July 14, 2010

Is India Unduly Concerned About China and Chinese Telecom Firms?

There have been stray reports about India and Indian ministries being “unduly” concerned about China and Chinese companies, particularly in telecom and power.[1] Making light of such concerns is based on the specious premise that China is too focussed on its global ambitions and economic prosperity to take undue risks via military (mis)adventures that could jeopardise its economic gains.

That’s a dangerous line of thought that overlooks China’s past record. The dragon always works to a game-plan. It would be naive to ignore China’s hegemonistic ambitions, despite its assertions to the contrary. The global cyber hacking of foes and friends alike (India, US, UKPakistan, etc.)[2] is ample indication that China nurses Genghis Khan’s ambitions cloaked with Mao Zedong’s stealth. Allowing Chinese telecom and power companies into India can be fraught with long-term security implications. It’s not without reason the Home Ministry has voiced fears that telecom equipment may contain spyware or malware that could compromise confidential information and allow hostile intelligence agencies to access this.[3]

In fact, Chinese telecom company Huawei has been accused of bribery, data theft and conspiracy to disrupt national telecom networks in many countries around the world. Worldwide, many countries and their intelligence chiefs are extremely wary of Huawei, particularly since it was founded by Ren Zhengfei, ex-director of the telecom research arm of China’s People’s Liberation Army.[4]

The other point for sceptics to note is that China has been making diplomatic, economic and militaristic inroads into neighbouring countries and, essentially, ‘encircling’ India, which includes setting up ‘listening posts’ in the neighbourhood.[5] China’s attempt to strike a nuclear deal and transfer conventional and nuclear weapons capabilities to Pakistanis part of its larger game-plan. Attempts to equate a Sino-Pak nuclear deal with the Indo-US nuclear agreement are untenable, especially because Pakistan has an abysmal nuclear proliferation record, while India doesn’t. Although trade with China should be welcomed, allowing Chinese companies unrestricted entry into telecom and power calls for an abundant measure of caution. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry!

July 13, 2010

New way to detect viral infections gives homeopathy a boost-Jonathan Leake

Following up on the article on homeopathy , the Times of India carried an article on page 13 titled : New way to detect viral infections gives homeopathy a boost 

Also in the Sunday Times London:

Professor Luc Montagnier,a French virologist,stunned his colleagues at a prestigious international conference when he presented a new method for detecting viral infections which bore close parallels to the basic tenets of homeopathy. Although fellow Nobel prize winners who view homeopathy as quackery were left shaking their heads, Montagniers comments were rapidly embraced by homeopaths in UK eager for greater credibility.

Montagnier told the conference last week that solutions containing DNA of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, including HIV, could emit low frequency radio waves that induced surrounding water molecules to become arranged into nanostructures. These water molecules, he said, could also emit radio waves. He suggested that water could retain such properties even after the original solutions were massively diluted, to the point where the original DNA had effectively vanished. In this way, he suggested, water could retain the memory of substances with which it had been in contact - and doctors could use the emissions to detect disease.

For the lay person such claims may sound technical but uncontroversial. For scientists they are highly provocative because they embody principles which are extremely similar to those said to underpin homeopathy. Homeopathic medicines work on the principle that a toxic substance taken in minute amounts will cure same symptoms that it would cause if it were taken in large amounts.

Montagniers claims come at a sensitive time, with British Medical Associations annual conference last week calling for the National Health Service to stop spending 4m a year on homeopathy.

June 22, 2010

Why an Indian Real Estate Regulator is Long Overdue

Indian builders are presently a law unto themselves. Numerous buyers are hoodwinked by builders reneging on their commitments with impunity. Real estate is one of India’s most unregulated sectors where developers get away with almost anything. Many builders garner funds through pre-launch sales or by promising fixed returns on investments, acting more like NBFCs, although both practices violate norms.[1]

When end-users invest their entire savings to book a flat, they are promised possession within a year or two, yet may not receive possession even four or five years down the line. If a buyer fails to make any payment on time, he’s forced to pay penal interest ranging between 18% and 21%. But when builders don’t deliver on time, they only pay a benign rate of interest – and only if there is a penalty clause. If a property is resold, some builders also take exorbitant transfers charges – in cash, with no receipt provided – which can be as much as four to eight times the permissible transfer charges.

Naturally, end-users as well as investors are keen a real estate regulator is created to act as a watchdog and curb the rampant violations indulged in by builders. For the past two years, the Government has been promising to set up a real estate regulatory body, which is yet to see the light of day. Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy has now promised that a regulator will be in place by end-2010, to stop builders from “unnecessary profiteering”.[2]

Developers, though, have different alibis to resist regulation and protect their usurious profit margins: another level of authority will only lead to more delays, red tapism, and higher cost, which will ultimately be counterproductive for end users; unnecessary; will only challenge the competence of existing authorities, etc. The Government should ignore such vested pleas and ensure the real estate regulator is in place this year itself.

June 15, 2010

Is Homeopathy a Sham?

It may be exactly the opposite! Although many allopathic practitioners and scientists label it a sham, and there is inconclusive proof about its efficacy, the fact could be that Homeopathy is based on a truth that the world has not yet grasped – water is alive and indeed has a memory! That’s why substances that no longer harbour the active ingredient – except its memory – still apparently work.

Few scientists or modern doctors are willing to buy this theory. The British Medical Association (BMA) has passed a motion denouncing the practice and saying taxpayers should not foot bills for remedies which lack scientific basis.[1] Developed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is based on the law of similars – the principle that like cures like. In essence, substances that cause symptoms in a healthy person can cure the same problems in a sick person when vastly diluted. Homeopaths contend the resultant remedy retains a “memory” of the original ingredient, which scientists dismiss as hogwash.

Yet, what scientists, modern doctors and the BMA conveniently forget is that vaccination itself is based on the law of similars![2] Would they therefore conclude that immunisation is hogwash and vaccines are ineffective?!

In fact, French immunologist Dr Jacques Benveniste had conducted research that indicated water may actually have a “memory”.[3] If these findings of the late immunologist are confirmed repeatedly by others (it has been confirmed by Swiss chemist Louis Rey),[4] this will be further proof that homeopathy is indeed based on scientific principles which may be well ahead of the times.

Although other researchers are sceptical about the findings,[5] the truth will prevail sooner or later. Remember, once upon a time humans never believed that plants were living beings…

June 2, 2010

Is Viswanathan Anand India’s Greatest Unsung Sports Icon?

On 11 May 2010, Viswanathan Anand retained his World Chess Champion title by defeating Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov in the 12th and final game. Anand’s victory is creditable since he beat Topalov in the challenger’s backyard at Sofia, Bulgaria – despite being forced to travel 40 hours by road to reach the venue, after all air traffic was disrupted due to the volcanic ash crisis over Europe.[1] And despite being considered over the hill and losing the first game itself (thanks in part due to the tiring 2,000-km bus journey to Sofia).

Anand’s heroics in winning in Bulgaria notwithstanding, his efforts have barely been hailed in India, while the losing T20 cricket team has received reams of newsprint.[2] Had Anand been a cricketer scaling commensurate peaks, he would have been felicitated by all and sundry as well as covered in newsprint, endorsements and gold.  

The poor status accorded to chess, as well as the towering yet ‘faceless’ credibility enjoyed by Anand, is well illustrated by an anecdote Anand narrates: “When I was travelling by train in Kerala many years ago, a fellow passenger asked me about my profession. ‘I’m a chess player,’ I replied. ‘You wouldn’t be able to make a living out of chess unless you are Viswanathan Anand,’ he shot back. I told him I was the Anand he was referring to!”[3]
In this respect, Anand could be sailing in the same boat as India’s former hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. Although undoubtedly the world’s greatest hockey player of all time, Dhyan Chand died disillusioned and penniless on 3 December 1979, spending his last days uncared for in a general ward of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, undergoing treatment for liver cancer.[4]

Hopefully, Anand is investing wisely for a rainy day and will avoid the fate that befell Major Dhyan Chand during his sunset years.  

June 1, 2010

Can the Kashmir Problem be Resolved Permanently?

That was the headline of a Blog post written on 25 March 2010. The post emphasized my conviction that the J&K issue could be resolved permanently via a Vatican-like status, with open borders facing India and Pakistan and the entire J&K region (including Pak-occupied Kashmir) being treated as a demilitarized zone.

This conviction has now been buttressed by a front-page report in The Times of India (28 May) headlined: Just 2% in J&K want to join Pak, with the sub-head: Most Favour Relaxed LoC As Border, Finds First-Ever Poll.

Read the Blog Post of 25 March and the TOI report of 28 May and it is clear that the solution advocated in both cases is along the same lines, just in different words.

May 21, 2010

Should Test Cricket go Day-Night to Survive?

Why not? Day-night games would enhance the charm of Test cricket, especially for youngsters, fed on a high-octane diet of Twenty20 cricket. The idea of day-night Test matches was first mooted a few years ago, although the proposal shot into the spotlight when Lalit Modi (the now-disgraced ex-Commissioner of the Indian Premier League) broached the topic.[1] Modi opined it was imperative Test cricket shifted to the day-night format to become more broadcaster-friendly and ensure its survival amid the pervasive popularity of Twenty20 cricket, which would “become the dominant format – without doubt”.

Modi said Tests failed to draw crowds because they are played during the day, when people are at work. A night Test would allow people to visit the stadium or watch the match on TV after they returned home, besides catching the interest of broadcasters too – vital for the game’s financial well-being.

The day-night Tests idea was backed by MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) chief executive, Keith Bradshaw: “The research we undertook showed there was a willingness among fans to attend day-night Test cricket and that was something boards were attracted to.”[2]

But changing over to a day-night format may not be easy. Changed playing conditions would necessitate a change in the players’ traditional white kit and the red ball – not easily visible under floodlights. Pink balls were tried as a replacement for the red or white balls, but the England board apparently rejected pink balls as they were “little better than white balls”. Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland has also backed day-night Tests, believing this could be the only way for Test cricket to survive the onslaught of Twenty20 cricket.[3]

While Modi and Twenty20 may not have killed Test cricket, Tests under lights will boost its traction for broadcasters as well as attraction for cricket lovers young and old.