Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Europe Rising

The rising power of new Europe

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Let’s see how Microsoft gets out of trouble this time. Once again the European Commission, instigated by complaints from Norwegian Web browser Opera and a group of technology companies, including IBM, has decided to look at the global giant’s business practices, especially regarding the Office suite of business applications, its browser Internet Explorer, and Outlook, claiming that programme bundling chokes competition. The Commission would like Microsoft to sell its products separately from its operating system so that they could be used on a free open source platform such as Linux rather than Windows. Last September, in a 6-3 ruling the Court of First Instance, Europe’s second highest after the European Court of Justice, affirmed the 2004 decision that Microsoft had violated anti-competitive rules by bundling its Media Player with Windows, and the company had to pay fines totaling $1.6 billion.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), the technology coalition, wants to see the fulfillment of the initial promise of the Internet, that is, all systems should be interoperable so that the user could segue from one platform to another and documents could be exchanged across operating systems without loss of information. But that will destroy the business model of hi-tech companies, mostly US, that make money through niche creation and market domination as Microsoft has done through its Windows operating system used by more than 80 per cent desktops. European anti-trust regulators have also clobbered other hi-tech companies, including Qualcomm, MasterCard, Google, and most recently Apple’s i-Pod who agreed to sell digital songs in UK at a cheaper rate.

The problem, however, is that if every rising power, India, China, EU, for example, were to make its own anti-competitive rules, the pace of globalisation would be retarded.

In 2001, the European Union rejected General Electric Co.’s planned $42 billion acquisition of Honeywell International Inc. GE failed because it could not appreciate fully the emerging European culture. Europe might seem to be a house divided against itself, but when it comes to dealing with US global corporations like GE, Microsoft, Apple, et al, or a mercantilist country like China, EU takes a united stand.

TR Reid wrote in his book, The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy: “The Europeans were concerned with bigness itself – the fear that a company with an overwhelming presence in certain markets would use its sheer size to drive out competitors, and then drive up prices for consumers. The GE-Honeywell merger was a classic example of the difference in antitrust theory of opposite sides of the Atlantic.” It was a big blow to GE’s former Chief Executive Jack Welch, who could get away with everything in the United States, but hit a stone wall in Europe.

According to Reid, “…Brussels was flexing its regulatory muscles long before Jack Welch sought approval for his merger. By the time the GE-Honeywell deal arrived in Brussels for consideration, the Directorate-General for Competition had already squelched business plans proposed by such titans of American business as Microsoft, Intel, and Coca-Cola. In 2000, the directorate killed the WorldCom/MCI-Sprint merger before US antitrust officials even got around to ruling on it.”

The biggest mistake GE made was to use the White House to push through the deal, which as Reid wrote was “The last thing the Europeans were willing to stand for – particularly at a time when corporate America was awash in charges of executive crime and dishonest accounting – was an American President lecturing them on the right way to regulate corporate behaviour.”
Lesson: Do not underestimate the growing power of Brussels.

Although legal battles cannot be avoided, it is also time for global business diplomacy. Instead of getting help from the government, global corporations should develop their own foreign relations; call it by any name you wish. All major corporations, Boeing, Microsoft, Google, for example, have their own corporate diplomats who use the same tools and talents as political diplomats do in making deals and dealing with international crisis. Many of them are retired ambassadors, state department officials, and military officers; and they know how to communicate with global stakeholders, including governments.

In a globalised economy, some level of openness and transparency is important. Financial reporting is subject to auditing and official scrutiny, nonetheless, corruption occurs. Although corporations do not have to declare themselves to be socially responsible, their dominant presence raises expectations in the public. Reporting about their social responsibility that can stand public scrutiny should be the goal, if it does not significantly hurt the bottom line.

Some corporations use their social responsibility activities as a tool of corporate diplomacy to build social capital and goodwill, something which hi-tech companies such as Microsoft and Google have just begun to do. Social capital is an intangible wealth that could be used when a corporation is hit with a crisis. If a corporation has a code of ethics, let it be known to the public how it is following the code. Of course, every corporation should have a code of ethics. The European Union code of business ethics is: Thou shall not kill the competition. But Americans believe in creative destruction. Who would abridge the Atlantic Ocean?

(ND Batra teaches communication and diplomacy at Norwich University)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

America Today

US primary persuasions

One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president….
Only in America

From Brooks and Dunn

Americans want change, but what change?
"I have so many ideas for this country, I just don't want to see us fall backwards," the New York Senator Hillary Clinton said with misty eyes, choking on her words. "It's about our country, it's about our kids' futures." She promises change on the bedrock of her experience in public life and as former First Lady. "Some of us are right, some of us are wrong," she continued, regaining her self-control, referring to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who some thought might crush her dreams for the White House. "Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. Some of us know what we'll do on day one and some of us don't."

That was a day before the New Hampshire primary when the news media, pollsters, pundits and prognosticators, based on the results of Iowa caucuses, predicted that she would lose to Senator Obama by a wide margin; but as it turned out, the results confounded every one. She beat Senator Obama 39% to 37%, throwing the Democratic presidential nomination race wide open.

From the caucuses' results in Iowa, an almost all-white rural state frozen in a sub-zero winter and hardly an American microcosm, it seemed that caucus-goers, Republicans and Democrats, wanted some kind of change but weren't sure what they wanted, so they ended up supporting a Republican preacher and a Democratic dreamer. Democratic Iowans catapulted 46-year old Senator Obama, a first generation black American, (his Kenyan father married a white woman from Kansas), who with his youthful face, grand gestures and poetic eloquence swayed independents, women and younger people into believing that his idea of change was more potent and meaningful than his rivals' former Senator John Edwards and Senator Hillary Clinton, who got pushed down to second and third positions respectively. (Both caucuses and primaries elect delegates for a party's nomination convention, though the procedures are different. Most of the delegates are, however, elected through primaries).

In the first winnowing of candidates for Democratic nomination, the lesser known aspirants, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut got quickly sucked out of the race. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a very affable person with long diplomatic experience, lingered on for the New Hampshire primary but then dropped out. Former Senator Edwards, a successful trial lawyer and son of a mill worker from the South, too would call it a day to return to his family to nurse his sick wife who has been suffering from breast cancer, as his campaign ideas become increasingly co-opted by his rivals and his funds and energy dissipate gradually. The epic battle for Democratic nomination will be left between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, both well-provided with money and organizational machinery, both claiming to the agents of change in Washington, economy, Iraq and rest of the world. Some say it is going to be a contest between style and substance, talk of change and change with experience. It has to be seen how long Senator Obama's charisma endures on hopes and dreams of a new America as he moves from one primary to another; or whether Senator Clinton can break "the highest and hardest glass ceiling" in America.

Above the din of the Democrats chanting for change, there was another voice, loud and clear, "Mac is back." For Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, riding on the crest of opinion polls, the New Hampshire Republican primary was a great morale booster. He beat former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney by a decisive margin. A week before, Republican Iowan caucus-goers, especially born-again and evangelical Christians, more interested in national security, social stability, immigration and taxation, chose a Baptist preacher and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, a folksy down-to-earth politician with limited knowledge of the world. He trounced his nearest rival former Governor Romney, a rich man who spent millions of dollars of his own money to convince Iowans that he is a kind of born-again conservative (He changed his views on abortion, among other issue) and a good Christian, though he is a Mormon. A home grown religion, the Church of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as Mormonism, was once a polygamous community, but gave up the practice and has been gradually mainstreaming itself to look like other Christian denominations. But most Americans regard Mormons as different, albeit they accept the Bible and Jesus Christ as accoutrement to their own unique belief system. Senator McCain who scraped a third place in Iowa was Mitt Romney's main rival in the New Hampshire primary. Governor Huckabee fell by the way side, as did former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani who is pinning his hopes on a bigger prize, Florida.

One person who realizes the limit to what one can do about bringing change is Bill Clinton, who while campaigning in New Hampshire for his wife said,
What's Hillary to do? I can't make her younger, taller, male— there's a lot of things I can't do. But if you want a President and you need one, she would be by far the best." A woman becoming the president of the United States of America will be the biggest change this country will ever see since its founding. And if it so happens, Mr. Clinton will become the First Gentleman. Only in America, as they say, "Where we dream as big as we want to/We all get a chance/Everybody gets to dance."

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont. He is working on a new book, This is the American Way)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Man-machine embedded intelligence

Man-machine embedded intelligence

From The Statesman
ND Batra

The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today (JCR Licklider in "Man-Computer Symbiosis").

Jobs in the future will be lost not to countries with cheap educated labour, but to networks with embedded intelligence. When I called my Internet service provider, a soothing female human voice asked my phone number, presumably to check my identification from its database, and then said: “Perhaps I could help you, if you tell me the problem.”

It was a shock because I was expecting a person with an accent who after taking some preliminary information would have passed me on to a technical expert. My curiosity was aroused whether it was an exception or an emerging trend in outsourcing, so I called my vendor and once again I encountered a female computerised voice eager to help me.

Since I was not sure why my laptop was acting crazy, the computerised voice at the other end said: “Please wait. Let me locate a technical expert for you.” In a moment I saw the future of outsourcing.

Harvey Cohn, president of Strategy Analytics, said in a report regarding its Emerging Frontiers programme: “In the next wave there will be an employment threat involving substitution of emerging systems with embedded intelligence for many first-level jobs in service industries, resulting a net loss of customer service, help desk, directory assistance, and related support function positions... Although today politicians and workers are worried about job outsourcing due to globalisation, the real future challenge to policy makers ~ and strategic opportunities for business investment ~ will come from machines with an increasing degree of embedded intelligence.”

On the bright side, many Indian technicians will be released from the outsourcing drudgery and eventually will take up more creative and value-added work for better wages. And no one is more eager to develop smart intelligent systems than the US Military’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency in order to upend the military’s first response capabilities and keep the personnel out of danger as much as possible. Many of these smart intelligent systems have been successfully put into operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eventually the concept of first response capabilities based on embedded intelligence would find applications in business, law enforcement and anti-terrorism.

Technological innovations mutate and creep into other areas. A new world of sensate surroundings in which nothing would remain incommunicado is arising. Based on converging sensor and intelligent technologies, law enforcement and anti-terrorism experts are dealing with terrorism, among other problems, in altogether different ways and perhaps more effectively. The inside of the airplanes of the future would be embedded with sensors that record and transmit any unusual activity to a monitor and control centre for pre-emptive action.

Scientists at QinetiQ, a commercial offshoot of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, have developed a working model of sensor-embedded airplane seat that’s capable of capturing signals of physiological changes in a passenger and transmitting the information to a cockpit monitor. The signals could enable the crew to analyse whether the person is a terrorist or someone who is suffering from thrombosis of the deep vein, for example.

The smart seat would eventually be able to register signs of any emotional stress a passenger feels during the flight. Hidden seat sensors would provide unobtrusive in-flight surveillance and have the potential for actionable intelligence about the activities including the health status of in-flight passengers. More importantly, the information would enable plain-clothed air marshals to take preventive action in case there is a danger of terrorists contemplating blowing up or hijacking the plane. The cockpit would become an anti-terror cell.

Technologies are seldom stand-alone in this age of digital networking. They have a recombinant potential and tend to converge and splice with others to form newer technologies, which could be used in ways the original inventors never imagined. For example, if you combine QinetiQ’s smart seat technology with “sympathetic haptics” technology developed a few years ago at the Virtual Reality Laboratory at the University at Buffalo, New York, you would see how feelings of stress could be precisely transmitted via the Internet.

If a bomber fidgets or a person is having a heart attack, the physical movements that accompany the stress and distress would be transmitted to the cockpit monitor and also to the homeland secure monitors via the wireless Intranet. The two convergent technologies would turn an airplane seat into a virtual-reality surveillance system that would silently record every physical motion of the occupant for instant analysis.

Since we have become accustomed to various kinds of intrusive searches at the airports, we would not object to sitting in data collecting smart seats if the purpose is to enhance security. We know the security cameras are on us; but we do not feel self-conscious that we are being spied upon when we go to ATM or a bank teller for a transaction.

This is the price we pay for security and convenience. So perhaps we wouldn’t mind sitting in a sensor-embedded train or bus if that takes us safely to our destination where we can enjoy all the privacy we want.

Human beings won’t be replaced altogether but they would be integrated into intelligent systems. Of course it will be long before man-machine embedded intelligence could save a brazenly audacious politician like Benazir Bhutto in a public place from a suicide bomber.

(ND Batra, the author of Digital Freedom, is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont. )

Friday, January 4, 2008


Thou Hast Made Me Endless
Part X

Poem by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913.

Translator:RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail: rajatdasgupta53@yahoo.com
Tagore the Historian (Contd..3)
In continuation-2 in this series published on 14 December 2007, we have seen Tagore as a dispassionate historical analyst comparing Guru Govind Singh with Shivaji, particularly underlining the failures of the former, slipping from the ideals of humanism preached by Nanak. However, Tagore never missed how Govind inspired the Sikhs against the atrocities of the Mughols and all social inequalities of that time which this poem illustrates. Possibly, nobody realized the positive sides of Govind more than Tagore.

Poem: Guru Govind of the book Katha (Legends) written in 1888.

[Courtesy – THE SIKH REVIEW – August 2001 issue]

[Translator’s note: GuruGovind Singh was the last and 10th Guru of the Sikhs. The first one Guru Nanak was born in 1469. He preached the doctrines of equality of all human beings. However, culmination of the religious and social liberalism initiated by Nanak took place only under Guru Govind Singh in the 17th Century. In parallel, the Sikhs have a glorious history of struggle against the Mughol’s inhuman torture over centuries which gained momentum mainly from Guru Govind’s inspiration. When he was only 14 years of age, his father Teg Bahadur, the 9th Guru, had his martyrdom during the reign of Aurengzeb, for revenge of which Govind took oath. To quote from Tagore’s dissertations- “But nothing can be achieved in a hurry for which right time must be patiently awaited and determination built up on ceaseless deliberation. Those who do not have patience, want to achieve results by gimmicks. But they are not great men, neither their work lasts. They may spare a short time for their country, but not their whole life, to earn credit of the great. Govind was not that type. About 20years he spent in the solitude at the bank of Yamuna to learn Persian language and various scriptures to solidify his determination and plans while awaiting the right opportunity for action.” The poem is on this stage of Guru Govind’s life. (History records that it was Guru Govind’s father Teg Bahadur who was on exile for 20 years. Guru Govind;s exile was for a much shorter period as I gather from some authorities on Sikh history. However, this factual error should not stand on the way of the inspiration the Poet wants to evoke based on Govind’s life.)]

“Friends, go back home –
Still you have to wait much” –
On the Yamuna shore at dawn,
Hillocks and woods around the vast lawn,
To his six followers
Quoth Guru Govind such –

“Go Ramdas, Lehari Sahu,
Go back all of you;
Tempt me not to take dive
Into the busy stream of life;
Let still remain far
All human fervour.

“I’ve turned face, plugged my ear
In the wilderness to take shelter;
The distant human sea vast wanton
There the billows roar of their passion,
Here in solitude all my attention
Will be on my secret mission.

Calls me human heart
From the distant habitat;
Amidst my slumber at night
For my response does incite;

My body and soul pine
To fall in the turbulent line;
At your sight
My heart longs a flight;
The blood fire in many a flame
Snakes up, the restless sword encased, clanks to blame.

Ah! What a delight I’d find
To leave this solitude behind;
Taking up the trumpet in hand,
Rush amidst the mass to stand;
The king and empire
To smash and re-build there,
The monstrous torture
To knife sharp and overpower.

Blind is the fate,
Aiming that to negate
The rein to hold in my hand
All hazards that on my way stand,
To overcome those, the destiny to force
To come to my course;
Those who confront
Will daunt,
Else have defeat
The beguiled fenders to split;
Footprints furrow behind,
The sky in disastrous smoke blind.

Hundred of times across death
To the shore of life I cometh;
The star blink less at a height
Guides in the dark of night;
On both sides soar
The foaming human streams in uproar.

At times the night is pitch dark,
Or the scorching sun blazing stark;
Else all over the sky
The thunderous clouds vie;
On the head breaks
The storm merciless.

“Come on all”
Is everybody’s call –
Their rush none to douse
Doors break open at every house
For the enormous human outpour
All bondages they tore;
No more they pine
For happiness, fortune or fondness fine.
The five rivers in the ocean fall
So the hearts of my devotees all
To meet mine; all through Punjab
Their wild frenzy to bustle up.

“O coward! Where will you hide?”
Thus will them my voice chide;
In the morning at my call
Workmen to forget their task all;
At night their drowsy spell
The cruelty to quell.

Ahead as I go
More crowds follow;
Their pride and prejudices
Fall to pieces;
Laying down their lives at ease,
Brahmins’ dignity does cease
That marked them superiors
To the Jats and others.

But let alone this dream,
Time does not yet for it seem;
Long sleepless night
Is still my plight;
To count hours blink less
Rise of the crimson sun to witness.
Fancy still these are,
My capital in the wood here,
Only silent intent,
Passive dedication patient;
Day and night to sit on
For my supreme perception.

So, along Yamuna shore
Alone I go for the lore;
Amidst the rugged terrain
My manhood to train;
Tunes of my lyric
To resonate Nature’s music;
My mind to flower on its own
For competence in my mission.
Thus passed twelve years
More to go it appears –
The death to conquer
Drop by drop I’ve to gather
Immortality from all around
Till within me my wholeness found;
When I can say
Without dismay,
I’ve known the ultimate,
No more do hesitate
To follow me you all
It is your Guru’s call –
My life is for your sake
At my call let the country awake.

No more suspense or fear.
Retreat or ahead no more to veer,
There is the Truth, the final path lay,
The whole earth to give way,
Life and death to lose relevance
As our noblest mission will commence.
In my heart sounds the oracular diction
‘Stand up in self-illumination.’

Look ahead from far
Millions rush to you for surrender.
Listen there, their streaming heart
You keep steady and alert
Like the lamp not to laze;
At this night if you daze
Go back they will,
Their grief never to heal.

Look at the horizon does surge
A ruthless calamity looming large;
Soon to lash us a hurricane
To spell the deadly bane.

So in the temple of my heart
I’ll lit up a lamp ever girt;
Any storm to baffle
To torch mankind its flame eternal.

So Sahu, Ramdas and all,
Go back friends to await my call;
Now as we break up
May our faith we harp;
Let’s all say, “To Guruji
All his glory be!”
Let be cry of our rebellion
“Alakha Niranjan!” (=The Holy Spotless)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Bhutto's assassination and the US

Pakistan factors in US presidential race
From The Statesman
ND Batra

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has hit the US presidential neck-to-neck race like a thunderbolt. Foreign policy credentials and experience have become suddenly very important as the Iowa caucuses begin on Thursday (3 January) and then a few days later the candidates head to the New Hampshire primaries.

In dealing with domestic and international issues, the candidates of both parties have been harping on change versus experience ~ political catchphrases that have assumed a new significance in the light of the fact that nuclear-armed Pakistan, now in the grip of Al-Qaida and Taliban militancy, might explode into an Iraq like insurgency. Strength and experience gained as the First Lady when she played an active role in Bill Clinton’s administration has been Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strongest claim to the White House against her chief Democratic rival Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, whose fresh youthful face, poetic eloquence and rhetoric of change have lifted him up in public opinion polls as someone who could shake up things in Washington.

Suddenly Benazir Bhutto, after her assassination, has become the symbol of a future ~ a democratic Muslim country ~ that did not happen, and dealing with Pakistan has become the biggest challenge. During her campaign in Iowa, Senator Clinton said: “This is a terrible loss ~ certainly on a personal level ~ for those of us who knew her. It certainly raises the stakes high for what we expect from our next President. I know from a lifetime of working to make change.” And she added that President Pervez Musharraf has no credibility and an international independent inquiry be held to investigate the assassination of Benazir. The sentiment was echoed by many other Democrats scurrying for a position in the tight primary races. The unkindest cut against Senator Clinton came from Senator Obama’s camp.

Senator Obama’s campaign strategist David Axelrod said that because of Senator Clinton’s support of President Bush’s Iraq war, Al-Qaida has gotten emboldened and is hitting back in Pakistan with vengeance and destabilising the country. “She was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit, was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Al-Qaida, who may have been players in this event today, so that’s a judgment she’ll have to defend.” She was not the only Democrat Senator who supported the war based on information about weapons of mass destruction available at that time. But this is an election time and candidates are at each others’ throats with half-truths, distortion and attack ads.

Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain of Arizona has always been strong on the issue of national security and a steadfast supporter of President Bush’s Iraq war. He is one of the few American politicians who has unreservedly defended President Musharraf after the unexpected killing of Benazir.

Before Musharraf took over the reins of power, Senator McCain said: “Pakistan was a failed state. They had corrupt governments and they would rotate back and forth and there was corruption, and Musharraf basically restored order. So you’re going to hear a lot of criticism about Musharraf that he hasn’t done everything we wanted him to do, but he did agree to step down as head of the military and he did get the elections.”

The Senator’s top priority is to see a thorough failsafe security of the nuclear arsenal; and then of course to urge President Musharraf to hold the planned elections at the earliest convenience.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another leading candidate among the Republicans, is running on the strength of his 11 September, 2001 credentials of braving the chaos and fighting terrorism. It was under his leadership that New York after the terrorists’ attacks began to recover and rebuild itself with alacrity and today it is one of the safest cities to live in the United States. Benazir’s assassination re-enforces his view that the world is a dangerous place and the United States needs a determined leader like him to fight terrorism. Arkansas former Governor Mike Huckabee, another Republican front-runner and a Christian conservative, gives the impression of having very little knowledge of what is happening in the world. In the wake of the assassination, he said that illegal Pakistani immigrants were pouring in from the Mexican border, an irresponsible remark from a presidential hopeful when most Americans are wondering how to prevent Pakistan from descending into a living hell.

While Republican and Democratic candidates are scrambling to strike postures of strength in dealing with the growing Al-Qaida and Taliban might in Pakistan, the Bush administration finds itself to be at its wits’ end as to how to help President Musharraf to quell street violence and re-establish a sense of security in the country. Holding fair and free elections, many in the administration still believe, would have created the possibility of forming a broad-based army-civilian participatory government, which would have been in a better position to fight the growing menace of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. That hope died with Benazir’s assassination; but the question is if the plan can be resurrected from the wreckage.

The United States, in its own self-interest, cannot stand aside helplessly and let the country slide into chaos and anarchy and let Al-Qaida and the Taliban take control of Pakistan and eventually Afghanistan. Nor can India afford to keep aloof by simply sealing its borders. The enemies of Pakistan are India’s enemies too.

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont. He is the author of Digital Freedom.)

Is India at peace with itself?

HK Dua says, Let’s have an India at peace with itself

"Whatever the banal and hackneyed utterances of the political leaders about Indian ethos of tolerance, forgiveness and compassion, India is increasingly becoming a violent nation. ...The growing violence should worry the leaders of every political party and those running the administration but they are unable to see that unchecked violence can create more tensions, sharpen divides, cause political instability and unsettle the democratic system. ..."
Read more