing. While the root causes will take time to fix, it is imperative that the government spends its time, efforts and resources on removing the smog, for example, by spraying water all over the city from helicopters. India has the resources, but lacks the sense of emergency and purpose, and also political will to take drastic measures. Till the time that India starts to really care about population healthcare and human development, situations like these will go with the government of the day taking half-baked and half-hearted measures. India has one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, but that hardly matters when people are seriously affected like in this situation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Particulate Matter (PM) is the most critical pollutant affecting most people. Please carefully read the fact sheet that the WHO has provided at its website – I am linking it here Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. The mean figures for PM10 (for particulate matter with diameter of 10 Microns or less) are: 20 for annual and 50 for 24-hour mean. With Delhi’s figure crossing 700, you can imagine the health problems that are going to be caused due to this smog hanging over Delhi. This means that there are billions and billions of these 10 Micron (or less) diameter particles which are floating around in Delhi at this moment, and these are being inhaled by Delhi’s citizens every second – with the underprivileged people in the streets affected the most. There are labourers and children who sleep on the roads in Delhi. The richer folks can afford expensive air purifiers, but the poor cannot. These instances continue in India with no redressal.

Who can we blame?

Is it the current government or the past government(s)? Is it the bureaucracy?

Well, it does not matter. One day people are going to die on the streets of Delhi. And, tourists and businesses will start to shun the city. Unless the government takes expeditious action now, and also stops this phenomenon repeating itself at the start of the winter season every year.

Delhi can now be called a gas chamber, one which needs to be cleansed and allowed to breathe.

Let us pray for the inhabitants of Delhi and not for its politicians.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th November 2017