December 23, 2015

Just Another Year for Putin!

We all are desperately waiting for another New Year. People stay awake to witness the clock strike 12 midnight and celebrate as they enter the New Year. They regard the New Year with some expectations, ambitions and resolutions but for the great strategist Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, it will be just another year of his autocratic yet dexterous rule. This post hovers around Putin administration and the way one of the most opaque systems work in Moscow! 

Russia is a federal democracy tainted by corruption and massively influenced by the power and personality of one man- Vladimir Putin. Russia, the largest nation to evolve out of the erstwhile USSR, adopted a new constitution in 1993 preceded and followed by a coup and constitutional crisis respectively. Both of these efforts weren't able to challenge or in any way affect the absolute power that the President had been given thanks to the new Constitution.

This trend of autocracy commenced by President Yeltsin and passed on to his handpicked successor Putin, has made the Russian political regime, centered rather than centrist (as the political party United Russia claims it to be). The current political structure in Russia though constitutes of the State Duma and also the Federation Council, the political life in Russia is dominated by a coterie of generals and KGB veterans called as siloviki.

The result- an atmosphere of paranoia and aggression. Officials seen as sympathetic towards the West are sidelined and the ones who wanted to stop Russia from entering another Cold War with the West are discarded from Putin's circle. A lot of critiques say that there is a danger of Russia going backward. Realizable (if you have a look at the negative GDP growth rate of Russia)!  

Why Putin is Irremovable? 

Really interesting is the way the siloviki works or rather the way Putin makes it work. It is very difficult to break into the opacity of its working since its members have not spoken to media for years together. But a political expert created a diagram titled Politburo 2.0 which remarkably gave a believable insight into the siloviki. The members of the siloviki are old friends of Putin. He trusts people who are true and tried. The reason why the Politburo remains united is because of the personal bond its members have formed with Putin.

One of the most significant features of Putin's politburo is that it doesn't have general meetings. The whole siloviki doesn't ever sit together. It instead consists of certain elite groups which can be referred to as security, political, technical, business etc. Putin meets a single elite group at once rather than the whole Politburo at once. Putin, therefore, keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet once. This helps any group from creating a coalition against Putin. Putin remains, even if unpopular, irremovable. Very smart on Putin's part, I have to accept. 
         
However, there are some drawbacks too. As rival factions in the same Politburo compete with each other, they exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. For example, the intelligence service might overstate the threat of foreign spies while the oil and gas tycoons might exaggerate the risk of external competition. Since Putin meets each faction separately, he hears of threats everywhere.. This informal system gives rise to paranoia and creates an unhealthy atmosphere. Rather than solving problems that pertain for the whole nation collectively, the Politburo stresses upon personal interests or the interests of a particular elite group. 

This kind of an informal relationship, has another flaw and that well, is very evident. There is an over dependence on one man. As I said above it is more of a centered system rather than a centrist system. The nation is Putin and Putin is the nation. The working of the siloviki without the already 63 year old, is as of now unimaginable. 

Well Played, Putin! 

Putin is popularly known as the strategist (No wonder). His ambidexterity has not only made him the center of Russian government machinery, but also his visionary strategies have tightened his grip over Russia. Constant efforts of making Putin unpopular, have been reflected to benefit Putin. One of the many such instances is the case of Western sanctions. The members of Putin's circle have their children studying in the West, their bank accounts in the West. They own Western assets. The sanctions imposed by the West on Russia was a method of creating an opposition to Putin's radical policies against the West. But sorry! The West lost here. 

Putin had been urging elites to store 'their fortunes in Russia instead of stashing them in the offshore bank accounts' (as TIME magazine puts it). Many of them were slow to comply before the sanctions put their assets at the risk of being frozen in the West. However, now the fortunes of these elites are much closer to Russia, in other words, the elites are much closer to Putin. So if Western leaders were expecting Putin's allies to mount a palace coup, disappointment. It not only allowed him to tighten his grip on the siloviki, but also intensified the everlasting and unending altercation between the West and Russia. Thanks to Putin's adroitness, the Western sanctions seemed to be gaucherie.     


A New Year for Russia or not?

Putin's term ends in 2018, and he is going to stand again as President in 2018. If he wins a second term, which he surely will (legitimate or illegitimate), Putin is going to be in his early 70s by the time he ends up with his second term. Therefore, there are no signs of the political structure changing in Russia till 2024 (not even a New Decade, forget about a New Year). 


Not only that, as TIME magazine presents it, in a system where 'all institutions are eclipsed by one man, there is no way to know' what happens when he is gone. Of course, Putin isn't immortal (though his persona is). The question is what happens, if say he has a heart attack. An already shambled Russia would be in disarray as the struggle for control would break and some of his friends would be in 'slivers of flesh.' 

Putin is clever, diplomatic and as I fondly call him- strategist. But having said that, I somewhat agree with what one of his chief adviser once said," I don't think that it is out of cleverness that Putin has made everybody afraid of his departure. It's just that he doesn't know how to do it the other way."     

A salute to the Forbes #1 "Most Powerful People" for his dexterity, a happy New Year to all my readers and well, a happy 'just another year' to the Russians! 
Yours truly, Abhimanyu! 

Read more articles and intriguing stuff on FasciNative or click here.   
Do mail me to give your suggestions, opinions, feedback or simply a hello at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com

December 5, 2015

Is Shock Therapy the Savior of Economic Slowdown?- Case Studies of Poland, Russia, Chile and India

Recently, I have been researching on shock therapy and how the post-Soviet Russian economy could have been better handled! As a research document as present this post in which I have tried and analysed the failures and successes of shock therapy and its comparison to gradualism. This post also tries to answer the big question of determining when and where shock therapy must be adopted and where it mustn't ! In order to accomplish these objectives, this post draws a comparison between different economic recovery models. Hope you like it! 

Shock therapy basically refers to sudden liberalization and end of a state controlled economy. Within a very short period of time, the state's control over the prices and the market is omitted. This is usually done to hasten the process of transition from a socialist economy to a capitalist style of economy with the prices of commodities being dependent on the market forces like demand and supply. Though shock therapy has had diverse effects  from country to country, a certain pattern is identifiable as a result of certain research on the aftermaths of shock therapy in different countries.

According to this pattern, shock therapy has initial thumbs down! As a feature of the immediate impacts of shock therapy, unemployment mounts up and inflation rises. As PSUs are privatized and foreign companies enter the market, efficiency increases and hence, some jobs are initially destroyed. Also, if the country has formerly been a socialist country with a right to employment, the citizens of such a country fail to win a job in the competitive environment. However, over certain time, the graphs take a U-turn according to my research. Employment grows as more companies enter the market and create more jobs. Inflation goes down as a result of competition. Also, the quality of  products improves as privatization shows thumbs up!
 

However, as mentioned above, there have been certain versions of the pattern in different countries. In the post-Soviet Russia, shock therapy turned out to be a disastrous whereas, post- soviet Poland led a very successful shock therapy model. Chile (Pinochet's Regime) is an epitome of shock therapy worldwide. It is astonishing that all three of these examples are of shock therapy implementation at approximately the same period of time. Pinochet's regime extended from 1973 to 1990, post-soviet Poland during the initial 1990s and Russia from 1992-93. All three cases transited from a socialist economy, all three economies were in doldrums. Poland and Russia in fact where identical cases, both recently freed from the USSR. But the reason why the latter was failure lies below. 

Pinochet's Chile was a military dictatorship where Pinochet was the military dictator unlike Russia where democracy had taken birth and freedoms were being given in the 1990s during Yeltsin years. The difference in the political regime poses a significant impact on the economic conditions. While in Chile, Pinochet was free to take any actions of his choice and was unaccountable, Yeltsin in Russia was repeatedly questioned on his economic policies and criticized upon them. Within merely an year of introduction of the shock therapy, the Russian cabinet ended up in a constitutional crisis reasoned to the conflict between the President and the Cabinet over his policies. Yeltsin also had a constant constrain of the impact of his policies on the people as he was a part of a democratic government. this resisted Yeltsin to successfully lead the shock therapy model and his policies were supplemented by criticism and disfavoring. Yeltsin was not even given a chance to experiment with the economy. 

However, having said that, I would deny that shock therapy cannot be implemented in a democracy. Poland was a democracy like Russia, newly born country like Russia, part of the erstwhile Soviet Union like Russia and with its economy in shambles like Russia. It also experienced the same kind of international pressure and international economic conditions as Russia because both of them led their shock therapy models at approximately the same time. Then why did Poland succeed and Russia didn't? 

The answer lied in Poland's action plan. The sudden impacts of the shock therapy model hold paramount importance especially in a democratic nation. While in Russia, there was an immediate relaxation of influence of state on commodity prices, in Poland, prices of essential commodities like oil and gas were controlled by the government. Though other commodities had price rise, since the prices of essential commodities were kept low, subsistence wasn't endangered and the immediate impacts didn't have an extreme effect on the lives of common people. 

Another very important and significant policy of the Polish government was monetary contraction policy. The Polish government increased the interest rates on domestic loans and stopped printing more money. Since the interest rates on loans increased, people had less money and hence, they spent less. This controlled inflation as due to monetary contraction, the demand dropped.

Another very predominant fact behind the success of shock therapy in Poland was that the Polish population was relatively more experienced and educated. On the other hand, as Russia moved towards privatization, the Russian workforce couldn't earn jobs in the competitive environment where efficiency was held high unlike the former Soviet economy where everyone had the right to employment. Due to both of these reasons the predominant Russian population remained unemployed.

The growth of unemployment and inflation at the same time made shock therapy very unpopular. If the Russian government at that time would have adopted the monetary contraction policy along with the partial price controls and had launched a plan to educate and train its  workforce to earn jobs, the immediate shock of the therapy would have been diminished, if not vanished. 

Though there were some mistakes that Russia committed here and there with the shock therapy it might have worked out and would have brought fruits within 2-5 years with some consistent support from the Russian populace and the government. However, even this couldn't happen. Even as the Yeltsin and his set  of economic advisers along with the IMF and World Bank insisted him to continue with the shock therapy, Yeltsin had a great political pressure. He was becoming very unpopular and there were  attempts of coupe against him alleging him for his 'reckless and baseless' economic policy and 'authoritative' attitude. The scenario was such that the whole cabinet along with the majority of Russian population were against him merely, one year or so after the shock therapy was introduced. This brings me to an altogether different debate though, but the inference is that another drawback of the shock therapy in Russia was the waning control of Yeltsin over Russia and rising dissent against him. 

Therefore, a weak action plan with corruption, oligarchy and the waning control of Yeltsin over Russia along with the possession of a very poor populace and a negative feeling about the investment scenario in Russia and not to forget, frequent coupes brought the GDP growth of Russia in negatives in the years after 1991 disintegration of USSR. The failure of shock therapy in Russia can hence, be reasoned out to a set of things happening in post-Soviet Russia, all at the very wrong time and the success of shock therapy can be reasoned out to a set of things that just worked out at the very right moment. However, from none of the examples can we infer that the concept of shock therapy in itself reflects negatively on economic growth. 
Therefore, in order to understand whether shock therapy as a model is the savior of economic slowdown, lets take an example of India's transition from a State-controlled economy to a mixed economy by a gradual approach. In 1991, India's economy was at an all time low. After having about 40 years of rule by the Gandhi family, India's economy had become a Russia-like economy, with all kinds of state controls imposed, specifically during Indra Gandhi times. The people were starving and national debt was mounting up. Majority of the population was struck by poverty and India's GDP was worth 310.08 US dollars. There was an immediate need of change in economic policy and voila! The prime minister of India (at that time), P.V. Narasimha Rao and his finance minister and soon to be PM, Manmohan Singh, led one of the most successful and idealistic financial reforms in the country. 

The Rao-Singh reforms were also based up on relaxing market barriers and state control over the economy and facilitating foreign investment. The introduction of FDI was considered as the key to economic betterment and well, no doubt, it worked out. However, all the prices were not relived at once which eliminated the 'shock' element of the reforms.

However, even these economic reforms, which Shashi Tharoor  gave full marks to Rao for were criticized in democratic India as while these reforms benefited a majority of the Indian citizens, it arguably hurt the overprotected businessmen and their corrupt friends in bureaucracy. An end to subsidies directed towards state owned industries gave a chance to the political opponents to play politics. 

There is no doubt that the economic reform face serious political obstacles, resources have to be generated , investment privileged over consumption, higher prices are paid for many goods, sacrifices are made in the hope of later rewards but to a middle class Indian, it meant that he or she couldn't afford his/her favorite food item in the market or as Sandeep Waslekar puts it: 
A few million urbanites, white collar workers, large farmers, blackmarketeers could now drink Coke, watch Sony television, operate Hewlett Packard computers, drive Suzuki and use Parisian perfumes, while the rest would live in anguish!
Prime Minister Rao took all this into account, unlike President Yeltsin in Russia and adopted the strategy that he would undertake only those reforms that would be politically accepted to the public at large. This strategy of Rao could be summed up in words of a publication by The Economist which said: 
Rao appears to have reckoned that shock therapy would create losers straightaway, while creating winners only in the medium turn, and decided to leave some reforms to later, when winners had emerged.  
Therefore, the Rao-Singh reforms didn't allow the prices of oil and petroleum to fluctuate as per market forces which continue till even today. Even today, the prices of petroleum and other oil products are decided by the government though they are kept close to the actual market price. These reforms brought down inflation from 17% in 1991 to 7% in 1992 and a further 5.6% in 1993. Indian economy was saved and we continue to see the positive effects of those reforms even today in India. 

Conclusion

Determining whether gradualism or shock therapy is a savior of economic slowdown is subjective and depending on the situation. Shock therapy, if implemented, must supplement a plan to dampen its immediate effects. Howsoever strong the action plan for implementing shock therapy might be, there is always a risk or to some extent certainty of a having a negative impact in the immediate years however, the years that follow would also be equally or sometimes more rewarding. On the other hand, gradualism might not have a 'shock' element, but at the same time, it extends over years to deliver all its merits. 

In 1991 Poland, the GDP growth rate was -1.7% and that in 1991 India was 1.1%. Within four years 
of shock therapy implementation, Poland's GDP growth rate had increased by 14% from what it was before. At the same time India's GDP growth rate from what it was 4 years before 1995 had increased by only 6.5% by 1995. However, at the same time, 22 years from 1991, Poland's annual GDP growth rate stood at 1.7% whereas that of India stood at 5%. 

The inference that we can draw from this study is that over 3 or 4 years, the results of shock therapy are more overwhelming than the results of gradualism, however, over 20-30 years, gradualism would turn out to be a more stable approach than shock therapy (if considered in singularity). Therefore, shock therapy reforms are a short term reform mechanism, more volatile but immediate and gradualism is a long term reform strategy, not immediate but better over time and are less volatile with less risk of failure.

Thanks for reading! Yours truly, Abhimanyu!
Do mail me your feedback, suggestions and opinions on abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com !
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November 14, 2015

Recreating Moments at the Times of India- Functioning of a Newspaper

Recently I was privileged to be a part of the junior editorial board of the Times of India for the Children's Day edition. This post is about my experience at the Indore bureau of the Times of India and all that I learned. In this post, I will answer questions like how a newspaper actually functions, how an actual editorial board meeting happens, how is it like to be in the editorial board meeting room.

How does a newspaper function?

The place which I visited was the Indore bureau of the Times of India. This bureau consists of reporters, a head of bureau and a desk other than the response team and advertising team which I will later in this post come upon. During my introduction to the reporters at Times of India, I got to know that the purview of each reporter was intricately decided. For example, there was a crime reporter, a transport and traffic reporter, a Municipal Corporation reporter among others who make up reports and give it to the bureau. These reporters who work under the Head of Bureau in Indore get the news that the City page consists of. These reports are finally forwarded to the desk which rectifies grammatical mistakes, works on spelling mistakes and actually puts it into the newspaper. The desk is not only a part of each of the 52 city bureaus that Times of India operates in, but there is also a state desk and a national desk (in Delhi) which work in respect to each other. As one of the Times of India reporters told me on my visit to the Indore bureau, “It is like a bucket of information. From all 52 city bureaus, we throw information into that bucket (a metaphor for their software) and then the reports are picked up from the bucket by the desk to make up a newspaper.” Over this whole hierarchy lies the editorial board! Now editorial board doesn’t actually write for a newspaper but instead decides what all reports the newspaper which reaches you every morning must have. The editorial board has a regular meeting where they accept ideas from anyone and everyone, make up stories out  of them and commission them(or sometime don’t). This whole hierarchy makes up your everyday newspaper but the responsibility to get that newspaper at your doorsteps mounts upon a completely different team of individuals with odd working hours.

The Head of Bureau, Mr. Salil told me that the processing and the printing cost of one single newspaper (when produced in thousands) is approximately 12.5 INR, however, you get it at approximately 2.5 rupees. This cost is brought down by the advertising team, which decides the size of ads, where they have to be placed and as a result of the advertisements that appear in your daily newspaper, the cost of your morning daily drops down to 2.5 rupees.
   
Some of my friends complain that the there are just too many advertisements in the times of India which, I now realize, is very imperative. To no one’s wonder the Hindu which cost approximately 8 rupees per copy isn’t as widely accepted and read as the Times of India. Therefore the reason why the Times of India comes to your home is because of its ads.

The newspaper with advertisements has been made and printed but how does it come to your doorstep? The responsibility of bringing it to your doorsteps lies on the Response team which gets to work at 4:00 a.m., passes the newspaper to the vendors by 5:00 a.m. and the vendor passes it on to sub vendors to reach your doorstep at 6:00 a.m.

“Now just think about it,” said the head of bureau, “If the response team gets the newspapers at 4:00 a.m., it has to start printing by 1:00 a.m. and hence, the newspaper has to be ready by 12:00 midnight.” I thought if the content team worked till midnight and then the Response team worked in the first 6 hours of a day, it seemed that the Times of India was working almost 24 hours a day (different people at different times). This kind of work culture and lifestyle seemed very interesting and fascinative to me. It was all news to me!

How is it like to be in the editorial board meeting of a newspaper?

Our junior editorial board consisting of 5 students was headed by Dr. Sumer Singh, principal of Daly College. Bringing a smile to everyone’s face, he asked the Head of Bureau (HOB) a question that supplements the whole debate about unbiased journalism. He asked, “What influence do the owners of the newspaper have on the Editorial board of a newspaper?” The HOB answered, “The owner of Times of India have given clear guidelines to the editorial board but when it comes to regular functioning of the editorial board, they don’t intervene.”

The editorial board meetings seemed very interesting to me. We sat in a meeting room with a round table where all the reporters of the Indore bureau and the editorial board sat along with the Head of bureau and our mentor and guide, Dr. Sumer Singh.
The editorial board consisted of 5 students including me. Each of us put forward one topic which we though should make up a story on the Children’s Day feature of the Times of India but we put forward topics and not stories and the whole objective of the two hour long discussion that took place was to obtain stories out of these topics. To me the topic seemed self explanatory but I realized that the HOB was reluctant to get a story out of it. As we discussed each topic in depth exploring all the different aspects and subtopics lying within the topic, I observed that he was noting down 3 points below each topic. This was how a story was evolved out of a topic. The story was more specific and focused than the otherwise broad topic. The three points provided a direction to the report and somewhat defined what the report has to be. In addition to the three points, he also noted recommendations about who has to be interviewed and from places where the reporter can get an insight into the topic.

For example, one of the topics that the editorial board members put forward was solar energy. The story that came out of this topic was altogether different from what I had primarily thought of. From the topic solar panels, a person might logically think of meeting energy needs, renewable energy and sustainable energy sources and their importance. But the story that was commissioned by the Editorial Board was about wiping off a major misconception that solar panels are expensive. The story was about making people aware of the subsidies that the government gives on solar panel installation cost, emphasizing on the fact that the installation cost could be overcome within five years and getting something out from an interview of the people who supply and install solar panels. The reluctance of the Head of Bureau to get out a narrower and a focused story was justified.

This discussion about our ideas was followed by a discussion on the TOI reporters’ ideas. They had some ideas which were discussed. One of them was refused to be admitted by the Editorial Board, one of them was merged with a report which was warranted before and the one of them brought out a story. Therefore as a part of this meeting, we discussed about solar energy, public transit system, garbage, playgrounds, poverty, crimes by children, education for poor, addiction of children to social networking sites, cyber crimes, cleanliness in the city, waste management, waste collection and segregation and brought out about 7-8 stories for the children’s day edition.

As I receive a lot of regards and congratulations today on Children’s Day, it’s time to introspect this experience. As the Times of India edition was released today, I was bombarded by calls and messages from my friends and relatives. I was flattered and wanted to recreate those priceless moments at the Times of India office. It has not only been a great learning but has also arisen my interest in journalism. I heartily thank the Times of India, the Head of bureau Mr. Salil, the reporters at the TOI and Dr. Sumer Singh for giving me such an insight into a newspaper’s functioning.    

All comments, feedback and opinions are welcomed at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com ! 

November 6, 2015

The Backward Way Forward- Reservation System in India

In the constituency where I live in, the previous MLA worked hard to build up parks, improve water and gas supply and facilitated local get-togethers and social living. Everyone was content and evidently he had to win the next elections too! And oops! It became a SC/ST constituency this election. Pity, he was not from the backward castes. The story pertains. A 90 percentile scorer didn’t get a seat at the top institute and the person with a 80 percentile got it, just because he was from the backward caste. The reservation system has been a widely debated topic and it just got heated up due to an agitation by one of the most prosperous communities- the Patels. Sure, the reservation system was very important when we attained freedom, as India seemingly was a country drained with social evils and caste based discrimination. But is it even relevant now? Has the Indian government failed to observe the unscheduled changes in the scheduled castes? 
But before I start raving about reservation system in India, let me make this clear that the goal of reserving jobs in offices and seats in Parliament is to bring forward the discriminated backward caste groups. The reservation system is just a way in which the government helps to reduce the discrimination against them by making them a part of our offices, of our colleges. The reservation system does not impose on the minorities but on the backward castes. If the backward castes are the minorities, it is merely coincidental. Thus, demanding for reservations just because if some sect of the society is a minority, is not in the keeping with the reason why the reservations were introduced.
Everyone today wants to be a “backward.” People deliberately tend to be a Scheduled Caste to get privileges in colleges. Parents have intentionally displayed their illegitimate grotesque incomes to get some economic privileges for their children. It seems as if everyone wants to be poor. Everyone wants to be of the backward castes or as Shashi Tharoor puts it, “It seems as if one can’t move forward until he is backward!” 
Now while this kind of a system has made the competition for colleges unfair and the elections to the Lok Sabha undemocratic, it is agreeable that it has forwarded the backwards. So should this kind of a system be removed? 
One school of thought says that now is the time when the reservation system has to be made dysfunctional. According this school of thought, the reservation system has accomplished what it was supposed to but now if these caste-based privileges aren’t pulled out of their constitutional mandate, they will make us even more caste conscious than we have ever been, they’ll take our progress with the backwardness in reverse gear! 
Another school of thought is definitely less critical about the reservation system. They reason out that a government can be effective and a democracy can stay alive only when the interests of every sect of the society are entertained. Discontinuing the reservation system would definitely lead to an underrepresentation of the backward castes 
While the debate goes on, the school of thought that I have adopted is a third one and perhaps, a more practical one. I believe that the reservation for Parliament is one thing and the reservation for research institutes and offices is another thing. I believe that in the parliament, efficiency can be compromised upon if that makes the Parliament more representative and therefore, a Parliament definitely has to be representative over efficient. Yet, I think it is alright if a college or an office is not representative. In fact, I don’t see a point in compromising on the efficiency and quality of a hospital or a research lab just to make it more representative. Thus, reservation in colleges, research labs, offices, public sector hospitals seems to be a little pointless though reservation in Parliament seems to be highly justifiable. 
But it isn’t as simple as it seems. The expansion of the reservation system has a political incentive and political parties appeal to communities basing up their propaganda on the reservation system. Therefore, considering the political interests of a political party, it might never want to discontinue the reservation system or even compromise on it. Hence, we still have a long way to go answering unanswered questions and entangling this debate about reservation system. To wrap it all up in a nitshell, once Narendra Modi told Obama that he was thinking of sending some Indians to the moon. Obama asked,"How many?" He replied,"100, 35 OBC, 25 SC, 20 ST, 10 minorities, 9 sport factions and 1 astronaut." :-) ;-) 

October 28, 2015

Blink- The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

You cannot ignore them but you can educate them, your instincts. 
-Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
How does an art dealer have a look at a fake statue and recognize at once that it is fake? How does a marriage expert get to know whether the couple are going to be together or not? It comes to them in the first two seconds. Blink is about these two seconds. Blink accomplishes two tasks- one, convincing the reader that the unconscious thought process (instantaneous thoughts) is as important and relevant as the conscious thought process (educated and logical thought) and the second task, asking the reader to educate their unconscious thought. 
The book has gained my appraisal unparalleled by any non fiction book of its genre due to its witty style as a result of the deep research. Another reason why this book has impressed me is because it has persuaded me to believe that informed decision do not have to be better which is a major misconception that I bet every non-reader must have. You might think that if you have more information, your decision would be qualitatively better. But after reading Blink, this proportionality doesn't hold true for all circumstances, instead, they hold true only when you have the luxury of time. Extra information muddles you with an already puzzling equation that you create before taking any conscious decision. It asks you to rely on instantaneous judgement. But this is one place where this book lies loose due to the simple reason that it never tells you to when to switch between instincts and conscious thinking. 

Not to disapprove of the commendable efforts put forward by the author Malcolm Gladwell, Blink presents a whole lot of ways to thin slice the required information that I believe is of paramount importance. Blink is a lot more than just talking about instincts and analyzing snap judgement. The last segment of the book also provides the readers with some ways to influence their snap judgement. This last segment impressed me the most. Let me give you an example, if I say that there is an audition going on for a singing reality show and there is some kind of a discrimination that the judges have against the female candidates. Now, at such point in time what  you might perhaps do is that you will make the judges sit, discuss things about fight against discrimination, give them a lecture on gender equality, tell them to not undermine women ability but what all of this would do is alter their conscious thinking. However, if there is some kind of a discrimination against women done by the judges, I believe that it is due to their unconscious thought process and so all the discussion, lecturing might not just help. What Blink imbibes in you is an ability to influence the unconscious. What a Blink-reader might have thought would probably have been to put a screen between the judges and the auditioner in order to prevent any unconscious discrimination. 

Therefore, Blink keeps you amazed with the wonders of psychology and is a definite page-turner. But I also think that Blink isn't an idea, it is not revolutionary. It is just an analysis. You never listed out the pros and cons before buying a product at the supermarket. What you trusted was your snap judgement! Police agencies never flood the cops with extra information but always give straightaway orders so that extra information does not confuse them. You have always been trusting your snap judgement, the first impression has always affected your opinion. The concept of instantaneous judgement and thin slicing information is already in use. The whole concept of outweighing instincts is what we have been following unconsciously. The only difference that Blink makes is it tells you what happens behind the closed doors of your mind when you make a snap judgement. It explores unconscious thought process, however it is just an analysis not an idea. Therefore, do not expect that you will have revolutionized perspective once you read Blink but whenever you rely on your instincts and trust your snap judgement, you'll remember this book-Blink! Highly recommendable.........   

Order Now - Amazon.in- Blink

October 14, 2015

Outweighing Instincts- The Art of Thin Slicing

You are a recruiter and I have applied for the job. What'd you prefer- spending a whole day with me or a five minute interview? I bet you'll chose the first one." But it is not that simple... 
Analysis- This word has been synonymous to our very sense of the word "conclusion." Paperwork done in years by Scientists to deduce theories is what is called as analysis. 

Logic- The very basis of analysis, the very fundamental of our belief and the very question that compliments every doctrine. We all strive to make more logical analysis and it also becomes one of the primary criteria of judging our mental ability. Selection for colleges and recruitment for jobs are all done on the basis of this very thing. 
Snap Judgement- You see a statue and you know it is fake. You don't know why and you don't know how but you know it is true. However, you wipe that thought off because it doesn't have a logic
Methodology- You wipe that though off because that's isn't an analytical decision and just to find out whether it is fake or not what you do is you call the best of scientists, historians and analysts, you scrape the outer layer of the statue and observe it under the microscope. You do tests and research based upon logic and curate it all with a 100 page lengthy, comprehensive, logical and analytical report ending up saying,"it is fake."

Reader by now- What a stupid guy! He spends millions of bucks and days of his productive time on that research and ends up saying what he said in a Blink. 

Logic- Instincts are baseless. They come in a Blink and it's better you remove it. They are illogical. They come from nowhere. They lead nowhere. It is a mere coincidence that the snap judgement and the researched judgement are the same and not anything more than that. And here lies the simple reason behind following certain methodology.     

It isn't as simple as that. No doubt a method and analysis rectifies the snap judgement. Logical analysis provides a unique satisfaction that doesn't come with the instincts. However that doesn't mean that instincts aren't important. Our brain works at two stages, parallel to  each other. They are called the conscious and unconscious. The conscious which makes us believe what we want to, which allows us to consider women equal to men, black to white. However, there lies an unconscious which still makes us hesitant about accepting race and gender equality. If you don't believe it, then do have an IAT (Implicit Association Test). The fact that the unconscious makes another integral part of our brain makes it all the more important. In order to understand the importance and gist of snap judgement, here lies and example- 

September 8, 2015

An Ambiguous Responsibility to Protect- Concerns, Implementation, Road Ahead

“We can save lives. We can uphold the principles on which this house is built. We can demonstrate that sovereignty and responsibility are mutually reinforcing principles. And we can assert the moral authority of this institution,”

Mr. Ban ki Moon, the secretory general of the United Nations said these words in the General Assembly just after the Bosnia crisis. The responsibility to Protect is a doctrine which was introduced by the International Commission on Intervention and State Security (ICISS). The Responsibility to Protect doctrine stands on three basic pillars as states by the Report by ICISS- 
1.     A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
2.      The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
3.     If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.                     
Legal Concerns over Implementation

    The responsibility to Protect doctrine was adopted by the United Nations in 2005 in the World Outlook Meeting. However, it is interesting to observe that the R2P doctrine contradicts Article 2(4) and Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter. While the Responsibility to protect encourages member states of the United Nations to intervene in countries where the countries' government fails to protect its populace from genocide and other crimes against humanity, the United Nations Charter says that member states must 
  1.    While most interventions are carried out under the supposed pretext of liberating and providing freedom to oppressed civilians they often have veiled agendas of powerful countries. Frequently the liberation of the people is sidelined for the economic or political agendas. For example, Iraq intervention was not only illegal but also unethical in terms of the intentions. It is believed that the United States was driven by its economic interests in one of the world’s most scarce but widely used commodities-oil. Also, a valid example for politically driven agendas might be the Caribbean interventions were largely driven by agendas such as spreading capitalism. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that intentions are reviewed before backing any intervention because that is the root cause for failure of the responsibility to Protect in many countries.
  2.  Intervening states portray themselves to be neutral peacekeepers with humanitarian motives. However, upon deploying forces into conflict states they often further divide the place into regions of “friends” and “foes” taking one side against the other, this approach tends to intensify rather than diminish the civil conflict or possibility of war. They often further subvert the region and polarize factions leading to widespread resentment towards the intervention. Currently in Syria, a very severe civil war persists. Military intervention by the United States along with its allies has forced Russia to get involved. The United States which is currently launching air strikes against the Islamic State and supports the civilians in their protests against the Ba’ath Party government has been using Syria as a war ground for a distressful clash of the Cold War rivals. The Syrian rebels have already expressed their concerns over becoming another Iraq. The United States can fulfill its responsibility to normalize the severe condition of Syria but what the States is doing is just the contrary, distressful indeed. 
     
  3.   Economic sanctions have been one of the widely accepted “coercive” measures as demanded by the R2P doctrine. I believe economic sanction is an easy way out or maybe for some nation a way to showcase their authority and influence. Though economic sanctions have been successful in fulfilling their objective and have deterred the country’s government from conducting large scale attacks against its populace, it is a loss for the international community as well as the country. When economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq, its economy was destroyed and inflation grew steeply in the country. Iraqi people starved due to unemployment and steep inflation. Secondly, consequent to the signing of an impossible deal between the West and Iran, oil prices dropped severely. If just the dreams of the rich prospects of a deal which has not been accepted by the Senate and nor by the Iranian government could drop oil prices which such great effect what would’ve happened if no Iraqi sanctions would have been applied!
  4.  The responsibility to Protect doctrine was adopted by the United Nations in 2005 in the World Outlook Meeting. However, it is interesting to observe that the R2P doctrine contradicts Article 2(4) and Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter. While the Responsibility to protect encourages member states of the United Nations to intervene in countries where the countries' government fails to protect its populace from genocide and other crimes against humanity, the United Nations Charter says that member states must refrain in their international relations "from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Though these clauses might not be directly contradictory but in action they seem to be so. The Libyan intervention in 2011 had the NATO bombing over Gaddafi was a an instance where the Responsibility to Protect doctrine was upheld however, it was a "use of force" and that too "against the integrity or political independence of the country" as it is widely believed that the Gaddafi regime was loved by some sections of the society because of the reforms he brought. Therefore, it is very important that the importance and validity of the United Nations Charter and the philosophy of the Responsibility to protect doctrine work hand in hand and in accordance to each other.   
It must be understood that the criticism exhibited in the points above is just to expose the barriers in the effective implementation of the Responsibility to Protect however, they do not disapprove of the philosophy of the Responsibility to Protect or the idea of humanitarian intervention. There have been very successful interventions which have accomplished their goals like in Afghanistan. However, a general worldview and history of the Responsibility to Protect implies that most of the interventions have not been successful not because of the idea of R2P but because of its ineffective implementation. 
What Next?
How should the international community respond to human rights violation within a state? How should the international system tackle catastrophic atrocities in a state when its leaders themselves have repudiated the responsibility to safeguard the rights of their people? These are some questions that need to be addressed immediately in order to carry forward the spirit of a humanitarian intervention.

Many calls for intervention have been made over the last decade – some of them answered and some of them ignored. But there continues to be disagreement as to whether, if there is a right of intervention, how and when it should be exercised, and under whose authority. Also, there have been a lot of interventions where the consent of the state being intervened in is not taken! Though intervening parties claim to be neutralized in approach history has been evidence to the fact that intervention usually violates the legal fetters of safeguarding sovereignty and resisting intervention in domestic matters of the country. The need for a framework to combat the abuse of the Responsibility to Protect by powerful nations is much needed which must draw a line between humanitarian intervention and a breach of sovereignty!  

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July 21, 2015

Unreasonably Right- Our Education System

The Indian Education System has recently raised my Standard to proud 9 which is usually referred to by a capital 'I' followed by 'X.' Within this journey, I have found a lot of things unreasonable and I fail to understand how this kind of an education system is so widely accepted! This why-so-serious post, needs a disclaimer- "No Offense" 

Because They Said It
Some questions lie unanswered for the students, this is like setting up a base in the air. There is a hollowness which pertains till the person's life and this hollowness fails to be filled. If you consider questions to be a filler in this hollowness, then you have forgotten that this was said by Einstein and Galileo and Wordsworth and Smith! 

Why Did You Not Forget Your Dinner
I forgot my notebook at home is one of the rarest statements heard by students who tend to justify there not bringing notebooks to school. Instead, nowadays, they prefer guests at home or death of their grandmother because they know that if they say they forgot things at home, they will be asked to justify their remembering eating dinner, their remembering playing sports, in fact, they will even be asked to justify their wearing clothes. If this is the kind of response you get to the truth, then we are surely giving an incentive for making excuses and what not! 

I Will Make You Sit in Grade 1
Moreover, if you don't answer a question, you are threatened to be made to sit in Grade 1 just because you fail to remember what you were taught five or six years back. However, I have always failed to understand what the teachers were trying to prove by saying so, considering that they were our respected teachers in Grade 1 too. 

I Will Mark You as Remedial and that's Shameful
The school torture crosses its limits when for a second chance they call it remedial and moreover that's shameful. For teachers, it is remedy to marks and for me, it is nothing more than a second chance to improve. If improving is shameful then lets deteriorate!


You Have Failed
If you fail to pass certain standards of eligibility, you have failed. Well, surely, someone has failed but then, I doubt who has- the student or the teacher? 

We Will Call Your Parents
Well, what's the need! Can't you handle me

Sports and activities are Secondary
Today, we call sports and other activities like dance and music as co-curricular and optional courses. While the curricular genius is believed to be smart and intelligent, the musical genius is stupid and dumb. Albert Einstein once said, Everybody is a genius but if you tend to judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life to believe that it is stupid!

And What Not? 
If you don't improve, then you are threatened to be thrown out of the school and if you do so, you are undergoing a remedy. If you misbehave, you are required to go to the Principal's cabin and if you accept your guilt, then your parents are to be called and you are going to be suspended for a week!

To me all these things have always seemed unreasonable. For a better a society, we need morally rich students and how are we training these students to be morally rich? I fear, from a morally downgraded education system! Today, if a child cheats in examinations, it is because we value his grades more than his moral values. Too often children are given answers to remember than problems to solve. Let the morals be reasoned and ethics be possessed. Let their be some space for the truth!

P.S. No Offense!