Why I Don’t Have a Sahitya Academy Award?
By Dr Sanjay Kaul
BOSTON, Oct 17: Despite what media would lead us to believe, intellectuals don’t own morality. This is especially important to understand in light of recent incidents in India that sparked a group of writers to return their Sahitya Academy awards.
Not just here, but through history, we see the intellectual class claiming a monopoly on morals. Lets us reevaluate what it means to be a thinker. Can only liberal frameworks allow for an exploration of ideals in our society? What makes these intellectuals the authority on right and wrong?
Killing and barbaric acts which have overtaken a number of societies in the past, are unanimously reprehensible. An attack on an innocent life is not and should not be made into a political statement.
In returning their awards, these few writers have chosen to politicize their art. The job of a writer and a thinker is to question, evaluate, and express. Where then do political leanings and inclinations fit in?
Returning the award does little more than disrespect the very art and writings such thinkers have created. It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but when such people misunderstand and misapply the power of their expression and tools of art, we are left with a confused lot of intellectuals who have abandoned the very thing for which they are named: intellect.
In the realm of nation building, only progress towards more inclusive cooperation will take India forward. Ideas and opinions will only flourish in such a nation where thinking is apolitical and thinkers, unite our diversity in the tradition of the democratic India we all know and love.
My politics is listening to Ghulam Ali… Awaargi!
@ The writer is a Professor and Chair, Department of Technology, Fitchburg State University, Fitchburg , Massachusetts, USA. Dr Sanjay Kaul is a published writer and lives in Andover, Massachusetts, with his wife, Dr Sharda Kaul.
Tunisian democracy group wins Nobel Peace Prize
OSLO, Oct 9: A Tunisian coalition of workers, employers, human rights activists and lawyers won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for pulling the country that sparked the Arab Spring back onto a path toward democracy and preventing it from descending into civil war.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy" in the North African country following its 2011 revolution.
"It established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war," the committee said in its citation.
The prize is a huge victory for small Tunisia, whose young and still shaky democracy suffered two extremist attacks this year that killed 60 people and devastated the tourism industry.
Tunisian protesters sparked uprisings across the Arab world in 2011 that overthrew dictators and upset the status quo. But it is the only country in the region to painstakingly build a democracy, involving a range of political and social forces in dialogue to create a constitution, legislature and democratic institutions.
"More than anything, the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries," Nobel Peace Prize Committee Chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five said.
The National Dialogue Quartet is made up of four key organizations in Tunisian civil society: the Tunisian General Labour Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, which is the country's bar association.
Kullmann Five said the 8 million Swedish kronor (US$960,000) prize was for the quartet as a whole, not the four individual organizations. It wasn't immediately clear who would accept the award on behalf of the quartet at the Dec. 10 award ceremony.
The Nobel committee said the quartet played a key role as a mediator and force for democracy, paving the way for a peaceful dialogue among citizens, political parties and authorities across political and religious divides, countering the spread of violence.
It was formed after the July 2013 assassination of left-wing politician Mohammed Brahmi plunged the country into crisis with opposition parties boycotting the parliament. A national dialogue led by the quartet succeeded in negotiating a transition from the elected Islamist-led government to an interim government of technocrats tasked with organizing new elections for a permanent government.
The dialogue nearly broke down several times but ultimately succeeded and has been held up as a stark contrast to the coup in Egypt that removed the elected Islamist government there during the summer of 2013.
Nobel officials said they didn't manage to speak to any representatives of the quartet before the announcement.
Houcine Abassi, the leader of the Tunisian General Labour Union, said he was "overwhelmed" as he found out about the award from an Associated Press reporter.
Michelle Obama unveils campaign focusing on girls’ education
NEW YORK, Sept 28: First Lady Michelle Obama introduced a new campaign focusing on education for girls around the world at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City. Obama appeared in a video Saturday at the event starring Beyoncé, Hugh Jackman and others. Obama spoke about the 62 Million Girls campaign in front of a feverish audience in Central Park.
She said she’s traveled the world and met with young women who have not had a chance to receive an education. She said “I see myself in these girls. I see my daughters in these girls. ... For me this is truly a moral issue.” She asked the audience to tweet photos of themselves with the hashtag #62MillionGirls and say what you learned in school. Obama said she learned how to “speak up” in school. She said the photos will “show the power of education.”
“We are helping adolescent girls worldwide go to school,” Obama also said.
Performers at the event include Pearl Jam, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay. Obama later was introduced to the stage by Beyoncé after the pop star performed an energetic set.
“Let’s give it up for the amazing Beyoncé,” Obama said. “I am thrilled to be here tonight ... and honored to follow a woman who I admire and adore.” The First Lady went on to stress the seriousness of the 62 Million Girls campaign as she earned a loud applause for the crowd. “Right now 62 million girls are not in school ... they deserve the same chances to get an education as my daughters and your daughters,” she said.
Nasa scientists find evidence of flowing liquid water on Mars
NEW YORK, Sept 28: Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet’s summer months, a paper published on Monday showed.
Although the source and the chemistry of the water is unknown, the discovery could affect thinking about whether the planet that is most like Earth in the solar system could support present day microbial life.
Scientists developed a new technique to analyze chemical maps of the Martian surface obtained by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.
They found telltale fingerprints of salts that form only in the presence of water in narrow channels cut into cliff walls throughout the planet’s equatorial region.
The slopes, first reported in 2011, appear during the warm summer months on Mars, then vanish when the temperatures drop.
Scientists suspected the streaks, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSL, were cut by flowing water, but had previously been unable to make the measurements.
“I thought there was no hope,” said Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology and lead author of a paper in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter makes its measurements during the hottest part of the Martian day, so scientists believed any traces of water, or fingerprints from hydrated minerals, would have evaporated.
Also, the chemical-sensing instrument on the orbiting spacecraft cannot home in on details as small as the narrow streaks, which typically are less than 16 feet (5 meters) wide.
But Ojha and colleagues created a computer program that could scrutinize individual pixels. That data was then correlated with high-resolution images of the streaks.
Scientists concentrated on the widest streaks and came up with a 100 percent match between their locations and detections of hydrated salts.
“We’re not claiming that we found ... evidence of liquid water. We found hydrated salts,” Ojha said.
Still, that was enough for NASA, which declared a “Mars mystery solved,” in a press advisory.
“It’s a little bit over-the-top announcement by NASA,” Ojha said. “There’s so many mysteries to be solved about RSL.”
The discovery “confirms that water is playing a role in these features,” added Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist with Arizona State University. “We don’t know that it’s coming from the subsurface. It could come from the atmosphere.’ Whatever the water’s source, the prospect of liquid water, even seasonally, raises the intriguing prospect that Mars, which is presumed to be a cold and dead planet, could support life today.
Much more information about the water’s chemistry, however, would be needed before scientists could make that assessment, McEwen added.
“It’s not necessarily habitable just because it’s water - at least to terrestrial organisms,” he said.
NASA’s ongoing Mars rover Curiosity has found evidence that Mars had all the ingredients and suitable habitats for microbial life to exist at some point in its past.
Scientists have been trying to figure out how it transformed from a warm, wet and likely Earth-like planet early in its history into the cold, dry desert that exists today.
Billions of years ago, Mars, which lacks a protective, global magnetic field, lost much of its atmosphere. Several initiatives are under way to determine how much of the planet’s water was stripped away and how much remains locked in ice in underground reservoirs.
Taiwan, Indian Youth Ambassadors Host Unique ‘Taiwan Night’
Taiwan is ‘Ilha Formosa’ -- the beautiful island with beautiful people
By Deepak Arora
NEW DELHI, Sept 3: A diplomat’s job is strengthening friendship among countries and spread peace and compassion around the world. This job was perfectly done by the Youth Ambassadors from Republic of China when they gave an electrifying cultural performance to introduce Taiwan to Delhi-ites.
In the 90-minute performance that included tribal and modern dance, acrobatics and belly dance, the young performers took the audience to the journey of Taiwan.
They introduced flora and fauna; beautiful mountains and oceans; Min Nan, Hakka, Chinese and Aboriginal cultures; Chinese cuisine; Chinese and Bubble Tea; Night market snacks; Tourist attractions; High-speed train; traditional umbrellas, Calligraphy, Confucius et al.
They advised the tourists to carry camera and mobiles for instant loading of beautiful photographs and swim suits for surfing and swimming in the beaches.
They also talked of quality that is associated with Made in Taiwan (MIT) and, therefore, advised tourists to carry lots of NT dollars for ‘value for money’ and quality shopping.
The Youth Ambassadors left the audience spell bound with their performance that was full of professionalism and teamwork. One was also left with unforgettable memories of Taiwan that would stay in one’s heart.
At the unique cultural evening “Taiwan Night”, there was a fusion of Taiwan and Indian cultures as students from 40 notable Indian colleges and schools with the support of Rotary International District 3011 and 3012 also presented rich and diversified Indian cultural performances.
The cultural performances definitely enhanced and cemented mutual understanding and cultural communication between India and Taiwan.
Present at the coulourful evening were Taiwan Representative in India Ambassador Chung Kwang Tien, Director of the Delegation of Youth Ambassadors to Asia Pacific Ambassador Bruce Fuh, Member of Parliament Meenakshi Lekhi, FICCI General Secretary Didar Singh, Rotrary International immediate past Governor Sanjay Khanna and Rotary International Governor of District 3012 J K Gaur.
Rotarian Sanjay Khanna said this has been a good opportunity for Indian youth to network with the Taiwanese youth and help grow the existing partnerships further.
Although Taiwan is small, the continuous tectonic movements have created majestic and complicated landscapes, including 268 mountains with heights reaching over 3000 meters, together with a great diversity of plateaus, volcanoes, and basins. The Central Mountain Range, which is the longest Taiwan. It separates the island into two sides.
During the visit, one can go for hiking, canoeing and surfing. Biking is also very popular in Taipei and one can easily rent a bicycle.
One of the highlight of a visit to Taiwan is travel by a high-speed train from Taipei to Kaohsiung. The journey is of only 96 minutes. These two cities are also equipped with mass rapid transit systems that greatly facilitate metropolitan transportation.
The Taiwan blue magpie, another endemic species, is the national bird. With its crimson-red beak, its golden eyes, its jet-black crown and throat, and its Prussian-blue body and tail, the Taiwan blue magpie is stunningly beautiful.
The Formosan landlocked salmon is considered a national treasure. One of the rarest fish in the world, its origins can be traced back to the Ice Age.
Taiwanese people are very compassionate. This was reflected when Japan was devasted by the tsunami caused by the earthquake.
Many Taiwanese NGOs, including World Vision and the Tzu Chi foundation, joined in providing relief to the victims. Total donations from Taiwan amounted to 20 billion Taiwan dollars, which is about 260 million US dollars, the biggest donation by any country.
This shows that Taiwanese are really kindhearted, spreading love and compassion all over the globe, said the Youth Ambassadors in their cultural and audio-video presentation.
In their presentation, the young boys and girls emphasized that the Republic of China (Taiwan) will continue to act as a peacemaker, provide humanitarian aid, promote cultural ties, create new technologies and business opportunities, and maintain its role as a standard-bearer of Chinese culture.
The current Taiwan Representative in India, Ambassador Chung Kwang Tien, had commenced the Youth Ambassadors programme in 2009 when he was posted in Taipei. The delegation is sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan).
This is the second visit of such Youth Ambassadors to India. One such delegation had visited India last year. Besides Delhi, they would be also visiting Chennai.
This event is a joint endeavor among Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Rotary International Districts 3011 and 3012.
Director Ambassador Bruce Fuh said this program, which allows talented Taiwanese youth to participate in international affairs and broaden their horizons, has increased understanding of our country’s development among various sectors of the host countries.
In addition, through a wide array of exchanges and interactions, he said the Youth Ambassadors have demonstrated Taiwan’s important role on the international stage as a provider of humanitarian aid, promoter of cultural exchanges, and standard bearer of Chinese culture.
To further enhance the outcome of the program, Ambassador Bruce Fuh said the theme for the 2015 delegation is “Youth from Taiwan, Compassion for All.” The goal is to not only highlight the vitality and kindness of Taiwanese youth, but also reiterate their commitment to issues of global concern such as humanitarian aid and sustainable development.
Ambassador Bruce Fuh said that this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has selected 160 college and university students to serve as Youth Ambassadors, dividing them into 10 groups.
He said “they will visit 41 cities in 35 countries in such regions as the Asia Pacific, North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and West Asia, where they will attend meetings and seminars, and give performances that combine dance and music.”
Islamic State blows up first century tower tombs in Palmyra
Sept 5: Islamic State continued its onslaught on the world heritage site in the ancient city of Palmyra, this time blowing up three ancient funeral towers, Syria's antiquities chief said on Friday.
The militants, who attacked two Roman-era temples in the city previously, blew up the tombs dating from between 44 and 103 AD, said Maamoun Abdulkarim.
Unesco had already condemned the attacks on Palmyra as a war crime.
Abdulkarim cited sources in Palmyra who confirmed the destruction of the tombs, including that of Elahbel, built in 103 AD.
The four-storey building was one of the best preserved of Palmyra's funeral towers, sandstone constructions built to hold the remains of the ancient city's richest families.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the towers were blown up within the past two weeks.
IS, which has declared a caliphate in the land it holds across Syria and Iraq, seized Palmyra from Syrian government control in May. The militants beheaded the 82-year-old guardian of Palmyra's ancient ruins last month.
The group has used the city's ancient amphitheatre for public killings and destroyed monuments it considers sacrilegious, publishing photographs or videos of its actions.
"We expect more damage to the monuments of Palmyra, but of course it is unpredictable because it is obviously to attract the attention of the public," said Tomasz Waliszewski, director of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology which has carried out projects at Palmyra since the 1970s.
He said there were concerns about the fate of other important parts of Palmyra, including the vast Roman-era necropolis and the main kilometre-long colonnaded street.
Unesco says Islamic State's actions are war crimes aimed at wiping out evidence of Syria's diverse cultural history. The group is keeping tight control on communications inside the city, making it difficult to track events.
In the past two weeks the militants blew up part of the Temple of Bel, one of Palmyra's most significant features, and the Baal Shamin temple as well as a row of columns, a UN analysis of satellite images confirmed.