Tagged: India

Second day out, Solar Impulse 2 breaks own world distance record


Click to enlargeSetting forth from Muscat to Ahmedabad

The Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered airplane may have only just begun its attempt at a round-the-world flight, but it’s already broken a world record. By traveling from Muscat, Oman to Ahmedabad, India, it broke the Solar Impulse team’s previous record for longest solar-powered straight distance flight between predeclared waypoints.

The 1,468-km Muscat to Ahmedabad flight was the second leg of the planned 5-month journey, which began this Monday in Abu Dhabi. Pilot Bertrand Piccard took the aircraft to an altitude of 8,534 meters and maintained a ground speed of about 185 km/h, landing in Ahmedabad this Tuesday at 11:25pm. He was in the air for a total of 13 hours and 20 minutes.

This latest record-breaking flight also reportedly marks the first time that a solar-powered aircraft has flown in Asia…

The team plans to spend the next four days in Ahmedabad before heading for Varanasi, India.

Bravo! It’s like early days in flight all over again. Including the bit about breaking your own records.

Indian civil servant sacked after 24-years sick leave!

Spock will fix it
WWSD?

The Indian government has sacked a civil servant who went on leave in 1990 and never came back to work.

Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu said a case of “wilful absence” had been proved against electrical engineer AK Verma.

Mr Verma had been under investigation since 1992, but had refused to co-operate, the minister said.

Correspondents say absenteeism is a pervasive problem in government-run offices in India.

Mr Naidu said in a statement that Mr Verma joined the Central Public Works Department in 1980.

He had risen to the rank of executive engineer by 1990, when he went on leave.

An inquiry was set up in 1992, but formal proceedings to dismiss him were not begun until 2007…It took a further seven years for the department to reach a decision and dismiss him.

It is not clear whether he was paid during his time off.

A report in 2012 labelled India’s government machinery the worst in Asia.

Schools have also faced problems, with teachers failing to turn up for work in huge numbers…Last August, a state school in Madhya Pradesh sacked a teacher who had been absent for 23 years of her 24-year career.

Between caste system remnants and leftovers from the British colonial bureaucracy, I think India has further to go to be economically reclassified as Developing rather than a Third World nation.

When it comes to investing any tiny portion of my meagre fixed income in the BRIC nations – the only parts that get my attention are China and Brazil.

Hindu Right proceeds with rewriting Indian textbooks

You cannot blame Bhavana Vaja, 12, for telling you that the first aeroplane was invented during the mythical Dvapara Yuga, when the Hindu God Ram flew from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya in India with his wife Sita and brother Laxman in a Pushpaka Vimana – a swan­-shaped chariot of flowers.

By claiming that they familiarise students with India’s ancient heritage, some books printed by the education department of western Gujarat state teach children that aeroplanes existed in India since Lord Ram’s era. And that is just a sample of how religious content is included in science, history, environment, and mathematics books…

The Gujarat government has introduced nine new books this academic year for classes 1 to 12. These books, written by Hindu nationalist ideologues, have been delivered to 42,000 elementary schools across the state free of cost.

Eight out of the nine books have been penned by Dina Nath Batra, founder of the Hindu nationalist organisation, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. Batra was responsible for forcing Pengiun India Publishers to withdraw all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus in February this year.

Enthused by its success, Batra went on to force two other publishers – Aleph and Orient Blackswan – to withdraw books that he deemed “hurtful to Hindu religious sentiments“.

Good thing we have intellectual freedom here in the United States. We don’t have to confront theocrats like this more often than, say, once or twice a week. :)

Taking a leaf from Batra’s book, India’s prime minister and former chief minister of Gujarat state, Narendra Modi, last week said that genetic science existed in ancient India.

In fact, Modi wrote a foreword in Batra’s books saying his “inspirational literature will inspire students and teachers”…

There is already some talk of changing the school and college curriculum at the national level.

In Indian political context, “saffronisation” is used to refer to the policies of right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations, which, according to critics, are divisive. The term refers to the saffron-coloured robes worn by Hindu sages.

Barely four days after India’s new right-wing government was sworn in this May, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, a former TV actress, issued her first statement saying the Vedas, the Upanishads and other ancient Hindu texts should be introduced in the classrooms.

Consequently, in July, a consultative body called The Bharatiya Shiksha Neeti Ayog (Indian Education Policy Commission) was constituted by the Hindu nationalist organisation, RSS and is mandated “to study the present education system and suggest corrective steps to make it Bharat-centric.” Bharat is the Hindi word for India.

And so it goes. In nation-states led and controlled by politicians whose ideology is infused with the supposed benefits of theocracy, school books and laws begin to be distorted a little at a time until the intellectual freedom of thought, speech and education we take for granted as modern standards – are made subservient to religion. Whether it be India, Turkey – or Texas.

India is first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit

India became the first Asian nation to reach the Red Planet when its indigenously made unmanned spacecraft entered the orbit of Mars on Wednesday — and the first nation in the world to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt.

The spacecraft called “Mangalyaan,” or “Mars-craft” in Hindi, which was launched last November, slowed down just enough to reach orbit early Wednesday, securing India a place in the elite global space club of Martian explorers…

The official Twitter account of NASA’s Curiosity Rover — which has been on the Martian surface since Aug. 6, 2012 — tweeted, “Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.”

To which MOM’s Twitter account replied, “Howdy @MarsCuriosity ? Keep in touch. I’ll be around…”

Over the next six months, India’s Mangalyaan will study the mineral composition on Mars and also look for the presence of methane, a chemical key to life on Earth.

India has launched 75 satellites since 1975, and its space program has over the years worked on collecting weather data, predicting natural disasters, feeding television and radio stations and also teaching children in remote villages without schools.

“We have seen the report and congratulate India on the Mars satellite entering the orbit successfully,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing…This is pride of India and Pride of Asia and also is a landmark progress in humankind’s exploration of outer space. So we congratulate India on that,” she said.

Questions of economics and priorities will be asked – properly – but, congratulations are in order more than anything else. Another standard of modern society achieved by an Asian nation.

An old-timey sci-fi geek like me has to be thrilled.

Thanks, Mike

Row over cow settled by DNA tests


The cow in question

A woman in the southern Indian state of Kerala is set to win a court battle to keep a cow after DNA tests proved it belongs to her, her lawyer says…The woman, TS Sashilekha, had been accused by her neighbour Geetha of stealing the animal.

The acrimonious dispute even saw the cow in question appear in court.

It is thought to be the first time an ownership battle over an animal has been decided by DNA tests in India, where Hindus consider cows to be holy.

The legal battle between the two women began last year when Geetha claimed that a cow in her herd was the mother of the disputed animal…But DNA tests ordered by the court did not match, meaning that Sashilekha will get to keep the cow.

…N Chandra Babu, lawyer for Sashilekha, told the BBC, “It is a rare case and possibly the first of its kind in history. Perhaps this is the first time a DNA test was held on a cow to find out its real owner.”

After the disputed cow was produced in court, Sashilekha was allowed to keep it in her possession – but only after paying 45,000 rupees in securities.

I understand why the court would ask the eventual victor to provide security presumably covering the value of the cow. Hopefully, returned without charges. Another good reason why she is suing the accuser for costs and compensation.

BRICS nations found bank to rival Western-dominated World Bank and IMF

The so-called BRICS countries agreed to form an international development bank with aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said Tuesday that the New Development Bank will start with $50 billion in capital and $100 billion as a currency reserve fund for liquidity crises…

Still, the BRICS bank, which could add more member nations, represents a bid to expand the influence of the BRICS emerging markets and act as a counterbalance to institutions run by the U.S. and other developed nations…

As developing countries began playing a larger role in the world economy, their leaders repeatedly complained that they have not been given correspondingly larger voices in international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, both based in Washington. The U.S. typically appoints the World Bank president, and European countries appoint the IMF chief.

“International governance structures designed within a different power configuration show increasingly evident signs of losing legitimacy and effectiveness,” said the official statement signed by the BRICS leaders, who met in Fortaleza, Brazil, on Tuesday. “We believe the BRICS are an important force for incremental change and reform of current institutions toward more representative and equitable governance.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma hammered out some of the final details before signing the agreement Tuesday.

Among the terms are that the bank will be in Shanghai, its first president will be from India, and the first chair of the board of directors will be from Brazil…

Analysts expect that other countries – like Indonesia, Mexico or Turkey – will join the bank over time. Certainly, they and their neighbors have no shortage of conflicts with restrictions important to the fiscal bears directing the IMF or the World Bank.

I doubt anyone expects either of the banks under the thumb of the US [and to a lesser extent, the EU] to modernize, to actively support the developing nations in any goal beyond being a source of cheap labor, raw materials, for Western corporations.

Vodafone report further inflames global surveillance debate

Telecommunications company Vodafone’s report on government surveillance of its customers in 29 countries reveals more than first meets the eye – and is raising questions from Dublin to Delhi about how much spying on email and telephone chats happens in secret.

In Friday’s report Vodafone said most countries required the company’s knowledge and cooperation to hear phone calls or see emails, but at least six governments have given their security agencies the power of direct access.

Vodafone didn’t identify the countries that have tapped into its network, but the report provided some clues. An 88-page appendix reveals that five countries – Albania, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland and Qatar – have provisions that allow authorities to demand unfettered access.

In vague language, the report also indicated similar powers could exist in India and the United Kingdom, too.

In too many cases, Vodafone said, governments kept both the company and wider society in the dark about what was happening, with laws explicitly forbidding government disclosure of any details of its electronic eavesdropping…

Wiretapping of phones and accessing of call records for law-enforcement purposes is a decades-old and accepted practice even in the most open democracies. With backing from courts, police can request cooperation from phone companies to access communications.

But in developing countries such as Congo, Ghana and Lesotho, Vodafone said it cannot support wiretapping, because governments haven’t requested the technology.

Vodafone’s report comes one year after former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that U.S. and other countries’ intelligence agencies indiscriminately gathered and stored data from phone calls and Internet communications…

Vodafone’s report is also seen as a response to the company’s embarrassing role in the Egyptian protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. As those protests raged, the government forced Vodafone to bombard its Egyptian subscribers with propaganda text messages. The company said it had no choice but to comply, but was severely criticized for its actions.

Here’s the Vodafone report at their website.

If you’re not old enough to recall – there was a time in the United States when courts ruled in favor of the privacy of citizens and Congress and the White House didn’t succeed in sucking info from communications without express judicial permission.

I was part of a class action suit that won victory over the city where I lived, the local police department, the regional phone company – and the FBI – for illegal wiretapping. The creeps even tapped my parents’ phone in case I made any subversive calls when I dropped by for Sunday dinner.

Not anymore, man!

The FDA approves and endorses a new pattern of AIDS prevention

Federal health officials recommended Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk for AIDS take a daily pill that has been shown to prevent infection with the virus that causes it.

If broadly followed, the advice could transform AIDS prevention in the United States — from reliance on condoms, which are effective but unpopular with many men, to a regimen that relies on an antiretroviral drug.

It would mean a 50-fold increase in the number of prescriptions for the drug, Truvada — to 500,000 a year from fewer than 10,000. The drug costs $13,000 a year, and most insurers already cover it…

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long been frustrated that the number of H.I.V. infections in the United States has barely changed in a decade, stubbornly holding at 50,000 a year, despite 30 years of official advice to rely on condoms to block transmission…

Nevertheless, advocates for the drug regimen were elated at Wednesday’s announcement.

RTFA for all the social pros and cons. Something the NY TIMES is all concerned about. Rightly, I suppose.

They also skipped quietly over the question of cost – although looking around on the Web it appears to me the generic made and sold in Asia costs about $800/year or less. Versus $13,000 to Gilead.

$11 million in unapproved drugs seized in New Jersey


Ready to take down illegal suppositories at a moment’s notice

U.S. Marshals seized more than $11 million worth of unapproved drugs marketed by Ascend Laboratories of Montvale, N.J. and distributed by Masters Pharmaceuticals of Cincinnati.

Ascend Laboratories is a subsidiary of Alkem Laboratories, one of the top seven pharmaceutical companies in India. Alkem is a vertically integrated organization with 15 manufacturing plants located throughout India, of which four are U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved…

At the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, the U.S. Marshals seized:

— Pramoxine-HC Otic Drops, intended to treat ear infections caused by microbes and to control itching.

— Hydrocortisone Acetate Suppositories 25 milligrams, intended to treat inflamed hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions.

— Urea Cream 39%, Urea Cream 40% and Urea Lotion 40%, intended to treat skin-thickening conditions such as dermatitis and eczema.

None of these products have been proven safe or effective for their intended uses. The FDA recommends that consumers consult a healthcare professional about the continuing use of these drug products”…

The FDA ain’t exactly the most progressive body affecting American healthcare. Still, it’s at least worthwhile to see them following their own regulations about keeping unapproved products off drugstore shelves.

And, then – shall we deal with the creeps who doubtless knew damned well they were importing and distributing unapproved meds, eh?