Politics & the Nation
  • Know what is an orange notice?
    • It is an Interpol alert aimed at ensuring that law enforcement agencies in each of the world police bodies in 188-member countries take all necessary measures to enforce travel ban against the person mentioned in the notice.
    • Such a notice was issued against the Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi and 15 others including his family and close associates.
  • An excellent article on bringing about gender equality
    • Coming from a woman, this article is a must read on the International Women’s Day.  Don’t just treat our celebration of the article as one more instance of ‘celebration’ of women’s power.  The article articulates a different approach than what has been tried so far for bringing about gender equality.  An excerpt that is worthy of our attention:
    • Indeed, over the past 40 odd years, organisations have used three approaches to rout gender discrimination: assimilation, accommodation and celebration.
    • Assimilation seeks to minimise gender differences by modifying women’s behaviour to enable them to fit in. It is like asking tall people to stoop when they enter the doorway and hunch in chairs so that they can fit into a world of short people. Assertiveness training, as a ready example. Accommodation is akin to making taller doorways so that the ‘tall’ don’t have to stoop any more, higher desks so that the tall can sit in comfort, etc. Offering alternate careers only to women, extended maternity breaks, etc are some examples here.
    • You see celebration when the ‘differences’ in tall people are called out and put to good use. This is when the tall people are given jobs that use their advantage of height. Sensitivity training and creating ‘women only’ jobs fall under this approach.
  • The process of passing bills in the Parliament of India
    • It’s a long journey from intent to passage, from a bill to an act. It begins when the ministry concerned sends a draft to the law ministry for approval and legal compliance. It comes back to the ministry concerned, which makes the changes sought and places it before the Union Cabinet. After the Cabinet approves the bill, it has to be cleared by both houses of the Parliament. For this, it is placed in either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. If the bill is tabled in the Lok Sabha and sits there, it runs the risk of dying with the term of the house. In the Rajya Sabha, it can be carried forward. Once introduced in either house, a bill is usually referred to a Parliamentary committee for examination. The committee can take anywhere between three months and two years, even more. At this stage, the government can decide to incorporate changes in the bill based on the recommendations of the parliamentary committee. It is then put to vote in the two houses.
    • Law
  • Supreme Court okays passive euthanasia
    • It would be legal to withdraw life-support system to those in a permanently vegetative state, the Supreme Court has ruled. While permitting this process, known as passive euthanasia, the court however held that active euthanasia, or actively ending a terminally ill person’s life by administering lethal injections or other means, would be illegal.
    • The Supreme Court’s ruling came in the case of Aruna Shaunbag, who has spent 37 years in a Mumbai hospital bed in a coma, after she was brutally assaulted by her rapist. The court turned down a petition seeking her mercy killing, saying the hospital staff had expressed willingness to continue supporting her.
    • The court also recommended to Parliament to consider the feasibility of deleting the law (Section 309 of IPC) which provides for punishment for attempt to commit suicide.  The Court felt that a person attemption to commit suicide is in depression and hence s/he needs help, rather than punishment.  
    • The Court was delivering its judgement in Aruna Shanbaug’s case.  The case was presented by activist Pinki Virani, who sought mercy killing of Shanbaug, bed ridden in King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, in a state of permanent vegetative state for 37 years, after being sodomised by a ward boy of the hospital on the night of November 27, 1973.
    • Rejecting the petition filed by Virani claiming to be the next friend of Shanbaug, the court said, the KEM hospital staff had clearly expressed their wish that Aruna Shanbaug should be allowed to live. If they change their mind in future, they would have to approach the Bombay High Court for approval of the decision to withdraw life support to her, the apex court said.
Finance & Economy
  • Government debt position
    • The government’s total debt, as a percentage of GDP, is budgeted to drop to 45.3% from 51.1% estimated in the budget last year, which was based on an assumption of 12.5% growth in nominal GDP.
    • A finance ministry paper on the country’s debt position pegs consolidated debt of all the states at 24.8% of GDP. The total debt of the country, therefore, comes at about 70% of GDP, well below that of most developing countries and much better than that of some big developed countries.
    • The statistical advantage has helped the Centre meet the targets laid down by the 13th Finance Commission well ahead of time. The commission had set a debt-GDP target of 53.9% at the end of March 2011.
    • Before the adjustment, the Centre’s debt to GDP ratio at the end of 2009-10 was estimated at 57.8%, which dropped to 50.7% of GDP after adjusting for liabilities in the national small savings fund that were not used for funding the government deficit. This will fall to 45.3% of GDP based on the latest estimates of national income.
    • From the government’s net tax revenue 42.71% goes into meeting the interest costs.
  • Want to know the potential impact of the UID project?
Science & Technology
  • How is nuclear energy produced?  What is 'strong force'?
    • Excerpts from an article by Henri Kowalski, a senior scientist at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, DESY, Hamburg.
    • Production of nuclear energy:
    • Nuclear energy is produced in the decay processes of heavy elements, like Uranium or Thorium. The nuclei of their atoms usually decay into two smaller nuclei and a couple of neutrons, releasing many million times more energy than any chemical process ever could. Heavy elements contain so much energy because they stored a fraction of the energy released in the supernova explosion that created our Earth and the solar system around five billion years ago.
    • Today’s power plants use as a fuel a special kind of Uranium, U-235, which is burned in a chain process whereby the neutrons from one nuclear decay induce the next decay. Neither Uranium-238, which is roughly 100 times more abundant than U-235, nor Thorium, which is even more accessible, is used to produce energy on a large scale.
    • Indeed, in principle, every heavy element, even lead, is a potential source of nuclear energy. Everybody who has studied nuclear decay processes has been struck by the myriad possible ways in which energy can be produced.
    • Strong force:
    • The force binding atomic nuclei is a special case of the “strong force,” one of the four fundamental forces in nature, and is extremely difficult to investigate, because it acts very quickly and violently. Around 50 years ago, it was proposed to study the strong forces by firing protons at each other at very high energies.
    • The acceleration of particles at high energy slows down all physical processes, because, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time runs more slowly for fast-moving objects. Since protons are the simplest nuclei, it was hoped that, at high energy, the forces acting during the scattering of protons could be observed and analyzed like in a slow-motion film, providing a precise understanding of the strong force.
    • Several large accelerator research centers were built, and the scattering of particles at high energies revealed a fascinating structure of matter. New particles, called gluons, were found to mediate the strong force. Their discovery should provide a clue to precise knowledge of the strong force.
    • At short distances, gluons create an attractive force that is pretty weak and well understood. But, at larger distances, comparable to the proton radius, the force becomes really strong, and a very large number of gluons is involved, forming complicated structures that are not well known today. Therefore, for some time, it was not expected that the properties of the strong force could be directly derived from the properties of gluons.
  • Is it the Eurocrisis?  Or is it a debt crisis?  Or both?  And how can this be tackled?
    • Penned by Daniel Gros, Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, this is an excellent piece that is well worth our attention.  A must read.
    • Some excerpts:
    • German Chancellor Angela Merkel likes to emphasize, rightly, that one should not speak of a “euro crisis,” but of a “debt crisis.” If she had added that this is a crisis of both sovereign and bank debt, she would have been even more right.
    • But why should a debt problem in economies that are usually called “peripheral” be so important for financial markets? Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, which is now teetering on the brink of insolvency, account for less than 6% of the eurozone economy. Their problems would not constitute a major issue if Europe’s financial system were robust. A peripheral debt crisis has mutated into a systemic crisis because the eurozone’s financial system is too interconnected and too weak.
    • Given the interconnectedness of financial markets in a common-currency area, weakness in any one corner spills over into the entire system, which cannot be stabilized until all major components of weakness have been addressed. But Europe lacks a common body with the fiscal resources needed to stabilize the system as a whole. Such resources exist at the national level, but purely national considerations and interests generally guide their use. In other words: Europe faces a fundamental collective-action problem.
    • The “euro crisis” can end only when debt problems on Europe’s periphery can no longer threaten overall stability of the eurozone’s financial system. This will require a range of measures, such as higher capital requirements on sovereign debt, real stress testing of banks, and enlarging the EFSF’s mandate so that it can also recapitalize banks, not just bail out countries.
    • Ensuring systemic financial stability is the order of the day. That, rather than elaborate mechanisms for economic-policy coordination or grand designs for competitiveness, should be at the top of the European Council’s agenda.
Language lessons
  • remiss: Adjective
    • Failing in what duty requires
    • eg: Indeed, not only has the normally nimble hospitality sector been remiss about themed meals and holiday packages, …
  • wiggle room: Noun
    • Flexibility of interpretation or of options
    • eg: But on the “extra-political demands” of the DMK, the Congress has little wiggle room to offer anything substantive to the ally.
  • parens patriae: Noun
    • (Latin) It means "parent of the nation." In law, it refers to the public policy power of the state to intervene against an abusive or negligent parent, legal guardian or informal caretaker, and to act as the parent of any child or individual who is in need of protection.