The HINDU Notes – 13th June 2018 - VISION

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 13th June 2018

📰 Asian games

India’s involvement and stakes have increased in the Central Asian region

•India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a full-fledged member for the first time at the Qingdao summit this month, a development that may over time influence Central Asian geopolitics.

•The historical rivalry between the British Empire in the Indian subcontinent and Tsarist Russia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, known as the Great Game, was a clash of imperial ambitions between two great powers, in which the territory of Afghanistan helped minimise the risk of direct confrontation between them.

•In the early and mid-19th century, British officials of the East India Company feared that the advance of Tsarist Russia into the Khanates of Central Asia might prove detrimental to British interests in the Indian subcontinent. The officials were worried that if the Russians crossed Afghanistan, it would be easier for them to cross over the plains of Punjab and advance deep into the territories of northern India.

•This logic applies equally to what has come to be known as the “New Great Game”, or the modern geopolitics in Central Asia since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, characterised by competition among the U.S., the U.K. and other NATO member states on the one hand, and Russia, China and other states of the SCO on the other.

•Central Asia has historically witnessed tussles over access to the region’s rich natural resources, because preferential access to these resources better enable energy-hungry global powers to meet their domestic demand. Built around this immense imperative for natural resources, the New Great Game is manifested in efforts to expand regional connectivity, with links through trade, commerce, energy, ideology, ethnicity and even terrorism. The New Great Game became more entrenched after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., with Washington getting deeply enmeshed in the region.

•India’s engagement with the region has also become active, with the Ministry of External Affairs making it clear that it considers the Central Asian region to be India’s “extended neighbourhood.” India and Central Asia have enjoyed shared cultural linkages for around 2,000 years. From the Kushan Empire in ancient India to the Mughal Empire later, the connectivity between the two regions has always been considerable. When India got independence and parts of modern-day Central Asia were within the USSR rubric, India was one of the few countries that managed to maintain its access to this region.

•Today, projects such as the Chabahar port and the International North-South Transport Corridor have increased India’s involvement and stakes in the region’s stability. India’s admission to the SCO was a step towards its more holistic engagement with the region. Given the multipolar competition for Central Asia’s resource bounty, India would do well to tread lightly, yet manoeuvre to protect its interests.

📰 Trump-Kim meet ends with promise

North pledges to move towards denuclearisation; U.S. assures its old foe of security guarantees

•U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged at a historic summit on Tuesday to move towards complete denuclearisation, while the U.S. promised its old foe security guarantees.

•The start of negotiations, aimed at banishing what Mr. Trump described as North Korea’s “very substantial” nuclear arsenal, could have far-reaching ramifications for the region, and in one of the biggest surprises of the day, Mr. Trump said he would stop military exercises with old ally South Korea.

No specifics

•But Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim gave few other specifics in a joint statement signed at the end of their summit in Singapore, and several analysts cast doubt on how effective the agreement would prove to be in the long run at getting North Korea to give up its cherished nuclear weapons.

•“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

•The two leaders had appeared cautious and serious when they arrived for the summit at the Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino and a Universal Studios theme park.

•After a handshake, they were soon smiling and holding each other by the arm, before Mr. Trump guided Mr. Kim to a library, where they met with only their interpreters. Mr. Trump had said on Saturday that he would know within a minute of meeting Mr. Kim whether he would reach a deal.

•Mr. Trump later told a news conference that he expected the denuclearisation process to start “very, very quickly”, and it would be verified by “having a lot of people in North Korea.”

•U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials would hold follow-up negotiations “at the earliest possible date,” the statement said.

•Despite Mr. Kim announcing that North Korea was destroying a major missile engine-testing site, Mr. Trump said sanctions on North Korea would stay in place for now. Earlier, Mr. Kim said he and Mr. Trump had “decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change.”

‘The past doesn’t have to be the future’

•When U.S. President Donald Trump sat down to make the case for peace to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday, he rolled out a four-minute video starring the two leaders.

•The video plays over a pulsing orchestral score, and appears to be composed almost entirely of generic stock footage and old news clips, including images of two smiling.

•At one point, it features a montage with babies and car factories, suggesting what a more prosperous future for North Korea could look like if it agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal. “The past doesn’t have to be the future,” says a narrator.

•Then later, the narrator says, “a new world can begin today,” as an animated sequence suggests what North Korea could look like from space if it was as brightly lit up at night as the far more prosperous South Korea.

•At times, the video appeared to address Mr. Kim directly, suggesting he could make a choice that would open North Korea to new investment.

📰 Historic handshake — on Trump-Kim summit

Trump and Kim have traversed a remarkable distance; they must build on it

•The historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore is an affirmation of the power of diplomacy. Until a few months ago, the two countries had been trading nuclear threats, as the North raced along with its nuclear weapons programme. Now, as Mr. Trump shook hands with Mr. Kim, who had once said the U.S. President was “mentally deranged”, it was a reminder of Richard Nixon’s ground-breaking 1972 visit to Beijing. Through the day, both Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim were keen on casting the “comprehensive” meet in a positive light. The two whimsical leaders deserve full credit for this thaw in relations, given the decades of hostility and the quick diplomacy that pulled the Korean peninsula back from the brink of war. It all began with the new South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s expansive outreach to the North. Mr. Kim reciprocated by sending athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. As the relationship between the Koreas improved rapidly, Mr. Kim invited the U.S. President for a meeting. Mr. Trump accepted at once, surprising America’s allies and rivals. However, it was not certain whether the meet would take place. Mr. Trump once called it off after threats and counter-threats escalated. But the appetite for rapprochement was clearly greater on both sides, and the rendezvous was back on track.

•In the brief joint statement after their meeting, Mr. Kim iterated his “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula, while Mr. Trump offered security guarantees to the North. Mr. Kim had earlier promised to denuclearise the peninsula in return for security assurances, while Mr. Trump had promised that the North would be welcomed into the international community as a respectable member and be allowed to prosper economically. The two leaders have put these demands and promises into a document that could guide future diplomatic engagement. Mr. Trump also announced that he would end the regular American “war games” with South Korea, a concession to the North. While the summit itself was a big success given the distance both countries covered in a relatively short span of time, it is too early to say whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim can pull off a Nixon-Mao type breakthrough. The joint statement provided few specifics on how denuclearisation can take place or how North Korea’s steps to dismantle its arsenal will be monitored. There are no deadlines mentioned. There is no reference to China, North Korea’s only ally. There has been no word on whether the two will establish formal diplomatic ties. Besides, being unpredictable and impulsive, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim must also stare down hardline elements in their respective administrations. This bold beginning must not be wasted.

📰 Russian games in Syria

As the civil war winds down, the once overlapping interests of Moscow and Tehran are disentangling

•As the new Cold War gets hotter, Russia now faces a big dilemma in West Asia of defending its allies. When President Vladimir Putin decided to send Russian troops to Syria in September 2015, the regime there of President Bashar al-Assad was on the brink of collapse. The Islamic State (IS) had already declared Raqqah in eastern Syria as its de facto capital. Rebels and jihadists had captured eastern Aleppo, Damascus suburbs, including Eastern Ghouta, Idlib province and southern towns like Daraa and Quneitra; they had also established a strong presence in Hama and Homs. Several rebel factions were breathing down on Damascus and the Mediterranean coastal belt, the stronghold of the regime. Three years later, Mr. Assad is safe, while his regime has recaptured most of the territories it lost in the early days of the war.

A successful partnership

•Both Russia and Iran have played a crucial role in this turnaround. Though Russian air power was the most critical factor, especially in the battles for Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, the Iran-trained militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, fought alongside the Syrian army on the ground against the rebels and jihadists. But even when they were partnering in the war against common enemies, the Russians and Iranians had different goals in Syria. For Mr. Putin, the Syrian intervention was a big gamble. He sensed that the Obama administration was indecisive despite its threats against the Assad regime and that the rebels were divided. His immediate plan was to salvage the regime, bolster Russia’s position in West Asia (Syria hosts a Russian naval base at Tartus) and send a message to his rivals in the West.

•With the survival of the regime, Mr. Putin has achieved his immediate goal. But in the long run, he doesn’t want Russia to get stuck in Syria, like the Soviet Union or the U.S. later got caught up in Afghanistan. Therefore, Moscow is continuously pressing the Assad regime to be ready for a lasting political solution to the crisis.

•Iran, on the other side, does not want any radical change in the current composition of the regime. Its immediate goal, like that of the Russians, was the survival of the regime. This was the common ground that brought both countries together in Syria. If Russia wanted to protect its naval base and expand its influence in West Asia through Syria, Iran does not want to lose its only ally in the region and a vital link with the Hezbollah. But in the long run, Iran wants to build permanent bases in Syria, stretching its military influence from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to southern Lebanon. Both Lebanon and Syria share borders with Israel. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has already established a strong military presence along Israel’s northern border. Iran’s plan was to apply strategic pressure on Israel by building more military infrastructure and deploying Shia militias closer towards the Israeli-occupied territories of Syria.

•When the war was on in full swing, these apparent differences were played down. The Russians and Iranians fought together alongside Syrian troops. But after Mr. Assad stabilised his rule over most of Syria’s population centres (rebel/jihadist factions now control Idlib province and Daraa and Quneitra, while the Kurdish rebels have established autonomous rule in the northwest), the cracks in the pro-Assad coalition began to emerge.

Some cracks

•With the war winding down, Russia may now now be feeling less reliant on Iran, and Tehran is growing wary of Moscow’s game plans. From the early days of the Russian intervention, Mr. Putin has been specific on not widening the scope of the war. There were several attempts aimed at provoking Russia which could have escalated the conflict. In November 2015, a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey. Russia’s response was a rather tame one, of economic sanctions. The U.S. bombed Mr. Assad’s forces twice since Donald Trump became U.S. President. On both occasions, Mr. Putin overlooked the provocation. He did the same when Israel targeted Hezbollah positions within Syria.

•But the crisis escalated despite Mr. Putin’s stance when Israel started directly attacking Iranian positions within Syria. In February, after Israel claimed an Iranian drone entered its air space, it carried out a massive bombing campaign in Syria against Iran. In May, immediately after Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, Israel launched another major attack against Iranian targets. Interestingly, when the attack was under way, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Moscow. He watched Russia’s Victory Day parade in Red Square marking the Soviet victory in the Second World War against Hitler’s Germany. Israeli officials later told their Russian counterparts, “Israel will continue to maintain its operational freedom to act against Iranian entrenchment in all of Syria.”

•Russia practically controls Syria’s airspace. But it has entered into deconfliction mechanisms with the U.S. and Israel so that the three countries can carry out air strikes without hurting each other. While the U.S. has mostly carried out strikes against the IS, Israel has used Syrian air space only to attack Iran and Hezbollah, both of which are Russia’s partners in the civil war. Yet, Mr. Putin hasn’t done anything to defend his allies. He has also become more receptive to Turkey expanding its role in Syria. The increasing crack in the Russia-Iran axis was again on display when in May Mr. Putin called for all foreign troops to leave Syria once the war is over. Later Russia’s Ambassador in Damascus clarified that the troops which Mr. Putin referred to include Iran’s. Iran’s Foreign Ministry was quick to respond, saying that it would remain in Syria “as long as the Syrian government wants Iran to help it”.

Lonely Tehran

•Mr. Putin is likely conscious of Iran’s vulnerability. Tehran does not have many allies. And after Mr. Trump threw a spanner into the Iran nuclear deal, it also faces the return of biting sanctions. It cannot afford to antagonise the Russians, certainly not at a time when the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel are teaming up to contain its influence. This Persian vulnerability allows Mr. Putin to maintain a delicate balancing act in a highly complex war theatre. For how long is now the question. Russia’s tame responses to repeated aggression in Syria by other powers have already cast a shadow on its Syria strategy. Mr. Putin may be balancing his relations with several players for now to avoid a conflagration. But Israel and Turkey are not Russia’s traditional allies. In West Asia, Israel is the strongest ally of the U.S., which remains Russia’s most powerful geopolitical rival. And Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an overhang of the Cold War, aimed at checking the West-ward creep of Russia’s influence. In contrast, Tehran is Moscow’s ally and partner, but Russia either doesn’t want to or is not in a position to defend Iran’s interests in Syria.

•This is the dilemma that confronts Mr. Putin: how he can restore Russia’s lost glory in the new Cold War if he cannot even defend the interests of his partners in a country (Syria) where he appears to be in control.

📰 RBI blames PNB board for fraud

RBI blames PNB board for fraud
‘Banks had been warned of LoU risks’

•Blaming the board of directors of the Punjab National Bank for the embezzlement of over Rs. 13,000 crore by jeweller Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi, the Reserve Bank of India on Tuesday, in a written reply to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, said all “three lines of defence” built in the banking system failed in this case.

•RBI Governor Urjit Patel deposed in front of the panel, headed by Congress leader Veerappa Moily. The Hindu has reviewed the two documents submitted by the RBI to the panel.

Adequately warned

•The central bank said all financial institutions were adequately warned about dealing with Letters of Undertaking (LoUs), the primary tool of embezzlement by Nirav Modi. The RBI said it was the primary responsibility of the PNB board to understand the risks in issue of LoUs without collateral and to manage them through controls. It said each bank should have three lines of defence: first, the officer sanctioning the loan; second, at the managerial level; and third, the internal audit. “In the case of PNB, there seems to have been failure of all the three lines of defence.”

📰 ISRO offers battery technology to firms

ISRO offers battery technology to firms
Transfer of Lithium ion know-how to help electric vehicle start ups

•The drive for indigenously made lithium ion batteries on a large scale has got a push with the Indian Space Research Organisation offering its production technology to Indian industry.

•An RFQ (request for quotation) issued on Tuesday invites multiple qualified companies or start-ups to use its power storage technology to produce a range of Li ion cells for many purposes, mainly EVs or electric vehicles.

•ISRO’s rocket sciences node Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre will transfer its in-house technology non-exclusively to each qualified production agency for a one-time fee of ₹1 crore, according to the document. The Li ion cell production initiative is part of the government’s plan to achieve 100% EVs in the country by 2030.

•Li ion battery is much in demand for use in handy consumer electronics goods too.

•Currently the batteries are imported mostly from China, South Korea and Taiwan. To drive the Indian EV dream of the coming decades, national think tank NITI Aayog has also earlier called for setting up local production.

•An ISRO release said, “VSSC is now offering to transfer this technology to competent Indian industries/start-ups on non-exclusive basis to establish Li ion cell production facilities in the country that can produce cells of varying size, capacity, energy density and power density catering to the entire spectrum of power storage requirements.”

Pre-bid conference

•A pre-bid conference has been scheduled for July 13 and the final proposals of short-listed companies would be opened on August 14.

•ISRO has also invited industries to take up other new technologies from its centre.

📰 A plastic charter

Mandatory segregation and recycling of plastic waste must be implemented before it is eventually phased out

•Every piece of plastic ever disposed of (this includes the toothbrush your great-grandfather used) is damaging the earth. It’s lying somewhere in the earth, floating in the ocean, or been broken down into microparticles and in the food chain. Although a fraction of the plastic disposed of is recycled, most of it eventually ends up in the ocean or in dump sites outside city limits.

•The best way to reduce plastic pollution is to reduce and phase out its consumption. Solutions range from carrying your own reusable steel glass, box, spoon and cloth bag while eating out or shopping for groceries to using alternatives to plastic for household items.

Rules and results

•India’s Plastic Waste Management Rules (published in March 2016) called for a ban on plastic bags below 50 micron thickness and a phasing out, within two years, of the manufacture and sale of non-recyclable, multi-layered plastic (plastic that snacks come in). More than 20 Indian States have announced a ban on plastic bags. Cities such as Bengaluru announced a complete ban (gazette notification), in 2016, on the manufacture, supply, sale and use of thermocol and plastic items irrespective of thickness. These include carry bags, banners, buntings, flex, flags, plates, clips, spoons, cling films and plastic sheets used while dining. The exceptions are plastic for export, packaging material for use in forestry, milk packets and hospitals. There are stiff fines that cover manufacturing and disposal.

•However, a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report has said that this ban is barely effective Citizens need to be aware of these rules, governments need to work with citizens to collect fines and companies need to be held accountable in terms of their environmental and social responsibilities. Additionally, there should be research on ways to implement these rules, waste generation quantities and trends and find innovative alternatives to plastic.

•We also need strategies to deal with the plastic that has already been disposed of. The same report says that India generates an estimated 16 lakh tonnes of plastic waste annually. If sold at the global average rate of 50 cents a kg, it can generate a revenue of Rs. 5,600 crore a year. Why then is most of this waste around us? In order to realise the potential for recycling, waste must first be segregated at source. This segregated waste should be then transported and treated separately. If plastic waste is mixed with organic and sanitary matter, its recyclability drastically reduces and its value lost. As mentioned in the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, waste has to be segregated separately at source. This includes separation of dry (plastic, paper, metal, glass) and wet (kitchen and garden) waste at source.

•The primary responsibility for collection of used plastic and multi-layered plastic sachets (branded chips, biscuit and snack packets) lies with their producers, importers and brand owners. Companies should have already submitted plans, by September 2016, for waste collection systems based on extended producer responsibility (EPR) either through their own distribution channels or with the local body concerned. Here, the onus of disposal and recycling of products and materials is with producers, rather than on taxpayers and governments. However, none of this has happened at any perceivable scale. Companies say that plastic waste is too complex or pretend to be completely unaware of these rules.

From pollution to solutions

•Admittedly, the complexity of dealing with plastic waste is because of its ubiquity and distributed market. Several companies produce the same type of packaging so it is impossible for a given company to collect and recycle only its own packaging. Instead, these companies can collectively implement EPR by geographically dividing a region into zones and handle the waste generated in their designated zones. This strategy was used in Switzerland to recycle thermocol used for insulation of buildings. This also reduces collection, transportation and recycling costs. Companies and governments should interact and research on how to implement such plans.

•In India, some companies have helped empower the informal recycling sector, giving waste pickers dignity and steady incomes. Another firm has worked with the informal sector and engineered the production of high quality recycled plastic. These companies, large corporates and governments could cooperate to implement innovative means to realise the value of plastic disposed of while simultaneously investing in phasing it out. For example, a Canadian company monetises plastic waste in novel ways. It has one of the largest chains of waste plastic collection centres, where waste can be exchanged for anything (from cash to medical insurance to cooking fuel). Through this, multinational corporations have invested in recycling infrastructure and in providing a steady and increased rate for waste plastic to incentivise collection in poor countries. Such collection centres, like the ones operated by informal aggregators in India, can be very low-cost investments (a storage facility with a weighing scale and a smart phone).

•It is time we rethink, reduce, segregate and recycle every time we encounter a piece of plastic so that it stops damaging our environment and our lives.

📰 Age well: attitudes matter in a greying world

Age well: attitudes matter in a greying world
Healthy ageing has become increasingly important, but a WHO analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age

•At 85, Claude Copin, a retired French welder, may have discovered a secret to living a long, healthy life. She stays active by playing a petanque game with friends in a Paris park. And she has made friends with her teammates’ children, many of whom are teenagers. They take her to parties and movies — sometimes forgetting that she might need a rest before they do.

•“I make my life beautiful,” says Ms. Copin. “I am still healthy because I have activities and I meet people.”

•Ms. Copin is right. A growing body of research and global data collected and analysed by Orb Media shows a strong connection between how we view old age and how well we age. Individuals with a positive attitude towards old age are likely to live longer and in better health than those with a negative attitude. Older people in countries with low levels of respect for the elderly are at risk for worse mental and physical health and higher levels of poverty compared with others in their country. A shift in attitude, the research shows, could improve a lot.

•Healthy ageing is increasingly important: countries everywhere outside Africa are rapidly growing older. If population trends continue, by 2050 nearly one out of five people in the world will be over 65, and close to half a billion will be older than 80. Smaller, young populations will have to care for large, older populations with increasingly expensive health care needs.

•Surprisingly, in a world brimming with older people, negative views of old age are common. A World Health Organization analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age. Older people are often viewed as less competent and less able than younger people. They are considered a burden on society and their families, rather than being recognised for their valuable knowledge, wisdom and experience.

•Orb Media compiled data from over 1,50,000 people in 101 countries to learn about their levels of respect for older people. Pakistan was among the countries that scored the highest.

•Respect for older people is a long-standing tradition in Pakistan, says Faiza Mushtaq, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan. But as more people move to cities, traditional family structures are being disrupted, making it harder to care for elders. Without a government safety net, many older people fall into severe poverty, she says.

•Nonetheless, there are tangible benefits to the way elders are viewed, says Ms. Mushtaq. “This attitude towards ageing is a much healthier embrace of the ageing process, rather than having all of your notions of well-being and attractiveness and self-worth being tied so closely to youth,” she says.

•Japan, with the world’s longest lifespans and low birth rates, is at the leading edge of this global demographic shift. There Orb found low levels of respect for the elderly. Kozo Ishitobi, an 82-year-old nursing home physician, says that older people were traditionally seen as a burden.

•“Japanese people are starting to realise that elderly people need support,” he says. “We all go through it, so we should support each other.”

Broad implications

•It turns out that one’s attitude towards ageing has broad implications. Becca Levy, a Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in the United States, has been fascinated by the power of age stereotypes for decades. She started her work in the 1990s with a hunch. If older people are respected in society, perhaps that improves their self-image.

•“That may in turn actually influence their physiology and that may influence their health,” says Ms. Levy.

•Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Ms. Levy, the leader in the field, and the researchers that followed have found just that: those with positive views about old age live longer and age better. They are less likely to be depressed or anxious, and they show increased well-being and recover more quickly from disability. They also are less likely to develop dementia and the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, Ms. Levy found that Americans with more positive views on ageing who were tracked over decades lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative views. Studies in Germany and Australia have found similar results.

•“Some of the magnitudes of the findings have been surprising,” says Ms. Levy.

•Orb’s research and analysis found that these effects can also be seen across cultures. Older people in countries with high levels of respect for the elderly report better mental and physical well-being compared with other groups in their countries, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations and others. Those countries also report lower rates of poverty among people over 50 compared with younger people in each country. It seems too simple: How can holding a better attitude towards old age help someone live longer? Ms. Levy found that people with negative age stereotypes have higher levels of stress. And stress has been correlated with a range of health problems. Those who expect a better life in old age are also more likely to exercise, eat well and visit the doctor, says Ms. Levy.

•That has been the case for 57-year-old Marta Nazare Balbine Prates who moved her family into her parents’ home in Sao Paulo, Brazil a decade ago. She had to quit her job as a nutritionist at a hospital to care for them (her father passed away at the beginning of the year). It has been hard financially and emotionally. But, she says, the experience has made her think about the kind of life she wants when she is older.

•“I try to watch what I eat. I work out as much as possible,” she says, “so I can reach old age in good physical condition.”

An achievement

•We should be grateful that we are even concerned about growing old, says Marilia Viana Berzins. She has worked with the elderly in Brazil for 20 years and founded the advocacy group, Observatory of Human Longevity and Aging. “Old age is actually an achievement,” she says. “It’s humanity’s biggest achievement of the last century.”

•But, Ms. Berzins says, in Brazil old age has become associated with incapacity. “When we change this mindset and old age is seen like just a stage of life, we’ll move forward,” she says. “And the elderly will be treated with more respect.”

•Shifting stereotypes is no simple feat. People develop their views on ageing when they are toddlers, says Corinna Loeckenhoff, an Associate Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has studied age stereotypes across cultures. But they also change based on experience. Unfortunately, negative beliefs are often built on inaccurate impressions.

•As people grow older, their health usually remains stable until about five years before they die, says Ms. Loeckenhoff. Only then will most people experience the mental and physical decline most associated with old age. “People keep mixing up ageing and dying,” she says.

•Some research shows that increasing meaningful contact between young and older people can break down negative stereotypes. For the past five years, the Résidence des Orchidées, a nursing home in Tourcoing, France, has tried to do just that. Every week, the home brings children from a neighbouring daycare centre to visit the residents. Pierre Vieren, a 91-year-old retired business owner, loves seeing the children.

•“When I went to my balcony, the children said ‘Pierre, he is here,’” he says. “They all wave at me to say hello. That is my little ray of sunshine in the morning.”

•The nursing home’s director, Dorothee Poignant, says the experience normalises old age for the children. “It recreates a family spirit with joy, children laughing, older people laughing,” she says.

•“We don’t only have elderly, we have children, elderly, disabled people. It’s inclusive.”

•Everyone can gain from improving ideas about old age, says Ms. Loeckenhoff. “The single-most important thing to realise about ageing stereotypes is that they are the only fair ones,” she says. “You will be the victim of your own stereotype, or the beneficiary as you get older.”

📰 Low recoveries of NPAs: RBI data

Low recoveries of NPAs: RBI data
Figures provided by RBI Governor Urjit Patel before parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance show write-offs mainly account for a ₹1,50,960-crore cut.

•While public sector banks have claimed a ₹1,50,960 crore reduction in their non-performing asset (NPA) levels over 2017-18, about 55% of this was due to write-offs and only 27% was actual recoveries, according to data provided by RBI Governor Urjit Patel to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance.

•According to the data reviewed by The Hindu, public sector banks saw a ₹1,50,960 crore reduction in their NPA levels from the start of financial year 2017-18 till December 31, 2017. However, the data also showed that the same period saw ₹2,37,475 crore of loans being added to the NPA list, thereby leading to an overall worsening of the NPA situation. Further, within the ₹1,50,960 crore ‘reduction in NPAs’, about 55% or ₹84,272 crore was due to write-offs. The data shows that only ₹41,391 crore, or 27%, of the reduction in NPA levels was due to actual recoveries. In addition, ₹25,297 crore worth of loans were upgraded from NPA status.

•Private sector banks saw a reduction of ₹46,091 crore in their NPA levels by December 31, 2017 compared with what they were as of April 1, 2017. But, fresh additions to the NPA list amounted to ₹60,800 crore.

•For private sector banks, about 40.2% of the reduction in their NPA levels was due to write-offs. Actual recoveries accounted for 34.2% of the reduction, while upgrades accounted for 24.1% of the reductions. Gross NPAs with public sector banks stood at ₹7,77,280 crore at the end of December 2017, up from ₹5,39,968 crore as on March 31, 2016. For private sector banks, gross NPA levels grew to ₹1,07,796 crore by December 31, 2017 from ₹55,853 crore as on March 31, 2016.

•The data also showed that bank frauds increased in both number and value over the last three years.

•While 4,693 frauds of more than ₹1 lakh were reported in 2015-16, this increased to 5,904 in 2017-18, an increase of about 26%. Over the same period, the value of these frauds increased from ₹18,698.8 crore to ₹32,361.27 crore.

📰 When Artificial Intelligence goes psycho

MIT researchers explain potential dangers of biased data in machine learning

•No, it’s not a new horror film. It’s Norman: also known as the first psychopathic Artificial Intelligence, just unveiled by U.S. researchers.

•The goal is to explain in layman’s terms how algorithms are made, and to make people aware of AI’s potential dangers.

•Norman “represents a case study on the dangers of Artificial Intelligence gone wrong when biased data is used in machine learning algorithms,” according to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Pinar Yanardag, Manuel Cebrian and Iyad Rahwan, part of an MIT team, added: “There is a central idea in machine learning: the data you use to teach a machine learning algorithm can significantly influence its behaviour.”

•“So when we talk about AI algorithms being biased or unfair, the culprit is often not the algorithm itself, but the biased data that was fed to it,” they said via email.

•Hence the idea of creating Norman, which was named after the psychopathic killer Norman Bates in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho.

Scary results

•Norman was “fed” only with short legends describing images of “people dying” found on the Reddit internet platform.

•The researchers then submitted images of ink blots, as in the Rorschach psychological test, to determine what Norman was seeing and compare his answers to those of traditionally trained AI. The results are scary, to say the least: where traditional AI sees “two people standing close to each other,” Norman sees in the same spot of ink “a man who jumps out a window.”

•And when Norman distinguishes “a man shot to death by his screaming wife,” the other AI detects “a person holding an umbrella.”

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