Vocabulary test — Challenging exercise

March 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Answers to the previous post ..

a. discordant 

b. dilatory

c. verve

d. indolence

e. avarice
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Vocabulary building exercise ..

Fill in the blanks in the following write up by picking up words from the given list. Note that all words start with ‘C’.  Consult dictionary, if necessary.
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Introduction ..


After a prolonged stay in London the irrepressible Musharraf is back in the hot spot in his motherland Pakistan. He wants to lead it to pull it out of the morass.
In 2012, the Indian news magazine India Today had held a gathering of world leaders, thinkers, politicians and people generally known as intelligentsia. The purpose was to delve into the issues confronting the world, particularly to South Asia. The following write-up is based on that.
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Words list ..

Conceit,   Conceive,   Concoct,   Coerce,   Convoluted,   Connive,   Contrite, Contemplate,   Concur,   Concert,   Concurrent,   Conclude,   Conclave,   Conundrum, Convalesce,   Concede

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Write-up ….

India Today group of publications holds a ——– every year in Delhi. People from all walks of life like academics, politicians, social workers, and other illustrious figures attend this get-together. Some times eminent people from abroad come to participate in the deliberations.

 

On one such occasion ex-President of Pakistan General Musharraf had come as the guest speaker. People were surprised to see him because he had been ill for quite a few days, and was ———- in one army-run health resort in Pakistan.

 

In the past, India Today had been quite critical of the General when he was in power in Pakistan. On no bilateral and Pakistan’s domestic issues did the General and the Editor of India Today ———. Musharraf, no doubt, is a capable army man. At times, he is offensively boastful about his career in the Pakistan army, and takes pride in being an ex-commando. His ——— did not endear him to many in Pakistan. For Indians he was an enigmatic man. He had ———– the Kargil incursion plan. Paradoxically, he was also the man who boldly put forward plans for permanent solution of the vexed Kashmir ———-. When asked to explain the action of the Pakistani army in Kargil, Musharraf boldly asserted that the objective had been to draw world attention to the unresolved Kashmir issue through such military tactics. It was no doubt a ———— argument, but the listeners in the audience liked his forthrightness. He was surely not the like of earlier Pakistani leaders who had tried all means to —— India to agree to secession of Kashmir from India.

 
Musharraf was not the least ———– about the Kargil misadventure. But before ————— his speech, he ——- that this unsolved Kashmir issue was causing more harm to Pakistan than to India. In a reflective mood he said that lowering the level of belligerence must happen ——— in both sides.

 

To a pointed question from the audience about his future plan, Musharraf replied that he was not ——– retirement from public life as yet. To another question from the audience he jokingly said that some people suspect him of ————– with India to force an unacceptable Kashmir solution on his own country. He also said, though light-heartedly, that he might face trial in Pakistan one day on ———— evidence that he was a tool of the Americans.

 

The conclave ended with a ———– in which Pakistani and Indian singers took part. The atmosphere, clearly, was friendly.

 

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Vocabulary building for better writing

March 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Answers for the questions in the earlier post …
a. petrified
b. debutante
c. tranche
d. abhorred
e. retribution
f. botched
g. spar
h. curry favour

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New exercise …

a. Pakistan appears to be in a crossroads. It is riven by political rivalry, religious intolerance, and economic difficulties. Many ——– voices are emanating from the politicians, the media and the members of the intelligentsia. However, the common man has just one voice – Give us peace, jobs and dignity. (opposite, discordant, divisive)

 
b. In the Italian marines case, Rome finally agreed to send back the marines to face trial in India. Hopefully, the issue will be resolved in a fair and quick manner legal in an Indian court. One Italian minister is reported to have accused the Indian Supreme Court of being ——- in acting in this case. (ambivalent, dilatory, ambiguous)
c. President Obama has just completed his visit to Israel. He has urged the leaders of Israel to look at the possibility of peaceful resolution of the problem afresh. From his speech and body language it became apparent that he is working on this issue with renewed ——–. (verve, intrigue, indulgence)
d. In the school, the Headmaster, an ex-service man, has introduced many measures to make the pupils more active. He hates——– and negative thinking. (jealousy, indolence, morbidity)
e. Multinational companies, at times, indulge in highly unethical practices to boost their sales. Drugs with half-proved efficacy for cure of some common diseases are peddled as sure-healers. ———- is behind such abominable conduct of these companies. (altruism, competition, avarice)

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Vocabulary building exercise through sentences

March 24, 2013 at 2:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Fit the right word in the right place.

Choose the right word from the list off three words given at the end of each sentence.

a. It was the first visit of the 8-year-old girl to the zoo. Her mother took her to the wire-fenced cage where the newly-acquired Royal Bengal Tiger had been kept. The beast did not, obviously, like the stream of onlookers outside his crammed abode. The visitors’ verbal taunts and giggles were an affront to its royal prowess and dignity. When the mother took the little girl a little near the fence, the tiger came charging at the duo with a big roar. The —— girl screamed in utter fear and clung to her mother with all her strength. (horrified, petrified, awed)

b. The girl belonged to the most affluent family of the town. She was an ace tennis player. She had been the tennis champion in the college many times. But, all these trophies had been won within the confines of the women’s college’s tall walls where she played. The time came for her to take part in the inter-collegiate tennis championships. She had to go to the town’s stadium where thousands would watch her playing. She was a bit nervous. True to her fears, scores of youngsters turned out to watch the ——– in action. (debutant, debutante, ace)

c. The conditions of the World Bank loan for the river dam project were clear and stiff. The government had to show progress of the project’s execution as per a jointly-agreed schedule before the next ——- of loan could be released. (portion, tranche, installment)

d. It was a serious literary magazine meant for serious lovers of literature. The editor was an extremely erudite lady in her early sixties who spent long hours in the editor’s office. She —– frivolous articles that lacked depth and had unnecessary mention of sex and violence. Such articles came mainly from young and novice contributors. (dismissed, abhorred, disqualified)

e. The earthquake had wreaked havoc on the mountain town the previous day. Looking at the flattened houses, the men beat their chests in despair, the women wailed and the distraught children clung to their parents. The supposedly wise temple priest declared that it was god’s ——— for the sins of the people of the town. (ordeal, retribution, reward)

f. The intelligence gathering mission had been very carefully planned. As per this, an operative had to sneak into the enemy territory under the cover of darkness and contact his waiting colleague there. Unfortunately, the agent was detected by the enemy patrol and captured before he could accomplice his objective. The mission failed. Many junior officers in the army blamed the Colonel, the brain behind the plan, for the ——— operation. (botched, aborted, misfired)

g. The adolescent daughter did not like the restrictions put on her in matters of dress and going out with friends. She resented her mother’s interference in her ‘personal’ matters. At times, it led to ugly —– between the two which annoyed the father. (discordance, spar, rant)

h. The young recruit was not adequately skilled. During the training period, he lagged behind his peers in assimilating the new ideas. To hide his weakness, he often —– ——- with his trainer. Such tactics earned him a lot of derision from everyone in the training camp. (find fault, curry favour, stoop low)

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Why America and Iran continue to be so hostile to each other

March 19, 2013 at 1:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Iran, its nuclear arsenal development and the American ire ——

 

What facts this write-up tries to explain?

1. Since when and why the Iranians and the western world led by the Americans fell out with each other?
2. Why are the Iranians trying to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them?
3. Why do the Arabs and the Iranians loathe each other?
4. Why are the Iranians so intransigent in matters related to their atomic programme?
5. Does Iran have an atom bomb? If not, when can it own one?

 

To get an answer to the above questions, one has to get some idea of the history of Iran since 1941.
During the World War 2 Iran, under the then Shah (the ruler) had actively supported the Axis powers (Italy, Germany, Japan) causing great anger and unease among the Allied powers (America, England, France, China and Russia)
By the time the World War 2 ended, British and Russian forces had invaded Iran and occupied it. As their first act of vengeance, they deposed the ruling Shah and installed his son Mohammad Reza Pahllavi on the throne.

 

In 1950 Ali Razmara became prime minister of the country, but was assassinated less than nine months later. He was succeeded as the prime minister by the nationalist, Mohammad Mossadeq. This man was a staunch nationalist and was opposed to the exploitation of Iran’s huge oil wealth by British oil companies.
Under his stewardship, in April, 1951, Iranian parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry and to throw out the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Britain was angry and, in retaliation, imposed an embargo and a blockade of Iranian ports, halting oil Iranian exports. This measure hit Iranian economy hard. Iran had two power centers then — 1. the pro-west Shah as the Sovereign and 2. staunchly nationalist Prime minister. Soon a tussle for power between the pro-western, anti-nationalization Shah (the sovereign ruler) and the nationalist Prime Minister Mossadeq ensued. With rousing popular support, the Prime Minster turned the heat on the Shah forcing him to flee the country in August 1953.

 

In 1953 August, Mossadeq was overthrown in a coup engineered by the British and American intelligence services. General Fazlollah Zahedi was proclaimed as prime minister and the Shah returned to Iran to take his position.
A fast-track campaign to modernize that backfired ..
In 1963 January, the Shah embarked on a campaign to modernize and westernize the country, and reform its medieval, clergy-influenced society radically. He launched the ‘White Revolution’, a programme of land reform and social and economic modernization. Shah’s intent was noble, but he did not have his fingers on the pulse of his people. The reforms were generally accepted by the society, but not its scorching pace. Shah encouraged women going to schools, colleges, taking up jobs, shedding the burqa, wearing western dresses and enjoying equal rights as men. He allowed the young men to shave off their beards, mingle with the opposite sex freely, see western films, go to clubs, and most importantly study in western-type universities to develop modern skills. The clout of the clergy over the legal system was curtailed.

 

Predictably, a backlash, led by the conservative elements of the society started. The Mullahs, being orthodox Muslims, were the vanguards of the people’s resistance. To smother the resistance that was getting fiercer by the day, the Shah started a Secret Police organization. This police outfit was mandated to sniff out the rebellious elements. They were empowered to resort to very brutal ways to accomplish their objective. People were picked up from their homes at dead of night, thrown into prisons and tortured. The repression got more and more brutal as the Shah stepped up his campaign to modernize the country. It was a bloody period indeed. The scars left by the brutalities of the secret police were there all over the society. This went on during the 1960s.

 

By the September 1978, the Shah’s policies had completely alienated the religious clergy that lead the resistance. What followed was a period of stiff stand-off between Shah’s internal security apparatus and the people in the streets. Shah’s authoritarian rule led to riots, strikes and mass demonstrations. Invoking Islamic sentiments, the religious clergy had cleverly manipulated the public opinion against the Shah. Martial law was imposed.

 

It would be interesting to note here that Iran, at that time, had the largest and most modern army in the area, had the best internal police organization and a bureaucracy loyal to the Shah.

 

As resistance leaders began to be hunted down by the police one by one, the man at the head of the religious opposition, Ayotollah Khomeini, fled to France to escape arrest by the Shah’s forces.

 

Shah exiled, Khomeini returns home…

 

By 1979 January, things had come to the boiling point. The resistance had turned to be a mass movement against the Shah. As the political situation deteriorated fast, the Shah and his family fled the country, and were forced into exile. So fierce was the resistance that the much-vaunted armed forces and the internal police could not protect the Shah. They just stood by.

 

All through this period of turbulence the United States of America had supported the Shah to the hilt, giving him state-of-the-art arms, ammunitions, besides political and moral support.

 

The people in the streets took a very dim view of American support for the Shah. They, along with the religious clergy, were very angry with American policies in the region.

 

On 1st February, 1979, the Islamic fundamentalist, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, triumphantly returned to Iran following 14 years of exile in France. He was given a rousing, almost hysterical welcome in Teheran. The jubilant followers looking towards him for spiritual and political leadership put the sulking Ayatollah at the helm of affairs in Iran. The Ayuatollah came to be revered by his people like God.

 

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini …

On 1st April, 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed following a referendum. The Ayatollah was a very austere and orthodox Muslim. He put in place a very rigid system of government which had no place for liberalism, atheistic thinking or anything not decreed by him as Islamic.

 

All the progressive measures towards western ways of life put in place by the Shah were reversed. Iran saw the return of the Burqua, beard, compulsory prayers in the mosque, retreat of the women folk to the confines of their homes and similar rigid Islamic practices sanctioned by the Ayatollah.

 

Thus began a revolution in reverse. In their misplaced enthusiasm, the Iranians called for similar revolutions in other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria. It was a foolish act which angered and frightened the long-entrenched rulers there. It sowed the seeds of much mistrust between the Shia-majority Persian Iran and the Sunni-majority Arab countries of the Middle East who had maintained cordial relations with the Americans till then.

 

In the aftermath of the Revolution, Iran was seething in anger at the Americans. The anger manifested itself in the form of anti-American rants emanating in chorus from everywhere in the country. In retaliation, the Americans unleashed a huge propaganda campaign to malign the Ayatollah and the new Islamic Republic of Iran. Sanctions, embargoes and every other tool at America’s arsenal were deployed to make life for the new administration unbearable.
An incident that took Iran-U.S. relations to a new low …
In 1979 November, a very un-savoury incident occurred. Islamic militants took 52 Americans hostage inside the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They demanded the extradition of the Shah, in the U.S. at the time for medical treatment, to face trial in Iran.
This raid on the American embassy shocked the entire diplomatic world, because such siege of a foreign country’s embassy breaks all cannons of international law.
America was very exasperated and extremely angry. The lives of its embassy staff were in danger. The Islamic group allowed nothing inside, not even food, water and medicines. Even the Red Cross was not allowed a visit inside.
In 1980 January, Abolhasan Bani-Sadr was elected the first President of the Islamic Republic. His government began work on a major nationalization programme. The Ayatollah remained in the background aloof from the day-to-day functioning of the government. It was done by the President, but no major decision in administration could be taken without the blessing of the Ayatollah. Such structure of dual centers of power exists even today blighting the democracy in the country.
The exiled Shah died of cancer in Egypt in July, 1980 finally bringing down the curtain on a tumultuous period of Iran’s history.
Iran-Iraq war, a senseless conflict begun by Saddam …
Sensing an opportunity in Iran weakened by internal turmoil and growing international isolation, Saddam Hussain of Iraq invaded Iran in September, 1980. This highly ruinous war continued for eight long years spilling much blood and bringing both sides to their knees. By the time the two countries agreed on a truce plan, no clear winner had emerged.
America aided Iraq generously in this conflict.
The siege ends, but the two nations drift far apart …
In January, 1981, after nearly 444 days of confinement, the siege on the American embassy was lifted and the diplomats were freed to go home after their long ordeal. But this incident of a few fanatic Iranian young men (supported by the Ayatollah) almost permanently damaged America’s perception of Iran.

 
Since then, America has regarded Iran as a country ruled by a religious clergy who see the world in a way vastly different from the way America does. Iran’s active involvement in Lebanon to wage a proxy war against its western-backed elected government there, its open espousing of Iran-like revolutions in Arab countries to depose the autocratic leaders there, its strident effort to project itself as the sole leader of the Islamic world, and its extreme hostility to Israel, have antagonized public opinion in America and in most parts of the world against Iran. (What was Iran’s role during Israel’s formation?)
The Arab countries sense danger at the assertiveness and hegemonistic tendencies of Iran.
Iranians are mostly Shias as opposed to Sunnis in the Arab world. Iranians are Persians who boast of their superior culture, and religious authenticity. They loathe the Arabs as uncouth, boorish, un-intelligent, and descendants of a nomadic race. The Arabs strongly resent such snobbery of the Iranians.

 
The Iranians have further angered the western public opinion by refusing to recognize Israel, and denying the Holocaust, mankind’s history’s one of the most cruel chapters. The present President Ahmedinezad and the present grand Ayatollah glibly talk of liquidation of the state of Israel. Such a publicly-proclaimed belligerent stance invites the wrath of most nations in the world, America and Israel in particular.

 
The looming Ayatollahs and the skewed power structure of Iran ..

 
Iran is a democracy. It holds regular elections, has a thriving opposition, but few give much credence to these. The Ayatollah, who heads a religious council, wields veto power over the President and the decisions of the Parliament. He can over-rule any law or action of the government through an edict which can not be challenged in a court of law. This makes the democracy in Iran so imperfect and subject to much ridicule in the west.
The present President, Ahmedinizad, often talks in a very irresponsible manner boasting about Iran’s prowess, impending demise of Israel and that of the United States. This type of bravado coming from the mouth of a head of state invites derision and wrath internationally.
In February, 1989, Salman Rusdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published. Its contents infuriated the Islamic world. The Ayatollah jumped into the fray by issuing a Fatwa to reward any one who killed Salman Rushdie. Blasphemous or not, this extreme show of intolerance towards works of literature convinced the west that it was impossible to do business with Iran till such time it remained under the influence of the clergy.

 

Demise of Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989, but no respite from the belligerence of Iran …
On 3rd June,1989, Ayatollah Khomeini died. On 4 June, President Khamene’i was appointed as the new supreme leader.
Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was sworn in as the new President in August, 1989.
As a token of goodwill to the new leadership, the U.S. released 567 million dollars of frozen Iranian assets in November, 1989.
Things, however, did not go America’s way. Iran bank-rolled the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, sent assassins to far-off places to kill political fugitives and supported armed groups to sneak into Israel to mount suicide attacks.
It openly opposed the Middle East peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
To queer the pitch further it launched a clandestine nuclear programme away from the supervision of the IAEA. These activities came to light in 2002, and are believed to be continuing apace. Inspectors from IAEA have gone into Iran many times, but have come back each time with some nagging unanswered questions. Even after repeated demand from the IAEA, these questions have not been answered satisfactorily yet. Rather Iran has been found to fudge facts, play for time and avoid giving unequivocal commitments to the powerful western countries, represented by EU negotiators. Such attempts by Iran not to come out clean on its overt and covert nuclear programme have set alarm bells ringing in Israel, America and Europe.
Israel, feels threatened particularly because the Iranian authorities have time and again proclaimed publicly that destroying the Jewish state will be a great act for any devout Muslim.
US imposes sanctions …
Perturbed with the opaque approach of the Iranian governments towards IAEA inspections, the U.S. government imposed oil and trade sanctions over Iran in 1995. America alleged that the Iranian government sponsored “terrorism”, sought to acquire nuclear arms, and tried to thwart the Middle East process. Iran denied the charges, but the sanctions were clamped further hardening the Iranian attitude.
Since then the United States has tried, and often succeeded in making the terms of the sanction more stringent to inflict more pain on Iran.
Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, and Iran gets deeply offended ….

 

In January 2002 January, the U.S. President George Bush, in a feat of arrogance, described Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil”, warning of the proliferation of long-range missiles and Weapons of Mss Destruction (WMDs) being developed in these countries. The speech caused a national outrage in Iran, and was condemned by reformists and conservatives alike.

 
Iran nuclear crisis, some more facts …

 
a. Why has the Security Council so wary of Iran’s efforts for Uranium reprocessing? Why has it ordered Iran to stop enrichment? Because the enrichment technology needed to get low level (2.5 to 3%) Uranium 235 for nuclear power generation can also be used to enrich it to the bomb grade (more than 95%) Uranium 235. Iran, by mastering the enrichment technology, can produce (or has already produced?) bomb grade enriched Uranium. Iran had successfully hidden an enrichment programme for 18 long years away from the IAEA inspection. When it came to light, the whole global community was horrified. The United Nations Security Council feels Iran’s avowed peaceful intentions must be unequivocally proved. Till that time, it must stop enrichment and certain other nuclear activities. It is mandatory for a member nation to abide by UNSC resolutions.

 
It has also called on Iran to ratify and implement an additional protocol allowing more extensive inspections as a way of establishing confidence.
Why is Iran so reluctant to fall in line with the Security Council resolutions? Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear state, has the right to enrich Uranium for use in power plants (max 3.5% enriched Uranium). But for this, Iran must comply to random and rigid inspection by the IAEA.

 
However, Iran stands on weak grounds on this matter. It carried on a clandestine enrichment programme for 18 years. When confronted, it could not answer all the probing questions of the IAEA inspectors. So the intentions remained suspect. Iran has done little to dispel such credibility gap between the global community and itself.
To make the matters worse, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stressed that Iran will not yield to international pressure: “The Iranian nation will not succumb to bullying, invasion and the violation of its rights,” he has said.
What does Iran say about its suspected intentions to develop nuclear weapons? It says it would strictly abide by the obligations under the NPT and will not use the technology to make the atom bomb.

 
Conclusion …

 
Thus, the war of nerves continues between America and the European Union on one side and the bellicose Iran on the other. Pre-emptive aerial bombing of suspected Iranian nuclear sites by America has long been on the cards. With their historical animosity towards the Ayatollah-dominated Iran, the Arab nations are mortally afraid of a nuclear Iran. They have privately lobbied hard to make America agree to this highly risky military operation. Lots of backdoor diplomacy has gone on in the last few years between the Arab governments and Washington. Wikileaks exposed some of these back and forth communications.

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From the pages of History — Cuban missile crisis of 1962

March 15, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962..

 

Imagine the Football World Cup Final being played between Brazil and France, or the Cricket World Cup Final between India and Pakistan. People in these countries will not go to offices, will not sleep, skip dinner, pray in churches, temples and mosques. Theaters will be deserted, lovers will not look at each other, nurses will not attend to women in labour, surgeons will postpone surgeries, battlefields will fall silent, the hangman will take a few hours off, suicide bombers will cast their bomb-belts away, because the seemingly greatest event on earth was going to unfold. Such was the tension in the days leading up to the curtain-down of the Cuban missile crisis.

The 1962 stand-off between America led by President Kennedy and the Soviet Union under the irrepressible Khrushchev was going to be a bout to the finish. Both leaders would not budge an inch; come what may. Making even a minor concession to the adversary would amount to capitulation. This was the perception. The navies of the two sides were approaching an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation situation. National prestige was the issue. If need be, “Let us nuke them,” said the commanders in a chorus on either side.

For the lay pragmatist watching from the sidelines, the combined nuclear arsenal of the two antagonists could, in a few miniutes, incinerate the whole world a few times over. No human, no animal, no plant, no bacteria would survive a nuclear exchange between these two super powers: not even a blade of grass would grow on earth for a millennium thereafter. This looming holocaust would super-charge the earth’s soil and water with radioactivity emanating from the explosion of bombs.

This was the position in April, 1962, just about 17 years after the world had watched, with great bone-chilling horror, the obliteration of two Japanese cities by America’s atom bombs. These bombs were miniscule compared to the bombs America and the Soviet Union had managed to develop in their mad scramble for strategic superiority.

So death was certain. In millions of homes, old and young alike remained glued to their radio and television sets awaiting the worst news mankind can ever get to hear, its total annihilation by itself.

It all started when the Soviet Union decided to position its nuclear missiles in Cuba, its client state in the backyard of America. The intent was clear: to intimidate America, and deter it from mounting an attack on Cuba and the Soviet Union. Legally, there was nothing flawed in such deployment, because it was an arrangement between two sovereign states; the Soviet Union and Cuba. But for Amerca, it was like a hungry wolf sitting in the drawing room. How could America accept such a hostile deployment, legal or illegal? For President Kennedy, it was baptism by fire. He must stop such deployment, or risk perpetual intimidation of his country by its communist adversary. He had to make a choice, and he made it. No nuclear missile in Cuba, at any cost.

Khrushchev, then the President of the Soviet Union, was a firebrand. In histrionics and in anti-Americanism, the United States could not have a lesser foe. He would not budge an inch in his decision to deploy his missiles in Cuba, so close to the American landmass. In agreement with Cuba, the construction of the missile silos, the first step towards eventual deployment, proceeded apace. This was in the summer of 1962. Around October the same year, America’s reconnaissance photographs of the area saw silo construction work proceeding furtively, but very briskly. President Kennedy’s crisis management group in White House sat for long emergency sessions to find ways to stop any further activity in Cuba.

They decided to seal off the island nation Cuba in sea. A quarantine was planned, to be enforced by the mighty American Navy. Orders were signed by Kennedy, and soon America’s U-2 spy planes started hovering over Cuba at low level at two hour intervals. President Kennedy let his countrymen know the danger their country was facing, and the steps he had taken to neutralize it. The whole of America backed him like a single man.

Cuba became a besieged country, inaccessible to the approaching Russian armada. Would the Russian ships back off, or would they come and barge through the American naval cordon along the periphery of Cuba? No one knew. The Soviet navy showed no sign of backing off, nor even slowing down. A showdown became imminent. Frantic diplomatic activities followed to dissuade Khrushchev from pressing ahead. But how could he do it? It would amount to capitulation to the capitalist America.

The whole world waited with baited breath. Would Kennedy and Khrushchev show statesmanlike fortitude and avoid a showdown that could trigger a full-blown nuclear exchange? Can a face-saving formula be found that would avert the crisis, and, at the same time, not show either party as the one which gave in first?

Khrushchev blinked. He sent a letter to Kennedy saying that if America was willing to guarantee non-aggression against its allay Cuba, Soviet Union would abandon its plan to deploy missiles in Cuba.

America promptly took up the offer, and communicated its acceptance to the Soviet Union. The two navies were just a few hours away from coming within each others firing range. The Russian armada backed off. American naval embargo was lifted and the stand-off ended without a single shot being fired. It was on 27th October, 1962.

The whole world heaved a huge sigh of relief. From the hovels of Bangladesh to the skyscrapers in Manhattan, New York, from the dust bowls of Africa to  downtown  Amsterdam, people smiled again. The frozen nurses, surgeons, lovers, artists and the factory workers, all started to sing the song of life again.

 

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International Space Station (ISS) — Explanation for a school boy

March 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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International Space Station (ISS)

What is the International Space Station?

It is a huge man-made platform moving around the earth. It is of the size of a football field. Total weight of this platform is around 344 tons. It has large solar panels to absorb sunlight and convert it to electrical power needed by the ISS. The platform can accommodate about seven human beings who can live there for months together and do their work.
The ISS moves around the earth in a relatively low orbit. Because of its giant size and the smaller distance from the earth’s surface, one can, at times, see the ISS by naked eye , if the sky is clear.

What is the main aim of the ISS?

 

Man wants to learn many things about the universe, the planets, stars, galaxies etc. From the earth’s surface we can do the viewing, and analyze our findings, but such observation from earth’s surface is limited in scope. The earth’s atmosphere has clouds and dust particles. These blur our vision. Earth has its own magnetic field. Observing the magnetic influence of other heavenly bodies like the plants and stars gets distorted due to the influence of earth’s strong magnetic field. Apart from all these, knowing the effect of weightlessness on our body and those of plants and animals can’t be done unless researchers actually live in a weightless and gravity-less environment for sufficiently long duration. Our bones and muscles will deteriorate if they remain idle or do very less physical activity daily. But by how much will they deteriorate? How to avoid the ruinous effect of zero gravity on living beings of earth? These are important questions space engineers need to answer before sending a man on an extended space voyage.

A prolonged stay in the ISS helps us to understand this unknown science. Then there is the question of studying the radiations coming out of different celestial bodies in the universe. On earth, we receive some of them, but not all. Some radiations are so weak that we can’t analyze them properly. By keeping well-trained scientists and good recording instruments on board the ISS, we can capture radiations, images and a host of other strange things happening in space.

The ISS is not only a living quarter for scientists far above the earth, but also a huge research laboratory with sophisticated instruments.

Who built them and when?

The ISS is an excellent example of the way countries with different ideologies and strengths can cooperate to study the universe. No single nation has the money, man power and technical knowledge to put such a 344-ton high-tech research lab in space.
As many as sixteen nations have pulled their resources to build this giant station. Piece by piece, the components of this facility were designed and manufactured in different factories in different countries. They were then transported piece by piece to space to a designated place and assembled there.

The work started in 1998, and will be fully complete in 2011. Hundreds of flights of the American Discovery space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz rocket have been conducted to ferry these components and human beings to build the space station.

The sixteen participating countries are America, Russia, Japan, Canda and eleven members of the European Space Agency (the United States of America, Russian Federation, Japan, Canada and eleven member states of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom).

How long the human beings stay there, and how do they come back?

Research scientists and flight engineers have spent months at a time on board the ISS. Even some space tourists have gone there to spend a few days in zero-gravity conditions.
These tourists pay huge amount of money for their trips. The Russians have an exclusive section on board the ISS. The tourists spend their space holiday there. So their money is pocketed by the Russians.

The Americans dislike the idea of allowing members of the general public to visit the ISS, possibly out of safety considerations. So they request the Russians not to allow the tourists to trespass into their section.

The re-usable space shuttles of NASA were the main transporters of goods, food stuff and astronauts to the ISS. The Russian Soyuz rockets with lesser carrying capacity also made many trips to do the to and fro transportation job.

However, the Discovery space shuttle vehicles have become old and obsolete. There have been a number of ghastly accidents in these space shuttles. So these vehicles will not fly anymore. Their place will be taken over by a completely new design vehicle. It may take years for NASA to perfect the design, make it and fly it to the ISS. Till then the ISS scientists will be completely dependent on the Russian Soyuz rockets.

Last year, the Discovery space shuttle made its last journey.

 

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Pakistan’s homegrown terrorism — How it comes back to haunt it

March 4, 2013 at 8:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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How while trying to avenge India, Pakistanis spilt their own blood

(Some of the ideas drawn from Moshin Hamid’s article published in NYT/ Hindu)

This Monday, assailants pumped six bullets into the body of the Shiite eye doctor who used to treat Moshin Hamid’s neighbour’s mother and sister. The benign doctor’s twelve-year-old son, en route to school with his father, got a single bullet on his head. The duo perished while still in the car.

Next day, the shocked and devastated Moshin attended a protest rally in front of the Governor’s imperial mansion. The protesters were clamouring for more government protection for the Hazara Shiite citizens facing murderous attacks of extremists. Almost 200 people of this ethnic community have fallen victim to the savage killing campaign unleashed against them by fanatics in the city of Quetta.

During that week, Pakistan saw many such spontaneous outbursts of anger. Protestors’ ire boiled over to the streets. Access to the airport was blocked by demonstrators. Moshin Hamid’s father was held up in an incoming flight that got delayed, but few of his fellow travelers squirmed. Instead, the anguish of the protesters seemed to touch their heart.

The world, despite the advancement of civilization, still reels from the scourge of minority-bashing. Today, fear of persecution haunts the Arab migrants in Europe and the American citizens of African descent. But then, these groups are in much smaller number compared to their tormentors. Pakistan sees something unusual. The group/groups being targeted constitute sizeable portion of the country’s population.

Ahmadis in Pakistan are in the receiving end of such rabid racial venom. Regarded as apostates by religious chauvinists, they often see their graves being vandalized by fanatics. Racial hatred has besmirched the whole Pakistani society. The Baluch are angry because the merchants of hate from the Punjab region target them. In turn, they harass even the most well-meaning Punjabi visitor to their area. The Pakistani Christians, no less Pakistani than the great many people who do not tolerate their presence, have seen the harsh blasphemy law impelling them. Moderates, who wanted a roll-back of this law, have been smothered. Even the Governor of Punjab had to pay with his life for his liberal views.

If there are so many minority groups, who constitute the majority? The fact is, there are no majority in Pakistan. Punjab, no doubt, is the most populous province with its 100 million people, but the people speak different languages, belong to different sects, have divergent cultural moorings and have different political leanings. Sunni Muslims are the largest religious group, but being a Sunni is no insurance against terror threats. There are Sunni groups who are despised with such intensity that terror groups often find them good enough targets for assassination.

Pakistan’s trouble started when the whole nation including its respected intelligentsia began to glamorize the militant spirit. Their exploits in Afghanistan and in Kashmir fired the imagination of the country’s impoverished youth, the down-trodden, the affluent and the well-heeled. The tales of the sacrifices of the Kalashnikov-carrying youth in alien lands were heady. Soon, they assumed the aura of true warriors. Selfless, patriotic, and invincible, these bands of youth soon became icons whom the whole country began to look up to as panacea for all its hardships.

That prosperity of Pakistan lay in producing more from its fields and factories, in creating more jobs, and in making the best uses of the nation’s slender resources was known to all. But intoxication of the militant spirit was so high that no one questioned this adulation of violence; no one dared; no one bothered. These warriors soon turned on their own brethren back home, felling innocent men, women and children. The innocent Pakistanis who died in shootings and bomb blasts were school going children, office goers, farmers, factory workers, small businessmen, street hawkers—all common folks going about their daily lives in very hard times. The killing spree has gone on with such frenzied savagery that millions of Pakistanis in the streets now live in constant fear of not being able to return home from work.

The whole nation yearns for respite from this looming violence. In everyone’s lip, there is just one word – ‘Peace’.

It takes no great imagination to find what is behind this dangerous slide towards violence. It is India, more accurately, Pakistan’s adversarial relationship with it. Over the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan has fought three wars with its bigger neighbor. It spends millions in manning a very tense border. This military engagement proved to be unsustainable for resource-starved Pakistan. The nurturing and unleashing of militants was considered a master-stroke by some in the country’s military establishment. They could prick India endlessly to the point of unsettling it. Then the Pakistani army could roll in to occupy Kashmir. In retrospect, it has proved to be a foolhardy idea that has brought great suffering to Pakistan.

For Pakistan, the need of the hour is to rein in the militants. If relations with India could be improved, wind will go out of the militants’ sail. So, improving relations with India must be pushed up the nation’s agenda.

It is heartening to see some signs of warming up of relations between Pakistan and India. Visa restrictions are being eased, trade is picking up. A keen observer of India matters will not fail to see that modern, tech-savvy, Bollywood-loving youth of India has little inclination for a military confrontation with Pakistan. Instead, a duel in the cricket field with Pakistan is far more exciting to the Indian men and women, of all ages, whether in villages, towns or cities. It is not unreasonable to assume that similar sentiments are gaining grounds in Pakistan too. One will be surprised to see the friendliness a Pakistani heart patient and his relations receive in Bangalore’s hospitals and markets when they come here for surgery or medical treatment.

Then, what happens to the thorny issue of Kashmir? Pakistan expects India to make some sacrifices in the matter. Wise Indians, deep in their hearts, perhaps agree. But, wise people on both sides agree that sacrifices appear much less painful when there is less acrimony and more friendship. Hard military posturing by either side pushes this away. Sagacity is the crying need of the day.

 
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