Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brilliant Indian Politician gets M Phil from Cambridge University in 9 Months!

The Hindustan Times reports that the Congress Party of India has served a legal notice to The New Indian Express for publishing a report on the Truth about Rahul's M Phil.

Rahul, of course, is Rahul Gandhi aka Raul Vinci, the general secretary of the Congress Party of India.

The Hindustan Times article has this interesting information about the legal notice:
A copy of the letter of Professor Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of University of Cambridge, was attached to the notice. The letter said Rahul was a student of the university as a member of Trinity College from October 1994 to July 1995 and was awarded an M. Phil in Development Studies in 1995.
Apparently, Rahul Gandhi's performance at Cambridge was so brilliant that he earned an M Phil degree in just 9 months! The same Rahul Gandhi who had to get into Delhi's St Stephen's college, under sports category and failed out from there. The same Rahul Gandhi who got into Harvard after a huge monetary donation and was kicked out from there after only 3 months for not being able to perform. The same Rahul Gandhi whose Cambridge University certificate shows that he failed a subject (reproduced in The New Indian Express article.

It would be sweet if the Congress Party's legal notice results in the truth about Rahul's education being settled once for all. That would be quite an irony. But I am not holding my breath for that any time soon.

Bonus video: Dr Subramaniam Swamy talking about Rahul Gandhi's citizenship and education -

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Notes from the Future 3 - Introducing Google Lifeline

The following post was published on the The Official Google Blog on October 15th, 2015.

Introducing Google Lifeline

Posted by A S, Innovation Evangelist

Today I am pleased to present a whole new way of organizing - and searching, of course - all your life's information: Google Lifeline.

Lifeline is a chronological view of every bit of information you have collected in your Google account. Think of it as a really detailed, really accurate and totally searchable personal history.

Lifeline gathers all your personal data and presents it in a well-integrated, intuitive timeline interface. Just click on any point of the timeline and you will be able to read, listen or watch all the data you have collected during that timeframe. You can bring up every email, document, bill, photo, video, purchase, prescription, phonecall from that time period. You can zoom in to narrow down the timeframe to a particular second in time or you can zoom out all the way to include your entire Google lifetime. Your Google lifetime begins when you sign up for a Google account to use any of Google's popular services.

Here are some of the interesting uses that our employees have found for Google Lifeline during our internal tests:

1. Susan, a user since the days of its beta opening and long before it was acquired by Google, was able to do a quick search to find out how much she has spent at coffee shops per year, in the last five years. Although she knew that she is a coffee addict, the answer still shocked her.

2. Rob, who uses his Google Checkout-enabled phone to make purchases in grocery stores and restaurants, is able to analyze his entire grocery shopping and eating-out history for the past 5 years for "heart-stoppingly good" items he has purchased and compare it side-by-side to his medical history from Google Health, to discover how his dietary habits affect his health.

3. Melissa was curious to see what her highest electricity consumption in a 24-hour period was and when that happened. Melissa has a Google Powermeter installed in her house and the data of her electricity usage has been integrated into Lifeline. It showed a clear spike in her power consumption on a day in late 2009. Curious to know more about why her power consumption was so high, Melissa zoomed in to the one week period before and after the high-power day and browsed her purchases in Lifeline. It showed that she had bought a brand new big-screen TV, party supplies and the DVD version of the latest Star Trek movie. That reminded Melissa, an avid Trekkie, about the Star Trek party she had hosted for fellow-Trekkies with a marathon showing of every Star Trek episode and movie on her new big-screen TV. Melissa was able to view the photos and videos from that party on the Lifeline - photos and videos that she had uploaded to Picasa, as well as the ones uploaded and shared by all her friends.

4. Ashwini has an unusual hobby - she collects "heartstones", stones which are shaped like hearts. She has picked them up from her hikes and travels all over the world, from undersea dives to tops of mountains to cheap jewellery stores in middle Eastern flea markets. Every time she picks up a new stone, she takes a picture of the stone and uploads it to her online album. Ashwini was browsing her heartstone pictures on Lifeline and she came across her very first stone, which had been a gift from her husband when they had barely known each other for a week! Using Lifeline, she was quickly able to bring up all the emails and text messages she had exchanged with him around that time and re-live the heady days of their budding romance. She was even able to listen to the songs her husband sang to her on her Google Voice voicemail during the days of their courtship. She was able to do all this without leaving the Lifeline page even once.

5. The most romantic Lifeline story is perhaps my own. You are already aware that if you use a GPS-enabled phone, you can record every step you take on a trip to form your personal 'trails' on Google Maps. The feature of viewing photos from a trip as a time-compressed virtual trip on Google Maps or Google Earth is much appreciated and used by our users. Now this information is also available on Google Lifeline. I was analyzing the shared trip data of all the Google employees on Lifeline, when I noticed that one person's trails seemed to intersect my own trails quite often. It appeared that over the years, this person had visited many places either shortly before or after I had been there. There were occasions when we had been in the same place on the same day, perhaps missing each other by mere minutes or by a distance of a few hundred feet! Given Google's significant employee count, I had never come across this person's name before. And given that we worked on opposite coasts, there was little chance of us running into each other in the office hallways or cafeteria. Yet, our travel trails had been intersecting in places far and wide, across the globe, quite often and regularly in the preceding 5 years. The number of intersecting points - in time and space - were high enough to be statistically significant. I shot off an email to this person to share the strange serendipity in our travel trails. I am extremely happy to say that for the past year, our travel trails have not been intersecting, they have been coinciding, in both time and space. And, we hope it will be so forever in the future. I won't claim that I would not have met my fiance, if not for Google Lifeline. The way our trails were intersecting, we were destined to run into each other sooner or later. But Lifeline did help make it sooner rather than later, by helping me see the intersections of our trails in both space and time.

Today I am really excited to open up Lifeline to everybody, to help organize your life's information and access it easily. I can't wait to hear stories of the innovative uses that you will no doubt find for this awesome tool.

PS: You might also be interested in the first 'Notes from the Future' feature on this blog - My Buddy. This one was published long before anybody had heard about Apple's iPhone. Interestingly, I had originally named it "Google Buddy" until friends advised me to get rid of the Google name.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

India's New Face: Narendra Modi in The Atlantic

Over the years, I have read many articles about Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state in India. Most of these articles are written by prejudiced reporters with a blatant (read unhidden, undisguised, obvious) motive to show Modi in a bad light. Despite their prejudices and motives, these journalists can't help reporting about the fabulous job Modi is doing in Gujarat and his highly efficient, corruption-free administration. In fact, Modi's governance is so clean and his quotes are so straight-forward, the reporters have to jump through hoops, indulging in mental and verbal gymnastics in their attempts to show Modi in a bad light. The result is that the journalists end up contradicting themselves within the span of a single article, revealing their own prejudices and casting a shadow on their own authenticity. The latest to join this line of journalists is The Atlantic magazine's correspondent Robert D Kaplan in his April 2009 edition article about Mr Narendra Modi: India’s New Face.

The Atlantic article about Mr Narendra Modi is no different from other articles which hold Modi responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat: unsubstantiated accusations and insinuations, with absolutely no evidence. To date, I have not read a single article or report which lays out in detail what it was that Mr Modi or his administration was supposed to do and failed to do, during the 2002 riots. Sure, there are overarching statements that Modi should not have let so many people get killed. But there has never been a detailed, chronological list in any article which says, Modi's administration should have done X1 at time-point Y1, and X2 at time-point Y2 and so on. Bear in mind that since India's independence in 1947, there have been numerous other riots - religious and otherwise, there have been countless other killings - by terrorists and criminals, there have been mass deaths of thousands and millions - by droughts, storms and other calamities both natural and man-made, and there has even been an ethnic cleansing - of Kashmiri pandits from their homeland. These things have taken place in every corner of the country. So, it is not as if India's central and state governments have had unblemished track records in preventing or handling these incidents. In fact, the track record of every administration in India has been pathetic when it comes to facing riots, killings and tragedies. Keeping this in mind, why single out Modi's administration alone, nay Mr Modi alone, as the instigator supreme of all communal riots? The irony here is that the initial provocation for the Gujarat riots was the burning of 57 Hindu pilgrims in a train at Godhra.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how journalists who set out to bad-mouth Modi end up contradicting themselves within the span of the same article. Mr Kaplan's article in The Atlantic provides some prime examples of this phenomenon, which I shall shortly demonstrate with quotes taken directly from the article. Perhaps, Mr Kaplan thinks that he is providing a fair and balanced perspective. Perhaps, that is what he set out to do. But the contradictions in his article do not appear fair and balanced precisely because he has let so much of his own prejudices and unsubstantiated accusations color the article.

Quote: He [Modi] said he wasn’t interested in talking about politics, just development. Of course, politics represents freedom, and his momentary lack of interest in politics was not accidental. Modi’s entire governing style is antidemocratic, albeit quite effective, emphasizing reliance on a lean, stripped-down bureaucracy of which he has taken complete personal control, even as he has pushed his own political party to the sidelines, almost showing contempt for it.

Since when did politics equate to freedom alone? And, not wanting to talk about politics equates to being anti-freedom? Is Modi using the power of the army or the police or anti-social elements to administer effectively? No. All his unrivalled administrative authority comes from the absolute trust and faith his citizens have in him. If this is not the very definition of the democratic zenith, what is? So, how can Mr Kaplan term Modi as "antidemocratic"? Due to the "stripped-down" bureaucracy of Modi's administration? When did a vast, blundering bureaucracy become an essential defining feature of democracy? This is the symptom of prejudiced reporting - term efficient administration based on the citizens' support as being antidemocratic. If Mr Kaplan had been truly neutral, he'd have praised Modi for doing what almost no other political leader in India's modern history has been able to do so far. As for the antidemocratic charge, Mr Kaplan himself goes on to say: Is Modi a fascist? Although episodes in his political career and his role in the events of February 2002 suggest as much, the answer is, ultimately, no.

Quote: “There was no Kalinga effect on Modi,” Hanif Lakdawala, a Muslim who runs a human-rights NGO, told me. He was referring to a war fought in the third century B.C. by the Mauryan Empire under King Ashoka against the kingdom of Kalinga on the eastern coast of India. Ashoka’s forces slew 100,000 civilians. Yet the slaughter left Ashoka with so much guilt that he dedicated his life thereafter to nonviolence and the peaceful development of his empire.

In the very next paragraph, there is a contradictory quote: By all accounts, after the riots, he [Modi] manically dedicated himself to development, sleeping less than four hours every night, up at 5 a.m. to check his e-mail and read the local papers, visiting about 3,000 of the 7,000 villages in the state, and empowering the lowest reaches of its bureaucracy through his slogan, “Less government, more governance.”

In other words, after the 2002 riots, Modi did dedicate himself to the "peaceful development of his empire". There has not been a single incident of sectarian violence in Gujarat since the 2002 riots. Elsewhere in the article Kaplan writes, "Gujarat had experienced 10.2 percent annual GDP growth since 2002." This is a classic example of "peaceful development" that any state or country in the world (including the US with all its current economic troubles) would envy.

Quote: Whether it be the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat posed by Iran, possible chaos in Pakistan, or Islamic terrorism in Kashmir and in India itself, the global situation reminds Hindus—the overwhelming majority of Indian voters—how much they have to fear from Muslim radicalism, and how much Modi signifies a bulwark against it: not through any specific act nowadays, but through the whole aura of his no-nonsense rule.

So, Mr Modi provides a 'bulwark' against Muslim radicalism and terrorism by nothing more than a 'no-nonsense rule'. What? No middle-of-the-night arrests? No extraordinary renditions? No illegal tapping of citizens' phones? No torture of prisoners? No prison camps outside the borders? Nobody losing their habeas corpus rights? Mr Modi is able to provide a bulwark against radicalism and terrorism simply with a 'no-nonsense rule'? Shouldn't he receive high praise for that? Note that even Western governments including the ones in Europe and the United States are having to deal with Muslim radicalism and terrorism. If what Mr Kaplan writes about Mr Modi's no-nonsense rule is true, it would appear that the Western governments might benefit from learning from Mr Modi!

Quote: Sophia Khan, a human-rights worker, put it bluntly: “He’s a fascist man. We Muslims don’t exist for him. Our neighborhoods are called mini-Pakistans, while the Hindus live where the malls and multiplexes are.”

Another quote: His [Modi's] machine-like efficiency, financial probity, and dynamic leadership of the government bureaucracy have made Gujarat a mecca for development, garnering more internal investment than any other state in India. Migrants, both Hindu and Muslim, from throughout India have been streaming into Gujarat to find work at its expanding factories.

So, if Muslims are able to find jobs (and a better life) in Gujarat, how can someone claim that Muslims don't have good living conditions in Gujarat? The truth is that both Hindus and Muslims have bad as well as good living conditions in India. It is not a function of people's religion. And what do they mean by Muslims "don't exist" for Mr Modi? Do they mean that Mr Modi does not give any special considerations to Muslims or pander to them as a vote bank, like many other politicians in India do? He treats everybody equally and that is a good thing!

Quote: What I encountered in interviews with victims of the 2002 violence was not so much radicalization, but alienation from India, evidenced by their withdrawal into their own communities, their reluctance to venture among Hindus.

What Mr Kaplan does not seem to realize is that this withdrawal and ghettoization of Muslims does not have anything to do with Mr Modi or the Gujarat riots. This is a phenomenon that is observed in most countries where Muslims exist in substantial numbers, but are not the majority. They form ghettos and don't mingle with the other communities, don't take active participation in national life and discourses. This has been observed in UK, France and other Western countries also. Where is Mr Modi's influence in those countries? Was there a 2002 Gujarat riot in those countries also?

Quote: Modi demonstrates how the century can also go very wrong when charismatic politicians use modern electoral tactics and technology to create and exploit social divisions...

Contradictory quote: In fact, Modi has recently gone after the very Hindu nationalists who put him in power, arresting some members of a Hindu-chauvinist group.

Modi got members of some Hindu group arrested? That doesn't sound to me like a person who wants to create and exploit social divisions. That sounds to me like a person who treats everyone equally.

Mr Robert Kaplan seems to have some confusing, theories about why there are any communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in modern India. One of his claims is that the globalization of India's economy and the opening up of the country to outside world is causing Hindus and Muslims to seek greater self-identity, which is in turn leading to communal tensions. Interesting, but WRONG. A full analysis into the Hindu-Muslim tensions in the Indian subcontinent is beyond the scope of this blog post and my meagre grasp of the matter. So, I will end this post with some quotes in Mr Kaplan's article which speak of the good things about Mr Modi and his administration:

- After taking over the chief ministership in the wake of a disastrous earthquake, in 2001, he has been reelected twice, becoming Gujarat’s longest-serving leader. During his visits to villages, pregnant women regularly touch his feet so that their newborn will be like him. He is so honest that gifts for him are regularly deposited in the state treasury—a far cry from the corruption and nepotism that are so routine in Indian government. Even those Indians who despise Modi’s politics acknowledge his skill and power.

- “I heard you were interested in development here, so here are your answers.” What he gave me was not the usual promotional brochures, but long lists of sourced statistics put together by an aide. Gujarat had experienced 10.2 percent annual GDP growth since 2002. It had eight new universities. In recent years, almost half the new jobs created in India were in Gujarat. The state ranked first in poverty alleviation, first in electricity generation.

- As Atul Tandan, director of the Mudra Institute of Communications, in Ahmedabad, told me, “You have to separate Modi’s political ideology from his management ability. Because there is not a hint of corruption about him, Modi is effective because people believe his decisions are only results-oriented.” Even many Muslims have come to respect Modi for cracking down on the gambling and criminal rackets that have infested some of their communities.

- "I have converted economic development into a mass-movement psychology.” His [Modi's] words echoed through the empty room. “I have a toll-free number where callers hear my recorded voice and can make complaints against the government, and the relevant department must respond within a week.”

- He rolled off his accomplishments: “modern roads, private railroads with double-decker containers, 50,000 kilometers of fiber-optic networks, 2,200 kilometers of gas pipelines, 1,400 kilometers of drinking-water pipelines to 7,000 villages, 24-hour uninterrupted power in rural areas, the first Indian state with private ports, a totally integrated coastal-development plan, two LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals and two new ones coming on line.”

And finally, the money quote: Vimal Ambani, a prominent, liberal-minded Gujarati businessman, told me, “At the end of the day, Modi still offers the best model for governance in India.”

The fact is that Mr Narendra Modi is the best leader in today's India. He has a proven record of economic development and corruption-free, efficient governance, which cannot be matched by any leader in India's democratic history. His self-less service is beyond any kind of doubts or aspersions. Similar rulers from India's ancient history are still celebrated in Indian folklore and history books. I see no reason why Mr Modi should not be given a chance to replicate his success in Gujarat at the national level, as the Prime Minister of India. BJP, Mr Modi's party, should have nominated him as their prime ministerial candidate in the 2009 general elections. They should have realized that Mr Advani is past his political peak (and, I don't mean in age) and he does not have anything revolutionary to offer to the country. Anyway, what's done cannot be changed now. But I hope to see Mr Narendra Modi at the helm of India's national government sooner than later.

Tailpiece: For another article which similarly sets out to show Mr Modi in a bad light, but can't avoid talking about his good points, read the two-part Rediff Special on The Talented Mr Modi.

Update: I learnt today that Mr Narendra Modi has recently started blogging. You can find his blog here - .

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dil Jalta Hai

Dil Jalta Hai (mp3)

This is my own rendering of the 1945 classic song, the great sing Mukesh's very first hit from the movie Pehli Nazar.

Lyrics here.