Monday, July 25, 2011

Norway killngs and the Indian connection

The killings in Norway have an Indian connection.

Anders Behring Breivik, who exploded a bomb in Oslo and later sprayed bullets for more than one and a half hour on a Labour Party youth camp, killing 76 people in all, used “Dum-dum” bullets to do the job. These type of bullets were first manufactured at the Dum Dum Arsenal, near Kolkata, in India by the British in the late 1890s. The bullets, also called ‘expandable’ bullets, are designed to expand inside the body of the target after they hit, thus causing a wound larger than the diameter of the bullet itself. They thus cause more blood loss and damage than would an ordinary bullet, which hits the target from one side and comes out from the other. Certain types of Dum-dum bullets fragment inside the body of the target, making the wound especially painful, difficult to treat and more lethal.

The bullets manufactured by the British were so deadly that in 1898, the German Government lodged a protest against the use of Dum-dum bullets, claiming the bullets caused wounds that were “excessive and inhumane”. The British defended the use of the bullets against what they called “fanatical barbarians” (“freedom fighters”, probably, for us) who would not be deterred by ordinary bullets, but the Hague Convention in 1899 accepted the German claim and banned the use of Dum-dum bullets in war. The ban continues till today.

However, Dum-dum bullets themselves are not banned from use, The Hague Convention only covers war, and hence use of the Dum-dum bullets for other “permitted” purposes, such as by the police, for hunting (where permitted), self-defence or in sports is allowed. Breivik was able to legally acquire the bullets.

With the Norway incident, the demand for a complete ban on manufacture and sale of Dum-dum bullets may revive. Atleast some lives would have been saved had Breivik not been using Dum-dum bullets.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why the Chinese are good at sports

Ever wondered why the Chinese are so good at sports? Here is one example. Follow the steps given below:

1. Go to Google Maps

2. Click on “Get directions”

3. Type “China” in “A” i.e. From China

4. Type “Taiwan” in “B” i.e. To Taiwan

5. Click on “Get Directions”

6. Scroll down to Step no. 48


(Courtesy my friend Nikhil Karkhanis)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chaar aane ka gyan

Price is what you pay, value is what you get – Warren Buffet, legendary investor and world's third richest man

The humble ‘25-paise coin’ has been consigned to History. As per an order issued by The Reserve Bank of India, 25-paise coins have ceased to be legal tender after 30th June 2011. Sure, the coin had already gone out of circulation for all practical purposes, but now the RBI has officially confirmed that twenty five paise mean nothing. They’re worthless.

It was not always so. When the 'quarter rupee' coin was introduced in 1835, it was made of Silver. Over a period of time, Silver gave way to Nickel, then Copper, Steel and eventually, the Government found there is nothing the coin can be made of. Everything costs more than 25 paise.  

I have a very clear memory of the 25 paise coin. When I was in school, it could buy you a pepsi cola. The  pepsi cola here was actually an ice candy, available in different flavours like mango or kala khatta, sealed in a transparent plastic tube and sold on the street outside my school. Why it was called pepsi cola, I have never understood, but so it was.  In those days, even the five paise coins were in use.

Why can’t we use them today? How & why does a currency lose its value?

Unlike ordinary mortals like you and me, our Government spends more than it earns. The gap between its expenses and income is filled up by printing money. When the newly printed money is spent, ‘more rupees’ enter the economy and find themselves chasing the same amount of goods and services. This causes prices to rise. (Simple arithmetic here: Rs. X was the total cost of Y goods, so each good cost Rs. X / Y. Now, thanks to the printing press, there is (X + 1) money in the economy, so each good costs Rs. (X+1) / Y). In other words, prices have gone up. You need more Rupees to buy the same amount of goods. Gradually, the smaller ones, like the 25 paise coin we were talking about, don’t buy anything and die a natural death.

Fortunately or unfortunately, The Government of India is not alone in printing money. Governments all over the world have been busy destroying the value of their currencies this way. Only the speed and degree of destruction differs. The US Dollar has lost 95% of its value in the last hundred yearsThe 12 year old Euro is fighting for survival, as member nations are unable to match their expenses with incomes. Greece is on the brink of default, and there are riots on the streets of AthensPortugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain are next in line. An extreme example from recent times is Zimbabwe, which was hit by hyper-inflation five years ago. The inflation rate reached more than a trillion percent, prices doubled and tripled every day and all shops became empty. The Government tried desperate measures, such as depreciating the currency repeatedly (to more than one trillionth of its original value) but failed. Today, the country has no currency, uses the barter system or unofficially, the currencies of other countries.

A Zimbabwean currency note from my personal collection - perhaps the only  instance anywhere in this world of a currency note with an  'expiry date'

The only currency that has not lost its value over extremely long periods of time is Gold. A gram of Gold buys the same amount of food or clothing today, as it did ten or hundred or a thousand years ago.

Meanwhile, the only place where the 25 – paise coin will now have a value is in a numismatist’s collection.