Sunday, 30 November 2008

Why is the Mumbai Terrorist Event Different?

The heinous terrorist events in Mumbai on 26.11.2008 have shocked not only India, but people around the world. It has been called India’s 9/11, signifying that the period of innocence is over.

Labelling the pre-Mumbai atrocities times as times of innocence displays a stupendous ignorance of facts and realities. 
  • According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal 2765 people died due to terrorism in 2006 in India and 3236 in 2005 (which is more than the 2974 killed in 9/11). 
  • All this happened in 14 of the 27 states of India. 
  • Some of these terrorists openly claimed and were caught at having foreign backing and support, while others were home grown ones. 

Now, this does not also justify saying that “Oh, the people in Mumbai are used to terrorism!” Whether in India, Pakistan, USA, UK or Spain, no one is ever used to terrorism, it is always a traumatic event for people involved.

Indian Authorities Unprepared for Terrorist Attack

What is significant about the Mumbai incident was that similar to 9/11, the Indian authorities were caught with their trousers down again. The audacity of only 10 people to take on such high profile targets and wreak so much havoc for such a long period, however, reveals something even more pernicious. Terrorism has now adopted a Wikipedia approach to massive destruction, where planners can rely on users (media, terrorism analysis industry and media users) filling in the gaps and contributing to their aims of spreading terror.

Photo Credit: Mary R. Vogt

The masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks have recognised the existence of a Terrorism-hungry media, a terrorism analysis industry, local politicians and power groups eager to capitalise on the event and most significantly that guarantee of instant fame that media accords to the perpetrators. 

A few days ago the news of the British terror suspect Rashid Rauf being killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan was spread in global media along with his picture.

Celebrity Terrorism?

By wilfully showing their faces on CCTV cameras, the terrorists betrayed their intentions that their images would be broadcast all over the world, as they were. As far as we know, they did not claim to have any particularly engaging issue for which they took hostages and killed people except that they were programmed to kill and cause maximum destruction.
  • Does this incident reveal a new culture of instant attention, which these young men would never dream of getting in their lives devoid of any hope beyond the horizon? 
  • Does this mean that alienated young men with no opportunities for structuring their lives with meaning will become prey to the brainwashing of devious evildoers just because we all live in an age of egoistic self-gratification? 
  • Is it because the young men have an emptiness within, which the evildoers spot quickly and fill eagerly with their warped programming? 
  • Is it the same psychology driving people to take part in programmes like Idols and Big Brother? Has it now become celebrity terrorism?

A Different Solution to Terrorism

So far, in many countries the response to terrorism has been to fortify borders. Stretching this vision to its limits – can we have a fortress USA, a fortress UK, China or India in this contemporary world of globalization, transparency, and interdependence? Hardly tenable but this vision helps utterly incompetent leaders get to power and keep their power, more so in Western democracies.

A survey, funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, conducted over the Internet by TNS-NFO 2005 among 4,260 U.S. residents over the age of sixteen found that 98 percent of U.S. residents believed there will be another terrorist attack during their lifetime. In the USA, $55 billion was spent in 2006 to fight terrorism, 0,8% of it on Intelligence and warning.
  • What about seriously directing efforts and a part of these billions at creating social, educational, and entrepreneurial structures that would give meaning to the lives of young men in areas where life is bleak?

By working in closer cooperation with local sensible non-political leaders, if all the countries afflicted by terrorism would spend money and effort in making road, building houses, schools, hospitals, and energy production facilities for the local people to start earning their livelihood decently, would that drive most of the young angry men away from the clutches of the evil machinators?

Will the examples of success stories and viable opportunities, bring hope to them; the hope of living good, meaningful lives by not having that gaping emptiness within for the machinators of evil and hatred to fill in? Further, it would be a great boost to the struggling economies of the developed world, as this would give jobs to their workers too.

Why not give this method a try?

Friday, 21 November 2008

How is Citizenship for Babies Born on Airplanes Decided?

How is the citizenship of babies born mid-flight decided? 

Is it according to: 
  • the parents' citizenship
  • the territory/airspace over which the birth takes place in mid-air
  • the nationality of the airline or where it is registered
  • the destination of the flight
  • the port of departure of the flight

Last week a Swedish pregnant woman, flying by Finnair from Bangkok to Helsinki gave birth to a baby over Kazakhstan.

Photo CreditAneta Blaszczyk

This has happened before on other airlines, but was a first for the Finnish airline. There were even two doctors and two nurses on board, among the passengers. She was in good hands and everything went really well for the mother and the baby.

Does the baby get Swedish citizenship, according to the mother, Kazakhstani citizenship because she arrived over Kazakhstani airspace, Thai citizenship according to the port of departure, Finnish citizenship according to the destination and because the airline was Finnish (mostly state owned airline)?

Two Methods of Deciding Citizenship of Babies

There are basically two systems of deciding citizenship: jus solis or according to birthplace and jus sanguine, according to ethnicity, race, i.e., according to blood factors. Some countries also apply either principle but in a muted manner to suit political and social exigencies. 

India, for instance applies the mixed principle of jus sanguine and jus solis, but adjusts it to mean that children born on Indian soil on or after 3rd December, 2004 is considered citizen of India by birth if both the parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of the child's birth.

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Countries with low birth rates who plan to increase their population bases usually apply the principle of jus solis to integrate everyone who was born in their territory. Sweden, like Finland thus applies the principles of jus solis. But many countries like the USA, Canada, Germany and Ireland have a practice of mixing jus sanguinis and jus soli. The United States grants citizenship to babies born in their airspace, even if the mother happens to be a Mexican citizen as in this case.

What would happen if the baby were born over international territory, above the seas? Would she then be a stateless person or a world citizen?

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Airlines are rather strict about requiring medical certificates for pregnant mothers beyond their 28th week of pregnancy. These are more relaxed for short domestic flights and even for flights within the Nordic countries. These mid-air childbirths are not happening in the hundreds every day. So, authorities deal with them on a case-by-case basis. Further, there is an international agreement called the UNHCR 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Finland ratified this agreement on 7th August 2008 and Sweden in 1969. Kazakhstan has not signed this agreement, so the baby cannot be given Kazakhstani citizenship.

Considering the above, Kazakhstani citizenship is out of the question, unless the parents apply for it and the Kazakhstani government snatches a great PR opportunity and grants it. 

Photo source:

Finnish citizenship is also possible, especially if the parents are permanently resident in Finland. What is left is the most logical and natural alternative – the baby is a Swedish citizen.

Photo source:

Let us warmly welcome her to the world and wish her a good and happy life with lots of flying miles and frequent flyer rewards (whatever her citizenship turns out to be).

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Can we Navigate by Cows rather than by using Magnetic Compass or GPS?

How can we navigate by using the positions of cows?

Photo source:

Cows behave as magnetic compass needles as they align their bodies in a north-south direction.

Cows have been valued and considered sacred in most human cultures as long as humans have been around.Cows have been valued and considered sacred in most human cultures as long as humans have been around.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons

  • In the Eddas, the myth of Iceland written between the 8th and 13th centuries, Audhumla ("Without Impurity") created humankind by licking the salt and hoar frost on ice blocks in three days. 
  • In Hinduism, the cow is considered the mother of gods. Kamadhenu, the sacred cow in ancient India, is the cow, which grants all wishes and desires. 
  • In ancient Egypt, there were many cow deities like Hathor, the Milky way, Nut, the sky goddess, Mehueret, the Flood and Bata, the goddess of fertility. 
  • The Maasai people in east Africa claim that all cattle in the world belong to them. With an average of 14-19 head of cattle per person, the Maasai are one of the wealthiest cattle-owning peoples in Africa. "I hope your cattle are well", the Maasai greet each other.

Animals Considered as Machines by Science, Paradoxically

Even Charles Darwin, the father of evolution theory considered animal intelligence to be a worthy field of study. He found that even earthworms are cognitive beings, as they need to make judgments about the kinds of leafy matter they use to block their tunnels. 

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In the early 20th century, behaviourism regarded animals as machines and considered all field observations of animal cognition as anecdotes tinged with anthropomorphism. Since then, animals are not considered by scientists to have cognitive functions, which most pet owners totally disagree with.

Recently, serious researchers like Sabine Begall, Jaroslav Červen, Julia Neef, Oldřich Vojtěch, and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany researched animal magnetism. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they studied if large animals like cattle display the ability to perceive magnetic fields.

By studying thousands of images of grazing cows captured by Google Earth, and compensating for the fact that grazing animals orient themselves to minimize wind chill and maximize the warmth of the sun, they found that cows do have a tendency to act like compass needles.

Can we look at cows and tell where the magnetic north is?

Photo source:

Please continue using your compass or GPS. The study does, however, open new horizons for studying how magnetoreception affects animals in fields like applied ethology, which is animal husbandry, and animal welfare. The researchers also claim that birds and mole rats have magnetic particles of magnetite in their cornea.

The human eye and the brain also generate magnetic fields. Researchers R.A. Armstrong and B. Janday of the Biomagnetism Research Group, Department of Vision Sciences, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham have found that both the eye and the brain, when stimulated with some visual cues generate magnetic fields. These magnetic fields can then be measured with a magnetometer; a device which uses superconducting technology.

Photo source:
As the saying goes "All is not butter that comes from the cow" - Proverb.

Anti Cow Sentiments

Well, not everyone is cow-friendly. Some famous people have been very anti-cow.
  • "A mind of the caliber of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows." George Bernard Shaw
  • "Sacred cows make the best hamburgers." Mark Twain
  • "Who was the first guy that look at a cow and said, "I think that I'll drink whatever comes out of those things when I squeeze them?" Bill Watterson
  • "The cow is nothing but a machine which makes grass fit for us people to eat." John McNulty

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Does Voter Turnout Tell Anything About the State of Democracy?

The higher the voter turnout, the healthier is the democracy. This is a common assumption. 

Photo Credit: Ian Britton

This is not always true. The Soviet dictator, Stalin always got 99,9% votes. In Soviet practice less than 50% voter turnout meant that elections were not valid and thus in Stalin’s single-candidate elections 99% turnout was reported. 

The reportedly 64,1% (on 7.11.2008) is said to be the 100 year highest ‘record’ turnout in the US presidential elections of 2008.

How Does US Voter Turnout Compare with Other Countries?

  • In the Iraqi elections of 2005, there was 71% voter turnout
  • in the Russian presidential elections of 2008 it was 68% 
  • in the UK parliamentary elections of 2005, 61,3% turnout
  • in the EU elections of 2004 the turnout was 45,5% (lowest at 7% in some areas). 
  • In the Iranian Majlis or Parliamentary elections of 2008, the Ministry of Interior figure claims voter turnout to be 52% from Iran’s 49 million eligible voters. 2,200 candidates were, however, barred from running on the grounds that they were not sufficiently loyal to the Iranian revolutionTurnout in the second round of Iranian elections was only 25% and winning candidates got only 25% of electoral support.

In the US, 52,6% of voters supported the democrat candidate Barack Obama and the whole world has applauded his election. Russian President Medvedev won the 2008 elections with 71,25% of electoral support. EU member countries Germany, France and Britain claimed that these elections did not meet their criteria for democratic elections, but along with EU promptly congratulated the winner President Medvedev.

  • In Iraq, the winning party with 42 women got 48,1% of electoral support though very few people would consider Iraq to be a safe and functional democracy. 
  • In the UK 2005 elections, only 21% of the electorate actually supported the winning party candidate Tony Blair.

Statistics can be utterly misleading if we are to draw any conclusion on the state of democracy in any elections.

What About Enforced Compulsory Voting in Democracies?

Should the US consider enforced compulsory voting, like in Australia or Malta where they have 95% turnout?

There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting. Of these, 19 countries like Australia, Lichtenstein, Belgium and Singapore enforce it. Of the 30 member states of the OECD ten have some kind of compulsory voting.

The main argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it then represents the will of the majority and not only those who vote. Further, it can eliminate malpractices in providing or hindering access to vote. Thirdly, it forces people to think about controversial issues and take a stand.

The main argument against compulsory voting is that voting is a civil right like free speech and not a civic duty like paying taxes. There are also religious strictures against involvement in politics as those among Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would make compulsory voting oppressive.

Does Low Literacy Mean Low Voter Turnout?

Another fallacy is that literacy corresponds with high levels of voter participation through ballots. 

A low literacy does not necessarily mean a country's turnout rate will be low. There is no significant statistical correlation between literacy and voter turnout. 
  • Low literacy countries such as Angola and Ethiopia have achieved high turnout rates.

Some people, when trying to explain situations in Western democracies or EU elections, interpret that low voter turnout is actually a sign that things are going smoothly. Others warn that voter apathy means, on the contrary that voters show their mistrust and fatigue by not bothering to vote.

Funny Incidents from the 2008 US Presidential Elections

  • A judge in Ohio ruled that homeless people could use a park bench as their address in order to register.

  • A voter couple flew home from India just to cast their ballots.

  • NASA astronauts on board the International Space Station sent a video message encouraging people to vote as they did, from 200 miles up.