Sunday, June 27, 2010

WikiLeaks - Collateral Murder

`Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind`  - George Orwell

This is the quote that introduces you to WikiLeaks "Collateral Murder". The rest of the video shows you how a US Army Apache crew mistook a journalist's camera for an RPG launcher and then went on to kill more than a dozen civilians. It is, of course, an armed conflict out there and mistakes happen. But instead of admitting the mistake the generals and politicians tried to cover it up with "language designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable." -- until WikiLeaks called their bluff.

 I always thought WikiLeaks was some kind of short-lived gimmick; another in the Wiki series that anybody could edit and spin to their convenience. Turns out that I was seriously mistaken.

An article titled "No Secrets" in the New Yorker,  describes the life of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and of his mission to expose injustice; to enforce total transparency using the power of the internet. An Australian hacker now based in Iceland (for legal protection), Assange wants to ensure than once a video was posted online, it would be impossible to remove.

Using donations from well-wishers, WikiLeaks maintains its content on more than 20 computers  around  the world and on hundreds of domains. The site is "an uncensorable system for untracable mass document leaking and public analysis",  and a government or company that wanted to remove content from WikiLeaks would have to dismantle the Internet itself!

So far even though the site has received more than a hundred legal threats, it refuses to "comply with legally abusive requests from Scientology any more than similar demands from Swiss Banks, Russian offshore stem-cell centers, former African kleptocrats or the Pentagon".

This sounds like such an amazing initiative! But one concern is whether WikiLeaks can grow beyond its dependence on one individual...


No Secrets - Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency - Raffi Khatchadourian, New Yorker


Wrist-pain Relief

Finally some answers to the puzzling, persistent wrist pain!

 Sometime back, when I visited the doctors at Tsukuba Medical Centre, they had gone through some elaborate x-rays and prescribed some external cold-wraps to deal with the pain. It was not much help.

 Yesterday, while looking for some information on the Web, I came across this useful video which explains graphically how pain develops when there is a pressure on the Radial, Median or Ulnar nerves.

 And the following two videos demonstrate some useful exercises, not only for easing the pain but also for strengthening the wrist and preventing injuries in the future -

 YouTube has turned out to be much more helpful than the doctors at TMC!   :P

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BP vs. Bhopal

"It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease"

This familar adage is taking a new meaning for those who have been comparing the recent BP oil leakage with the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984.

The comparison presents interesting insights into the relationship between MNCs and governments in developed countries, and of the difference in the way MNCs respond to their blunders in developed vs. developing countries.

The possibility of a squeaky wheel getting greased does seem to depend more on the importance of the wheel than on the loudness of the squeaks...



After 26 Years, Shekhar Gupta (IE), 8 June 2010

How British (Really) Is BP?, KARL E. MEYER and SHAREEN BLAIR BRYSAC, NYT, 16 June 2010

Remember Bhopal, PHILIP BOWRING, IHT, June 16, 2010

A Black-Belt in Judo

Last Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to know that I had qualified for Judo black-belt (sho-dan / first level).

Why the surprise? Firstly because getting any qualification - let alone a black-belt - was never even an objective when I started my training. Secondly, in my own mind, I was merely 'partnering' a friend and more worried about making some mistake and letting him down than anything else.

The test-event itself was quite a learning experience though. So this post is an attempt to recap the whole process  for foreigners who may be interested in getting a Judo certification in the Japan.

I've been in Japan for a little more than a year now. I had approached the Judo Club at University of Tsukuba with the objective of staying fit -- something of a healthy diversion from the long sedentary hours of research-work -- and out of curiosity. The university was famous for its sports faculty and I just wanted to get an idea of the sort of training and effort it had taken to produce so many Olympic medalists in Judo.

We trained twice a week (Mondays and Fridays) with a "bonus" option of training with full-time judokas (The "Tsukuba Blues") on Wednesdays. Each two-hour session was divided into seven parts - (1) Rei (group salutations) (2) Warm-up exercises (3) practice-sparring - 30 mts. (4) Randori - random practice fights with other club members - about 10 rounds of 4 minutes each (5) Cooling down exercises (6) Salutations (7) Cleaning up the hall.

Each session was physically demanding. Sprains, aches, cramps and bloodied uniforms were fairly common but the seniors keep a sharp lookout for fights that could be getting out of hand. And the atmosphere was helpful and friendly with the more experienced folks ever-ready to help the newbies with the ropes for each kata (form) and technique.

About a month ago the club-captain suddenly asked me if I wanted to appear in the black-belt qualifying exam at Tsuchiura. At first I thought he was joking but then I understood that one of the members, Yamada-san was keen to apply and he could not appear in the test without a partner.

The captain demonstrated the nine throwing forms (Nage no Kata) that had to be presented by each pair for the sho-dan level (1st level black-belt). He also told us that each applicant would have to fight a couple of random bouts and that the test would cost a few thousand yen.

As can be seen in this video, Nage no Kata looks like some kind of stylized dance. It may look easy but it does take a good deal of practice to get the correct sequence of moves. In each pair there is a "Tori" (取りthe attacker) and the "Uke" (受けthe defender). There are nine sets of three throws each(te-waza, uchi-waza and ashi-waza or techniques using the hands, waist and legs) and each throw had to be done on the right-hand and the left-hand side ( I found the change-over particularly confusing). After the Tori throws the Uke 18 times, the whole process is reversed with the "attacker" now becoming the "defender" for another 18 throws.

We practiced hard but even until the last day of practice, I was not sure if I could remember the all moves - especially the part where there is a switching of roles from being the attacker (easier) who gets thrown around and to that of the defender (difficult).

On D-day (13 June) we reached Tsuchiura Dojo by 8:45AM. It was a large building - and quite crowded. About 150 candidates - mostly boys in their late teens thronged the corridors. The whole event was being organized by a set of sharp, supremely fit, elderly gentlemen dressed in white shirts and grey trousers. They manned the counters dispensing the application forms, clarified doubts, helped fill-in the forms, and directed each group in booming voices to the right halls - the archers stayed downstairs while the judokas went to the first floor hall.

It was apparent that foreigners were a rare sight here- I must have been the only gaijin in the building that day. But thanks to Yamada-san, we submitted the application forms quickly, paid the fees (Yen 6000), went to the locker-room upstairs and changed into the Judo-Gi. When we were about the enter the hall, one of the elders reminded us that our names had to be there on the back of our uniforms. So we went back downstairs, got our names written on white-tape and had it pasted on. Back again upstairs, everybody was now practicing until the tests started. We too found a vacant corner and went through all the moves once again.

In about 20 minutes everybody was told to line up in groups. White-belts and black-belts stood in separate rows and listened to four brief speeches about the ethics and philosophy of judo. Then the tests began with the girls and the black-belters. As we settled on the periphery, they lined up in two rows facing each other and went through the motions of their Nage no Kata. The black-belters were a pleasure to watch - especially the advanced ones facing opponents armed with 'long-swords' (katana) and daggers.

The white-belters were called to line-up next. I got up with a lot of trepidation but once the first step was taken the throws seem to flow on their own. But even though I was a passable Uke, I faltered as a Tori and my last move for Uchi-Mata was a disaster. The mistake was quickly noticed by the judges and one of them walked past asking his colleague loudly, "What do you think of this pair?" The quick reply was, "Well, just barely..." (ギリギリ).

I was disheartened and thought that both of us would be disqualified from the rest of the test. But apparently there were others who were much worse and we stayed on for the next round - the random bouts.

The group of 60 candidates was divided into two sets. The fights took place one at a time and the the members of one groups had wear red ribbon markers on their waist. When the fights started, I was struck by the ferocity with which the teenagers attacked - it was so very different from the sparring at the club! Fouls were aplenty - there was so much of kicking, jabbing, and poking that the referee was busy calling the fights to order.

I was called for three bouts - the first was with a bigger and heavier opponent; the next two with teenagers of similar or lesser weight. I lost the first one very quickly and held on for a while longer for the other two before the opponents were declared "ippon!" (winners). My partner, thankfully, did much better - he was a clear winner for one of his three fights. After the fighting rounds a few of us "runners-up" were called in to demonstrate a set of three throws each.

By now it was 12:30PM and we were told to wait for the results. After a while everybody was called in and one of the elders read out some names - about a dozen candidates who were told that they had not cleared the test and that they could collect a reimbursement of Yen 2000 downstairs. The rest - and that included our pair - had passed!!   :)

Each of the successful candidates now received a calligraphic quotation, the certified test booklet and a set of forms. The forms were mainly for depositing the certification fees which turned out to be much, much bigger than I had anticipated for the first level (sho-dan) -- Yen 19,000!!   :O

So from my experience, the black-belt qualification is more about technique, team-work and etiquette than aggressive fighting capabilities. Your attitude and conduct during the entire test-session is, no doubt, more important than the triumph of winning or the anguish of losing a couple of bouts.


Summary of Costs:
  • Annual club membership at Tsukuba-U - Yen 3000
  • Test fees at Tsuchiura Dojo - Yen 6000  (Yen 2000 is reimbursed if you fail the test)
  • Certification Fees - 1st Level (Sho-dan) - Yen 19,000; 2nd Level - Yen 14,500; 3rd Level - Yen 18,000; 4th Level - Yen 24,000; 5th Level - Yen 37,000

  • Before the test - One application form and one dojo-tournament-record  booklet (in Japanese) to be filled-in and submitted before the test
  • After the test - 3 documents - one application form (blue, in duplicate); One 'reccomendation' form and one postal-remmitance form. After making the payment, the first two forms have to be mailed to the certification centre within three weeks. 


What Does a Black Belt Really Mean? (Neil Ohlenkamp in

Nage-no-Kata on YouTube

Nage-no-Kata at Wikipedia

Nage-no-Kata - neat illustrations (page is in French)


108 school judo class deaths but no charges, only silence - Fatalities since '83 highest rate in any sport; brain injuries abound (Japan Times 26 Aug. 2010) -

"Over the 27-year period between 1983 and 2009, 108 students aged 12 to 17 died as a result of judo accidents in Japanese schools, an average of four a year. This is more than five times higher than in any other sport. About 65 percent of these fatalities came from brain injuries. This is clear evidence of a dangerous trend in Japanese schools."

Monday, June 14, 2010

TNT Redux

What a coincidence:  the Two-Nation Theory shares its acronym with an all-time-favorite explosive compound...Both are the fruits of human ingenuity but the damage caused by the former, political TNT surpasses anything that can be produced in the labs.

Take the tragedy unfolding right now in Kyrgyztan. Over 200,000 Uzbek minorities are being hounded out of the Ferghana valley in southern Kyrgyztan. Seeds of yet another long-drawn conflict are being sown and a relatively peaceful region will soon be exchanging notes with Tito`s Yugoslavia, Paul Kagame`s Rwanda, Saddam`s Iraq, Suharto`s Indonesia and, of course, British India.

How is it that TNT gets so easily replicated? Some folks like to blame the former imperial powers for creating `artificial` boundaries that disregard cultural and ethnic differences. The origins of the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict are traced to the `divide and rule` policy instituted during the British Raj; the problems of Africa are linked to the European imperialism and the problems in central Asia are called Stalin`s Harvest.

Perhaps it is easier to seek the simplistic comfort of blaming others - especially when the bitter truth lies somewhere within.

Take the case of the festering Indo-Pak conflict, where the K-issue is merely an excuse for a battle of ideologies - one that stands on TNT and another that denounces it. 

I have often wondered how the Pakistanis explain to themselves the obvious contradictions of TNT while trying to explain the vicious sectarian and ethnic conflicts within their own country. Ali Sethi has recently come up with an interesting article in the New York Times, titled `One Myth, Many Pakistans`.

Sethi starts off with a school-essay he once wrote on TNT, and of learning a completely different account of TNT in `a secluded college library in Massachusetts` -

Here I learned that it was devised in the 1930s by a group of desperate Muslim politicians who wanted to extract some constitutional concessions from the British before they left India.

The Muslims of India, these politicians were saying in their political way, were a “distinct group” with their own “history and culture.” But really, the book told me, all they wanted was special protection for the poor Muslim minorities in soon-to-be-independent, mostly Hindu India.

But the politicians’ gamble failed; they were taken up on their bluff and were given a separate country, abruptly and violently cut-up, two far-apart chunks of Muslim-majority areas (but what about the poor Muslim minorities that were still stuck in Hindu-majority areas!) that its founders (but it was a mistake!) now had to justify with the subtleties of their theory.

It was like a punishment.

...But the idea was kept alive and made useful: first by a set of unelected bureaucrats, then by generals, then by landowners, and then by generals again.

...The Two-Nation Theory, confined so far to political slogans and clauses in the Constitution, now went everywhere: it was injected into textbook passages (the ones I would reproduce, with new words and emotions, in my exam) and radio shows and programs on the one state-run TV channel. And it branched out, becoming anti-Communist (to attract American money), anti-Shiite (to attract Arab money, given for cutting Iran’s influence in the continent), anti-woman (to please the mullahs) and still more anti-Ahmadi (to enhance the pleasure and power of the mullahs).

The Two-Nation Theory was dynamic, useful, lucrative.

There seems to be a method to this madness -- first the power-brokers nurture `distinct groups with their own history & culture`, and then watch helplessly as the Frankenstein`s shove their creators aside and stomp out of control.

One Myth, Many Pakistans - Ali Sethi, New York Times, June 11, 2010

Stalin's harvest - What lies behind the violence in Kyrgyzstan, The Economist Jun 14th 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Weed Troopers

At the University of Tsukuba, most of support services are contracted to specialized firms - security, maintenance of scientific & office equipment, elevators, plumbing, laundry, vending machines, eateries, etc., Nothing unusual or extraordinary...

But there is one set of unique specialists who make their appearance once or twice a year -- the "Weed Troopers. Dressed in overalls, helmets and bandannas these guys wield special equipment, not only for moving the tall grass and weeds but also blowers and  rakes for cleaning up.

How much do they get paid? What do they do for the rest of the year?...I'm yet to find somebody who can give me the answers.

Nasty looking blades...

Blowers and hand-held trimmers
Moving equipment of assorted sizes...

Work in progress...

Done in 30mts.

Monday, June 07, 2010


An interesting new word - Seichel.

It is Yiddish for wisdom, but it means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance.

According to Jeffery Goldberg,“Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a yiddishe kop, a ‘Jewish head`, is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.”

After the recent botched raid on Mavi Marmara, the very notion of seichel lies in shambles.

However, the good news is that amidst the throng of jingoistic Israeli`s celebrating the widely denounced military action in international waters, there are sensible folks out there who foresee the wider repercussions of this blunder...

It is such a relief to see contrarian views coming from Israel itself, as well as the Jewish diaspora worldwide -


On the Disappearance of Jewish Wisdom, Far Out at Sea, Jeffery Goldberg, The Atlantic, 31 May 2010

`CHOSEN, BUT NOT SPECIAL`, Michael Chabon, New York Times, 4 June 2010

LOST TRIBE - Are Israel`s Battles Costing the Country its Soul? , Ehud Eiran, Newsweek, 5 June 2010

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Takemitsu's Music

I just came across the works of Toru Takemitsu...and the 'power of silence'.

Sounds so profoundly soothing, and at times, so deeply disturbing that it is hard to believe it was created by somebody who was never formally trained in any form of music!


Six-Part Documentary on Takemitsu's Soundtrack (YouTube)

BBC Documentary: Greatest Composers of the World

Wikipedia - Toru Takemitsuōru_Takemitsu

The Got-to-hear list:

Forest String Orchestra

Kwaidan (1964) - Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Samurai Rebellion ( ) - Masaki Kobayashi

Youth of Japan (1968) - Masaki Kobayashi

Tokyo Trails (1982) - 1 hr documentary by Masaki Kobayashi...just 9 minutes of musical score!

Black Rain (1989) - Shohei Imamura

Under the Cherry Blossoms (1975) - Masahiro Shinoda

Himatsuri (1984) - Mitsuo Yanagimachi