08 August, 2014

COMPLEMENTARY ALTERNATIVE MEDICINES AND HOW IT COULD CONTROL EBOLA




I was travelling in Jumla, a remote district in mid-western Nepal in 1992, when I became acutely aware of how scary diahorrea can be. I was all of 19 years old. I’d flown there on a rickety plane that landed in a small runway. The plethora of tea-shops that I was assured, by the non-governmental organization that had hired me and had sent me out, were in existence and would take care of my food and lodging never materialized. Instead, there were small homes selling a few items-perhaps a biscuit packet, some cigarettes or matches. Tea was still a luxury. 

After tramping around the villages for six weeks, and living off fox tailed barley bread sprinkled with salt and chilli, and recording stories of mysterious deaths on the side (“my sister was walking back home to her husband’s house and she fell down dead on the way”, “about seventeen people have died in that village that-a-way, we don’t know why”) my fellow guide suggested we try to climb up to Rara lake. “It will take only half a day,” he said. This sounded like an adventure and I agreed. 

Halfway up the mountains, however, two things became apparent to me: first, that I had severe diahorrea. I suspected it could be giardia. And second, our water had run out, and I was quite pleased and happy to sit down on the trail, look at the mushrooms, and not move. A pleasant drowsy haze fell over me. My guide took one look at me and realized the state of affairs: I could hear him crashing down the bear-infested jungle to get to the river to get me that precious bottle of water. After the bottle, and a few sugar candies (how little do people realize how precious those sugar candies are!), I was able to get up and walk again. Obviously, we didn’t make it to Rara Lake that time. 

Here’s a description in Wikipedia about the trek, written by  travel writer Ethan Gelber. Note we tried to do it in half a day:  
Although more trampled than in the past, the road to Rara Lake is still without any of the comfortable services available along more popular trails. Logistically it is not an easy trek; it is hard to get to and from, and it is an organizational challenge, requiring informed guides and porters to tote the two weeks' worth of material that will keep you warm, dry and fed. It is also tough on the bones, involving several 11,000-foot passes. However, once you overcome the obstacles, the rewards are legion: few if any other trekkers, incomparable natural splendor, "untouched" villages, blissful quiet.…[6]

Since that day, I often think about the people who don’t get the bottle of water, and who die from simple dehydration. Nepal often gets epidemics of choleras and diahorrea even now—ebola is obviously of great concern. If ebola makes it to Nepal, legions of people will die due to an apathetic government and unevenly run government health posts and beaureaucracies. 

Because of this experience, I’ve often had great interest in medication that can stop diahorrea. Anybody who’s tried the Western medication available on the markets may have experienced what I did—the sense of being “stuffed up,” and which disrupts digestion and well being for a few days. Undoubtedly the diahorrea does stop, but the sense of unease doesn’t. 

Recently, a herbal dealer from the same district Jumla sold me an herb called “bhotay khayyar.” It resembles a betelnut, and the man assured me he would pop a small bit into his mouth while he walked, and it had no adverse effects. More to the point, he said, this herb stops diahorrea and “blood in stools.” He titled this condition “Ragatmasi.” I didn’t know anybody who got ragatmasi, but since diahorrea was a common problem, I bought a handful from him. On a recent visit to Kapilvastu, when I again got diahorrea from eating the tempting but dangerous street food from a chat-wallah, I took a bit of the bhotay khayyar. Almost like the Western medication, it stopped the diahorrea-but gave me terrible gas and a feeling of being “stuffed up.”

On the other hand, a cleaning lady who came by complaining that she had blood in her stools for the past month, and uttered the word “ragatmasi,” seemed to fare better with it. I gave her three tiny samples, and instructed her to take one morning, afternoon and night. The next morning I asked her if she was feeling better. “Oh yes,” she said. “I took a tiny bit of that jadi you gave me. The blood stopped completely. In fact, I only took one piece, the rest is still with me. I feel so fine I ate a dozen bananas and a liter of yogurt. In fact, I think the bananas and yogurt cured me, not your herb. How can that tiny little thing act so fast?” 

In New York, in one of my forays into interesting ethnic neighborhoods, I came upon a Chinese supermarket. I bought, in this order: a bag of tea titled “Slimming Tea,” a plastic bottle of Siberian Ginseng, and a small bottle of Chinese medication marked with a small label that said it was useful in diahorrea. The “Slimming Tea” apparently did not have FDA approval, because what happened to me after drinking it was quite startling and unprecedented: it felt like my intestines were being wrung out, and I was sitting in the toilet for a full hour till everything was purged. In hindsight, I think it was an extremely strong purgative. Since I didn’t want to be size zero like the fashionable Chinese ladies, I happily threw this slimming tea into the trash. Then I tried the Siberian Ginseng. I had little interest in Ginseng but a lot of interest in Siberia—obviously Siberia sounds romatic when you’re living in New York City, so I bought it and popped a tablet. What followed was again quite startling—vivid nightmares and great aches and pains in the upper arms. I imagine now that I fell into “The White Man Trap”: the bottle was clearly designed for white folks who would be as enamored as I about the notion of Siberian ginseng, and take it without realizing how it could have dangerous side effects. The people from Siberia probably take it in their alchol, or make a medicine with 20 other herbs, with the ginseng being only a small compound. But of course in NYC, it was sold full strength and in a white man’s dose. I advice people not to take it in this form. 

But all these mistakes and travails of complementary alternative medicine was worth it, because  in the third bottle I hit the treasure. I regret today that I didn’t keep this small nodescript bottle, nor noted down the chinese characters on the label. The bottle was filled with small black balls, which you were supposed to take 3 (or was it 5?) balls at one point. I seem to remember that they were small enough they could be swallowed with saliva during emergencies when water was scarce. Each time I took it, my diahorrea and stomach pains stopped almost immediately, and I felt no bloating, gas or other pains. I would be back to eating a normal diet within 1 to 3 hours.

The point of this story being: there are already thousands of complementary alternative medication that stop diarrhea that have gone through 5000 years of “clinical trails” in ancient cultures. Why don’t we tap them for stopping the ebola crisis? I’m going to assume that bottle was a common enough off-the-counter medication that one can find in a supermarket in New York City. Of course, I told you the story of the Ginseng and the slimming tea to point to the hazards of picking up the wrong complementary medication. But I think its time now to think about effective medicines that already exist in the world’s pharmacopeia—and not just imagine that the experimental drugs are the only way to solve this crisis.

04 August, 2014

MODI’S NEPAL SPEECH, DECONSTRUCTED



I’m not sure if I caught all of Indian PM Modi’s speech to the Nepal Parliament, but the portion I did was  powerfully articulated, well thought out, and persuasive.  What came across most clearly was the PM’s interest in decreasing poverty not just in Nepal but all across the 7 SAARC nations.

I’d read a great deal about Modi—from Modi’s critics. One criticism was that his much vaunted results about decreasing poverty in Gujarat was hyped up. His poverty figures, said critics, were less than what the Modistas claimed the numbers were. After listening to his speech, it was clear to me that PM Modi has a clear anti-poverty agenda—not just for his own country, but also for the SAARC region as a whole. Whether he can show results is unproven. But clearly he’s putting a remarkable amount of energy and devotion to this project, traveling thousands of miles and meeting people of all persuasions in order to inspire them with this vision. And that, I think, is achievement enough, considering his predecessors.

The sincerity in his voice was unmistakable when he talked about tourism, for example, and how bringing pilgrims to Nepal to visit Pashupatinath would help everyone from the chana-seller to the ricksaw-pullers to the tea-sellers. The mention of the tea-sellers got a bit of a laugh from the Nepali parliamentarians, but it was a friendly, we-are-with-you laugh, the sort no doubt Modi will get all over the subcontinent, because I don’t think there’s anybody in South Asia who is not a tiny bit thrilled with his I-used-to-be-a-tea-seller and now I am a Prime Minister story. It’s a story that South Asians love (engrained in us by Bollywood)—the notion that anybody can, with hard work, pull himself up by his chappal straps to the highest position in his nation. If Modi, surprisingly, got some portion of the Muslim vote, this story probably had a big hand in it.

Modi started off by exhorting the Parliamentarians to do their job—basically, write the Constitution. There was a bit of the grandfatherly touch to his lecture—writing a Constitution is a great endeavor, he said, and you sit here with this great task before you. He then went on to commend the Parliamentarians, mentioned the world’s eyes were upon Nepal, and that this Constitution would show the way to all those warring parties who chose war over peace. The country of Gautam Buddha, he said, would show the way. All of this was very persuasive, I must say, even if had a tiny ring of an elder coaxing recalcitrant children who were refusing to do their homework.

Suitably wowed, the Parliamentarians then listened to Modi talk about herbal medicine. “When Laxman fainted, this is the place where Hanumanji came to get medicine for him,” he said. (I’d always wondered about where exactly Hanuman went, because I sure would like to go there and find that herb myself.) Mr. Modi then mentioned, with that same note of sincerity in his voice, that a project that developed Nepal into a herbal processing and developing nation would help “all of humanity”. This sort of broad, humanistic vision cropped up a couple of times in his speech, enough to make you think his vision extends beyond the usual narrow nationalistic one. I liked this humanistic approach. Helping all of humanity is an ideal that can get me out of bed, no matter how tough the outer conditions of life at any given time.

Modi then got onto water and electricity. This, of course, is a touchy subject with Nepalis. “If we build Pancheswor, this will generate five times more electricity for Nepal than it has at present,” he said. “Perhaps if Bharat helps Nepal to end its darkness now, then Nepal can help Bharat to end its darkness in a few years’ time.” So far, so good.

Then he got onto HIT. Yes, HIT. Highways, I-ways, and transways. Highways, as in roads, I-ways, to connect Nepal to the rest of the world, and transways, to transmit electricity. “We’d like to build transmission lines,” he said. Obviously, transmission lines are important, since without them electricity cannot be transported from one place to another. And this is also a big obstacle for why Nepal is not able to properly use its massive hydro potential. I hoped he meant the Sanskrit “heet”, as in “benefit”, and not “HIT”, as in “we’re gonna get you with this one.”

“We don’t want the electricity for free, of course,” he said. Or rather, joked.

Then he got on to the one billion dollars recently earnmarked for Nepal. “And this money is separate from the one given before,” he said, trying to act cool. “The one before—well, that’s separate.” The Nepalese did give an extra-energetic slap to their desks to this ghosana.

“I think that money is going to be spent by one or two politicians getting health care in Singapore or America,” an elder in my house grumbled, watching this portion on TV. No criticism of the Indians here, only of the Nepali politicians misusing public funds.

On the theme of double meanings, Modi—who so far had been swinging along with his speech, then turns to… Sikkim. Now as anybody knows, mention Sikkim in a room full of daura-suruwal wearing Nepalese, and you’re going to get one reaction—fight-or-flight. Modi approached it in this manner. “And on the theme of organic farming,” he said, “I’d encourage you all to get into it. The organic produce really brings in the dollars.” Everybody was on the organic farming boat. Then: “In our own country Bharat, the state of Sikkim has totally turned organic.” Then the (confusing) clincher. Then he says, rather sneakily and cleverly: “If you want to become like Sikkim, we can help you.”

Eer, Mr. Modi. Excuse us, but we don’t really want to become like Sikkim. Not even for all the organic farming in the world, thank you.

Modi did mention that he wanted Nepal to become even closer—and this is the sort of neighborly hug the Nepalese wonder about, wondering if it’s the camel in the tent. Modi mentioned the bridge over Mahakali would bring Nepal closer to India. This felt like a genuine expression of: “why are we so distant even if we are so close”, and a bridge over Mahakali surely sounds like a good idea, although perhaps the locals of the area would have to be consulted before anybody in Kathmandu gave the go-ahead on that one.

Modi did mention that Nepal was a sovereign nation, and he had no intention in meddling with its internal affairs. He just wanted us to be the best we could be. Which, somehow, also rang true.

All in all, the Nepalese should probably take Modi’s speech for what it was: the speech of a great orator with a great interest in social transformation, reduction of poverty, and neighborly connection, without necessarily forgetting their own interests and boundaries. A strong Nepal would continue to be a strength for India, primarily because Nepal and India have always been allies and always will be. As for the sharing of natural resources, it would have to be done judiciously and with equitable agreements, including into it many clauses for ecological preservation and conservation. Water is a finite resource, and it needs to be managed as a resource that could run out, if over-used or not stewarded with respect. And electricity, while greatly needed in order to lift people out of poverty, must be done with care so that its dams don’t destroy the ecological flow and balance upstream and downstream. It’s not something that couldn’t be done, with great thought and care. I hope for the sake of both countries something along those lines can be worked out. 

Sushma Joshi has a BA in international relations from Brown University. 


















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!