Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Censorship


A few weeks ago I sounded off at a meeting of bloggers in Goa about how someone – either at Google or an outside hacker – had introduced hundreds of “robot.txt blocks” on my site.

These instruct search engines not to look at specific things you have written; in effect, they are censors.

In the last year, the number of robot.txt blocks on my site has climbed steadily and is now 791.

Meanwhile, the total number of urls from my site indexed by Google has fallen from about 800 to nearly half that figure, a sure sign of malign interference. (The total should only go up for it is cumulative.)

There has been a resounding lack of response to my appeals for help addressed to Google and the blogspot community.

One of the other participants at the meeting who seemed to have an inside track to Google expresssed interest in my predicament and I held out hope that something constructive would result.

Something has happened, but not what I hoped. 

The “Total Indexed” graph line no longer descends from 800; it now ascends from 0 to 512 on 1/6/13, peaks at 646 on 5/12/13, and then drops to the current 465.

Meanwhile, the graph line showing the number of urls “Ever Crawled” on my site  was at 717 when the “Total Indexed” is shown at 0, an obvious anomaly. (The "Ever Crawled" figure is now 807.)

The number of robot.txt blocks was 586 when the Total Indexed is shown at 0!

The mysterious statistical volatility on my site has not affected the selection of anodyne keywords Google uses as identifiers of my ever controversial blog. These are the top 20 keywords it associates with undiplomatictimes:

1. Indian (4 variants)

2. Post (3 variants)

3. January

4. February

5. World

6. March

7. November

8. British

9. New

10. December

11. Blog (4 variants)

12. August

13. Nations (3 variants)

14. Countries (3 variants)

15. United (2 variants)

16. China (3 variants)

17. April

18. Britain (2 variants)

19. Atom (2 variants)

20. June

In a certain twisted sort of way it is flattering that the high and the mighty, with all the resources of Western mass media at their command, should feel the need to censor my tiny voice. It can only be taken as signalling an intense insecurity.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Preet Bharara's Folly


New York Attorney Preet Bharara’s political ambition is the only satisfactory explanation for why American law enforcement officials chose to publicly humiliate Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade when arresting her for alleged visa fraud on 12 December in New York.

He clearly has such ambition. The second paragraph on the Home page of his office reads:

“Throughout its history, this Office has distinguished itself as one of the nation's premier legal institutions, successfully prosecuting groundbreaking and historic cases. Those who have served in the Southern District include lawyers who have gone on to become United States Senators, Congressmen, Mayors of New York City, Governor of New York, Secretary of War, Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of State, Attorney General of the United States, United States Supreme Court Justice, Ambassadors and federal judges, as well as well-respected members of prominent private law firms.”

If India-born Bharara is to ascend to a political post, especially an elected one, he must establish solidly that his only loyalty is to the United States, that his ethnicity and national origin are immaterial.

Bharara has done that with his aggressive pursuit of Devyani for allegedly forging documents inflating the remuneration of her maid. India’s Deputy Consul-General was arrested in front of her child’s school, made to strip at a police station, “cavity searched,” and held in a cell with common criminals. 

But in achieving a personal public relations objective the ambitious New York Attorney might have shot himself in the political foot and done a major disservice to the United States.

The diplomatic incident he created will have far-reaching negative effects on Indo-American relations at a time when the two countries are forging a critically important alliance to safeguard the future of democracy in a world that could easily tip into totalitarianism.

By not moving quietly to have Devyani declared persona non grata – action specifically designed for such situations – he has unnecessarily complicated President Obama’s single most important strategic initiative in foreign affairs, the “pivot to Asia.”

The fact that he did not take into account the repercussions of humiliating an Indian diplomat so brutally when there were a range of other options highlights not Bharara’s singular loyalty to the United States but to his own ambition.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Passing of Nelson Mandela


With the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela the world has lost the last legendary figure of an epic age.

In remembering his life and times, it is important to recall clearly the circumstances that propelled him to greatness and note his global significance in a period of history's deepest depravities.

On 22 June 1990, newly freed from 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela himself noted the circumstances in his first speech at the United Nations.

“It will forever remain an indelible blight on human history that the apartheid crime ever occurred,” he said from the podium of the General Assembly.

“Future generations will surely ask: What error was made that this system established itself in the wake of the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has before all of us stood up to say: ‘Enough is enough.’ Future generations will surely enquire: What error was made that this system established itself in the aftermath of the trials at Nuremburg?

A “racist tyranny” had established itself in South Africa precisely at the time international human rights and values were being articulated. It had “claimed its own conclave of victims … established its own brutal worth by the number of children it has killed and the orphans, the widows, and widowers it can claim.”

He reminded the audience that even as he spoke the system “still it lives on,” with “strange and monstrous debates” continuing “about the means that its victims are obliged to use to rid themselves of this intolerable scourge.” Those “who choose not to act” continued to argue “that to do nothing must be accepted as the very essence of civilized opposition to tyranny.”

It was more than casuistry that he faced.

There are “many amongst our white compatriots … still committed to the maintenance of the evil system of white minority domination,” Mandela said. “Some are opposed because of their ideological adherence to racism. Others are resisting because they fear democratic majority rule. Some of these are armed and are to be found within the army and the police.” Outside the state agencies were other whites “working at a feverish race to establish para-military groups whose stated aim is the physical liquidation of the ANC, its leadership and membership ... We cannot afford to underestimate the threat that these defenders of a brutal and continuing reality pose to the whole process of working towards a just political settlement.”

Most people have now forgotten that brutal racist incidents did punctuate the talks between Mandela and the head of the racist regime F.W. de Klerk. Negotiations were suspended after 41 ANC members and their families were massacred at Baipatalong in June 1994, and it took great leadership for Mandela to resume them when feelings were again at fever pitch in the wake of another mass killing at Bishu in September.

Powering that leadership was a steely determination not to let the racists destroy the vision of a multiracial South Africa that he spoke of from the dock at his April 1964 trial for sabotage.

Explaining that he had turned to violence only after the regime had banned the African National Congress (ANC) in the wake of the March 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela said that it would have been abject surrender to do anything else. “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people,” he concluded. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." 

Mandela’s unique greatness lay in how he brought that ideal to life. 

No one else could have engaged South Africa's morally odious White leadership in civil and amiable discourse while directing his Black compatriots not to harp on the past, to forgo recrimination and to look to the future.

It is entirely due to him that apartheid did not collapse in a welter of blood and leave South Africans trapped in a civil war such as the one now involving India and Pakistan. 

In a world all too used to the destruction of peoples at the hands of leaders without vision, Mandela’s infallible sense of proportion, equanimity and steady good will evoked universal wonder. How could a man unjustly deprived of freedom, family and every normal comfort for so long, his sight ruined by the stone quarry glare of Robbens Island prison and his sturdy strength reduced to quivering infirmities, be so without bitterness? How could he be so rich in dignity despite every effort to degrade his person?

The lessons Mandela set for his country, continent and the world were not just in opposing a system of gross injustice but in pursuing, achieving and relinquishing political power. He held and left the highest office of his land with the same effortless grace that had characterized him in misfortune and in his long walk to freedom.

At all times he had an innate granite integrity, and it could be said of him as it was of Mahatma Gandhi at his death: this was a man to hold against the world, a man to match the mountains and the sea.

See also Remembering Mandela


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Britain & Hinduism 10: Soul Science

“The worlds to which a man goes by sacrificing barren cows are surely without blessings,” says the teenager at the sacrifice his father is conducting to win heavenly fortune.

Shamed and angered, the father commits all he has to the sacrifice.

The boy thinks himself included in that offering, and asks, “Dear Father, to whom are you giving me?”

Three times, he asks, until his enraged father bursts out, “I give you to Yama!”

Yama is not at home when the boy arrives in the underworld, and for three days he waits in the house of Death without the least hospitality, not even water.

When Yama returns, he apologizes for that treatment and offers a boon to compensate for each day of waiting.

The boy asks, first, that his father be no longer angry with him.

Then he asks to be taught the Fire Sacrifice that transports one to heaven where there is no fear of death.

For the third, he wants to know what happens to a person after death.

Yama grants the first two wishes but is reluctant with the third. “On this point even the gods are in doubt,” he says; “it is not easy to understand. That subject is subtle. Choose another boon!”

The boy insists. “Surely no other boon is like this, with you as the teacher on a matter the gods themselves doubt!”

“Choose sons and grandsons who live a hundred years, herds of cattle, elephants, gold, and horses,” pleads Death. “Live yourself as many harvests as you want. Be king of the wide earth, enjoy all you desire, fair maidens, chariots, music, anything ... but do not ask me about dying.”

The boy remains adamant. “All these things last till tomorrow, O Death, for they wear out the vigor of all the senses. Life is short. Keep thou thy horses, keep dance and song for thyself. No man can be made happy by wealth. What shall we possess when we see thee? Shall we live, as long as you rule? What mortal, slowly decaying here below would delight in a long life, after pondering the pleasures from beauty and love? O Death, I do not choose another boon but that which enters into the hidden world.”

Thus begins the Katha Upanishad (with some tweaking on my part to clarify the initial the father-son interaction.)

The story of Naciketas, the boy who pried out Death's secret, has gripped the Indian imagination for many millenniums; it continues with Yama acceding to the third boon.

He begins by praising Naciketas for so firmly rejecting all objects of desire.

The paths of knowledge and desire begin in the same human heart but diverge enormously, he says.

Those who pursue their desires have no escape from the endless cycle of births and deaths.

“The path to truth is as difficult to cross as a razor’s edge, but one who travels it discovers the Self within, the Soul that never dies.”

When death takes the body, the magical Self lives on, "smaller than small, greater than great, hidden in the heart of every creature." Those aware of it can sit still yet travel far, be lying down but go everywhere. "Knowing the Self to be bodiless within bodies, changeless amidst transformations, great and omnipresent,” they do not grieve at death

“Knowledge of the Self cannot be gained from the Veda, nor by understanding, nor by much learning; it comes only to to those who have turned away from wickedness, possess a tranquil mind, and are chosen by the Universal Self.”

The solemn reality Yama unfolds is the polar opposite of the mechanistic world of Science. It is a Universe imbued with divine will and moral purpose, actively supportive of the powers of regeneration, growth and good.

During the colonial era Europeans came to look down on that Indian sense of reality as irrational, other-worldly and superstitious. Many still do, for they have not adjusted to two sets of scientific advances in the 20th Century that quietly validated the greater part of the Hindu perspective.

If we take those advances into account the immortal soul and its governing concept of karma become entirely rational and undeniable.

The Two Advances

The first scientific advance began with the laboratory observation that light exists simultaneously as both wave and particle. It led to the conclusion that energy and matter meld into each other at the sub-atomic level and, more surprisingly, that neither can be destroyed: they can only be turned into each other. (Hence Einstein's E=MC2.)

The second advance led to the discovery of the genetic code, the blueprint imprinted on the nucleus of the first cell at the moment of conception that determines the mature person in physical detail and potential.

Put these discoveries in the same frame and we can define the soul as an indestructible piece of unique code that determines identity.

When a person dies, his or her material body deteriorates, but the indestructible energy version of the code – the soul – floats free.

Just as a radio wave carrying the human voice can reproduce it at an antenna tuned to the right frequency, so the “soul wave” carries the imprint of the whole being to a new body at the moment of conception.

The Implications

Scientists have not focused on any of this as yet. When they do, it is only a matter of time before they find out the logistics for the transmission of the soul; and once that happens, it will clarify how karma works.

We can surmise that Karma has the same role as radio frequency in determining which new body will be able to receive a particular incoming soul. It makes a moral match between the new and old life form.

It will not be easy to adjust to the idea of one’s immortal soul as a scientific fact rather than a religious concept. For one thing, it will extend each thinking person's time-horizon far beyond his/her individual life, shriveling many petty considerations that might now loom large. On the other hand, people will be forced to take themselves very seriously indeed when considering the ever present choice: to ascend morally, enjoy the ride down, or coast and be at the mercy of others.

If most people determine to be actively good, it will transform society.

Consider the impact if large numbers of Indians begin spontaneously to take care of problems around them.

This is what Gandhi meant when he said “Be the change,” and it offers the only sure and swift way out of the current Kali Yuga.

We are at a critical juncture in our national and global development, and the positive engagement of ordinary people will be decisive in shaping the future.

That will be the focus of Part 11.

********
Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Create a Commonwealth Truth Commission!


As host and incoming chair of the Commonwealth summit Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse should establish a Commonwealth Truth Commission to build on the British bid to focus attention on the bloody end of the Tamil Tigers.

It should be empowered to look at the post colonial experience of deadly insurrection in every one of Britain's former colonies.

Most African and Asian members have experienced such subversion and should welcome the initiative; and London can hardly object after doing so much to draw international attention to the atrocities that occurred in Sri Lanka.

Of course, an impartial investigation would reveal much more than one of London's low-budget propaganda films; in the case of the Tamil Tigers, it would be impossible to hide Britain’s sinister role from the beginning to end.

Anton Balasingham, who became the power behind Tamil Tigers supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, was an employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, and for three decades he was the key figure in everything the organization did.

First in Sri Lanka and then from London, Balasingham was billed as the Tigers’ “ideologue;” but clearly, he was in control of much more. With his Australian wife (who headed the feared Women’s Wing of the Tigers), he traveled the world on a British passport and took care of business while Prabhakaran served as the taciturn bogeyman in his jungle hideouts.

In 1999, when the Sri Lankan military first took the Tiger stronghold of Jaffna, Balasingham and wife relocated to London despite strenuous objections from Colombo. He died there in 2006 of cancer, and the obituary in The Times noted his importance:

“His influence over Prabhakaran was embarrassingly obvious at a packed press conference in Sri Lanka during the 2002 peace process.” Balasingham “was doubtless responsible for the image makeover of the Tigers leader. Eschewing his customary military fatigues and sidearm Prabhakaran attended the press conference in a safari suit and had even shaved off his moustache. After almost every question he would lean towards Balasingham to be primed with the reply, and for the most part Balasingham would do the replying for him. Which led one commentator to ask: So who is the real leader of the Tamil Tigers?”

Without Balasingham to guide MI 6 controllers, the Tiger command structure soon fell apart, and with the Sri Lankan government passing into the hands of the most ruthless of the island’s political groupings, the bloody end was predictable.

However, in acknowledging the lack of mercy on the government side, we must also recognize that there was no bloodthirsty “crime against humanity” decision to slaughter civilians at the end. According to Indian and Sri Lankan reporters, as well as NGO representatives in the area, the Tigers entered the agreed upon fire-free zones and used civilians as living shields.

The grim video footage the British have propagandized to tar the Sri Lankan government shows what followed. It is heart-rending and terrible, but the responsibility for what happened cannot be narrowly located. London is as covered in blood as anyone else, and perhaps more so because of its longstanding support for a terrorist organization.

As a reporter at the UN, I used to get a first hand account of the unbending attitudes in the British capital from Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil who paid with his life for trying to make peace. Marksmen staked out a building under construction overlooking his villa in Colombo and shot the 71-year old statesman as he was doing laps in his swimming pool.  

If President Rajapakse facilitates the creation of a Commonwealth Truth Commission to study Britain's murderously exploitative role in its former colonies, he will go down in history as a key figure in the transition out of the colonial era.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Financial Secrecy Index Pulls Punches


London-based Tax Justice Network has pulled its punches in the first edition of a global Financial Secrecy Index that lists countries/territories managing some $32 trillion in black money and other assets.

You have to read the footnotes to know that “the United Kingdom with its satellite secrecy jurisdictions would be ranked first in the FSI by a large margin” if counted as a unit.

The FSI scores of Britain’s “overseas territories” and “crown dependencies” add up to “2162 or 3170,” compared to 1765 for Switzerland, which tops the list.

As the list stands, Britain is 21st.

Not only is Switzerland ahead of it, so are the United States (6), Germany (8), Japan (10), Canada (17), and Austria (18).

The share of black money that Britain actually manages is likely to be much larger than the report estimates, for the country’s bankers dominate in over half the listed areas and have key roles in every country, including all the majors. (India, at #32, is certainly one of them, for despite our well-developed banking industry the criminal element is concentrated in Brit institutions.)

The TJN report received very little media attention, especially in Britain, where its dramatic reminder of reality slid quickly into oblivion. (I heard about it first on Russian TV a strange hybrid of British-accented presenters and American paranoiacs, more engaged in running down the USA than in boosting Russia. Even there it got hardly any play.)

Since my last post, some parts of the British media seem to trying to explain the fire sale of national assets to the Chinese as a deep laid plan to keep London the world's financial centre.

A 9 November piece in The Express headlined "The Chinese Give the British Economy a Boost" began: "They already own Weetabix, Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes and stakes in Heathrow Airport and Thames Water but that represents a mere trickle compared with the wave of money the Chinese are about to unleash on the UK."

The paper reported that the "property sector has become the bridgehead through which money has started to pour in, not just from China but from other wealthy parts of Asia too in anticipation of a boom in banking and foreign exchange."It drew a rosy picture of what is to come.

As media graduate from ignoring elite criminality to actively lying about it, the British government is hurrying to adopt a draconian new law that will make "public nuisance" punishable with up to two years in prison and "unlimited fines."

The draft bill says it will apply to children as young as ten, and cover such things as loud swearing.

Public expressions of rambunctious joy at all the "boost" the Chinese are about to deliver to the economy would definitely be covered.