Category: Uncategorized

A negative vote today in French Elections


Will France follow Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the U.S. Presidential Elections and the Brexit philosophy endorsed by millions of British voters to get Britain out of the European Union (EU)? Will the French voters elect an untested nationalist, against a well-established urbanite with a global outlook?

How France decides today in its Presidential Elections (7th May Sunday) will have far-reaching ramifications around Europe and the world. It will determine if the EU survives as a political and economic entity.

While I have no personal views on the French Elections, I am debating if  young, disillusioned French voters will swing in favour of Marine Le Pen, against Emmanuel Macron. If that swing happens in a wild fashion, it is not inconceivable for Le Pen to claim the French Presidency and that would turn Europe upside down. Le Pen is against all established norms in French and European society – against trade, against immigration, against globalization.

In the U.S. Presidential Elections, I bet against Hillary Clinton and won my bet. I thought that she did not really appeal vigorously to the male, white, Christian, rural base of the middle America – and she didn’t, apart from all the other issues which plagued her campaign (like the email server problem, et al). I was not entirely in favour of Donald Trump, but then there was no other credible alternative, and he easily won the elections against Hillary Clinton, though he missed out on the popular vote count.

Can something like that happen in the French Elections?

Why not? A negative vote is entirely possible.

France is in a crisis. Its political and societal divides have engulfed its core to such an extent that radical outcomes cannot be thrown out of the door. France is under attack by immigrant extremism, or terrorism. Economy is in a turmoil and youth unemployment is rising. France has so many problems today that a traditional, globalized, suave and urban President will not get far into his presidency. Macron could prove himself otherwise, but it is highly unlikely he can fix France’s problems, as he does not have enough political and economic management experience. If he fails in his first year as President, it is almost a given that Le Pen’s supporters will revolt and her base will increase dramatically. And, let us not forget that Macron does not even have any party’s support – in fact, he has no party! Yes, he is coming on the strength of a people movement, not a political party!!

Can Le Pen fix the problems of France?

Even less likely than Macron. Her party has always been on the fringes, and most people are shocked she made it to the final leg of the Presidential Elections. She has no experience managing a large country or economy. She would need a lot of management help if she ever gets close to the seat at the Elysee Palace.

So, in a nutshell, it is going to be a huge challenge for France. May be Macron will win as he has a 25 point lead over Le Pen, but then one never knows. But France has to blame itself for any fiasco, as both candidates have never held elected posts and have hardly got any experience, and may not win parliamentary elections scheduled for June this year. How can this happen? How will a President govern without the support of the French Parliament?

All this points to a hugely challenging time for the French people.

The implications for Europe and the larger world community are huge.

Watch the news today and tomorrow closely to see how France votes for its President.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th May 2017

3.4 Movies in one sitting


Which is not unusual, right?

I was on a fairly long flight (from X to Y of course) couple of days ago. Managed to see 3.4 movies during the flight time (40% of the last movie which translated to around 50 minutes). The balance 0.6 portion of the last movie I just finished seeing on my laptop at home.

While each one of these movies deserve a “movie review”, I am kind of bit lazy to write 4 blog posts, one on each. I decided to write one post, which is not exactly a review of all these movies. My random selection of movies from the flight entertainment system turned out to be rather good, as I recounted the same to my wife.

Here is the list of the movies from the latest selection available on Singapore Airlines Inflight Entertainment System:

  1. The Girl on the Train – a mystery thriller drama
  2. Inferno – thriller based on religious conspiracies
  3. Keeping up with the Joneses – espionage action comedy
  4. The Accountant – accounting crime thriller

In my opinion, “The Girl on the Train” receives the top marks amongst these 4 random movie selections, followed by “The Accountant”. The “Inferno” gets the third place.

I liked the acting of Rachel (Emily Blunt) in “The Girl on the Train” – her sad and forlorn countenance enhanced her vulnerability as the alcoholic who has been disowned by her husband for her alcoholism and violent behaviour. I sympathized with her condition, and worried that she was going to get hurt, though I felt she was on the wrong. But things turned out differently later in the movie, and I was happy see her redemption. I did not guess that the murderer of Megan (Haley Bennett) was Tom (Justin Theroux), who was Rachel’s husband. The profiling of the psychiatrist, Dr Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) as a Middle Eastern man was not the right thing to do, leading to suspicion on him as the potential killer. Racial and ethnic profiling need to be curtailed unless the story is a true one based on real life.

“The Accountant” was a good financial crime thriller and I liked the acting of Ben Affleck, who is the main actor. He comes as an autistic person with super human killer capabilities, not just in high end analytical maths, but also in high end killing. The movie does not tie the lose ends well, and connects autism with some super special skill, which may not be the case in real life (with one out of 68 kids in the U.S. being autistic). However, I enjoyed watching the standard Hollywood crime thriller action.

The “Inferno” is not a great movie like its predecessors from Dan Brown heritage. I am getting tired of seeing the run around cathedrals and tombs of Rome and Istanbul. Tom Hanks acts well, and there are some good surprises in the movie. It is surely watchable, no doubt. However, the series is getting tired and probably should be retired. Connecting a religious thriller with bio-terrorism and World Health Organization is laughable.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is just an action comedy, the likes of which I have seen many a time. Nothing much in it, except that it is a good time killer. And, you can laugh at it for a while.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th February 2017

 

 

Riphagen – The Untouchable


This is more than a movie review.

This movie is set during World War II – the most fascinating time of the 20th Century in terms of remaking this world, and also its most shocking time in terms of the massacre of innocent civilians (mostly Jews) in the hands of the Nazis.

A really suspenseful movie, this was also the first Dutch movie that I have seen. Andries Riphagen was a real-life Dutch gangster who sold hiding Jews to the Germans who would then send them to the gas chambers in Poland. He was a smooth talking and slick looking man who persuaded Jews to part with their valuables and properties in return for safe passage to London via Antwerp which never happened. He double-crossed all of them, and every one of these poor Jews was murdered by the German Nazi machinery. Riphagen worked closely with the German secret police (SD), and his German superiors demanded results, and Riphagen acted mercilessly.

It is an excellent movie which displays human greed more than anything else. Since the movie centers on Riphagen more than anyone else, I am not going to comment further on Nazis. While gangsters everywhere are the same (Riphagen was called Al Capone of Denmark) in terms of their behaviour and greed for money, in this sorry episode of the real Riphagen (this is a true life story), Riphagen broke his conscience, and sent hundreds of Jews to their extermination from the face of this earth, while trying to enjoy their hard-earned money and jewelry and property. If it is just stealing and cheating people out of their possessions during hard times (like the World War), it may be acceptable to human conscience. But then, if Riphagen remorselessly and shamelessly plundered innocent peoples’ belongings promising to return them to the very same people after the end of the World War, knowing full well they would not be there to claim their possessions, then that kind of behaviour depicts a demonic and very evil one, and Riphagen was a very evil and a completely soul-less man.

As is always the case, I was affected by such human movies, as was the case with my wife.

We both always wonder how such human beings could have walked this very same earth, breathed the very same air, be amongst the very same people, yet found it easy and conscience-free while murdering innocent Jews. The world can never forget the atrocities of Nazis, and the world should never forget people like Riphagen who escaped from the last Dutch police officer to have ever come near him, and took refuge in Argentina, that great hiding place of Nazis for over six decades. He escaped from Denmark/Belgium in 1945 and the Dutch Police issued his arrest warrant in 1988! He was already dead by 1973!!

Such is the world we live in. If anyone thinks that there are no such people anymore, that anyone is living in a delusion and probably hiding in a monastery in the Himalayas. There are evil people and evil countries. Without naming them, you know who these people and countries are, so I am not making an effort to do so…….the World in general is a peaceful place but for these folks and whole countries who have been indoctrinated for many decades.

Can this world be ever pure? Well, that is a topic for another time and another blog. Enjoy your weekend, and see this movie “Riphagen – The Untouchable”. Excellent low budget movie, very well directed, very well acted.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd October 2016

 

Politicians and the Downfall of Democracy


Democracy is slowly getting what it deserves. It is a slow death.

Do people deserve democracy? Big question mark.

Do people who elect corrupt and dishonest politicians ever stop to think what they have done? Do these people really care about the huge negative impact of their votes on the rest of the population, their country as a whole and democracy as such?

India is the largest test bed for democracy in the world. It has the largest population of any nation on earth under a democratic form of government. It has the largest number of electoral voters in any one single country of the world. It has, by and large, succeeded in negating any other form of government, but for the sad experience of 2 years 1975 – 77, when emergency rule was imposed on the country.

However, unfortunately for India, its ranking on corruption and many other “good country” indices has always been bad. Despite all the shenanigans by the current political masters and cabinet ministers, corruption has not reduced a wee bit in India – it just continues its pernicious journey, destroying the foundations of hard-fought independence and democracy. There should be no credit given to any government which has run the country these past six decades, as each and every one of them have institutionalized the corruption mechanism, even determining a price for almost anything one can think of to get done.

There have been many sting operations in the country which have exposed corruption in high places – both by TV Channels and News magazines. What I read in India Today magazine recently beats most of the previously aired shocking revelations: on 3rd June 2016, India Today published an interview with a politician from the State of Karnataka, and a previous Prime Minister of India. In this interview, he admits that there is no problem if corruption exists – he says that “what if my MLAs (Member of Legislative Assembly) ask for money to sell their votes in favour of candidates who are contesting in the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament elections”. This only means horse trading in politics is common across India and is practised by all parties, and the corruption money transacted is simply huge with high stakes. He goes on to say “in this country, politics itself involves corruption”.

Well, well, I am not surprised. He is only stating what is evidently the truth in Indian Politics. This has been going on for ages, and over the past few years the media has been involved in setting up politicians and catching them red-handed. The media is doing their job, and the politicians continue to do their job – they need to get elected, and once elected they need to make money. Even to get elected, one needs lot of money, right?

India is now at an inflection point. Except for start-ups, every other political, business and economic matter has a taint on it. What about education? Is it not common knowledge that students have to pay for getting a medical seat? How about post-graduate admissions? What is the going rate? Which other country will believe in our education system? Well, I do not want to hear at this point about IITs and IIMs. And, how our students (even those who paid bribes to get through medical education) are shining overseas.

One can compare India with the Philippines. Both are large democracies, though Philippines is not even one-tenth of India in terms of population. Both are noisy. Both are chaotic. Both have media domination.

And, both have corruption.

There are many such comparisons between corrupt nations of the world.

But does India wish to be in that company? The unfortunate problem is that India is also the largest democratic country in the world, in which the chance of a change to the government system is rather remote. There is an excellent balance between the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary. Should we not leverage the advantages in such a system for the future benefit of the country and outright ban corruption? Should we not de-register all politicians who are proven to be corrupt by the judicial system from contesting any more elections?

Corruption in simply destructive to democracy. It has to be killed and eliminated completely.

Think about it and do not pay bribes even for the smallest thing. Do not think you don’t have time to waste, and so you are going to bribe to take the easy way out.

Otherwise, democracy will continue to die a slow death in India, and there will eventually be a change in the form of government if the youth get frustrated totally. Beware!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th June 2016

 

 

 

 

Faith Vs Rationality


Most people that I know (more than 95%) have faith in their religion, or customs and practices. They tend to believe that their faith and customs are handed down to them from their parents, and have been in such transition for many generations. Some people I have spoken to have unassailable faith and more or less their lives revolve around their faith. May be in their religion, or may be in their chosen God.

It is good and important to have faith. Faith in something or the other. Faith on other human beings, at least. Faith in oneself.

Is Faith equal to Belief equal to Confidence ? More often than not, faith apparently gives rise to peace of mind and confidence in the manner in which one is proceeding in his or her own life. Faith concentrates the mind and the heart, creates one single cogent energy force within oneself, allows to focus in an intense manner, and improves one’s concentration, beliefs and confidence.

Won’t you agree with that assertion ?

Faith does not need to be directed towards God or religion. Faith in the basic goodness of human nature, while sometimes derided as childish assumption, is still a strong tenet of most peoples’ belief systems. While the clash of civilizations has led to some understandable disconnect in the way people look at each other, it is not inevitable that people deliberately choose to distrust one another. Of course, this assumption is dependent on the circles in which specific people move around. In a cultured, refined, developed society, it is implicitly assumed that the people one encounters are people with similar backgrounds, culture and refinement, unless proved otherwise.

I still believe that it is not necessary to “exhibit” faith in one’s own God or religion, to be able to insert oneself into a particular group. And, these days, it could even be a liability to do so. I don’t mean, for a moment, that one should discard one’s customary practices such as going to the temple, or church, or mosque or synagogue. While those practices can continue, the social networking cannot just be based on the “familiarity” aspect of folks who meet each other in such venues. In a particular society, it is still entirely appropriate to take people at face value for who they are, what background they have, what talent they have, instead of stereotyping people into buckets of isolationism.

I have learnt to be neutral in whatever pursuits that I undertake – meaning that I do not associate myself with any “group” that represents a stereotype of sorts. It has helped me in my personal and professional life to be a neutral entity with whom almost anything can be discussed. I call myself as “rational”, in the sense that I am an independent analyst. People gain from interations with me, so do I (in most transactions). I take an independent and rational view of things, not from an altar of high society, but from a position of non-partisan, thought-based, impartial approach. It is not that I do not have faith in anything. I do. I have faith in certain things, and lack of faith in other things. But I believe my confidence comes from the independent rational thinking that goes into whatever I do. I would not be dictated to by thousands of years of “practices” handed down from generation to generation. I would like to question the meaning and value of such traditions. My objective is to unify thoughts and people as much as I can, rather than divide people into buckets.

Well, it might sound like atheism, but it is surely not the same. If educated and refined folks like us do not go the extra mile to bring people together, who will do so ? The world is divided today due to a variety of reasons, mostly political, social, economic or religious; but also mostly due to segregation into groups of ideologies and faiths.

It is asking for too much, I know, but it is a small contribution to make to a larger cause. People of similar faiths are not programmed to save each other in a catastrophe and we know that. Unified people who build a lot of trust and value rational thoughts go towards building successful societies, not divided, segregated ghettos.

Something to chew on !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th March 2016

Fresh Fruits Lab


My family wanted to go for dinner at some unique place around East Coast of Singapore yesterday, and gave me the unenviable task of deciding which place to go to. This is a tricky situation – if one is trying to figure out the right place to go on a Saturday evening, and all that is available is just 30 minutes to make the choice, what would one do ? And further, the place has to be somewhere nearby, and critically, that place should be able to take reservations at short notice.

Our mind thinks in narrow circles and tries to isolate the problems in sequence, and then searches the most viable solution. May be there are folks who could do a lateral kind of stuff due to prior knowledge or some unique divine foresight, or what not. But ordinary mortals like me struggle somewhat at what is apparently a simple problem, as the cost of failure is high – I mean not just the “cost” but the dissatisfaction which could result from a bad dinner is rather high, and given that I have had past experiences of that nature, I decided to look for professional advice. Remember, I had only 30 minutes !

When under pressure, the mind thinks quickly – it is almost a matter of survival. I quickly searched for East Coast Restaurants and voila, the first site I chanced upon rekindled my old memories – it was my Lady Iron Chef of Singapore, a fantastic website for food recommendations and guides. So, I drilled down and got what I wanted – The East Coast Restaurants. Then came the tough task of selecting one – I selected two and then finally made a difficult choice which happened to be “Fresh Fruits Lab” – one of the suggested places by Lady Iron Chef. Please see her write-up at Fresh Fruits Lab Recommendation.

I made a quick booking and we all went to look for what I would call an “experience” in a fruits lab. And, yes it was a lab – almost one. They served our drinks in beakers and conical flasks – contraptions which we liked. The Apple Orange juice was liked by my wife, and my son liked the Strawberry Soda. I chose the Adagio, a rooiboss tea in a beaker with volume denomination printed on the outside. This was real good tea, and even went for a refill. We also had the “Roasted Roma soup” which was good, but was not much different from the thick tomato pasta sauce that we use in our cooking. May be this was an overkill as it filled our tummies rapidly – could have avoided the soup. The starter of Beer Shroom which was fried mushrooms was liked by all of us.

The main courses were pretty decent. The aglio olio pasta was good and the Fish & Chips was a bit oily while crispy, the inside dory fish was delicious of course. My son said that the Chicken Fricasse was good stuff. Overall, it was a good experience, though the price was some 15% higher than what we thought it should be.

So, our Lady Iron Chef was not wrong in her recommendation. Fresh Fruits Lab was indeed a good place to go in the East Coast. And, the experience is unique for the reasons I mentioned above. There is a relaxed atmosphere in this rather quaint place tucked on Changi Road in one of the quiet corners. The food is decent, and the service is pretty good.

So, not a bad choice for less than 30 minutes of work. And, of course, the dependable Lady Iron Chef came to a speedy rescue and I keep it secret !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th November 2015

The Two Sides of Argument


There is an intense argument going on in the expat Indian community. While I have played my hand on taking sides in the past, I have now arrived at a situation when I would like to watch the fun from a neutral position. Nothing wrong with that, right ?

This intense argument is about the subject of intolerance that seems to be a raging subject matter of discussion on the TV Channels of India. There is just too many talk shows going on, to the extent that even BBC wrote about it recently. You can read it on BBC Coverage. There are many other articles.

The highly educated expats have seen that in the past 20 months India has “tried to change itself”, probably for the betterment of its aspiring society. The more than five decades of Congress rule was seen as a period when India lost its supremacy in many fields – the quality of life deteriorated, corruption reigned supreme, politicians ran amok all over the citizenry, etc., etc., There is that anger in many people that a generation of hard working folks did not see any benefits – nothing ever improved in society. Even the opposition BJP government which came into power in the late Nineties lost its steam and lost the subsequent elections.

After all these years of economic and societal mismanagement, the opportunity for India to regain its lost sheen arose when Mr. Narendra Modi won the 2014 Elections and came to power. The dethroning of the Congress government was widely celebrated, not just in India but abroad by the Indian expat community.

While there was initial euphoria and some good progress in the first year, the momentum is getting lost due to the non-cooperation of the Congress Party to pass bills in the Upper House of the Parliament thereby derailing the much needed reforms. Apart from that, there is growing disquiet on the subject of “intolerance” and the silence of Mr. Modi and his ministers to rebut the arguments of other political parties has added fuel to fire.

When celebrities jump into the intolerance discourse, then things get worse, and that is what happened when Amir Khan, the famous Bollywood actor, did so recently. He may or may not be correct, but it is very important for the government to take an “official” stand on such matters of critical importance to the society.

I saw numerous WhatsApp messages for and against Amir Khan. I also witnessed several discussions amongst friends. But I chose to remain neutral and not get drawn into one or the other side, simply because I was able to visualize matters with clarity when I stayed neutral. My analysis runs as follows: it is very important for society to air its views and it is not unusual for celebrities to take a stand. However, that in itself, is not something which would sway the overall public opinion. Many people tend to keep their views to themselves and do not wish to share with anyone. For the people who are in someways affected by real incidents of intolerance (like in any other serious matter), all the arguments are meaningless as they have lost something. They are not looking for any celebrity’s support. It does not matter to them.

What would matter to them is the strong support of the local and federal government – ministers and officials. The law of the land should reign supreme and take actions as appropriate even in a suo moto fashion by the judiciary, in case the government does not act. Politics and ideologies should be put aside when there is a matter as significant as this trying to derail all the good work of the government. Immediate, strong and forceful intervention by the government, especially by the Prime Minister, would go a very long way in assuaging the negative feelings of people affected by “intolerant incidents”, and recover lost ground quickly.

This is not about “political support” or “damage to the image of India”. This is about correcting the wrongs in society and changing its attitude for the better. It is not about tackling any celebrity. It is not about Amir Khan and his wife, or their views about leaving India. This is about the new emerging society of India trying to find its rightful place in the world.

I guess that the expats have to think along these lines instead of aligning themselves one way or the other in support or against Amir Khan. I always have thought that the Indian diaspora is the most intelligent, hard working, apolitical, economically driven group in the world – but when they try to get political outside their motherland, that is not a good sign. It is OK to be against one or the other party, but when there are substantive issues to be discussed, the allegiance to any one party cannot take precedence to intelligent viewpoint and contribution.

Well, that is my view and anyone is free to contest, of course.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th November 2015