25 July, 2014

BIG DRAGON, LITTLE DRAGON




When I heard that Japanese Prime Minister had gone to America with his prototype for the Maglev, the train that levitates on a magnetic field, and offered it royalty-free for the Americans to try out, I felt a tiny bit of incredulity. For such a smart people, it appears the Japanese are not to up to date with the American aversion, and outright hostility, to public transport.

 For a country like America that has depended upon the internal combustion engine and its gas guzzling propensity to rule the world, the Maglev brings the quiet hiss of revolution. And the ruling elites, unsurprisingly, will resist this at all costs. America’s influence around the world would wane if people started to use magnets to get around—forcing this gas-dependent giant to quickly reconsider priorities. The wars of the Middle East would cool down as oil became a fuel of the past century.  Much of America’s spending, now dedicated to a war machine of insatiable proportions, would shrink, and could finally be redirected to renovate its aging transport and other publicworks, education and food security.

The Maglev, of course, is hope for the rest of us who have never ruled the world. We comprise the majority of the world’s population, and we will eventually shape a future which is more sustainable and creates a cooler planet through safer technologies. People from poorer places have a greater stake and willingness to bring down their carbon footprints. Unlike America, the rest of the world has no aversion to public transport, if its done right and is offered at the right price.

Who can do this? China, of course. I have no doubt China’s interest has already been perked by this new technology—as has many others who don’t want to keep being dependent on petrol for mass transport. That includes almost every country in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world which doesn’t have a direct pipeline to oil. Even countries that do have reservoirs have ethical considerations about using it, considering massive climate change.

China has been thought to lack the R and D necessary to be a true leader of industrial and technological progress. But if we think of Asia as a sum of its parts, Asia already has two powerhouses—the R and D can come from Japan, the Litlle Dragon, and the industrial capacity to create vast publicworks can come from China, the Big Dragon. If they work together in tandem, there are no limits to the quick changes that can occur to change all the 20th century challenges we face, as a planet and as a race of human beings.

China and Japan are traditionally portrayed as being at odds with one another, due to old historical grievances. But the time has now come for this to change. A new century has arrived, and practical needs to provide ethically sustainable leadership dictates that these two countries put aside differences to think about ways to move forwards.

If Japan can get over its historical conflicts with China, and vice versa, and learn to work together in tandem, the two  can create technologies that shape a world which will not just be cooler, more sustainable and more friendly to the mass of global humanity, but may also reshape global foreign policy priorities, and ways of competing and winning.

The old notion of “Spheres of influence”, in which one Superpower dictates and shapes the foreign policy of countries and regions it may be geographically quite far from, must change in the changing realities of this new century. Our priorities now should be to think in environmental and sustainable ways, and in collaboration with old and new allies and enemies, to solve the 21 Century problems of global warming, climate change, water shortages, education, healthcare and poverty. There is no time to be wasted on wasteful wars, the outmoded forms of which continue as the elites of the previous century refuse to give up their priviledges.

A strong Asia created with the partnership of Japan and China could bring about poverty reduction in not just poorer parts of Asia, but also Africa and Eastern Europe. As the Northern Europeans try to ensure their wine-and-cheese lifestyle at all costs, it must be increasingly clear to people from poorer parts of Europe that there has to be a new mode of moving forward into this new century. Youth are out of work and the population is aging. Squabbles about the form of currency to use won’t solve these two issues.

Africa has also benefited tremendously from China’s approach—a low key engagement with business alliances, allowing for mutual gain. China has made it clear it is interested to create business partnerships and opportunities for regular people, and is not there just to exploit resources, as Europeans and Americans have done, in the old colonial (and post-colonial) style. Although there’s plenty of criticism from different parts of Africa about China’s growing presence in the continent, it is also clear that sharpest edge of poverty may have been reduced by China’s willingness to engage and do business. China’s approach reaches the poorest of the poor, while the Americans and Europeans often engaged only with elites, creating puppet regimes friendly to their own economic interests, thereby exacerbating poverty.

A strong China-Japan alliance, with Japan providing the R and D, and China providing the industrial backbone, could take our planet into the next century, with the next phase of mass transportation and personal transport, completely changing the old world order. It is urgent, more than ever, to encourage these kinds of alliances.

 The outmoded Western notions of “Great Powers,” “Spheres of Influence”, and other old school thinking has to now come to an end. The West’s primary mode of operation, ie; old school pillage and resource colonization, has led to rapacious exploitation of natural resources of poor countries, coupled with the seemingly benevolent but ultimately spurious fig leaf of foreign aid. This has only led to perpetual poverty for the planet. This way of thinking must now come to an end.

Sushma Joshi has a BA in international relations from Brown University. 
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11 June, 2014

Ms Joshi is currently busy... but she would like you to read this article about the Buddha

Ms. Joshi is currently busy with various activities, including a lot of thought about gas, petroleum, water, energy, and information technology. On the side she is socializing with a really cool bunch of people from all over the world who are also thinking about the same issues, but in the meantime, she would like you to read this article about a "The Search for a Buddha without Boundaries." Ms. Joshi takes no responsability for the photograph (it looks nothing like the overgrown site she visited), but she takes full responsibility for the article. As you can tell from "responsability", Ms. Joshi has been socializing with people who speak Spanish. But more on that later. In the meantime, please read "In Search of a Buddha Without Boundaries" in the Irrawaddy Magazine.

PS: The author will be posting the posting photographs of her visit (some really cool ones from a Go Pro camera) as soon as she figures out the intricacies of the technology.

PPS: Oops. The author meant to say "The Search for a Buddha without Borders."

05 June, 2014

Ms Joshi takes on "dasha"

Here's my response to Gerrard Toffin's fascinating take on astrology and dasha.

Dasha is not: staving off disease or afflictions caused by supernatural beings (dasha). 

Dasha means "time."  
_______________________________
Dear Professor Toffin: I read your article on astrology and timing-very interesting and thank you for addressing what I feel is a cultural topic of great interest but which so far has been neglected in public discourse.

I don't have time to address all the points raised in your article, except these few important points:
Dasha means "time"--specifically the time ruled by each planet in a person's life at that specific time. Maha dasha, antar dasha, pratyantar dasha, shoookshma dasha and prana dasha--you can go down to the breath level, and all of these are planetary forces ruling a person at a specific time. More here on how to calculate:

This calculator does a basic vimosottari dasha cycle: http://www.astroaura.net/dasa-bhukti-periods.html

The Nepalis do a 80 year cycle, not the 120 vimosottari dasha cycle.

More here on dashas from Wikipedia, my favorite source of unbiased information.
And I don't know Mangal Raj Joshi, but Radhanath Lohani, astrologer of King Mahendra, had specifically advised the king not to get his sons married to women who were sisters and related to each other. This he thought brought great misfortune. You can't really blame the astrologers after the fact (re: royal massacre) if the kings don't listen to the astrologers' advice!
Take care and enjoy the read, sushma

04 June, 2014

Snowden: Spy or whistle-blower?





Seems the NSA, despite collecting millions of cellphone records and billions of metadata, still has no idea ifSnowden is a whistleblower or a spy.

Admiral Michael Rogers, the new NSA chief, has this to say (according to the NBC website):
Asked whether he thought Snowden was or is working for the FSB, the Russian security service, Rogers said: "Could he have? Possibly. Do I believe that that's the case? Probably not."

Now that’s some fuzzy “possibly/possibly not” intelligence right there for the most omniscient agency in the world. Which goes to show you that listening to a billion phonecalls about homework and dinner may actually be the wrong strategy, in terms of collecting intelligence.

Since traditional methods of intelligence, taken to monster extremes, as evidenced by the NSA global surveillance strategy, has clearly failed, I thought I’d help the NSA out here with my trusty astrological calculator. Snowden: spy or whistleblower?

Edward Joseph Snowden
June 21, 1983 (age 30)
Elizabeth City, North Carolina, United States

If the above information is correct (and from the chart, I’d hazard a guess the information is correct), then my trusty astrological calculator tells me this:

  1. A Libra moon: Saturn is exalted in Libra, and this happens only once in 29.5 years. The current phase of Saturn’s exaltation started on November 2011 and will go on till November 2014. Snowden has a retrograde Saturn in Libra. Saturn by itself is incredibly powerful in Libra, but retrogrades are even more powerful. Obama has retrograde Saturn in 10th house in Capricorn, for example. Not to mention Berlusconi. If Snowden was to shoot to prominence, this was the right moment, astrologically.
  2. Jupiter retrograde in Scorpio in 2nd house: The second house is the house of speech. Jupiter signifies truth and wisdom. Jupiter retrograde is twice as powerful as a regular Jupiter. Obama has this in 10th house of karma, or “profession”, as well.
  3. Ketu in third house of communications, and house of brothers: Snowden is probably a little alienated from his peers and “brothers.” But Ketu also signifies the underhand, secretive and other unseen activities he took part in regarding “communication.” Ketu is resting in Sagitarius, another house that is interested in truth and global philosophical and ethical concerns.
  4. His fourth house of motherland, or matribhava, is ruled by Saturn. Saturn is retrograde in lagna, so a close association between the motherland (America) and the lagna (self.) There is no foul play here.
  5. Fifth house of creative works is again ruled by Aquarius, whose dispositor is Saturn: Saturn  retrograde in lagna/ascendant shows that his “creative works” may be related to his self, rather than any foreign powers.
  6. Seventh house/yuvati bhava, or house of partnerships, is ruled by Aries. Aries’ dispositor is Mars. Mars is in 9th house of destiny, along with Rahu and the Sun. Rahu is the sign of foreigners. And it is in his house of destiny. The Sun signifies confidence and fame. And Mars of course is war and conflict. So his “house of destiny”, which incidentally is also the “house of the fatherland”, is loaded with the fame he will get, once he leaves his “motherland” for the “fatherland” or the land of his destiny. I assume this is Russia. But there’s no indication that Russia was in any ways involved with Snowden prior to his escape there.
  7. The Eighth House of secrets and genius has Mercury in it. Mercury is the dispositor of his Ninth House of Destiny. This shows an incredibly intelligent man, possibly a genius, whose genius will, for good or ill, impact the “fatherland.” In another words, his actions bring war to Russia (Mars and Rahu signify war, and 9th house is loaded with Sun, Mars and Rahu.)
  8. And here’s the final proof that he’s working for himself, rather than a foreign power. Tenth House of Karma (The House of Profession, in Western lingo) is ruled by Cancer, which is the house of the Moon. Because he has his Moon in Libra (his “Moon sign”), and because Venus, dispositor of Libra, is sitting pretty in House 10, this causes a "parivartan yoga" between Venus and the Moon. The two are intimately linked--his self and his profession. This is a clear sign that the self is involved in the activities that would be categorized as “his profession.”

In other words, Snowden is a whistleblower, not a spy.

Maybe installing astrological software instead of spy software on people’s phones may be a most cost effective way of gathering intelligence?

02 June, 2014

CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMAN



CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMAN

CNBC has this interesting article: What Russia-China relations mean for the dollar. 
Basically, the Chinese and Russians have cottoned on and said: “hey, why are we paying all this money to America to change our yuans to dollars to rubles, then back again? Lets cut out the middleman.”

Now it’s always painful for the middlemen to hear they are middlemen. All around the world, producers are constantly trying to cut out the middlemen and get straight to their consumers. Like religious devotees of yore, who yearned to get straight to God without intercession from priests and popes and other figures of religious authority, the Chinese and the Russians, it appears, have finally figured out the way to divinity.

Basically, just exchange yuans for rubles. How easy is that?

The large-than-life of the illusion of the indispensability of the dollar, compounded by lots of illusory sleight of hands in Wall Streeters, financial institutions, regulatory institutions and opinion making bodies assuring people they would die if they didn’t first turn their currency into dollars: all of this was once responsible for the dollar’s hegemony. But as I figured out myself, the dollar is really not that essential.

I was in Thailand, and needed to visit Burma. I went to the local bank and asked them for dollars to carry on my trip. I can’t remember now whether Burma only accepts dollars from tourists, or whether I’d read a Lonely Planet guide and assumed that the dollar was the default currency to carry. Anyways, the man at the bank frowned, displeased. I practically had to beg and assure him I was doing nothing illegal before he grudgingly gave me $1000 in nice crisp notes.

Now lets think about this. Why should a Nepali traveling in Thailand have to buy dollars to visit Burma? Shouldn’t Burma just have a system of accepting Thai bahts, since Thailand is a perfectly respectable and prosperous neighbor?

And more to the point: how much did it cost me to do this transaction? Did I just pay America an unnecessary fee just for that ten minute transaction—taking Thai bahts, changing it to dollars, and then changing it back to kyits? If I paid $10, or $20, for that privilege of holding on to greenbacks for the short duration of my airflight from Bangkok to Yangon, imagine how much the Chinese and Russians must be paying America, since their trade runs in the trillions? China is going to pay Russia 400 billion dollars in the next thirty years for gas. Can you see America watching this transaction gloomily—imagine, if they had played their cards carefully and continued to be friendly to China and Russia, they could just have sat on their fanny packs and harvested a cool billion just from turning yuans to dollars to rubles, and back again.

Clearly the time for American exceptionalism is past. The world is multipolar, with multiple power holders. China cannot follow the American path of monster hegemony in this new century. Vietnam can give China a run for its money on its own territory, so China has to be careful not to piss off its smaller Asian neighbors since in thirty years it doesn’t want to find itself in the same boat of isolationism in which the US now finds itself. 

The best system of financial exchange, of course, would be quick and bilateral exchange of currency between two countries, anywhere and anytime. This would cut out the need for any reserve currency-dollar, yuan or ruble. With these new technological advances at our fingertips, I don’t see why this is not possible.

01 June, 2014

FOOD PRICES RISE, SO DOES BILL GATES’ STOCK




Surprise!

The World Bank says food prices are rising!

Read the Saturday, May 31, 2014 article “World Bank sounds alarm on rising global food prices” here.

Now Mr. Bill Gates must be happy. Very happy. Because when food prices rise, guess who benefits?

Monsanto, on whom Bill Gates has invested, and whose stock price rises are now $120 per share. Its all uphill from here for the richest man in the world. Never mind of the rest of the world’s starving poor.

Meanwhile in Argentina, where Monsanto has taken over the control of agricultural land in unprecedented ways (with the help of countries like America which have managed to put Argentina in serious 100 billion debt and unable to negotiate much about these issues), the maize is taken in small plastic packs, and flown all the way to… Nepal.

Where I saw the maize at my local store a fortnight ago, sitting pretty and waiting to be turned to popcorn. Of course, I didn’t buy it. First because I like the Argentineans and I don’t want to participate in the decimation of their economy. Second, because buying Argentinean maize in Nepal has destroyed our local maize crops. American government and American diplomats are out en masse, offering free corn seeds and other GM enticements to unsuspecting farmers in Nepal’s hills. A corncob now takes Rs.30 to grow, with all the money people spend on seed, artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Before they used organic cow manure. This poor people’s staple food is now a luxury.   

 And thirdly, I simply don’t like GM corn. Do you?

Argentina is clearly a case study country in what not to do in agriculture. If you allow a tiny minority to seize all control of land, and then this tiny minority then decides to lease out this land to Monsanto , which has great dreams of taking over the world’s food supply and enslaving the world’s 7 billion to its own imperatives, then guess what happens?

Food prices rise, obviously. According to the article above:
Other countries in the grip of political and economic stresses also saw prices shoot higher. In Argentina, for example, wheat prices were up 70 per cent from a year ago.”

Returning to Nepal: poor people who once used to grow their own maize are subtly discouraged from growing their own food, through dirty tactics that include decimating their live seeds by offering them seeds that don’t regrow. Instead, you offer them hybrids and GM seeds that have to be bought, year in and year out, enriching a few companies to the tune of billions of dollars.

In fact, the development industry has long ago been highjacked to the imperatives of big corporations, who dictate the terms in poor countries. With diplomats and the US government at their back, Monsanto doesn’t find this too difficult.   

Food prices have soared in Nepal. I was at a small store in Bhaktapur, where the man told me that he’d never seen food prices rises as he’d seen this year. Nepal produces elaichi, a spice. “It used to cost Rs.150,” he said. “Now it costs Rs.1500. The price soared 10 fold within a year. I’ve seen a lot of food prices rises in the past, but this year has been exceptional.” Most of it is getting sold to India, where people have the purchasing power to buy expensive spices. From India it gets refined and processed and is sent outwards to the markets of Western countries.

 The answer is clear. Stop the monopolies of massive corporations on food. Stop speculating on food prices—make it illegal to bet on food prices on stock exchanges. Allow local, organic and small scale agricultural economies to thrive. Make GM illegal. And then food prices will normalize.

If Monsanto has its way, food will not just become an expensive commodity that only the rich can afford. It will also ensure that all rainforests are gone in its insatiable question to grow more corn, soy and other ingredients that are added to America’s Stale Food Industry. In case you missed it, check out the National Geographic coverage of food in their recent issue. It has a stunning photograph of an entire rainforest decimated as people plant it with these monster corporate crops.

Mr. Bill Gates, master retailer, must be happy. Finally those GM seeds are showing some profits!



CHINA’S GIVE-AND-TAKE, VERSUS WESTERN POWERS’ TAKE-AND-TAKE




I used to run an email mailing list called Bol! in 1998. We had 600 members who were interested in issues of reproductive health and development from all over the subcontinent. I used to moderate daily discussions. One day, I got into trouble. Someone forwarded me an email about South Africa’s health minister, and how he believed that AIDS was a Western conspiracy. He thought the virus had been developed in a lab in the West, and set loose on Africa to cause depopulation.

I’m trained as an anthropologist. So for me, this was an interesting belief that for better or worse we had to deal with, because it came from a power broker in Africa, right in the heart of the AIDS epidemic. A medical doctor on the list, however, denounced me for posting it, and immediately announced he was leaving the list, because I was spreading appalling misinformation.

These things happen. If you want to have discussions, you can’t avoid controversy. Medical doctors, in my opinion, often turn out to be professionals very set in their opinions and their ways. But more on that in another blog post.

In another recent episode, people in Pakistan started to kill polio workers. Immediately people got into operation, denouncing the terrorists and the appalling state of backward Pakistan. Although I didn’t know at that time the CIA had used the polio program as a front to conduct its activities, something told me that there must be more to the story than people shooting polio workers because it didn’t fit their religious beliefs. “Ask them why they are shooting,” I tweeted, at a time when this was clearly a very unpopular thing to Tweet, since everyone was convinced that the Pakistani tribals were irrational, trigger-happy beings who shot at polio workers just for the sake of it. It took a while before the story of the CIA using the polio program for a front for their activities came out—but eventually it did come out.

This makes me wonder about many other events in world affairs where we actually don’t have enough information to judge what’s going on. Or else the information is being suppressed, because people feel it can’t possibly be considered seriously in rational discourse.  Many conflicts around the world, which appear irrational and on the surface to have religious reasons, may have their roots in economic exploitation (and military entanglements) which are hidden from clear view. Its clear that much of the violence around the world, ascribed to religion and religious groups, may actually get their financial and economic incentives from higher powers whose final goal is the control of resources. Conflicts are advantageous in that they keep countries destabilized and in deep poverty. This makes it easy to rule, especially if your intention is to extract every single scrap of raw material, diamonds, oil, timber and uranium out of a country. 

China seems to be throwing a spanner in the Western countries’ wheels by taking the opposite tack—instead of war, it offers peace. It offers roads, hospitals and household items of daily use at a rational price, in exchange for raw materials. It offers technical  and scientific  education. And it steers very far from religion. China’s presence in Africa, for instance, seems to offer a different model of the future than the one the Western powers offer—one where the region will always be divided on linguistic and cultural lines, and where atavist divides of religion will always hold sway. China offers roads that links countries together. And it offers the vision of a future where Africa can one day be prosperous and developed.

(As to whether China is totalitarian: I just read in Counterpunch an article about an American who returns from China, only to realize his own country has become more totalitarian than China. )

At some point, people are going to notice this. And at some point, this relationship of give and take is going to overtake the “take and take” of Western countries. At some point, the old colonial powers will have to realize the 21st century demands a different relationship of power between different stakeholders.

NGO COUP



Its clear that NGOs have become a force onto themselves. At any given moment, at any part of the world, a NGO is probably engaging citizens to take part in some form of group activity. These group meetings are considered essential tools for social change. Almost all of the time, participation is voluntary, meaning people are not paid for the one or two hours of their time to take part in the meeting. Add up the citizen hours of people engaged in water groups, forestry groups, women’s groups, VDC groups, health groups, men’s groups—and you end up getting a very large chunk of productive time being given over to the activities of NGOs and their programs. The funding comes from INGOs, who use small block grants of $1000 to these groups to entice participation.

Now the question arises: does it economically make sense for a country’s citizen to spend this much time in voluntary group activities? And how much time do they lose from a day in which they could be earning money in already hard-pressed circumstances? And how coercive are these groups, and how do they assert pressure on group members to come and participate—despite the fact the person at the other end may not have the time for these activities?

Time of course is money, not just in the West but also in developing countries. But somehow those who run international organizations seem convinced that the “target groups” should give them their time for free—including for repeated interviews about the same conflict violations they may have faced, the same focus group discussions, the same lengthy meetings about women’s empowerment. 

On the one hand, these meetings show results. Clearly people are more “empowered” because of them. On the other hand, it begs the question: if Western countries have the power to extract resources from poor people and pay them very little for it, is there a level of irony in having INGOs from these very same countries come and save the people who are being materially and financially exploited by corporations, financial entities, and other institutions that keep poverty at the same level it is now? In other words, do the  farmers of poor countries get exploited twice—first by having their products taken by rich local elites at such cheap prices the  farmer may never get out of debt, and then secondly by being put in groups and “social changed” by the very same countries which exploit and consume these resources? 

Is there something strange about this arrangement? 

It appears Uganda has just passed a law demanding greater scrutiny of NGO funding and activities. The truth of the matter is: developing countries have no idea, on an official level, what the NGOs on their soil are up to, what funding they receive, how much of it and from what sources, for what purposes, and what programmatic goals. Are these programs replicating or replacing government activities? Are they debilitating the government by making it redundant, and therefore useless? Which, if you come to think about it, is another “soft power” way to rule in the old Colonial manner. If the government comes to be seen as useless, because almost all government activities are being conducted by NGOs, I would call that a post-colonial coup, in all senses of the term. 

Are people really looking at the scale of NGO operations around the world, and questioning what these presence has done to weaken governments and countries in poorer parts of the world?