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On the 7th of October, 2019, the United States Commerce Department took the extraordinary decision to place 28 Chinese public security bureaus and companies, on  a  trade blacklist. The reason behind this move was touted to be Beijing’s treatment (or mistreatment) of Uighur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. The companies blacklisted include some of China’s leading artificial intelligence firms such as SenseTime Group Ltd,  Megvii Technology LtdHikvision, formally known as Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd,  Zhejiang Dahua Technology, IFLYTEK Co, Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co , and Yixin Science and Technology Co.

At a time when China is making great strides in the domain if Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) challenging the undisputed hegemony of the United States, this move by the United States might prove regressive to the future prospects of the Asian behemoth in the sphere of AI.  But, notwithstanding, America’s punitive action, is China an actual challenger encroaching upon the hallowed turf of the United States.?

Nina Xiang, the founder of China Money Network and an expert on the Chinese venture capital and technology sector takes this precise question head on in her interesting and thought provoking book, “Red AI.”  Ms. Xiang, in evaluating the trajectory of the Chinese progress in the realms of AI, employs an ingenious formula which she terms, 4S + 3L. While 4S stands for scale, speed, state support, and social indifference; 3L denotes: late, lag, and long time.

Using a whole horde of live examples, Ms. Xiang, illustrates both the advantages enjoyed and challenges faced by the Chinese entities operating in the AI Industry. While an assured Government backing that also ensures and unending funnel of funding provides the necessary financial backing, this measure is also a double edged sword. The Government constantly hovering over the shoulders of the Board in a Company and dictating policies, is a Damocles Sword putting the entire future of the entity at risk. This fact is illustrated in an exemplary manner by Ms. Xiang with reference to the autonomous automobile industry. As of October 2018, there were sixteen autonomous driving pilot zones in China. A pilot zone in Beijing aims to open up 200 kilometers of roads to allow 1,000 test vehicles by 2020. However, this enthusiastic ambition is nuetralised by a sobering perspective.

Waymo’s autonomous vehicles in the United States, for example, experienced just one intervention by a human driver for every 5,596 miles clocked by its self-driving systems. In comparison, Baidu’s cars required one intervention for every 41 miles driven. According to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, Baidu’s vehicles drove a total of 1,972 miles between October 2016 and November 2017, and had 48 human interventions, compared to Waymo’s 65 human interventions for 352,545 miles driven. Further, California 180,800 miles (or 290,969 kilometers) of public roads in 2016, while Nevada had 42,582 miles (or 68,529 kilometers) of public roads in 2016.12 In comparison, the most promising among the 16 Chinese autonomous driving pilot zones plans to have 500 kilometers of roads ready by 2020.

As Ms. Xiang, in her meticulous research points out, burgeoning government subsidies have also made Chinese industrial robot companies heavily reliant on the State. According to a China Merchant Securities report, four publicly listed Chinese robotics and automation companies— Siasun Robot, Estun Automation, Guangdong Topstar Technology, and Shanghai STEP Electric Corporation—derived as much as 30 percent of their net profits from government subsidies in 2016. Shenzhen Inovance Technology received government subsidies of RMB47 million (US$7 million) in 2017, and Shanghai STEP Electric received US$44 million (US$6.6 million) in subsidies during the same year. Siasun Robot received the most in subsidies that year, in total RMB171 million (US$25 million). Between 2013 and 2017, Siasun Robot, which is 25-percent owned by the Shenyang Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Science, received a total of RMB560 million (US$87 million), according to its annual reports.

Another daunting spoke in the wheel of China’s AI ambitions is an absolute dependence on imports in so far as Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is concerned. As Ms. Xiang elucidates,  if the United States was to curb or stop exports of GPU to China, it could wipe out the entire Chinese AI industry.

While the prospects for China in AI shine bright in the sectors of Finance, Security, Healthcare and automotives, the country still has a long way to go in terms of overcoming obstacles that are both intransigent and inimitable.

Return to the Reich – Eric Lichtblau

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“Return to the Reich” by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Eric Lichtblau is a thrilling and racy account of the extraordinary exploits in subterfuge pulled off by three indomitable men right behind enemy lines. Private First Class Fred Mayer, Sergeant Hans Wynberg and the Wehrmacht deserter Franz Weber, were tasked by the Office of Strategic Services (“OSS”), a wartime intelligence agency of the United States during World War II, and a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) , to penetrate German lines in the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck in Austria. The motive: to garner as much intelligence as possible on the despotic Adolf Hitler’s proposed last and violent stand in the Alps against rapidly advancing Allied Forces. If this resistance, rumoured to be known as the Festung or the ‘fortress’ was to be left unchecked, then there was the unenviable and unsavoury prospect of the World War being prolonged for a few more months, if not weeks.

As Mr. Lichtblau regales us in fascinating detail, Freddy Mayer was one astounding individual. The son of Heinrich Mayer, a decorated German war veteran, and also the recipient of an Iron Cross medal, Freddy’s life is turned upside down with the ascendancy to power of the Nazi Party. The otherwise tolerant and accommodating town of Freiburg becomes a bastion of the Third Reich philosophy. The Mayer family, forced to desert their family home and business, clamber aboard the SS Manhattan and in March 1938 find themselves at New York. The calamitous strike on Pearl Harbour, that sucked America into World War II provided the most appropriate opportunity for Mayer to do his bit in fighting the very forces of evil that had led to his family getting uprooted from their own home. However, Mayer’s application papers get rejected solely on account of the fact that he was a Jew of German descent. A paranoia of “Fifth Column” incursions cast aspersions on both the motive and loyalty of 1.1 million Americans of German, Italian and Japanese descent. However, a paucity of both physical bodies and intellectual information, ensured that Mayer was drafted into the OSS, a brainchild of celebrated World War I hero William Donovan. As Mr. Lichtblau informs his readers, the ambitions of the OSS stretched from training bats to drop bombs and injecting Hitler with female hormones to make him less aggressive.

Hans Wynberg, Mayer’s radio operator and perpetrator-in-crime also had his justified grouse against Hitler and his forces. Hans and his twin brother Luke were dispatched to the United States by his astute father who feared the worst for the Dutch in the event of the country being run over by the Germans. His worse prophesies come true as the Germans not only occupy Netherlands but arrest Han’s parents and his little brother Robbie before putting the trio away at the infamous concentration camp as Auschwitz, where the family perishes.

Franz Weber, a twenty-three-year-old Prisoner Of War (“POW”) inside Camp 209 in Naples was a man nursing a wounded conscience. Although fighting for Hitler, his beliefs were in direct contradiction to that of the brutal Nazis. He was also inextricably bound by Gewissen – his conscience as a Catholic, which prevented him from engaging in unspeakable atrocities, which for his fellow soldiers constituted pleasure and purpose. Hence when Dyno Lowenstein, Mayer’s boss approaches Franz with a proposal to not merely defect but work for the OSS, he agrees immediately.

On the 25th of February, 1945, Mayer, Hans and Franz are para-dropped from a B-24 Liberator piloted by the irascible twenty-one-year-old John Billings, to land near the Sultztaler Glacier at an elevation of 10,500 feet. From here begins the unbelievable story of Operation Greenup or Operation Gulliver that has now attained immortality in the lore of espionage. Franz Weber, now calling himself Leutnant Erich Schmitzer, and armed with a Nazi Soldbuch identification, proceeds to Innsbruck. Mayer and Hans are his supposed deferential collaborators. The primary objective of their mission is to glean invaluable information about the German activities surrounding The Brenner Pass. A Pass dividing southern Austria and northern Italy for some sixty miles, The Brenner Pass acted as a veritable lifeline for the Nazis, transporting weapons and troops to the frontline. Any disruption to this line would create havoc for the Nazis sending their supply schedules into a tailspin.

Banking on an incredibly intricate system of covert networking, Mayer seeks out Nazi resisters and disgruntled populace who are more than just eager to see the decimation of the Nazis. Popularly known as “cut outs”, they included Alois Abenthung, a former Burgermeister in Oberperfuss, and Franz’s own fiancé Annie. Hans strings up a communication platform and works from the attic of an allied sympathizer and the trio begin transmitting some extraordinarily delicate & confidential information back to OSS Head Quarters. For example, Mayer, obtaining Nazi uniform and papers surreptitiously, walks in an audacious manner into a barracks for the Nazis and even manages to get an assistant who irons his uniform and shines his boots!  Disguised as a Nazi soldier on recuperation, strikes a conversation with a more than just boisterous Nazi officer. Fueled by both pride and copious quantities of wine, the officer, by now garrulous, boasts about the fortification of Fuhrerhauptquartier – Hitler’s underground bunker. The spectacular quality of details divulged include even the precise location of the bunker.

But as Mr. Lichtblau admirably reveals, the most wonderful and material missive of Messrs Mayer, Hans and Franz involved leaking information about a massive caravan of military supplies heading for the front line in Italy. Upon receiving this information, the 15th Air Force sends a reconnaissance mission which corroborates Mayer’s stupendous information. B-17 fighter planes swooping down upon 26 trains of 30 to 40 cars each – and stuffed with ammunition, tractors, anti-aircraft guns, gasoline and light equipment – bomb them with the utmost ferocity before reducing the caravan to a smouldering spectacle of ruin and rubble.

However, Mayer’s egregious attitude and an eagerness that even extended to insubordination brings him right at the door step of death, as after weeks of sabotage, surreptitiousness and secrecy, the truth and the Gestapo finally catch up with him. Mayer is sold out by a mercenary and turncoat, Karl Neiderwanger, a man who had earlier informed Freddy that he could produce five hundred resistance fighters for him, and Hermann Matull a Nazi Radio Operator who defected to the OSS before agreeing to work for the Germans as a double agent. Matull was derisively termed, ‘a real gutter snipe” by his OSS trainer Walter Haass. Walter Guttner, an Obersturmfuhrer, in charge of Mayer’s interrogation employs the most extreme measures to squeeze out information from Mayer. Slapping and punching Mayer, rupturing his right eardrum, knocking out 6 of his teeth, whipping him until his back had deep cuts and waterboarding him were some of the techniques resorted to by Guttner, during Mayer’s seven days of Gestapo custody.

As suddenly as he was arrested, Mayer is released and is escorted to the house of the most powerful Nazi in Tyrol: Gauletier Franz Hofer. In a jaw dropping spectacle of self-professed diplomacy, Mayer convinces Hofer to not exhort his soldiers to fight but to lay down their arms as further encounters would only be futile. Incredulously, Hofer heeds Mayer’s pleas and surrenders to the Allied forces. Innsbruck is thus liberated without a single drop of blood being shed.

As Mr. Lichtblau concludes, the Gulliver mission will go down in the annals of military history as one of the most successful espionage operations engaged in by the Americans. The “Das Verwegene Trio” or the “Three Swashbuckling guys”, not only secured intelligence to bomb Nazi supply trains, but also tracked German troop movements, pinpointed Hitler’s bunker and in a feat of insurmountable stupefaction, arranged the surrender of Innsbruck!

But the core and crux of Mr. Lichtblau’s wonderful book – a monumental testimony to the preservation of humanity –  is contained in one of its concluding passages. Mayer’s meets with Guttner, who is now imprisoned, at the end of the war “Do anything you want with me,” Guttner begs, “but don’t hurt my family.”

“Who do you think we are?” Mayer replies. “Nazis?”

Although Freddy Mayer for his show of exemplary and singularly undaunted courage was honoured with the Legion of Merit, the Congressional Medal of Honour was denied to him. One of the banal excuses proffered for this travesty was that, Freddy’s daring acts, did not demonstrate “actual conflict or direct physical contact with an armed enemy.”

But as Mr. Lichtblau beautifully chronicles in this absolute masterpiece, may honours be damned! The honourable will live forever!

Rising Out Of Hatred – Eli Saslow

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“When I first tried to contact Derek Black, to write about his radical transformation, I couldn’t find him anywhere.” Thus begins what arguably has to be one of the most profoundly influential books to have been published in recent times. Pulitzer Prize winning author Eli Saslow, in his ground breaking work, “Rising Out of Hatred”, recounts in coruscating detail the astonishing transformation of a once prominent White Nationalist into an avowed anti-racial advocate. Derek Black was all that a rabid ‘alt-right’ devotee could hope, wish and dream for. He had both pedigree and panache on his side. Popularly anointed as the deserving and rightful heir to the entire White Nationalist movement in America, Derek was the son of Chloe and Don Black, and the godson of David Duke, a former KKK Grand Wizard. Don Black, in fact had the infamous distinction of being the founder of the digital world’s largest hate peddling site,

Mr. Saslow recounts in breathtaking fashion, the unique childhood and upbringing which Derek experienced. As a six-year-old, he was sent out for Halloween dressed as a White Power Ranger, and aided in decorating his bedroom with a Confederate flag. After being pulled out of school by his parents, who feared that his White Nationalism might be sullied by the taint of liberal multiculturalism, Derek was home-schooled by the Blacks on espousing and exacerbating the cause of White superiority. The tenets of discrimination became staple fodder as young Derek accompanies his father to speeches where the scale and scope of the Holocaust was scoffed at as being exaggerated figments of gross imagination. However, the one fuel that kept Derek’s passion incessantly burning was his father’s pet project:

In no time, Derek had his own highly popular online show on radio, “The Derek Black Show.” Soaring demand ensured that five evenings each week, he regaled his select audience, first with harmless and plaid stories about his favorite country musicians like Waylon Jennings, Alan Jackson, and Johnny Cash before concentrating on the heavier topic of “the survival and continued dominance of the great white race.” Recommending the writings of the German Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, Derek also started a children’s version of Stormfront, where he portrayed Martin Luther King Jr as a ‘liar and philanderer.”

Derek’s cocooned existence comes to an inevitable end when he applies, and gets enrolled in New College, Florida. As Mr. Saslow describes in wonderful detail, Derek leads a dual existence in college. A muted, but affable red haired, hat clad, guitar playing youth who loves crooning to Willie Nelson to the unsuspecting, he is also the venom spouting, radio show hosting white supremacist who broadcasting from the confines of his dorm, vilifies Obama as “a radical black activist”, “inherently un-American” and “anti-white culture.” Derek’s paradoxical deception however is put to the test, when he begins dating a Jewish girl named Rose. An avowed anti-Semitist, Derek it torn between contradictory emotions as he struggles to attempt a reconciliation between his espoused beliefs and its brazen violation. Finally, unable to bear the burden of nurturing his twin identities, Derek enters the gymnasium with a 2009 issue of Details magazine, within whose confines could be found a gigantic picture of Derek spread across two glossy pages under the headline “Derek Black: The Great White Hope.” Placing it at the front of the magazine rack, hiding in plain sight near the treadmills and elliptical machines, he walks out of the gym.

Derek’s ‘unraveling’ however comes after a protracted period when Tom McKay, in his final month at New College, and in the process of completing his 150-page thesis on US Paramilitary Groups, stumbles across Derek’s photograph on the Stormfront website.

As may be expected, all hell breaks loose at New College when Derek’s identity stands starkly and brutally exposed. From getting expelled from clubs, barred from attending meetings of the pluralism committee, having his PT Cruiser vandalized and finally moving out of the campus, Derek bears the full brunt of the justifiable wrath of a gob smacked populace. However, even in the midst of such uproar and tumult, are heard voices of sanity and reason. And it is in describing these voices and their transformational impact on Derek, that Mr. Saslow does an exemplary job. Neither concurring nor chastising, he just chronicles. He is the intrepid observer who chooses to remain unobserved. The warp and weft of the book finds its incandescent element while taking its readers, along with Derek, on a path of sheer courage, fortitude and compassion.

Matthew Stevenson, a yarmulke wearing Orthodox Jew (the only one of his kind in College), and Moshe Ashe, had hosted Shabbat ever since Matthew’s first months on campus, and braving public ridicule, they begin inviting Derek, by now a firmly ostracized Pariah, to their Shabbat dinners. This move riles Allison, a roommate of Matthew as she shuts herself in her room when Derek knocks at the door. Ironically, after enrolling herself in a New College course called Stigma and Prejudice, Allison learns about a stage of cognitive development called emerging adulthood, a phase that ranges from about age eighteen to twenty-five. Psychologists believe those years mark a time of transition away from parents and toward greater independence. Armed with this knowledge she strikes a deep friendship with Derek and with the help of both published empirical research works and her own convictions works on Derek to bring about a volte face in his radically racial thinking.

Heated debates, clinical deliberations and deep introspection while walking in Kalemegdan Park and toward the Belgrade Fortress, lit by streetlights and perched high above the Danube River, later, Derek makes the scintillatingly courageous and bold decision of eviscerating his entrenched belief by penning an open letter to the Southern Poverty Law Centre (“SPLC”), an organization deemed by Don Black to be his “most hated enemy.”  SPLC, an anti-racist entity had made it its religion to fight internet hate and sitting on top of its pile of targets was Derek’s incredulous action sets in motion a roiling cauldron of utter pain and remonstration. Don, Chloe and the whole family is dumbstruck and is poleaxed by Derek’s disclosure. “They said he had thrown away twenty-five years of the family’s hard work. They said he wasn’t the person they thought they knew. They said, after a lifetime spent fighting against the SPLC, he had walked across enemy lines and “surrendered the biggest possible trophy.” They said that maybe he had a “mental disorder” or “character flaws.” They said he was “part of the population that doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so you ignore and bury the real science.” They said this was “nails to the heart.” They said not to come back to West Palm Beach. They said, “You need to make new friends and family.”

As a final act of purification and absolution, David changes his name from David Ronald Black to Ronald David Black. A new persona with a new purpose.

We are living in a world characterized by misinformation, confounded by Internet hate and informed by deep seated racial prejudices. These prejudices are not the sole preserve of the illiterate or the deprived. Prominent politicians and persons holding the highest echelon of power, and who are far removed from the travails of poverty and deprivation, chose to adapt principles of hate and depravity. The American President Donald Trump, terms Mexicans rapists and calls Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as ‘shithole countries.’ Andrew Breitbart, a conservative media mogul, manipulates the tape of a speech by Shirley Sherrod to make it look as if she were racist against whites. Radio host Rush Limbaugh provides a prophylactic warning to his listeners, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay! Right on.’” Lou Dobbs on CNN has issues with “rampant illegal aliens” who were “overtaking the country”; Newt Gingrich, opines that Spanish is “the language of the ghetto.”

Yet, amazing metamorphosis such as the one undergone by Derek Black suffuses the world with hope and inspiration. In fact, Black’s Twitter Handle reads, “Unexpected advocate for antiracism.” We need many more such unexpected advocates to provide us with the expected comfort. More than anything else we direly need astute chroniclers such as Mr. Saslow to effect pockets of transformation across what now seems to be a restless, impatient, intransigent and insouciant world.

Reset: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy – Subramanian Swamy

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One of the most mercurial, vitriolic and eccentric politicians going about his craft today has to be Subramanian Swamy. An economist, statistician and polymath who now essays his tenure as a nominated Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha (representing the BJP), Mr. Swamy was a member of the Planning Commission of India and also a Cabinet Minister in the erstwhile Chandra Shekhar government. In his recent book, “Reset – Regaining India’s Economic Legacy, Mr. Swamy takes a hard as nails approach to assessing the past and present trajectory of the Indian economy, analyses in a scathingly unbiased fashion the woes permeating it before proceeding to offer a slew of solutions ranging from the ‘doable’ to the didactic. Unsparing in both polemic and prose, “Reset” in a nutshell is a damning indictment of virtually every Government to have assumed the reins of power since the onset of India’s Independence.

Famously – and derisively – bandied as “Santa Claus” once, by former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, for suggesting a radical departure from the socialistic plank of economics, Swamy leaves no one in doubt about the repulsion he nurses for the former Soviet Union influenced model of economic planning with which India had an inextricable obsession during the Nehruvian era. To quote him, “this USSR-inspired economic strategy was foisted on the Indian people in the ’50s by Nehru—surprisingly without much debate. This was not the strategy that Mahatma Gandhi or Sardar Patel had advocated during the freedom struggle. The author of this strategy, namely Nehru, wanted the Soviet model adopted for reasons connected with his friendship with Lord and Edwina Mountbatten, but paradoxically, this Left ideology suited the interests of two powerful vested groups within our country: the feudal comprador class and the Left-inspired Indian intellectuals called the ‘Kim Philby’ group.”

In “Reset”, Mr. Swamy examines the trajectory taken by the Indian economy over a period of 150 years from 1870 to 2019. He further splits this review period of a century and a half into three distinct segments, namely the British Imperialism (1870 – 1947); the Soviet inspired command economy model (1950-90) and finally the period of economic reforms (1991 – 2019). In so far as the period between 1870 – 1947 is concerned, Swamy rails over the atrocities committed by the marauding colonisers and alleges that resources amounting to a jaw dropping number of $71 trillion were siphoned off by the British. He further expounds upon the pernicious zamindari system that heartlessly exacted every single penny from hapless farmers to fill British coffers. This section of the book makes for some tepid reading, more so because the topic of colonial loot has been extensively covered in other notable works such as Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire.

In so far as the centralized planning based on the command and control economy is concerned, Swamy reserves his uncontained displeasure and diatribe for the Governments of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. In the process of dismantling the very logic underlying the adoption of Central Planning, Mr. Swamy makes some incredible allegations. “The grafting of this model on Indian planning was done by a physicist-turned-statistician who had little or no formal education in Economics—Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, founder of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta. Mahalanobis, a confirmed Left intellectual, had plagiarized a Soviet growth model of the 1920s authored by Grigory Feldman, and introduced it into Indian planning without acknowledging the original authorship. For years, Feldman’s model was passed off in India as ‘Mahalanobis’ Growth Model’, till Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Economics Professor Evsey Domar discovered his plagiarism from his book Essays in the Theory of Economic Growth, and laid it bare.

In highlighting the inadequacies of the “Commanding Heights” instituted by the post-independence Governments till 1991, Mr. Swamy draws the attention of his readers to both the stagnation of the Indian economy as well as the rampant growth of other economies which had more or less commenced development on the same pedestal as India. “The so-called ‘Four Tigers’, namely South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, with less trained manpower and fewer natural resources, have moved from the Third World category to First World status (or Newly Industrialized Countries [NIC]) in just one generation! The per capita income of South Korea, for example, in 1962 was $82, comparable to India’s $70 at that time. Today, South Korea’s per capita income is about nine times that of India’s current level.”

However, there could be discerned an element of inconsistency in Mr. Swamy’s contention as while on the one hand he alleges that South Korea’s per capita income is about nine times that of India, he contradicts himself in a succeeding passage in the book where he contends that South Korea’s per capita income is about thirteen times that of India.

Mr. Swamy’s stinging criticism is not restricted to the Congress Government alone. The current BJP led Narendra Modi Government also comes in for some spectacular rebuke. Alleging that the economy currently is in a ‘tailspin’ and if left unchecked, has the potential to spiral into a disastrous zone, Mr. Swamy lays down a litany of woes from which the economy suffers. The much reviled and recalled moves of demonetization and Goods and Services Tax (“GST”) lie front and centre of Mr. Swamy’s wrath. Terming the GST implementation as a “flop”, Mr. Swamy goes on to pan the Government for its introduction. “The GST as a practical measure has been a flop, borrowed unthinkingly from the previous UPA government. Despite my sole protest in the Parliament, it was introduced much as a carnival, with gongs reverberating, and the president, prime minister, speaker of the Lok Sabha and the finance minister on stage. Today, we are saddled with redistributed tax revenue collection of nearly 1 trillion.”

For Mr. Swamy, if GST was an untimely measure gone awry, demonetization is but the handmaiden of disaster! Quoting similar demonetization experiments conducted in Europe, Mr. Swamy brings his reader’s attention to the fact that 99.15 percent and 98.77 percent of Italian Lira and French Francs respectively were returned over a ten-year period. However, the most damning aspect of the demonetization, as also the very evidence of its catastrophe is the fact that Indians managed to return a whopping 99.3 percent of the demonetized value in just sixty days! Mr. Swamy also lays down a slew of ingenious means which people and businesses resort to, to convert black money into legitimate currency such as routing them to Shell companies, foreign accounts, deposits in Jan Dhan accounts, round tripping schemes whereby money is sent to Nepal before being remitted back into India etc.

Mr. Swamy after waxing eloquent on the pitfalls and perils of the economy, proposes a slew of ameliorating measures before ending his work with a metaphysical flourish by quoting from the late Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s Treatise on Integral Humanism. Some of the mechanisms that Mr. Swamy exhorts the Modi-Government to implement post-haste include:

  • Abolishing Income tax and freeing the individual from the grip of ‘tax terrorism’;
  • Raising GDP growth rate to more than 10 per cent, by propelling a corresponding increase in the rate of investment, (including FDI) to 38 per cent of GDP from the present 29 per cent;
  • Households to be incentivized by abolishing personal income tax to raise savings back to 34 per cent of the GDP;
  • For fixed deposits in banks, the rate of interest should not be less than 9 per cent. This will boost institutional and household savings in fixed deposits; and
  • To invest in innovations and enhancing the Total Factor Productivity

Mr. Swamy spares no blushes however in blowing his own trumpet. Harping on the invaluable and precocious nature of the Samuelson-Swamy Theory of Index Numbers, Mr. Swamy also makes it known in no uncertain terms that the economic reforms and liberalization which were promulgated by the Narasimha Rao Government originally stemmed from a reform paper conceived by him when he was a Cabinet Minister in the Chandrashekar Government. This is not the first time Mr. Swamy has issued such proclamations. He once took to Twitter to menacingly make the following declaration:

“If I apply Samuelson-Swamy Theory of Index Numbers to India’s GDP calculation or RBI interests’ rates, media will scream anti party activity!”

May modesty be damned!

Dinner over Intercom

(Image Credit: Barb Crews)

The second most scathingly dishonest environment has to be an overcrowded, cramped, noisy and impatient airport lounge, thought Siew Kuan. The first being an enclosure in a Courtroom from which one held forth. The low humming murmur of the dysfunctional air conditioner was being drowned out by a cacophony of railing expletives, genuine lamentations and flagrant bursts of anger.

You could not blame the protesting mass of passengers. Bar Mitzvah’s could not wait; neither could funerals. The banks of suspended electronic screens blinked away the fact that there was a delay in departure. However, there was no devil in the details. The reason for the delay was not communicated to the throng. All the flight authorities could offer by way of an explanation was the tried, tested, perfected and by now cliched two-word excuses, “technical snag.”

“Dinner will be served to all the passengers travelling on board Delta Airlines flight no 215, at the hospitality lounge” crackled a voice over the intercom. The disgruntled voices suddenly fell silent and rushed headlong towards the lounge. “Ah! what freebies can do to stymie genuine concerns, even if what is offered is totally disproportionate to the suffering” wondered Siew Kuan.

(Word Count: 197)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Donna McNicol . For more details visit HERE

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, click HERE



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What connects the tragic Everest expedition in May 1996 that consumed the lives of legendary mountain climbers such as Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, with the 9/11 catastrophe where the CIA choose to adopt a blinkered approach to the many cogent threats and chilling clues that emanated from Osama Bin Laden even as early as in 1996? Is there even a link between these two diverse, albeit tragic events? In a bold and provocative book, “Rebel Ideas”, the Sunday Times bestselling author and co-founder of the charity, Greenhouse, Matthew Syed tackles the issue of cognitive diversity, (or a deep lack of it) that characterizes the fabric of our society. And in this process, he reveals fascinating potentials and probabilities which may be both exploited and overlooked – such as the critical binding threads between two seemingly disparate events.

So here is “Rebel Ideas” summarised in the form of a few key takeaways:

The Curse of  “Homophily”

When a group of people glued by the same set of thinking assemble together to   solve a problem, they bring to the table a homogenous framework, which while greatly aiding and abetting in arriving at a consensus, might totally fail to identify heterogeneous perspectives. For example, a lack of cognitive diversity in the hiring policies of the CIA (which was mostly Pale, Male and Yale at the time of the 9/11 disaster) might have unwittingly resulted in the ignoring of a myriad of chilling clues that proliferated long before the actual tragedy hit home. For example, as highlighted by Lawrence Wright in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Looming Tower”, clad in spartan clothing and issuing proclamations from within the confines of a cave in the mountains of Tora Bora might have made Bin Laden look not just like a Medieval Luddite, but a comically deranged individual too. But the man was a master strategist. By resorting to such tactics he was only appealing to the sentiments of thousands of Islamic youth to step onto the path of radicalisation, since it was from a very cave during a period known as Hejiraa that the vision of the Koran occurred to the Prophet. Yet Richard Holbrooke, one of the most senior officials under the Clinton regime, exclaimed, “how can a man in a cave out-communicate, the world’s leading communication society?”. As Mr. Syed illustrates, one reason for this myopic view was an absence of diversity in the hiring policies of the CIA. A dearth of Muslim agents within the CIA (who would have been alert to at least some of the messages originating from Al -Qaeda), coupled with the existing homogeneity cast a perception blindness, which in turn led to a tragedy of humongous proportions, that was otherwise, preventable.

Stanley Sedgewick & Bletchley Park 

Bletchley Park, a non-decrepit estate in rural Buckinghamshire covered itself in immortal glory when a team of men and women working within its confines managed to crack the Nazi encryption device termed Enigma, thereby shortening the very tenure of World War II by at least 3 years. What made Bletchley Park the legend of lore, was the eclectic mix of people sheltered within. From Alan Turing, one of the greatest Mathematicians of the twentieth century, Leonard Foster, a scholar of German and the Renaissance to Norman Brooke Jopson, a professor of comparative philology, the team at Bletchely Park was a classic example in diversity. Of course rounding off the motley crew there was Stanley Sedgewick, a clerk with a firm of city accountants and a crossword tragic, who had participated in a contest hosted by the Daily Telegraph for tackling a cross word context under controlled conditions.

Constructive Dissent on the Everest

The ghastly tragedy that befell multiple groups of climbers as they attempted to create history on the world’s tallest mountain peak on the 10th of May 1996, highlights the peril of the absence of what Mr. Syed terms as “Constructive Dissent.” Even though many of the climbers in Rob Hall and Scott Fischer’s team were experienced altitude climbers, it was their first shot at Everest. Hence there was an acute prevalence of “dominance dynamics” between the guides and their clients. Such a steep hierarchy, however proved tragic as many vital clues were prevented from being disseminated. For example, when Martin Adams one of the clients, noticed thunder clouds as he inched ever closer to the summit, he knew his team had to get out of there. Adams was after all a commercial pilot with loads of experience with thunder clouds. But still he didn’t speak up because he was low in the chain of the dominance hierarchy.

Echo Chambers, Epsitemic Walls and Information Bubbles

In 1996, MIT researchers Marshall Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjolfsson issued the following warning: “Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not confirm to their existing preferences, may form virtual cliques, insulate themselves, from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases. Internet users can seek out interactions with like-minded individuals who have similar values, and thus become less likely to trust important decisions to people whose values differ from their own.”

The researchers termed this online fissure and faction formations, Cyberbalkanization.”  Mr. Syed illustrates both the concept of an Echo Chamber and its consequences in a riveting fashion by informing his readers about the transformation of the once white supremacist Derek Black. Home-schooled by parents who were the rabid epitome of white supremacist beliefs, Black was insulated from being in the proximity of people nurturing alternative views and was fed continuously upon the fodder of white supremacy. This Echo Chamber from which he led his existence formed an information bubble into which contradicting views were not allowed to penetrate. It took Matthew Stevenson, a Jewish friend with a Yarmulke cap and a series of open discussions about sensitive and delicate topics on race and colour to being down Derek Black’s epistemic walls and transform him from a rabid pro-white propagandist into a fervent anti-racism advocate.

Eliminating Unconscious Bias 

Unconscious bias refers to “the way that people are denied opportunities not because of a lack of talent or potential but because of arbitrary factors such as race or gender.” Eliminating such bias would broaden the domain and realm of collective intelligence.

Shadow Boards to promote Diversity

Corporations, with a view to channelizing the benefits of diversity, are actively engaged in a mechanism called “Shadow Boards.” Young personnel lend advice to executives on key decisions and strategies. This technique according to Mr. Syed, “lifts the conceptual blinkers that can attach to age.”  In fact Gucci benefited to such an extent by employing this shadow boarding techniques, that its revenues leap-frogged a mind numbing 136% – from 3,497 million Euro in FY 2014 to 8, 285 million Euro in FY 2018

A Giving Attitude

A willingness to offer one’s insight to others; to share one’s perspective and to impart one’s wisdom, in turn accords an opportunity to received, according to Mr. Syed. Empirical analysis conducted by Professor Daniel Levin of Rutgers Business School on the importance of dormant ties also lends further credence to this proposition.

“Rebel Ideas” by Matthew Syed is a thought provoking, insightful and relevant work, especially in an age where independent thinking is obfuscated by the pernicious spread of fake news, authenticity is clouded by disinformation and cohesiveness is marred by a group think of the most malicious breed.