Saturday, July 12, 2008

Get ready for nuclear showdown

Governments in developing countries like India are influenced -- in a positive or negative manner -- by popular issues like price rise, corruption, bad infrastructure, etc. On the other hand, in developed nations like the US and those in Europe issues are generally abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, Darwin's theory of evolution, etc.

So the manner in which India's politics is revolving around the Indo-US nuclear deal is as much unusual as it is surprising. India is not -- at least as of now -- a country where such a complicated, technical issue can be considered as one that will vote in or vote out a government.

It's quite some time that the issue has been hogging national media attention. To begin with, it was euphoric riding on the after-effects of George Bush's visit to India. Not much was heard about the Left's opposition then. Gradually, when details of the draft of the safeguard agreement, which has now gone to the IAEA, began to emerge, Left began to see red.

The whole issue has been driven by CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. His and fellow comrades' anti-Americanism is such, it wouldn't be matched by even those in China or Russia. Listening to all the rhetoric, I wonder if the Left would have opposed this deal had it been China or Russia instead of the US. Also my guess is that Karat's predecessor, Harkishen Singh Surjeet would have handled this issue much more realistically than the present leadership.

The Left must remember that India's agreements with the erstwhile Soviet Union were not entirely balanced. During those days we were virtually a puppet of the Soviet Union, though it was never described such. That's not the case today: India is looked upon with respect and admiration.

Little-known issue

I don't think ever in the recent past, an issue that few people have understood has held the nation's politics to ransom. Even all the learned scientists haven't been able to fathom the full import of the complicated deal. When some scientists oppose the deal one doesn't know if they are doing so out of ideological reasons or on technical grounds.

The issue is heading for climax: on July 22 we will know if the Indian government will live to carry the nuclear deal forward. The ridiculous manner in the issue has been bandied about by politicians (like it's anti-Muslim, it's a surrender to the US, BJP is more dangerous than Bush etc), I have my doubts on the standard of debate that will precede the vote.

Finally if the voting on the nuclear deal will be based on whether Bush is better or worse than BJP, then it's going to be truly tragic. The debate should be on the lines of India's energy needs. Incidentally, top news now a days is about the power shortage most states are facing. I don't think we need to be a great scientists to know that our requirements of energy will be huge in the coming years considering the way we are growing.

Get ready for a carpet bombing by the Congress and the Left with information on the deal. I hope it will educate all of us -- most importantly, the MPs.

A chance missed

Ideally, Congress from the beginning should have included the BJP in the discussions. Because issues such as this, which concern our energy needs, are not political or ideological: they impact our very living. In the US there is tradition of getting "bipartisan support". It's the equivalent of what in India we call "across party lines". While in the US this phrase is very often heard, it's equivalent in India is a rarity. Historic agreements like the Indo-US nuclear deals should be collectively steered by the nation's best brains. Had the Congress reached out to the entire political spectrum and nurtured the deal through all-party meetings they could probably have avoided this situation of the deal hanging fire.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nadal gives Federer a taste of clay, runs him out of grass

It's not always one gets to see epic battles, events that get etched in history. One such was last night. What made it all the more memorable was that I was so lucky to witness it. I must thank the weather gods.

When it was time for Roger Federer to take on Rafal Nadal, one wish on my lips was that it should not be a one-sided match, like the French Open when Nadal demolished Federer. Anyway, I was to miss the first portions of the match, since I had an unavoidable personal engagement to attend to. And I wanted the match to drag on so that I could catch up the deciding sets when I am back home.

Around 9.45 pm, I checked the score for the first time. Federer had lost the first two sets: 4-6, 4-6, in the third set the match was poised at 5-4 in favour of Nadal.

Couldn't believe this. Imminent fall of the champion? I wished the rain continued so that by the time the match resumed I would be back home.

When I reached home and switched on the TV, memories went back 28 years, for the channel was showing the epic Bjorn Borg - John McEnroe match. Little did the channel nor I knew what would be played out when rained stopped, that it would surpass what was always talked about as "one of the greatest Centre Court encounters."

Nadal lost the chance in the third set to end the match and lift the cup; Federer had recovered in a tie-break 7-5.

Over to the fourth set. Will Nadal pull it off now, that was the question. Again the Spaniard missed the chance. Federer -- the tiebreak wizard that he is -- pulled it off again, in a much more thrilling manner 10-8. Imagine, he was 2-5 down! Couldn't believe that I was witness to a classic.

Finally, into the fifth set. Once again Nadal and Federer proving that one was better than the other with each successive shots. Every point a beauty. While Nadal packed power, Federer weaved artistry. The rallies that took our breath away, the crosscourt passing shots that made me feel so lucky to be watching them... the centre court had became a theatre of grit, resilience and endurance.

Rain interruption again... and the score: 2 games all, 5th set; 2 sets all.... The light was failing, and everyone was wondering if this would go on to the next day.

And, when covers came off, we were in for the climax. The battle was rejoined and the tennis fans got the treat of a lifetime!  

Somewhere in the deciding set, the match became in the longest ever Gentleman's Singles match ever played. When Nadal broke the serve, there was a faint feeling that the champion might succumb soon. Nadal was seizing the advantage like never before, and he would ensure that it didn't slip away from him at least this time. 6-6, 7-7. He made it 8-7; and finally... Federer played into the net, it was 9-7... and Nadal was ecstatic, after such a long match he could only fall flat....

What a match!

What I liked as much as the tennis was Nadal's humility. He said Federer was still the champion, he had won five times... 

Not only had Nadal put an end to Federer's unbeaten run of 65 matches on grass, Nadal became only the second player after Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back.

Will Federer lose the number one spot too?

BBC Sports videos:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Are reality shows doing more harm than good?

Updated on July 2 at 1 am (new link at the end of the post)

I wish Shinjini Sengupta hit the headlines for some other reason. Unfortunately, we are all saying, 'Let what happened to her not happen to anyone."

This cheerful, bright, immensely talented 16-year-old school student is struggling to get on with her life at Nimhans, after having been laid low by the comments of some judges at a reality show on TV in Kolkata.
How much her participation in the show and judges' comments contributed to her present state is being disputed. But what is 100 percent sure is her chase of a dream has gone horribly wrong.

Only dreams?

Dr Abdul Kalam, as President, used to urge our youth to dream; dream of achievement, dream of success. Going by the phenomenal popularity he enjoyed, I'm sure his exhortations had fired a million dreams; it must still be.

But did he stop at telling our young minds to only dream? Even if not, I'm sure a million minds had just stopped at dreaming, and begun living in those dream castles built on air.

Dreaming is just one small step in the long and arduous journey to reach a goal. When we helped our children fire those dreams, did we also prepare them for the long haul? I doubt.

Dreaming is easy, so also setting goals. But is anyone helping the children in their journey to achieve those goals? I doubt.

Dream, we tell our children, casually, carelessly. Young minds are launched into a roller-coaster. They are then left there all alone.

Shinjini's is just one case which fell out in the open. I am sure there are umpteen other minds and hearts seeking a straw to hold on, a prop to steady themselves.

It's time for a reality check

The show must go on, but not this way. The public stage can't be a cathartic ruse for parents to fulfil their dreams. Young, impressionable minds can't be savagely dragged through promises of cash running into lakhs and crores. Isn't there some limit to torturing children in the name of chasing dreams and success?

School educational boards have done away with the obnoxious practice of ranking. Now what about these talent shows? More than a stage for excellence, have these become pits of humiliation? Failure, not humiliation, helps us to correct ourselves and learn.

What is on stage is for all to see. What happens at homes is a slow killer. Millions of families who tune into the show, might be involuntarily goading their children to perform like the stars on the telly, some might even be making sarcastic remarks comparing their children with the stars, which sound no less than a humiliating nag.

What must be immediately done?

1) The practice of awarding lakhs and crores as prize should be stopped. Children's talents are worth more than that.

2) Competitions are fine, but adequate and foolproof safety net to protect the kids who don't make it in the full glare of the nation must be put in place. Each candidate should have continuous access to a professional counsellor before, during and after the competitions.

3) Every participant should get a valuable gift that would help him or her develop the talent. Recognising talent is as much important as recognising the winner.

4) The organisers should be made accountable, for they are playing with talent, that can't be counted in lakhs or crores. A statutory body to ensure that children aren't made unfortunate pawns in the games of elders must be set up. It can also ensure that quality levels are maintained.

5) Parents should be educated on how to deal with their own children. Multimedia platforms should be leveraged to achieve this.

What is success, failure?

Every life is precious. Let us not ruin it by assigning arbitrary standards of 'success' and 'failure', for these are not absolute but subjective.There is no one final 'success' in life that we are aiming for, nor is a failure the end of everything. Success is every achievement at every moment; failure is a success too, the success of having got a chance to learn, of being on the step that will launch us to greater heights.

UPDATE on July 2 at 1 am

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogs help catch criminal

Weblogs -- of all hues -- have been around for quite a while, but there's this perennial debate on what purpose do they serve and for whom. Of course, ardent bloggers are least bothered about the debate, only the non-blogging academicians are.

Here's some proof of what good blogging can achieve. In Brooklyn, New York, bloggers helped the police bust a drug racket. ".... peering turned to blogging, and blogging turned to action, as neighbors started filing complaints...." More

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dateline Bangalore

Over the last decade Bangalore -- the once laid-back, quiet, green city -- has been on the throes of change. The speed at which the capital of Karnataka has metamorphosed has stumped everyone; it has been like a teenager outgrowing her clothes.

Being in Bangalore is a mixture of emotions: for some it's the excitement of being transported from a small town to a glitzy fast-paced city; for others it's the pangs of insensitive affluence trampling over human sensibilities; the pleasure and pain a city's shift from anonymity to global stage. They are best captured in the accounts of those who experience them.

Dateline Bangalore hopes to be a collage of those accounts.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trains cheaper than planes!

AJ, a middleclass 28-year old man grew up in the post-1993 liberalised era. When he landed his first job, India had already entered the era of low-cost airplanes. AJ -- who is earning a sum, his parents couldn't dream of when they were his age -- would fly rather than take a train; most of it company- sponsored. Not without valid reason, since time was, and is, at a premium for him.

Now his company is urging employees to use other modes of transport, like train, bus or car. AJ last week travelled by train after a gap for six years, from Chennai to Bangalore. Yesterday he broke the big news: "Pradeep, train is so cheap...!" He was talking of Shatabdi Express. I don't know if he is aware what the cost of sleeper class ticket is.

What struck me was AJ's amazement. For many like AJ, trains never existed, because on the fast lane of tech-driven life there were only the airplanes.

There was a time when middleclass people only saw planes up in the sky, forget travelling in them. Even for uppermiddle class, a flight was a once-in- a while phenomenon undertaken in times of emergency. During the last decade, it has been a revolutionary change. Even for the middleclass, flights were becoming a norm rather than an exception.

As they say, changes are always cyclic. Only few would have expected the change to happen this fast. Today youngsters are being taught what their parents and grandparents were very good at -- saving and thoughtful spending. The days of reckless, mindless spending are over. At least for now.

Many like AJ are also in the process discovering a whole new world.

Read also: How rich/poor are we?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Copyright - AP takes on bloggers

In journalism there is a concept called "fair use". It's related to copyright. Basically it means, a publisher or an editor can quote from another, usually copyrighted material, in his or her publication to the extent that will be considered fair; or in other words, what is quoted shouldn't amount to deriving commercial or any other type of advantage.

As far as I know, there is no fixed number of words one can safely copy from another person's work, even by giving credit, so that it wouldn't amount to unfair use. For electronic media too I don't think there is rule that says a clipping shouldn't exceed so many minutes. Please correct me, if I am wrong.

Some five to six years back, when blogs exploded on to the mass communication scene, this was a major topic of discussion. In fact, earliest blogs themselves had only weblinks to interesting articles. But as more and more people got on to the blog bandwagon, many people began to blindly copy-paste entire articles from copyrighted, well-known publications. Still you will find many anonymous bloggers who merely copy-paste. The only saving grace is many do give  due credit.

In fact, I too initially used to do that when I had to refer to a particular article. For the benefit of my readers I had, on a few occasions, copy-pasted the entire article, in addition to giving the weblink. But later, I realised that I could probably be putting into public domain an article that is not otherwise freely available on the web. I stopped it, and now I quote only a para, and then give a link to the original article. There are many magazines like India Today and The Economist which have premium content that is available only to subscribers. So, it would definitely be an infringement of law if some subscriber were to copy-paste that material for the whole world to read free of cost. (Link to my blog post on this is given below)

There are two views here: one which says a limit is essential otherwise it makes a mockery of the copyright principle itself. The other view is that freedom to copy-paste actually only gives publicity to the original article, so there should logically be no objection to someone giving free publicity.

The Media and Advertising section of yesterday's New York Times carried story that has renewed the debate. The story talks of the Associated Press news agency (which is widely subscribed to by the media in India too) issuing a notice to the Drudge Report asking it to remove seven items that quoted from AP articles. Following strong reactions, AP has had second thoughts and is reconsidering its actions. But apparently, AP is considering to formulate guidelines on how much of its articles and broadcasts can be safely copied by bloggers and other websites.

There is quite a lot of grey area here. A cap on the number words or duration in terms of minutes is definitely a good idea. But that won't solve the entire problem, since ideas aren't easily quantifiable. Sometimes 200 words may not do as much damage as 20 words. This is what I feel:

-- Some amount of freedom should be given to quote, provided due and full credit is given.

-- There is should be definitely a complete ban on copy-pasting (whatever be the extent) without giving credit.

-- As long as the quoted material is only meant to substantiate or add value to the article, there should not be a problem.

-- But if the quoted material itself is being projected as an article itself then it is unfair.

Links

Monday, June 16, 2008

Track satellites real time

I stumbled upon a site -- n2yo.com -- that helps you track real time the satellites that are orbiting the earth.

One of the pages on the site says it's a website providing mainly satellite tracking Services. "The software used for tracking is using mainly space surveillance data provided by "Space Track", a website consisting of a partial catalog of observations collected by the US Space Surveillance Network, operated by US Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). AFSPC does not make any warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the data provided..." (Source)

I could locate Cartosat-2A here

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How rich / poor are we?

There are two types of people:

Type I - Mindless spender

They are well-employed with envious amounts of salary, but are always in debt. For example, when in need of medical attention they will try to save a few hundreds rather than go in for good quality medical care for a few hundred extra. Or, they will look for a lender. The same guys won't mind spending a few hundreds on an avoidable outing or a party, or picking up an expensive watch or jeans in a mall when actually they don't need to.

Type II - Thoughtful spender

They are not in highly paying jobs, but always have money to spare for anything urgent. They may not flaunt the latest gadgets or zip around in swank cars, but they are the types who usually won't be found wanting when money has to be spent for something useful.

Which is important: income or expenditure?

We always think it's income, but think again.

A person earning a moderate income with frugal and prudent spending habits could actually be richer than a person getting a fat pay but having extravagant habits.

A few us were recently discussing how difficult it is to buy a house, and how generally life is getting hard on the monetary front. Is chasing a high(er) income job always the best solution? Does high income alone guarantee us enough money when in time of need?

After falling into a bit of tight spot,I have realised over a period of time that a bit of economising can ease the pressure on the purse and can actually work wonders, even while having the same income level. It's not about being a miser or cutting out completely some purchases. One needn't stop seeing movies or eating out or even driving out when petrol prices are going up.

We all need to indulge in a bit of luxury, when we need to splurge without any reason, when need to buy something without looking at the price tag. The key here is how often we should do that.

The trick is spacing out

Couples are told about the need to space out children when they plan family. The analogy works well here with finances as well.

When guys and girls in late 20s, struggle for money even when they are earning around Rs 50K, the paradox is so striking. They need to realise that they have to space out spending before they can think of spacing out kids.

I took the liberty to ask one, "Why don't you space out your extravagance? Instead of going to the pub every weekend, why don't you keep it to the first Saturday of a month? Why don't you take the bus when possible instead of hopping on to the auto always?...

The New York Time's oped columnist David Brooks in an article 'The Great Seduction' on June 10 questioned the spending habit of Americans. He says the morals on which the USA was built is all but gone; the nation having fallen to mindless consumerism.

America is one country that encourages you to spend; in fact to spend more than what you earn. No money? Don't worry, we will lend you some. Can't repay? Don't worry, we will strike a deal that will help you. What the consumer doesn't realise is she is slowly but surely sinking into the quagmire of debt. As a wag sarcastically quipped once: Americans work hard always, not because they love work, but that's only way they can clear their debts! May be one sure way to make lazy guys work!

Young Indians, many of whom now earn more than what their parents earn, are dangerously getting influenced by an American trait that America itself is introspecting over and probably even trying hard to shake off.

With economy in the US slowing down and everyone talking of hard days ahead, it's not the US alone that's hit, but people around the world. I think we all -- consumers as well as entrepreneurs -- should do a bit of scaling down; it's hard but I doubt if there is any other way out.

As they say, don't bite more than what you can chew. Thrift may never get you all the luxuries at the speed of thought; but the chances are high that you may have money when you need the most.

Link:

'The Great Seduction' by David Brooks, The New York Times, June 10, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blogroll with Blogger

On June 5, Blogger released a long-awaited improvisation that lets you add a page element wherein you keep a record of weblogs and websites that you follow regularly. The announcement is here.

There are quite a few user-friendly features.

1) The entries can be arranged in such a way that the most recently updated ones are on top;

2) There are options to have not just the name of the site (or name of the blogger) but also the headline of the latest entry, a synopsis of the latest entry and the time when it was published;

3) It is linked to the Google Reader, of which I am a great fan. You can import selectively into the blogroll the feeds that you are tracking on Google Reader.

This looks like a good competition to existing feed aggregators like Bloglines (which I have been using) and Blogrolling (which, I find, is quite popular with many bloggers).

I added this yesterday, along with a change in the template.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

It's now McCain vs Obama

Till now it was a battle between the veteran White woman (Hillary Clinton) and rookie Black man (Barack Obama). The vast contrast made the Democratic primary interesting as never before. Now that Hillary is out, it will be a battle between a White aged, veteran (John McCain) and Black, young, rookie (Barack Obama) -- again the contrast is glaring. There is no fear of this battle getting boring.

The way the candidates involve the media, enables us here in India to follow the election quite closely. In fact, we aren't able to follow our own equally (if not more) vibrant and colourful democratic festival with as much involvement.

Today's New York Times has an insightful article by Oped columnist Frank Rich -- 'One Historic Night, Two Americas'.

An extract:
  • Given the dividing line separating the two Americas of 2008, a ticket uniting Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton might actually be a better fit than the Obama-Clinton “dream ticket,” despite their differences on the issues. Never was this more evident than Tuesday night, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain both completely misread a one-of-a-kind historical moment as they tried to cling to the prerogatives of the 20th century’s old guard.

Read more here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hillary Clinton concedes, backs Barack Obama

Finally it has happened; what Hillary Clinton never wanted to happen. The fighter has accepted defeat and thrown her weight behind the winner. It must have been quite a hard task for her. That's evident from the time she took to make the concession speech. Now, all eyes are on Obama: will he pick her as his running mate? (Report: BBC)

Fuel price hike: a turning point?

The crude oil price is inching towards $140. There is an unstated feeling of worry and panic sweeping across the world with ominous hints at the figure of $150 and even $200.

There're protests all across the world. They have become very violent in Europe, France in particular. Vehicles and properties are being set afire. These are not finding any mention in the Indian media. Probably with the good intention of not giving ideas to protesters here.

Remarkably, in India the protests by all opposition parties have been very peaceful, though normal life has been hit by the strikes. Could be that the hike has been cushioned a great deal in India by subsidies unlike in the west. Small blessings we Indians should be grateful for.

It's the sense of frustration that's in danger of breaching barriers and exploding. Most of the anger is directed against the govt, though the issue is global and the govt can do precious little overnight.

Will these days be the beginning of a change in the way we look at life and all that we do? We have always been in a fast-forward mode, little realising that we have in many ways been going back rather than foreward.

Business is one area that will take the most devastating knock. In the name of more and more profit, it has been a race to nowhere (to doom?) We have also taken nature for granted, unabashedly plundering it for selfish gains.

A threat to business could also translate into threat to lifestyle, a threat to the way we look at ourselves and others. It's not as easy as it sounds since the transition that we all may need to make in the days ahead needs a lot of understanding, patience and determination.

Just a thought: are the oil producing giants having the last laugh, getting back at America in the way they know best?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why fuel price hike is not convincing

The increase in fuel prices today morning was expected. Even the extent of the hike -- Rs 5 petrol, Rs 3 for diesel and Rs 50 for LPG -- wasn't so much of a surprise, though it is the single biggest hike so far, I think. We do understand the compulsions of the government, that global prices have gone up, our oil companies are going bankrupt etc. We also realise that we must take effort to reduce consumption of fuel.

That's all fine. But if the efforts of the government has to be convincing, it has to lead by example. Government agencies are big spenders, and they are completely unchecked. There is practically no accountability.

Tonight Prime Minister Manmohan will address the nation to explain why fuel prices were hiked. Hopefully he will spell out the austerity measures that the government plans to put in place to tide over the crisis.

Let it not be a case of only the people bearing the cross. Let the mammoth government agencies, departments and ministries also take steps to reduce consumption of fuel. Or the whole things is going to backfire badly on the Congress.

Links:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Petrol shortage - tough days ahead

The situation is scary. There is every possibility of acute shortage of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. And, it's impact can be frightening. Already in Mumbai petrol bunks have put up "no stock" signs. I don't want to sound like prophet of doom, but we are looking at really tough days ahead. There could be massive queues for filling petrol, tempers could fray... The shortage of fuel can have a cascading effect -- food prices are already up, it could go further up. Vested interests who are looking for an excuse to create trouble might exploit the situation. Have the government and security agencies thought of this dangerous scenario? I have heard of food riots only African countries. (Source: Red Cross)
 
Why fuel prices are high and rising?
 
In India, we get petrol, diesel and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas or cooking gas) at a subsidised rate. With the price that we pay, the petroleum companies like Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum, etc will not be able to buy fuel from the international market. They currently sell petrol at a discount of Rs 13.97 a litre and diesel at a discount of Rs 20.97 per litre. They make up this loss with help from the government. This help is not available to private retail outlets. That's one reason, Reliance closed all its 1,432 petrol pumps. The IOC is said to losing Rs 320 crore every day, because of increased global fuel prices.
 
India is heavily dependent on imports. So, there's little we can do about it. The cost of fuel here will depend directly on the global prices. It's very difficult to pinpoint exactly why the fuel prices are on the rise globally. There is no unanimity among even the experts. Some of the reasons are:
 
1) Consumption of fuel has increased worldwide, especially among developing countries like India and China. China is expected to overtake the United States and become the largest energy consumer soon after 2010, according to the report's forecasts. In India, where more than 400 million people have no access to electricity, energy demand is expected to more than double by 2030. (Source: New York Times). But the fact is no country consumers as much oil as the United States. (Source: Planet Energies.)
 
2) The global oil cartel, comprising the OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) are manipulating the prices. There were 13 countries. Now Indonesia has decided to pull out. (Source: BBC, Economic Times)  
 
3) The global production of oil is on the decline. This group says that amount of oil in the earth is finite and of the 65 largest oil producing countries in the world, up to 54 have passed their peak of production and are now in decline, including the USA in 1970/1, Indonesia in 1997, Australia in 2000, the North Sea in 2001, and Mexico in 2004. (Source: Energy Bulletin
 
What can we do?
 
You and me can do very little to make any direct impact and remedy the situation. That's why it's all so scary. Our movements are going to get restricted: one, because of fuel shortage, and two, because everything else too is going to become costlier. It's impossible to stop consuming fuel. Perhaps we might be able to reduce by staggering our consumption. But, it will have hardly any real impact to ease the situation, as it is tied to a complex web of external factors.
 
Over a long term, may be a collective effort by people might have some marginal effect. We all might have to stagger usage. We all might have to cut down on our tendency to zoom off in the motorbike or car to wherever we feel like and for whatever reason.
 
Increase in oil price and cut in import duty are only temporary measures. They aren't going to sustain us over the long term. For that nationally our dependence on import itself has to be reduced.
 
There are reports Reliance Petroleum's Jamnagar refinery is getting ready for commercial production by the third quarter this fiscal. The 60-million-tonne export-oriented refinery will pump fuel to world markets including the US and Europe and ease supply crunch. (Source: Economic Times)
 
We can only keep our fingers crossed, have faith in the knowledgeable technocrats and bureaucrats; and considerate politicians to take the best possible decision that will make our lives comfortable.
 
I am just going out to get my tank filled, just in case...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's BJP in Karnataka

In 2004, BJP came on top. But, they ruled the least amount of time in a shameful circus of coalition theatre. And, in a tragic travesty of justice, JD(S) which had come third, ruled the most.

Now in 2008 -- today -- too BJP has come on top, but with more numbers, which gives it enough reason to claim the government. Quite understandably, JD(S), which played the villain all the past four years, has got a drubbing.

Congress made of a mess of their strategy; or was there a strategy at all?

I thought BJP deserved a chance to rule, especially the way they had performed last time. Like I said, even though they had the numbers last time, they were never allowed to rule.

Now, they have no excuses. They will have to fully justify the "pro-development" tag they always claim. Hopefully, now there will be an end to the total absence of governance -- that lasted four full years -- in Karnataka. Hopefully, Bangalore city -- the global show piece of modernity and technology -- and Karnataka as a whole will get on the path of progress and rapid development.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why not Hillary as running mate?

Mr Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and Ms Hillary Clinton, the Vice-President... -- imagine that scenario on January 20, 2009 -- that will be an amazing combination.... But more about that a bit later in this post.

First, I don't think any time in the recent past a US presidential primary has generated so much interest. Whoever becomes the President s/he will create a record as the first Black, woman or the oldest President.

The Democratic primary now very much resembles the final stages of a cricket match (the sport that arouses as much passion and interest in India as baseball and basketball does in the US).

Who is good for India?
It's generally felt that Republican policies are favourable to India. Last time it was John Kerry who spoke out against outsourcing jobs to India. Even this time, both Hillary and Obama have tried to win over middle class Americans by raking up outsourcing. I am not quite concerned, because, in such issues, my gut feeling is irrespective of Republican or Democratic views, it'll be what the American businessmen want that will prevail rather than what the ordinary American would want.

Personally, among the candidates, I'd rank my choice thus: Hillary, Obama and McCain. I have read a lot about the Clintons -- Bill and Hillary -- more than about Obama; and may be because of that I am favouring her. But Obama is as much impressive -- I've completely fallen for his oratorical style; a great communicator he is. His speeches are definitely worth listening to.

Hillary's attractiveness is the amazing experience she has behind her; and the family exudes an exceptionally remarkable charm. It's pretty certain that Obama has made it, but Hillary has surely let it be known that she is, nevertheless, a tough fighter the Americans can rely on. I haven't been able to relate to McCain at all, though I guess he too has a great record mainly for fighting in Vietnam.

Hillary: from First Lady to Vice-President?
Now all the focus will be on who will be Obama's running mate. I think it should be Hillary. The double-engined Democratic bandwagon will have more than adequate muscle to see through the race. But for that first Obama and Hillary will close ranks as fast as possible.

Unlike the Republican campaign, Democratic race has seen debates on the lines of Black and White; Man and Woman. There is a lot of scratching of the head happening to determine why Hillary, in spite of being a woman and with loads of experience, didn't come through clean. Or, did those very attributes go against her?

Similar questions are being asked about Obama as well. In spite of being Black and inexperienced how did he steal a march over Hillary? Some are talking of the how the number of delegates is hardly an indicator of one's actual popularity. Of course, it'sn't that the American electoral system is anywhere near perfect.

My take is this: Obama is ahead simply because he has been been able to connect to the masses much better. His communication skills have undoubtedly helped him; enormously. Ronald Reagan is another politician who worked his communication skills to great advantage -- arguably it played a big role in the beginning the end of the Communist empire by engaging Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. And, Obama is miles ahead of McCain as far as connecting to people is concerned, if video clippings of their campaigns are any indication.

Imagine this in January 20, 2009 -- Mr Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and Ms Hillary Clinton, the Vice-President... that will be an amazing combination.

She shouldn't worry that she wouldn't be in the limelight, that she would have just a back-up role. Coming to think of it, actually it wouldn't be a role totally unfamiliar to her, for that's what she had been doing for eight long years when hubby Bill was in the White House. So it's perfectly possible for Obama and Hillary to have a perfect understanding regarding the roles they have to play. During this term, Vice-President Dick Cheney has played a no insignificant role in the post-9/11 engagement of his country with the rest of the world, mainly in Iraq.

Of course, this wouldn't be the same as she being in the White House itself. But so what? There was a time when things had hotted up so much in Bill's Oval Office, it didn't really matter if she was in the White House or not. She carried on her own administration of the United States as its First Lady. She is quite used to this sort backseat driving, with help of the actual driver or not, I guess.

But if Hillary is indeed chosen as Obama's running mate and goes on to become the vice-president, a possible problem will be Bill. Remember how he had almost wrecked Hillary's campaign recently? So what will Bill's role be? I am sure both Obama and Hillary will factor that in their plans.

Imagine, another driver, behind the back-seat driver, driving both Hillary and Obama! Bill is quite capable of that!

Photo captions and credits:
  • Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks to the media in Brandon, South Dakota Friday, May 23, 2008 as she apologizes for an earlier statement to the Argus Leader's editorial board in Sioux Falls, S.D. citing the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in defending her decision to keep running for the Democratic presidential nomination despite increasingly long odds.(AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Source
  • U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks at a rally in Sunrise, Florida, May 23, 2008. Reuters/Joe Skipper (United States) US presidential election campaign 2008 USA. Source

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Evening showers in Bangalore

Bangalore has been getting heavy showers in the evenings. Yesterday around 5 pm it rained so heavily it looked like actual monsoon showers. The rain comes down suddenly. In Bangalore if it's pouring like mad in one place it could be as dry as parched land just 5 or 6 km away. The night now is cool with the sudden burst of rain. It is so refreshing to be on the balcony looking at the falling drops. The starless sky is illuminated intermittently by streaks of lightning.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why alert only after a blast?

This is something I haven't actually understood.

Whenever there is an explosion, there is a nation-wide alert. Policemen and other security personnel descend on the streets, set up barricades, carry out widespread, actually very intrusive, inspection of everything that we carry, peering into cars and what not. There is intense screening of people and baggage in railway stations and bus terminals. We have always seen this after an explosion in some city. We saw it again after the Jaipur explosions on Tuesday, May 13th.

Just wait for a few more days, all these police personnel would have retreated to the comforts of their offices or barracks or wherever. Everything would seem normal. Media will scream: "Normalcy returns to Jaipur". There will also be complimentary articles extolling the virtues of a society that is resilient. "Jaipur bounces back to life..." It is a different matter, there is no option but for people to bounce back.

Until another day.... God forbid...

We have lived with terrorism... Have we ever seriously wanted our society to be safe and secure... India had a violent and bloody birth... But does that mean we have to always live with terror? Do we need to be on "nation-wide alert" only for a few days after a blast?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why we hate politics, yet I voted

The following is the first draft, the longer version, of the article that appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today under the headline "Why I voted on Saturday". 
 
It's election time in my state, Karnataka. It's a three-phase polling, and among the places that went to polls day before yesterday, May 10, was the capital city, Bangalore. The second phase is on May 16 and the last on 22nd. The counting of votes is on 25th and by evening on that day, we will know who will be the state's new chief minister. Or if it'll again be an indecisive mandate; hopefully not.
 
The big surprise day before yesterday was the city recorded a very low percentage of voting -- only 44 percent. Poor turnout is actually no news -- not even in the US of A. But here it was a surprise because there was unprecedented mobilisation in the run-up to the polls. There was a virtual carpet bombing of messages -- by the resident welfare associations, voluntary organisations, business houses, IT companies and media -- enlightening citizens about the need to -- not just vote but to -- vote for the right candidate.
 
There were very explicit detailing of the reasons on why the educated middle class should vote. One of them was it is the only way the vote-bank politics (here it's a euphemism for buying of poor voters by politicians) can be smashed. The messages even worked out clear numbers saying how the educated middle class easily outnumber the poor in Bangalore city; and how we really have a say; how we -- by taking a conscientious decision -- can dictate the state of Bangalore. These messages, in fact, just stopped short of telling all of us whom we should vote for.
 
So, on polling day, Saturday, I expected a huge carnival of the youth brigade, long queues of computer software engineers and other professionals. All that crowd -- what we refer to as the jing-bang crowd -- that we are used to seeing on M G Road and Brigade Road; I thought they would have all enthusiastically jogged, trekked or picnicked their way the nearest polling booth; buzzed each other on the fun they were having. After all, it is they -- we all actually -- who are the victims of bad politics.  
 
Ultimately, it turned out that -- forget voting for the right candidate -- few even turned up to vote.
 
There are umpteen theories doing the rounds on why very few turned up. I don't think we need to commission a scientific study to know the reason -- cynicism and indifference to politics and politicians must surely be among the most common reason. Politics is low on priority for many people. If someone thought that majority are Bangaloreans will put off every things else to make sure they voted, then they were -- (and are?) -- mistaken.
 
Why politics is so low on priority levels?
 
1) We have taken democracy in India for granted.
 
We know nothing will go wrong. Sixty years of Independent India has seen some of the worst moments, but we all have seen how the political system is strong enough, to make sure that it doesn't get worse than what it already is. We know that even if we don't pay much heed, the political system will run; in such a way that won't make our lives more miserable than it already is.
 
2) Politics and politicians aren't worth our time and attention.
 
They are in a world of their own, we are in one of our own. Both are mutually exclusively, most of the time. They make their money, we make ours. They look the other way (to my convenience) most of the time, and so we too look the other way (to their convenience).
 
3) Politicians hardly inspire.
 
During elections, we elect legislators, the law-makers. They are supposed to discuss, debate and administer our society by enacting suitable laws and making sure that the laws are strictly adhered to. But, we have seen the way they behave in the place they work. It is so demotivating, that we prefer not to pay any attention. Many lawmakers are actually law breakers. We are any day better than them, aren't we?
 
4) Why we must cover up for politicians' failures?
 
Tasks are cut out. We all know what our corporators and legislators should do? When they aren't doing even a few percentage of what they actually should be doing, why must we spend our valuable time, effort and energy to cover up for their inadequacies and failures; especially, when ignoring politicians works quite well for us? Do, these politicians need to be hand-held, and told what to do, how and when? Instead, doesn't it make more sense to use our time and energy more productively for other activities -- need not always be personal, but other community and voluntary services? That's actually what ultimately most of us are doing -- disassociating ourselves from politics and politicians; working publicly in our own private spheres.  
 
5) Politicians aren't visible.
 
Vote? For whom? Why must we go through the rigmarole of getting a voter ID card and vote, when we don't even know whom we are voting for; never seen them, never heard them. Instead of voting, we might as well talk to the mountains. Anyway, many people who had voter ID cards themselves couldn't vote. What system are we talking about?
 
6) Good politics is desirable, but bad politics doesn't matter.
 
Mercifully, we are all gainfully employed. We have enough income to reasonably make both ends meet. We can all travel abroad, at least on work. Even for pleasure actually, if not every year, at least once in two or three years. Things what our parents couldn't even dream of. If there are no roads it's okay, we can have a modern (may be luxurious) car that won't make us even feel that we are on bad roads. Traffic jams? So what? We have wi-fi-enabled laptops that will virtually bring my office into my car. In way good that there are lots of traffic holdups, our car is stationary more often than it is moving.
 
But then why did I vote on Saturday?
 
Even though I very much agree with the half a dozen reasons that have been mentioned above, on polling day, I told myself, I must vote. We are blessed to be in India, a democratic country where we all have absolute freedom to choose the ruler. It's completely beside the point that our rulers aren't up to the mark. Politics and politicians in India need a complete makeover.
 
However, in a democracy, if the politicians' duty is to take care of people and administer the society, our duty is not only to obey the laws of the land, but also to take part in the due process that puts in place a good administrative setup. If politicians shun their part of the work, should I shun mine too?
 
I voted because in the political arrangement of democracy my job is the easiest -- to vote; I didn't want to fare poorer than the politicians.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why women should have cooks?

Women are supposed to cook -- or so some people think -- so, why on earth should they have cooks at home?

Recently, at a friend's house, we were discussing the growing trend of women, especially working women, going in for cooks. A case of a young family who appointed a cook is what started off the debate.

''When she can cook so wonderfully well, why should she keep a cook?'' asked one. ''Her work timings are convenient and she has enough time to prepare food for the small family."

Said another, "There are so many busy women with bigger families who manage without cooks...'' The arguments went on.

I found this reasoning horribly flawed. It missed the changed circumstances in which many women, and also men, work. Priorities have changed.

Earlier, many women worked primarily to supplement the hubby's income. Her priority was the kitchen. That's also the way she had been brought up.

Today it's not so, may not be in all families but in many families. Women supplement not the hubby's income but the family's income. There is a thin line of difference here that needs to be understood.

Today, even a middleclass girl grows up with dreams of a career and being independent. Many struggle with the stereotyped traditional idea that placed women in the kitchen.

Today the gender gap has narrowed. A working woman is no different from a working man. Eight to ten hours of work in the office leaves her -- just as her hubby -- with hardly any energy to do work at home. She is just like a man who would prefer to watch TV or just sleep rather than do any work at home.

It's not that women can't cook. She is employing a cook, only like a man appointing a driver or a cleaner for the car. It's not that the man can't find some time to wash the car himself.

There is also the issue of money. The family has to have enough wealth to afford a cook, or even a cleaner for that matter. If there is no money, there is neither a cook nor a cleaner. If there is money only for one; then it depends on the priorities, often determined by gender equation.

Unfortunately, this is not a point many guys, especially elders, easily understand or are ready to accept. I am an optimist. May be there is a change happening; too slow to notice perhaps.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Slow down, enjoy every moment of life

We always say technology has made our lives easier. How true is that? Look at it this way: has technology made life less complicated?
 
We say life is now easier with technology, because the time we used to take to do various chores has got shorter. What used to take 1 hour now takes a few minutes; what used to take a few days, can now be accomplished in a few hours. Where we had to put in a lot of effort, we now need to put in much less.

But I think, the ease with which we are able to do things, has ironically, only made life more complicated. Since various activities now take less time to complete, many of us -- for whatever reason -- have ended up taking up more work.

For example, let us assume that to travel a particular distance X takes 2 hours. Thanks to quicker modes of transport and better roads, X travels the same distance in 1 hour. In the one hour that he has gained, what does X do? He takes up some work. Since it not an easy task, he soon relies on technology. It helps him: he used to take one hour to do it; now with modern technology, he can do that work in 40 minutes. He has saved 20 minutes. What happens next? He finds that the 20 minutes gained is taken up by some new work.
 
The end result: during the two hour stretch, earlier X just traveled. Now, he not only travels, but also does two other bits of work after reaching the destination. Soon, X goes in for a wireless laptop, which he would use to do some work while travelling as well!
 
Who said life has become only easier with technology? It may be has, but we have  also used technology to make life more and more complicated. Did at any one point, X think, "Okay, let me relax during that 20 minutes, instead of taking up some stressful activity. Technology has made my life easier, let me enjoy life better..."

Two characteristics of this tech-driven life are speed and volume of work. Many of us are just zooming through the day; if while sleeping also we could do some work, we would have done that... This could be one reason why we feel that "time is now-a-days flying by very fast". We are "already" nearing the fifth month of 2008; and in "no time" it will be 2009.

The second aspect is technology tempts us to take up more work. We often do this without considering whether we can actually do a fair job. It's a case of "biting more than what we can chew". The volume of work that we handle on a single day has increased manifold. Any work involves human labour; technology is only a help. And all around I can see severe undervaluation of human labour. Somehow, there is a feeling that machines will do everything.
 
The result of this is two fold: one positive and the other negative. The good side of all this, more work is getting done. Each one of us does today many things we couldn't do a decade back. No doubt this is a huge plus for the entire humanity. Technology has been a great enabler.   
 
But there is also a flip side. In the mad rush to do more number of things in less number of time, quality has taken a beating -- quality
of the end products, and quality of human life as well. I guess, one Not all mass-produced goods are necessarily of great quality. On the human side, a number of us are stressed out, given to temper tantrums, and suffer health-related diseases. Many of us have also stopped enjoying life.
 
This mad rush can be seen in many places. One catalyst of high-speed tech-driven life is commercial interest. Everyone -- corporates, various institutional organisations and even individuals --  are looking at the financial results and wallet more often than they actually should.
 
This world is as much money driven as much as it is tech-driven. Your guess on which came first, is as good as mine.
 
I have consciously begun to slow myself down, where ever it is possible. Let me tell you, it's worth trying out. It gives a very good feeling. It's very relaxing and it helps us to recharge ourselves. I guess the principle is like that of yoga. I have also begun to ask myself before I take up some work, whether I can do justice to it or not. Again, if I had planned for 10 things, and I could do only 7, I am no longer upset or disappointed. What should matter is that I could do 7 things much better than if I had done all 10 things, hurriedly.
 
I recently learnt about the "Slow Movement". It's all about slowing down the life's pace. It's about reconnecting with food, with people, with places, with life – because these are the things that give life meaning. Here is a website that gives a lot of details on this movement that seems to be catching up.
 
It is also true that as we use technology more often, we lose human contact. One example. I prefer to pay my electricity bill at a nearby counter, instead of opting to pay from by bank account by electronic transfer. I have switched to electronic method, in a few cases where it's difficult otherwise.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trip to Mekedatu

One of the getaways not too far from Bangalore is Mekedatu: about 100 km one way, just right for a day's outing. And that's where we decided to head for on April 7, a holiday. There were nine of us and we hired a Tata Sumo.

When it comes to outings such as this, arguably the best guides are the bloggers' accounts. There are quite a few, and from them we got a fair idea of what awaited us.

Mekedatu (translated in Kannada as "goat's leap") is a rocky terrain where river Cauvery flows. There is a deep gorge, and the gap between the rocks at a particular spot is where a goat is said to have made a leap. (An elaboration on the legend is welcome.) This spot is some 5 km from the Sangam, the confluence of Cauvery and Arkavathy rivers. Direct access by road is only till this Sangam.

After reaching Sangam to reach Mekedatu, one needs to cross the river -- carefully walk across during summer or use a boat when there is lot of water -- and either trek up the wooded slope or hop on to a bus.

OUR JOURNEY

Though we decided to leave at 8 am, the vehicle arrived late. So it was 9.45 am when we left. None us, not even the driver, knew the way; we only had a rough idea of the direction; and we headed straight on the Kanakapura Road.

Being a holiday, there wasn't much traffic. After some 25 km, the vast stretches of land, the greenery and the unobscured view of the blue sky gave us the unmistakable and refreshing feeling of being out of the city.



The road was the best relief: but it also left us puzzled as to why the globally renowned Bangalore city has to put up with potholed roads.


But as we neared Kanakapura town we ran into a horrible stretch. To our bad luck, it proved too hard for even the Bangalore-hardened tyres of the Tata Sumo. About half an hour was spent there in replacing the flat tyre.



We then travelled through rural areas bareft of any signs of modernity. We saw many huts and cattle; and some stretches gave us a feeling of being in the midst of some rustic hinderland. As we went ahead, we nursed a regret: of not getting the flat tyre patched up. It worried us as well: what if another tyre gets punctured?


We even conjured up adventurous scenarios of staying over in the village huts and calling up the office the next day to say we aren't reporting for work since we are stuck in a remote village!


Some 10 km before the Sangam, we saw signs of human life, and without losing time we asked where we could get the puncture fixed. We were lucky to find a place. The guy there said it would take at least 30 minutes but we were ready to wait longer.


After some 45 minutes, we resumed our journey. It was almost 1.45 pm and we were hungry. Seeing the road, we felt we took the right decision to get the tyre fixed.



In another 20 minutes we reached the Sangam. We had our food, and then got into water. The water didn't look deep, and we held each other's hands and crossed the river.




Close to the other bank, we splashed water on each other and had good fun. Quite drenched, we ventured to explore the other side. Some 5 km ahead is Mekedatu. It was close to 3 pm,and since we were already running late, we almost abandoned the idea of going ahead.





Just when we about to return to the river, we saw a ramshackle bus revving up. That was the shuttle bus which takes passengers to and from Mekedatu.



Some quick enquiries about the time we would be back, and we clambered on to it. One rickety contraption called bus, it rattled its way ahead. Sitting or standing, one had to struggle to keep from falling. The to and fro fare is Rs 40 per person.



One could see the deep gorge and Cauvery river flowing by the beautiful rocks.

Around 5 pm we were back at the Sangam. There was another round fun in the water, when all of us got completely drenched head to toe. At 5.45 pm we called it a day. We rounded off the trip with a chilly bhaji and omelet party.


At 6.15 pm we started our return journey. The sky at dusk presented a spectacular view. We noticed that much of that village stretch had no street light. We saw an accident - a motorcycle had come under the wheels of a bus.



We were in Koramangala around 9.15 pm, and we got into Anand Bhavan restaurant for dinner. A customer-friendly place with a warm ambiance. With lots of space, friendly staff, and quick service, it was a great way to sign off the Ugadi outing.



Though we started off late, and lost time due to the tyre problem, on the whole it was a fantastic trip.

THE FLIP SIDE

It pains to see the place is crying for attention of the tourism corporation. The nature's beauty is marred by bottles, paper plates and other litter scattered all over. There is no good restaurant: only roadside eateries; no hospital or first aid facility for emergency; no communication facilities: mobile phones go dead; no petrol pump or automobile workshop.

Indeed there is a sense of adventure in missing out on these; but the complete lack of an institutional support mechanism to face an emergency is a serious shortcoming. The scope to develop the area by keeping the natural tranquility and roping in local people is a lot. The hundreds of tourists who come to this place deserve a better deal.

Will the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation do something?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Identity crisis

It is all over the place. Like any crisis there'sn't anything quite likeable about it. In fact, many problems around us -- those that are grave enough to make it to news headlines and those trivial ones that we don't want to make an issue of -- can be traced to it.

The underlying motive of many of our actions have some link to our perception of our identity. There is conflict when the perception -- of our own and that of others -- clash. The best indicator of this perceptional conflict of identity is seen in the altercation that emanates.

A lawmaker who has been democratically elected to a state legislature arrives late to board a plane. The pilot makes it an issue and orders him out of the aircraft.

''You run the country, I run the plane,'' says the pilot. To which the lawmaker retorts, ''You are just a glorified driver." Here each is trying to stamp his sense authority which he deems to have been conferred on him by his identity.

Often one hears about run-ins VIPs (very important persons) have with security personnel who ask for identity card. Refusal to show the identity tag to someone who asks for it is a very common phenomenon.

Personal complexes are closely associated with identity perceptions. So too attitudes like arrogance, ego etc.

The whole issue of nationalism is nothing but one of identity. So too the racket one hears about language.

How important then is our identity? For that we need to know what defines our identity. Is it our name, or is it our nationality or is it our designation or is it defined by the power we have over others?

There is no definite answer, because identity is like a reflection: partly it depends on what is reflected (we) and partly it depends on the reflecting surface (others).

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Confusing surveys

I used to be a great fan of survey results. Not any more. At least not a great many of them, wherein the results are dependent on far too many parameters. Of late I have begun to view them more like "What the stars foretell" column in the media. I guess for many readers too these survey results serve more to reinforce existing beliefs than dramatically alter them.

The ones most suspect are those relating to food habits and health. I am tired of reading these results; and the frequency with which these studies have been held. The vast differences in the conclusions confuse rather than enlighten any reader.

Take consumption of water for example. We have always been told that we should drink lots of water, ideally it seams at least 8 glasses every day. (Source: Parent Jazz.) Day before yesterday, there was this bit of news that quoted a study by scientists saying drinking lots of water may not of any use. (Source: BBC and Rediff).

Another is sex surveys, and these come out at very frequent intervals. And, quite understandably command high readership. Again day before yesterday, AP put out this story quoting sex therapists, which was picked up a number of media outlets, saying "the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was 3 to 13 minutes". (Source: AP feed on Yahoo News). Here is another one: Italians prefer football to sex. (Source: PTI story in DNA.)

The problem is that all these surveys and studies sound very conclusive, there is a ring of certainty at least for a casual reader - very much like the astrological predictions column. What is missed by most of us, is that a number of parameters determine the conclusions. The findings might be right only for the sample examined.

The validity of a survey largely depends on the how well the sampling has been done. Contrary to popular notion it's not the size of the sample that matters, it's how representative the sample is what matters. And, most of these surveys hardly elaborate on the sampling details.

Matters of health are very individualistic. What science give us is broad guidelines in idealistic situations. What is okay for one person need not necessarily be okay for another; and vice-versa. So, let's not jump to conclusions reading these random surveys, mistaking them for universal application. We should take a call on how well or not the findings are applicable to each one of us.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Indecision at Karnataka tourism booking office

I was at the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation booking office at Corporation Circle, Bangalore, yesterday morning checking out some tourism packages. Since my wife and I are free on Tuesday and Wednesday and our son's exams are over, we thought we'd go somewhere. One of the packages that looked attractive was was Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola. It's a one-day trip, starting from Bangalore at 7 am and reaching back at 10 pm. One of our friends recommended it's a good one, and told us to book in advance since there could be a rush.
 
The person at the counter, though not very savvy and smart, was helpful. After laboriously looking up in the computer he said, "Sir, no one has so far booked for Tuesday. You can book. But we need at least 15 people for the trip. So, your booking will be subject to confirmation. If you book now, and there aren't 15 people, the ticket will be cancelled and the money refunded. Or else, you can call up on Monday and see if the tour is on and then book."
 
That was a disappointment, more because it left me thoroughly confused. Even though I came prepared to book the seats, I didn't know if should reserve for a trip that didn't seem to materialise. Who would book for a trip which in all likelihood would be cancelled. In this manner, if everyone goes away thinking the trip won't materialise, how would the KSTDC manage to make up the minimum number of 15 tourists that's required for the trip?
 
A typical case of how something shouldn't be done. Such a response will not help a tourist in anyway to plan his itinerary. If a minimum number of tourists is required for the trip, and KSTDC isn't sure of having it daily, then it shouldn't announce plans for a daily trip in the first place. No tourist will be comfortable with so much of doubt hanging over a plan. They would come forward to book only if they know the tour will happen for sure. If KSTDC isn't sure of getting tourists, restrict the number days of the tour to once or twice a week and publicise accordingly.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blogs better than social networking sites

I am back on the blogosphere. I haven't blogged for two full weeks -- quite a long stretch for me. However, I found that people were visiting my blog and some were leaving comments. So, to that extent my blog was alive!

Over the recent past, I have been noticing unusually more number of invites for joining social networking sites. Looks like these sites are proliferating at quite a fast rate. Most of these invites are auto-sent, because the person who has signed up has blindly clicked on a link which sends these invites automatically to everyone on their contact list.

Earlier -- even though I knew that these invites were not personal, intended ones -- I used to sign up. Then I realised that I was getting invites faster than I could keep pace with the existing ones. Now I just ignore these invites unless there's something very striking about them. For now, I am sticking to LinkedIn, Orkut and Facebook, though, I am on many other networks as well.

I have seen that many people use these social networking sites to chat when the other person is online. That could anyway be done with existing devices like Gmail, Yahoo or MSN. People also use it to upload photos and videos. But that function works better on devices like Youtube. So, at the end of it all, I find that that more than as an instant communication medium, these social networking sites serve better as a good database of people one has interacted with -- from friends to total strangers -- by virtue of the detailed profiles that are available.

I feel blogs are much better networking devices than these sites. On networking sites, there is nothing more than a number of "hello-s" and "hi-s" being exchanged, or at the best, "O, it is such a long time, where have been hiding" types. There is no substantial exchange on anything of each one's interests.

I believe, one gets to know of another person's interests much better through blogs than through networking sites. Blogs reveal an individual's personality better than social networking sites. Networking sites generally lack depth or any meaningful content. Therefore, acquaintance or friendship or even a more stronger relationship which has grown out of interaction through blogs will be more steadfast and strong than those that have grown out of networking sites. Personally, I have got to know more number of people through blogs than through social networking sites. I don't find that surprising. I guess teenagers and youth are on these virtual social clubs more for fun than anything else.

I chanced upon an interesting post by Pramit Singh on 9 solid reasons why E-mail still beats social networking.

Well, just to add to what Pramit has written, social networking sites are beaten not just by emails, but by weblogs as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Celebrate womanhood; enjoy!

It's really heartening that there aren't any massive protests against the Women's Day celebrations, like we had (have) for Valentine's Day. After all, celebration of womanhood is no less or no more Western than the celebration of love. Just shows how meaningless these organised protests are. Let me stop here, lest I be blamed for giving people ideas! Let me join the fun... Women of the world... go ahead... have a blast... (as you always do...)

But, wait a minute... how many of you are lucky to have a blast every minute, every day? Just as International Women's Day is a celebration, it's also a time to pause and reach out to those who are on the sidelines, for whom womanhood is a burden, a shackle they try hard to break free from. I guess, most of the women -- irrespective of the strata or section of society they belong to -- are on the sidelines.

When I was at the basement car park this morning, I hadn't realised today was Women's Day. But, may be the maid who was sweeping the floor there would have. Because, I saw her stop her work, keep looking at a well-heeled woman get into her swank car and drive away. What must have gone through the maid's mind? Well, a woman driving the car is also symbolic of the control she has over her life. How much control does the maid have over her life?

Is that maid one of those many women on the sidelines destined just to watch the celebrations and not be part of it? Need not be. Because I have seen many poor people leading a much contended and happier life compared to the rich. Who knows, she may also be celebrating the day in her own way! All don't need drive out in swank cars to celebrate, do they?

Women's day issues exist at different levels. Some women whine and crib being a woman. Some others take pride in their womanhood in spite of the harsh realities of daily life. I would go along with the latter category. There's no point blaming men and finding fault with everyone around for one's plight. See what can be done, and move ahead, rather than whine.

There are some -- really unfortunate -- women who can't do the work traditionally men do, even if they want to. There are other women -- luckier ones -- who are already in the "men's world" but still don't think they are getting a fair deal. But complicating matters are some other women (mostly traditional mothers), who think women should not do the work men usually do.

Here I am reminded of a well-educated mother of two grown-up daughters. While we were discussing the hazards of night-shift work for women, her refrain was: "Why should these girls go and work in the dead of night, as if there are no jobs available in the day time...?" With the support of her two daughters I tried taking the debate along a bit, trying to change the mother's traditional idea of womanhood.... But I instead changed topic, before I got embroiled in family fight between the daughters and their mother.... The girls are still studying, and I have no doubt what their reaction would be if they got a well-paying night-shift job!

Don't try finding answers to questions like: who is a woman? what's her job? where should she work? is she equal, superior or inferior to men? how career woman is different from a homemaker?

Life is a precious gift of God; whatever the gender, whatever the job. Every woman -- like a man -- is endowed with unique abilities; identify them, make use of them. Whoever you are, be good to people around you. Everything else is secondary.

Whoever you are,
Whatever you are,
Wherever you are,
Celebrate life,
It's too precious to be wasted away.

Monday, March 3, 2008

iReport: CNN's path-breaking new citizen media site

Mainstream media marries alternative media! A media revolution of sorts! But, before I explain this path-breaking development of CNN's iReport.com let me take you through some background.

Today, media is no longer about one-way flow of information; it has increasingly become two-way, and the catalyst is technology. As individuals launched their own webjournals as blogs, the conventional media had to change. Now most media organisations have their own interactive platforms.

BBC's TV has Have Your Say and BBC Radio has World Have Your Say. The Guardian has Comment is Free. In India The Times of India has turned the good-old Letters to Editor column into its new avataar of My Times My Voice. CNN-IBN TV channel has given space on their airtime to reports filed by citizens and has Citizen Journalist on its website. NDTV has My News wherein viewers are allowed to pick stories they consider most important for telecast, and on its website it has NDTV Interactive. Basically, in each of these ventures, readers are given space (albeit quite small) in the conventional media. Today, all this has provided plenty of opportunity for the citizen to express himself or herself in the traditional media. By any stretch of imagination, this is quite a revolution.

But now, CNN has taken this to a new level, by launching iReport.com: for uncensored, unedited, user-powered news. This is by far the best ever recognition of the alternative citizen media by mainstream media.

In all the above examples, the mainstream media decides the topic on which the citizens can air their views. There is a certain amount of control the media exercises. But now that barrier has been breached with iReport.com.

CNN's iReport until recently was restricted to video clippings sent by viewers. It was vetted and only if found appropriate would be telecast. But now in iReport no editing, no filtering.

About iReport:
  • The content on iReport is not pre-vetted or pre-read by CNN. This is your platform. In some journalistic circles, this is considered disruptive, even controversial! But we know the news universe is changing. We know that even here, at CNN, we can't be everywhere, all the time following all the stories you care about. So, we give you iReport.com. You will program it, you will police it; you will decide what’s important, what's interesting, what’s news. More

This is, I guess, the first instance of a reputed news organisation opening up its space to put up unverified content. The only saving grace is the disclaimer: "The views and contents on this site are solely those of the iReport.com contributors. CNN makes no guarantees about the content or the coverage on iReport.com." But the very act of giving space to such content itself is revolutionary. This is by far the closest mainstream media has come to courting alternative citizen media.

What next?

Monday, February 25, 2008

30 top US news websites

Editor and Publisher has put together has put together a list of top 30 US news websites. New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Online and Los Angeles Times are on top, in that order. All these have gained traffic over the past year. More

While traffic has gained, the average time spent by a reader on the NYT site has decreased from 44 to 36 minutes during Jan 2007 to Jan 2008. More

It's well acknowledged that print media in the US has been losing circulation. But how well has the online versions of the newspapers been doing?

An analysis by Scarborough Research says that the online audience has been making up as much as 28% of the loses in print readership. More

But, on the contrary, Outsell Research says that online newspapers aren't attracting eyeballs fast enough. More

I guess, the disparity is because of the types of newspapers covered. For a still fledgling medium like online communication, it's very difficult to generalise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cockroach puts 30 people out of work

A cockroach makes a surprise appearance... and at the end of it all, 30 employees lose their jobs... More

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blogging in south Indian languages

Well, I was expecting this, but not so soon. Blogger announced it on 12th here.

The first indication of this was when Orkut had the option to type in south Indian languages -- Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Blogger had introduced Hindi transliteration some time back. What's remarkable is out of the five Indian languages provided, four are south Indian ones, including Malayalam, my mother tongue. ഇനി മലയാളം ഫോണ്ട് ഡൌണ്‍‌ലോഡ് ചെയ്യണ്ട -- I mean, now I don't have to download Malayalam fonts.

I can see that Google family engineers working on Blogger have done their research well to find out that while Hindi binds north India well, there is no one common language that binds the south in a similar manner. One can survive with Hindi anywhere from Mumbai in the west to Kolkata in the east, or even further north east in the the Seven Sisters. But each of the four south Indian languages are so distinct unless one knows each of them it is difficult to survive in the respective state.

During the eight years I was in the north, I had no difficulty travelling from place to place or even communicating with the local people. But when I came down south, I felt out of place, even though I am from Kerala.

So, it's not without reason that Blogger has provided four south Indian languages and Hindi. However, I am sure it will provide other major Indian languages like Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali etc. also.

Hats off to the engineers for the facility that has been provided to get the spelling of the transliterated word correct. Type out the word in English; if the trasliterated word looks inaccurate, then just click the word; a menu drops down, from which the right form can be selected.

Wow, this looks wonderful. The only glitch: the spell-check has stopped working. Hopefully it's getting fixed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ban possession of guns in US

No end to violence on American colleges -- yesterday's incident at the North Illinois University in which five students were gunned down in a classroom was the fouth in a month.

Since American universities have lots of foreign students on their campuses, security of students is not just an American issue, it is also a global one. The North Illinois University, for example, has 862 international students from 88 countries. NIU has an Indian link -- it has a tieup with Karnataka's Manipal University.

So what has Barack Obama, a senator from Illinois, got to say on this?

"Today we offer them our thoughts and prayers, but we also have to offer them our determination to do whatever it takes to eradicate this violence from our streets, from our schools, from our neighborhoods and our cities," Obama said. "That is our duty as Americans," he tells a news conference.

But he nullifies all the determination with this:

"I think there is an individual right to bear arms, but it's subject to commonsense regulation."

Why doesn't America completely ban ownership of guns, except by people who need it as part of their work?Why should people carry guns for their protection when there is a well-armed security force? Of all people, why should students be legally allowed to possess guns?

None of the candidates -- Hillary, Obama or McCain -- has a clear cut policy on gun control.

America is supposedly leading a war against terroism. Aren't students living in a state of terror on US campuses, not knowing who will spray bullets on whom? When innocent lives are lost, aren't the classical terrorist and the student with a gun in the same league?

Election year may not be a good time to hammer out bipartisan agreements. But an effort on the part of the two parties and their leading candidates to hammer one out against possessing firearms will signal to the Americans and to the world at large that the American establishment doesn't have two standards when it comes to gun culture.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why Raj Thackeray is wrong

By letting his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena activists attack poor north Indians of Mumbai, Raj Thackeray is under the mistaken belief that his pro-Marathi parochialism will win him votes. A similar tactic by his uncle Bal Thackeray 40 years ago against south Indians failed, so much that he has now made his policy an inclusive one.

Raj has justified his tirade saying if Manmohan Singh can raise the turban issue with the French President, if TN CM Karunanidhi can raise Tamils' issue with the Malaysian govt, if Bengalis can rally for cricketer Sourav Ganguly, why can't he speak up for Marathis. Raj is not only citing wrong models but resorted to violence. It's like the student who justified copying saying he was only following what others were doing.

When in Rome, do as Romans: there are no two opinions on that. Every resident of Mumbai has to respect the local customs and traditions. If sommeone in Mumbai is not doing it, then that's the issue. And, the solutions lies not in making life difficult for them, but addressing the issue and sending out positive vibes on how important local traditions are.

In today's globalised world isolationism doesn't work. Parochialism can have a chain reaction, leading to catastrophic consequences. If Raj Thackeray is looking for an identity, if he wants to promote Marathi -- nothing wrong in that -- he must work on constructive models by pro-active engagement, not by dividing Mumbaikars.