Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

The Key to World Peace


There was a time when the rest of the world largely depended on the U.S. for maintaining world peace and order, almost expecting the U.S. to behave like a policeman for the world. That was not too long ago. At least the Western Allies depended heavily on the U.S., if not all of the rest of the world.

Even the opposition camp, comprising mostly of Russia and China, expected the U.S. to maintain the balance of power in the world. They did not want troubles in their neighbourhood. They also desired peace, as world peace helped world trade and economy. It was, and is a no-brainer. Businesses and business investments thrive when there is peace and tranquillity, and the prospects for free trade without tariffs and artificial barriers are bright.

All these expectations have been nullified by the President of the U.S. Donald Trump.

He has been an erratic president, the likes of whom the world has never seen. Fortunately for him, the U.S. economy has been doing well with a fantastic 4.1% growth in the second fiscal quarter of 2018. However, the world is suffering because of his random and erratic behaviour. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the U.S. remains the main destination for exports and if U.S. imposes tariffs, it will cause huge problems for the exporting countries.

President Trump has still got 30 odd months to complete his first term. Yes, first term. He is most likely to win a second term of 4 years, given the disarray in the Democratic Party, and his ability to swing voters with non-fact based emotional persuasion and appeals.

So, there you go. President Trump may get emboldened to launch a war against Iran (not against North Korea with the rapproachement starting to yield some results). Israel is surely pushing him to consider a strong response to a potential oil blockade by Iran. There are many things that can go wrong, but the Middle East surely cannot afford another catastrophic war. And, Iran is not Iraq or Syria. They have a well-equipped army which will wage a war, and it is going to be very difficult for President Trump to cobble together a coalition of allies.

So, who is going to take over the maintenance of world order and peace?

Is it the U.K.? No, the Brits are entangled with their Brexit imbroglio.

Is it France? No, the French have many problems including immigration and serious crime.

Is it China? May be, but China’s position on world peace has not been articulated well except the usual platitudes we hear from their news agencies and media. Further, they are causing disturbances in South China Sea which could one day lead to a conflict with other claimants to the sea.

Is it Russia? Yes.

Don’t laugh.

Russia is well positioned to become the arbiter of world peace as it is fast realizing its power on the world stage. In the aftermath of the successful and much praised conduct of the FIFA 2018 Soccer Games in an impeccable manner, President Putin has regained much of his confidence which was probably somewhat lost after the Crimea acquisition and the Ukraine conflict, which were followed by sanctions. Further, Russia just launched some amazing weaponry which appear to seal its superiority for some time to come. President Putin has demonstrated his hold on President Trump during the Summit held at Helsinki on 23rd July. Countries are paying attention finally. Respect for Russia is on the rise.

If President Putin is able to convert this new-found respect and power into a strong diplomatic push, then the big countries of the world will have to work with Russia instead of imposing sanctions on it. China is already a close partner of Russia, and there goes 2 of the 5 U.N. Security Council veto-wielding members.

Russia is realizing that subterfuge is not the way to go forward in creating a framework for world peace. It has to work very closely with large countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, etc., to align the thinking behind the strong necessity of maintaining world peace and not launching another destructive war which would be a catastrophic disaster for millions of people.

For the time being, the U.S. cannot be counted in any such new coalition, as it would be a logical dissenter to any such effort on the world stage. The U.S. has already walked out of the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month. The U.S. may even be stopping its financial contributions to the U.N. The U.S. Congress is very much against President Putin’s purported spying on U.S. Elections, and so on and so forth. Concrete evidence is yet to come by, let us wait and see.

So, in my opinion, Russia has a unique position in the world today to be able to influence peace and order around the world. It cannot walk away from its responsibilities, and leave the task to the ineffective U.N., or to the confused U.S.

President Putin has a golden chance to demonstrate that he is a statesman-par-excellence, not just a spy or trouble-maker or war monger or election meddler. All that may not matter if he can bring about stability to the world in which trade, economics, business and investment can flourish. He might even be able to influence President Trump directly(!).

Welcome to a potential new world order. As President Trump plays around with the world, let us see what President Putin can and will do……………

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th July 2018

Right Wingism


Once upon a time, I had a personal opinion that if the majority of the population belongs to one religion, caste, creed, colour, or ethnicity, then they would have to have a say in how a government is run and how minority populations have to behave under a majority dispensation. A kind of “right wing” orientation with an attitude of “my way or highway”………

But, luckily, I had that view only for about a year or so.

I was forced to change my view under the glaring reality of what could potentially go wrong under that scenario.

Examples of what could happen to a minority people under the force and pressure of a majority rule are everywhere to be seen. In China, we saw what could happen to the minority Muslim population in the western part of the country. In Russia, we saw what a majority dictatorship can do to minority people in the southern part of the country. In the U.S., which is a major democracy, we see human rights violations against the Black and Latino people and other minority population almost on a weekly basis now – whether they are legal or illegal immigrants.

But these countries never had the background, sophistication and diversity of India, which remains even today as the biggest and most impactful civilization ever. In thousands of years of successful and peaceful co-existence, many different religions have flourished in India, even Judaism! India continues to have Chinese speaking people in Kolkata (Calcutta); it has over 200 minority communities speaking their own languages, and existing peacefully along with the majority Hindus.

The beauty of Hinduism is its “pacifist” nature – a peaceful and non-dictatorial religion which recognizes the existence of other religions and philosophies, and is always open to assimilation of different ideologies while not giving up its core thoughts. Hinduism spawned Buddhism, and that has spread throughout South East and East Asia as well as China.

It is critical not to disturb the hallowed reputation of Hinduism under any majority rule. While it is not necessary to kowtow to the minorities or minority religions, equal treatment of citizens and their affiliations is absolutely necessary to sustain a peaceful co-existence, especially in a very diverse country with multiple minority groups. This also means respect for each other and each others’ religious practices.

The recent wave of immigrants to Europe has changed the debate, because most of these immigrants are from the Northern regions of Africa and Syria. European countries worry about the integration of these people into their mainstream, about potential crime, and other socio-political issues. India never bothered about such issues over the past hundreds of years, because it has always been open to foreign influences and cultures, as it is today, with foreigners eventually adjusting and integrating into society.

With the unique amalgam of various kinds of people in Indian society, one may wonder how the governance and societal systems work out in India. It may surprise people elsewhere that India has been able to manage such a huge diversity in a peaceful manner over the years, and remains as a beacon of hope for the world.

Hence, it is my view that nothing should disturb this very unique diversity of philosophies and peoples. Any government that is running India should recognize the critical importance of this diversity and ensure the safety of all its people irrespective of where they come from or what they profess. If such a complex country has survived millennia of foreign influences, then it can continue to survive with less turbulence than the other large countries. In the next decade or so, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world with over 1.4B people, so the continued peaceful management of the country assumes critical proportions.

It should be every political party’s responsibility to support the above existence and management of the country. Every party should support the governing party’s mandate to enhance the well-being of all of its population without distinction. This would mean all parties sign up for a common cause to benefit all people. It might be wishful thinking, but a serious evaluation of the ground situation in the country could lead sober people at the helm of affairs in various parties to conclude that cooperation is a must to eliminate societal disturbances and any kind of violence.

There should be no pre-judged or predicated mindset to support only the minorities every time. Majorities also could be right. A tripartite system of Parliament – Executive – Judiciary in India is so mature that it should be able to handle the systemic disturbances without clash or conflicts, and reach peaceful and meaningful resolutions. There may be confusion elsewhere in more mature democracies on how to handle difficult scenarios, for example, gun violence against minority Blacks. India does not and should not have such situations, and even if such problems arise, the tripartite system of governance and justice should take timely decisions to alleviate problems.

I am not taking any extreme view or position on matters of governance and justice. It is for any country to figure out the issues and resolve problems which affect its people. However, I am confident on the resilience of the India story.

It is my sincere hope that India will find its way ultimately and reach its goal of economic upliftment for its people – moving confidently towards USD 5,000 GDP per capita (a USD 7T economy) and then on to USD 10,000 per capita (a USD 14T economy) by 2030 and 2040 respectively. That should be the focus and not on any kind of class conflict. Any and all governments should respect peoples’ wish to pull themselves out of poverty.

Hope this happens for India!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd July 2018

 

 

Ending Poverty Vs Military Spending


The world spent approximately USD 1.7T on military expenditures in 2017 as per data published by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). A little over one-third was spent by the U.S., followed by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and India among the top five military spenders in the world.

It has been estimated by SIPRI that just 10% of this expenditure is enough to end poverty around the world (more than 800M people are below the poverty line) in just 15 years, meeting the U.N. goal to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

Does the world need to spend around 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditures which does not have a measurable ROI apart from waging wars and killing people? Is it necessary to keep investing in military R&D and expansion of war machinery especially when the entire world is hungry for peace? Was there any tangible benefits reaped by mankind by conducting destructive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen?

In other words, the world can reduce its military expenditure not just by 10%, but by half and still have a decent defense mechanism against enemies. If the world wants peace, where are the enemies anyway?

We are going to finish the second decade of the 21st Century in couple of years. It is a shame that there still are hungry people around the world. It is a big shame that many people still do not have a roof over their heads, or do not know where their next meal will come from. There are millions of children suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food and milk. Poor people exist even in developed countries as we can see them under bridges in many first world cities in the West – the homeless folks beyond even the fringes of the moving world economics and society.

The collective conscience of the world should be focused on solving this intractable problem of poverty and hunger, instead of focusing on increasing the possibility of conflicts and wars by spending more on military. Is there a ministry for resolving human hunger and ending poverty in the major countries around the world? We only see defense ministries who are drafting the next year’s budget with a potential 5 to 10% increase.

World leaders meeting in the U.N. should make a choice between ending poverty and increasing their military expenditures. Even if the regular annual increases are scrapped, enough money will be released to take specific actions in humanitarian relief. If the military budgets are cut by 10%, that would release USD 170B towards poverty alleviation. If this money could be targeted at helping poor children, that is going to create a healthy workforce for the future. Think about it.

It is highly irresponsible for countries to spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defense expenditures, when the allocation for poverty alleviation projects is not even 0.5%. What are we talking here? What about allocation for education and healthcare? What about allocation for eliminating hunger? Why are governments not allocating enough of their budgets to address the needs of poor people?

For most of us in a secluded area of society, the impact of poverty and hopelessness and hunger hardly strikes home. We rarely ever think about these things. We are happy if the government reduces our tax burden, leaving more money in our hands to spend. So, how are we different from our own governments? Governments spend money on things that they prioritize, not what citizens wish for. Citizens of any country would want better quality of living, better transportation, better roads and infrastructure, better access to education and healthcare, less poverty and less hunger. Are governments providing for these things everywhere around the world?

Poor people do not worry about taxes or at other items of government expenditure. They are worried about getting through today and then tomorrow – day by day. Most of us are not looking at our lives with the same lens – we have been lucky and fortunate to get through life in an easier manner. Have you ever felt hunger with no access to any food at all? Never. That is not the case for poor and hungry children all around the world.

So, we as educated citizens of the world, need to push our own government to reduce military expenditure and redirect the released funds towards eliminating poverty and hunger from our societies. This is the most important thing that a government can do during its term of office. If it does everything else well, but not do this one thing, that would mean it is a heartless government which has wrecked its legacy.

We do not get many chances to address the problems of poor people. The focus is not on them. Let us try to bring it back towards the objectives outlined in this note. United Nations better take action immediately instead of just lecturing in its hallways.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2018

A Reckless Mind-Altering President


Democracy is a demon.

How else can we describe the current sorry state of affairs in the U.S., which in turn is causing consternation all around the world?

At the outset, it is difficult to challenge the “simpleton” logic employed by Donald Trump.

  • Is it wrong to make an attempt to control illegal immigration?
  • Is it wrong to separate young children from their parents who are illegal immigrants?
  • Is it wrong to challenge China for its trade policies which have caused a huge lopsided trade deficit with the U.S.?
  • Is it wrong to arm twist the European Union on defence spending for their own protection?
  • Is it wrong to select a conservative Supreme Court Justice who shares common opinions with the President?
  • Is it wrong to impose customs tariffs on imported goods which affect American industries and cause unemployment?
  • Is it wrong to attempt to control legal immigration and disallow spouses of temporary legal corporate employees from working?
  • Is it right for American manufacturers to shift production to low-cost countries like what Harley Davidson has done?
  • Is it wrong to attack the “fake” media when it has been proven that there are instances when the real media reported fake news?
  • Is it wrong to attack long-standing American allies on trade, immigration and defence spending?
  • Is it right to exit from the U.N. Human Rights Council?
  • Is it right to throw away an international agreement with Iran which was signed by the previous Presidential administration?
  • Is it right to schmooze with President Putin of Russia when there is significant evidence that Russia had interfered with American Presidential Elections in 2016?
  • And so on, and so forth………..

Prima facie, it appears that the President is doing all the things that he committed to do while campaigning for the President job, and it also appears that he is right to carry out his commitments to the American people who elected him President, right?

Right. That’s for him.

Right. That’s for the vocal electorate in Middle America who voted for him.

Right. That’s for the coterie of his cabinet members who are not allowed to have their own unique opinion which could be different from those of the President.

Wrong. That’s for the rest of us.

But does he care? Absolutely not.

President Trump is convinced that he is doing the “right” thing for America and the American people. It is his unshakeable belief.

What he does not understand, or does not wish to understand, is that the U.S. is currently the #1 Nation impacting global policies in all facets of human life. Almost. When the U.S. is in such a unique and vaunted position, it is absolutely necessary for it to take the global impact into consideration, notwithstanding the fact that it could sometimes appear to be a philanthropic action, or cause temporary negative impact on the U.S. itself. Unfortunately, no other nation has been able to rise to the level of the U.S. over the past 70 odd years or so. American Presidents cannot be reckless and clueless about rules governing international law, trade, immigration, security, and diplomacy.

While what President Trump does to his people is his own business, Americans are now sufficiently global in their thinking that they should see through if their leader is violating global compacts and policies. Fortunately for President Trump, the U.S. economy has been doing well, and unemployment rate is falling. But, this is a time-sensitive phenomenon, and it only takes a couple of months before things start to unravel, as his trade policies are sure to cause trouble.

Global diplomacy is not about just getting to know each other, shaking hands and indulging in small talk. There is a huge amount of work which goes in, preparing for a global summit meeting. President Trump is now realizing that fact with reference to North Korea.

President Trump indulges in propagating fake news himself at his election rallies. There is only one single truth on every matter, and factual inaccuracies are mounting in his talk at his rallies where wild crowds of supporters cheer him on. He goes back to the White House with increased drive to continue his policies. His twitter feed has become a series of utterances against his “enemies”.

Overall, here is a President who self-indulges himself, berates constantly against his opponents, derides the Special Counsel investigation on Russian interference in U.S. elections, stumbles on conflicts of interests, communicates his racist tendencies, and his bad views on women in general. When a global leader of stature meets President Trump, what do you think will be going on in the mind of that global leader?

It is not hard to guess.

So, President Trump needs to get back to the basics of governance which are probably taught in a U.S. university of repute such as Georgetown in Washington DC itself, or consult past Presidents who could provide him some serious counselling. He needs to kick out sycophants from his Cabinet. He needs to listen to some seasoned leaders such as Angela Merkel of Germany. He needs to understand that running the U.S. government and managing global affairs is totally unlike running a corporation. And, he needs to kill his twitter handle. His digital skills have ruined policy making.

In a nutshell, President Trump can recover from his governance lows by actively seeking counselling assistance. All of us need counselling or mentoring at some stage in our lives, and it is nothing to smirk or laugh about. So, here we are – President Trump will hopefully read this blog post of mine and adopt my sage advice rendered to him without any prejudice by a global citizen who thinks globally.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th July 2018

 

Soul of America


The U.S.A. is by far, the most preferred country for immigrants, beating the next 9 countries on the list of preferred countries for immigration as per a recent survey.

For decades, and even for more than couple of centuries, America has been welcoming new immigrants to its shores. Both immigrants and America have benefited from this continuous immigration from all over the world. America has become a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic country, the closest example in Europe being the U.K. America has also been providing opportunities to create new wealth for all its people, and especially to talented immigrants, and examples of such cases abound and far too numerous to be captured in any article like this. America has become richer, diverse, more capable, and more dominant in the world due to immigration. Immigrants have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, more than 60% of PhD students in U.S. are foreigners, and more than 40% of students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are foreigners as well. There is no doubt about these facts which have been validated by data from many surveys.

For America to take a strong stand on an anti-immigration political platform compounded by some serious heavy-handed law enforcement actions separating immigrant parents from their children in the most recent episode along the border with Mexico, is rather unusual and challenging its soul itself. The administration of President Trump has pushed the limits on putting a complete stop to all kinds of illegal immigration, with or without the support of its own Republican Party, and with or without the support of the U.S. Congress.

Let us for a moment go back to the soul and heart of America. Americans have always been welcoming immigrants, and have built a meritocracy based on peoples’ talents rather than on their skin colour or religion. This is the reason why America’s technological, political, social and military dominance is complete with no challengers in sight, though it can be argued that China and Russia are bent on challenging the U.S. hegemony of late. However, the U.S. is by far superior in all facets of human endeavour, and while there are pockets of dominance all around the world, the U.S. offers the most complete package to potential immigrants who, if they are talented and skilled, would be on par with the local U.S. citizens. Such adaptability and flexibility in building an equitable society has paid off for America in the long run, and is a model for countries like Singapore which is also focused on building a multi-skilled, competent and knowledge-based society.

Given this background, the vicious action of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in separating children as young as 2 years old from their parents can only be considered cruel and far beneath the status of a generous, accepting and welcoming society that is the U.S. It is no wonder that President Trump came under huge pressure from his own party to stop the family separation, and he did that with an executive order that he issued with far less clarity than it should have exhibited. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction.

As we say, it is a torture to carry the guilt on a society’s heart and soul – examples again demonstrate the power of guilt. In Australia, the governments in the past have separated aboriginal children from their native parents and transferred these children to white foster parents. A similar thing happened in Canada. Many countries have inflicted cruelty on children – especially in Europe and Africa.

The U.S. need not and should not acquire and carry that guilt on its heart and soul. It is despicable, and completely out of character for a nation like the U.S.

Illegal immigration should be reduced but handled with care and compassion. People flee their countries mostly on economic grounds or political persecution. The U.S. is the most advanced country which is equipped to handle such immigrants, and is also the most capable in absorbing select immigrants – only the U.S. Congress has to enact legislation codifying the criteria that can be applied to such immigration.

Most European countries are trying to stop immigration. It has been a hot-button issue for elections in several countries such as Germany, Austria, Hungary and France. There is no perfect solution, especially when there is no common denominator on big factors such as language or religion which affect social and cultural integration of the immigrants into the respective societies. Such issues are less divisive in the U.S. as it has become a well-accepted melting pot of people from all over the world, working with each other and depending on each others’ services.

So, at the end of the day, the U.S. remains as the most preferred nation for potential immigrants from all over the world – even from other developed countries!

It is critical for the Executive and U.S. Congress to sit together and resolve matters pertaining to immigration policy. It is very critical for the future progress of the U.S. and cannot be ignored. The continued success and technological progress of the U.S. are based on immigrants continuing to flow into the U.S., of course on a controlled basis.

Kudos to America for being the most generous nation on planet earth!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd June 2018

Two Dictators and their Antics


Singapore was witness to a historic summit between two dictators earlier this week (on the 12th June 2018) in the idyllic small island of Sentosa off the main Singapore island.

One dictator has established himself as a ruthless governor of the pariah state of North Korea (NK or otherwise known as DPRK – Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea). He has been the leader of NK for the past 7 years only, but has amply demonstrated his cruelty by murdering many of his people in the shortest possible time, including his own uncle. His citizens are starving. He has channeled all his slush funds into developing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, and his unstable government has incited fears even in his closest ally, China. I do not understand the relationship between NK and Russia, however. May be technology transfer? In a nutshell, NK is neither democratic nor socialistic – people are just slaves of the Kim family for over 7 decades.

All these things are well documented, with news coverage of NK being incessant over the past 12 to 18 months or so, with the aggressive posturing of its young leader, often against the U.S.

The other dictator I am referring to here is of course, Donald Trump, the President of the U.S. who is unpredictable, unstable, and easily incited into drastic actions. How can he be the so-called “leader of the Free World”?. Under his stewardship, the U.S. is being castigated for a series of diplomatic and trade-related missteps. No one in the U.S. government or even the White House knows what Trump is up to with his early morning tweets setting government policy and heavily criticizing his opponents and the media. He wants his way in everything that matters to him, and appears to be totally devoid of careful counsel. And, that is exactly the way he made the trip to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong Un.

The meeting was totally unscripted and was deemed to be a “relationship” meeting as Trump continually attempted to downgrade expectations, having built up those expectations to a feverish level in the days leading up to the “dictators’ meting” in Singapore. Kim was wiser, he hardly stated anything publicly, and kept his counsel, and demonstrated a cool head during his Singapore visit without appearing to be unduly excited.

Why should he be? He was, in any case, not giving away anything to Trump. The meeting was hailed as an outstanding success by Trump, though many observers thought it was a complete waste of time having accomplished nothing of substance – no complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization; no stopping of missile launches; no resolution to the thorny issue of abducted Japanese citizens by NK agents; no tight time schedule for anything; no way forward on the big human rights violations by NK against its own citizens; and no, no, no for many other demands.

For Trump, it was a public relations exercise, becoming the first ever sitting President of the U.S. to have met with the leader of NK – ever. He thinks he has figured Kim out and can handle him well. How? All by touch and feel, as Trump claimed in his media interactions? Why would he think and then say that Kim is a “talented” guy? Trump expressed his appreciation of the fact that Kim took over as Chairman in 2011 when he was barely 26 years of age, and brushed aside questions on the very bad human rights record of NK.

In my opinion, it was a waste of time with no solid returns for the stakeholders – South Korea, Japan and the U.S. It was a failure.

It was horrifying to see that the leader of the Free World has now become a close friend of the worst dictator on earth. For a very long time, the U.S. has entertained dictators all over the world, and antagonized democracies. Any one who has followed world history will attest to this fact. The U.S. always hid behind domestic compulsions, national security, and cold war antagonism. In the past one week, Trump has even alienated his closest allies in the G-8 meeting in Canada, and blasted Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a dishonest person and a liar.

So, the world is heading towards a circus play of these two dictators. We have no choice but to play along, as otherwise the world will be headed towards another war – as Trump himself stated during his Singapore trip, he has saved 28M lives! Totally ridiculous, unacceptable and irresponsible.

Singapore spent a lot of money in organizing this summit of the two dictators – upwards of $15M. Many locations, especially the hotels in which the two dictators were staying, and the meeting venue in Sentosa were all in locked-down status. Thousands of police personnel were pressed into duty. For Singapore, it was beneficial as it gained worldwide attention as the venue of the summit, having been friends with both sides over the years. Singapore is a close military ally of the U.S. and it also has other wide-ranging business, trade, economic relations with the U.S. Singapore has also maintained diplomatic relations with NK, though it complied with the U.N. sanctions against the regime.

Chairman Kim Jong Un gained big publicity as well – he was treated as a visiting head of state and acquired legitimacy as a leader in his own right. This would not have happened for a long, long time under the U.N. sanctions scenario (which still apply).

So, in a nutshell, lot of noise and fanfare for a very weak 4 points agreement which has been touted as something huge back in the U.S. by President Trump, and deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Prize? Forget it. NK has a long way to go before the world recognizes it on par with South Korea (unless there is a merger).

In any case, visit Singapore and see the Capella Hotel in Sentosa Island – you might like to walk along the same corridor that both the dictators walked on!

Here’s Wishing all Friends a “Selamat Hari Raya or Eid Mubarak”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2018

 

Feeling Good in Today’s World


Feeling good becomes a continuous challenge as one gets older and his/her social engagements continue to drop from the peaks of corporate, family or social networking, which allowed the “feel good” factor to flourish.

This is to be expected, however people who are entering or encountering such a phase in their lives sometimes struggle to deal with the challenge. It is more because they did not hone their strategy of continuous engagement with all their networks before hitting the slow down. Once such a slow down occurs, the struggle starts and re-connection with networks becomes an issue as the position from which one used to operate is now gone. It might appear that others tend to ignore you, but that is mostly not the case. Compounding this issue is the global scenario which sometimes makes anyone feel despondent. It appears the world is splitting at its seams with unnecessary conflicts.

Feeling good is a critical aspect of living well. It is crucial to keep going with a positive mindset and orientation towards life and others who are involved with you. It may be simple things like catching up with someone you have known for a while and just talking shop – like what is happening around the world, how is the weather shaping up, who is doing what, etc., The smiles and the bonhomie of meeting with someone known to you are important elements of every engagement, and keeps you full of life’s zest.

When we work in a corporate or academic setting, there are always lots of things to do, meetings to attend, deadlines to meet, targets to chase, and friends to network with. Life is full of activities and actions which keep you moving from one day to the next, looking forward to the future in a continuous but relentless fashion. Things happen, or you have to make things happen, you need to collaborate with lots of folks, talk to remote colleagues, prepare pitches to present to or convince a client, and so on and so forth. This non-stop series of activities slows down at some stage, and then declines completely once you retire from active duty.

The ability to feel good on shaping things in corporate life drops down, as the retired life is all about shaping yourself to face the oncoming uncertain future – may be you shape your spouse as well so that the journey to future could be congruous. Suddenly, the scope and variety of challenges and problems to solve reduce dramatically. Your kids have grown up and moved on. The only thing which can then keep you engaged in life is to develop a meaning or strong purpose.

A strong meaning or purpose lends a sense of direction to you, and as you keep executing and fulfilling the duties generated by that purpose, you achieve a sense of fulfillment, which in turn leads to a feeling of positivity and goodness. About yourself and about others around you. This is a very important feeling which we all should aim to achieve during every day of our lives. It makes your life credible and purposeful, with a sense of orientation towards accomplishing meaningful objectives, similar to what you were doing during your corporate life.

I assign a huge value to feeling good. I used to drink a glass of chardonnay every other evening and reminisce on what I have done during the day; but now that I have given up drinking, I do the same thing with a glass of oat or almond milk (which have become my favourite drinks, along with soda/tonic water when I go out pubbing). I was (and still am) able to focus on the positive aspects of the day to day interactions and engagements with a glass of wine. The feel good factor stayed with me till I went to sleep, and I believe it was a strong reason why I never struggled to sleep.

So, in a nutshell, I am advocating that you develop a sense of purpose – you should have meaning in your life. Think about your life and its impact on others around you. What have you done to help people? Did you mentor anyone? Did you help your colleague solve an intractable problem? Was that person happy with your help? Did you walk out of the office everyday feeling a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction on the role you had played during the day?

If the responses to the above questions are positive, then your ability to feel good is firmly in place. And, once that feeling is in place, you would look at the world around you in a positive manner. You would go out of your way to help the destitute, or your neighbours. You would not discriminate against anyone. Your helpful dispensation will not go unrecognized by the people around you, your colleagues, your neighbours and the society at large.

All this make a big difference to your own life, and it could well mean that you would live longer than the average life mortality figure. You have a strong reason to exist, and that would keep you going. This is despite all the reasons to feel down in today’s uncertain world. This is despite all the wars, conflicts, and other bad things which happen in the world every day.

So, feeling good is essential. Always aim to feel good about yourself, your family and friends. Don’t forget it has a direct impact on your mental well-being and health.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd June 2018

 

Stunning Infrastructure


I was in Shanghai earlier this week. I was visiting Shanghai after several years (I had been going to Beijing more often).

The Pudong Airport was big and clean, and the immigration and customs processing was fast, though they follow the Indian procedure of scanning every bag of every passenger which takes some time as compared to Singapore or even Kuala Lumpur. The other similarity with Indian airports was that there was a long line of placards held by hotel drivers to receive the arriving passengers, and this exists only in pockets at Singapore Changi Airport (and most other global airports).

I picked up some coffee at the Airport Starbucks upon clearing customs, and was surprised to note that the “baristas” at Starbucks understood my English and also had my choice of flat white coffee. As I knew already, China is the second biggest market for Starbucks worldwide, and one can see countless Starbucks outlets all over Beijing for instance.

I was a bit confused as I stepped out and looked for exiting the airport. Of course, my benchmark of Singapore does not always do good at most other airports, as the differences aimed at passenger convenience are often glaring.

The previous times I had taken a taxi from the Pudong International Airport. This time around, however, I decided to take the Maglev high speed train, though I had to anyway take a taxi to the hotel from the destination.

Though the Maglev has been running for more than 15 years, it is still a tourist sensation with a top speed of 430 KMPH. It makes the journey from the airport to its destination (Longyong Road) in just 8 minutes over a distance of 30 KMs. However, when I travelled, the Maglev train reached a maximum of 301 KMPH as displayed on the LED display in every carriage. I could not “feel” the speed but could see that fields and trees were whizzing by. There was no shake or any kind of inconvenience to passengers. It was very smooth, and before I realized, the train had arrived at its destination.

Taxi drivers in China generally do not communicate in English, and I am sure they do not understand spoken English. I always download the Chinese characters for my destination hotel (for example) and show it to the driver – I had to do this anyway at the Longyong Road taxi stand as there was no sign for special areas designated for picking up passengers by call taxis. In China, I use the DIDI app (Uber sold their rights to DIDI), which is as good as any with quick service, reasonable rates, and a unique facility of communicating with driver using English language messaging which will be read in Chinese by the driver (and his reply though keyed in Chinese will come to my app in English).

While inability to communicate to any taxi driver is surely an inconvenience, I would not place much emphasis on it as the DIDI app is wonderful and has worked for me effectively every time I had used it. The e-invoices are mailed to my email account, and there is an option to add tips to the driver if you are happy with his service.

Coming to the road traffic, I am happier comparing it to Indian cities or Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpur. While Shanghai roads are good with expressways dotting the city, the traffic is really bad at peak times, and as congested as you might have experienced in Bangalore or Mumbai or Bangkok. There are simply a huge number of vehicles plying the roads, and it is apparent that people have not been weaned away from cars though the subway system is superbly constructed and convenient to use. Since it takes significant time to travel by road from one part of the city to the other, or to the airport, or to the main railway station (Hongqiao Railway Station), one needs to plan the route and add extra 15 to 30 minutes to the journey time. After seeing the impact of traffic and witnessing some road accident on an expressway, I came to the conclusion that this is not something that can be fixed quickly in such a huge and densely packed city like Shanghai. The only solution is to use the subway.

I liked the Pudong area and wandered around near the main riverside area. There were thousands of tourists and city dwellers taking a stroll, and it did not appear to be a so-called “controlled” city of China, I could feel that it was more like Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture with emphasis on networking, socializing, partying, dining, enjoying what the city gives, and of course, making business deals.

I saw the beautiful Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund, which is an iconic landmark in Shanghai (though I could not afford staying at this 80 years old hotel which has been wonderfully maintained). I walked through the hotel, and I should simply say I was astounded.

Finally, on the railway station infrastructure of China and specifically the one I saw in Shanghai, the Hongqiao Railway Station, I thought that China has perfected the art and science of building infrastructure for its 1.4B people from concept to execution times which are simply unbelievable. I came to the quick (and bad) conclusion that India will never be able to catch up with China on infrastructure – and I believe that even most Western countries won’t be able to catch up with China. It is amazing to witness what has been accomplished just in the past two decades (of course, money was never a problem for China, and manpower came in cheap as well). India specifically is very far behind, and the Indian Government should make it mandatory for Indian Ministers and top bureaucrats to attend China’s world-leading university programs on planning and execution. They just have to take a walk along any railway platform or walk outside the platform areas in the Hongqiao Station which is so spaced out with ability to accommodate thousands of travellers at any time. They even run a free mini-bus service from one end of the station to the other end – probably a little over a KM.

Even the processing of passengers is super efficient. If you have the ticket, you proceed to security check (yes they have like in airports!), or else you show the printout along with identification to collect the ticket. Then you just proceed to the respective gate, which opens only 15 minutes before the train departure time (they maintain accurate departure and arrival times, and all trains run like clockwork). Passengers are disciplined and queue up in front of the respective carriages (marked on the floor of the platform – no need to ask anyone), they get in upon arrival of the train, and within a few minutes the train departs. If you are late, sorry.

Simply amazing infrastructure with money very well spent – and which is being used by millions of people in an efficient manner. For people who want to travel by train in China, please note that First Class is actually one notch below Business Class. I did not know this till I saw the difference. Business Class section is separate, and it has only few seats (like, less than 10 in the train I took). First Class is like a good and well spaced out Premium Economy Class! I did not see the real Economy Class on the train. For a 200 KM high speed train (which ran at 260 KMPH), I was charged SGD 23 which I thought was quite reasonable.

So, am I embarrassed? No, but China’s achievements cannot be pushed under the carpet stating simply that they are a Communist country with hardly any democratic decision making. I simply do not agree with the foolish arguments from many Indians that India operates under different conditions so lack of achievements is totally justifiable. Another day, another blog post for us to thoroughly argue out on this fascinating topic!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2018

The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018