Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Osama tape

The Osama tape, that surfaced on Friday, had a blistering effect on the US polity ahead of the polls. Though no shot had been fired or no bomb had been dropped, the effect was to the contrary -- Bush and Kerry scambling in a oneupmanship show of determination to kill and destroy the enemy. It is a different matter that at the end of day, Bush and Kerry sparred over the way each reacted to the tape. Not surprising, since Osama is so much a part of the election theme.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Good old radio commentators

The third Test against Australia is on at Nagpur. As I am a radio enthusiast, I listen to radio commentary, apart from watching the match on TV occasionally.

The commentary has been a trip down the memory lane, in a way. The two English commentators are Suresh Saraiya and J.P. Narayanan. They have been there for more than almost 20 years. I have been listening to them since school days. They have their very distinct style of rendering the commentary.

Their voice takes me back to the school days, when we used to huddle around the radio. It is a different experience altogether. Unlike TV, radio offers the opportunity to visualise a lot. We used to rush during the 15-minute break during school hours to listen to the commentary and then rush back and announce the score to others.

Another person I miss commentating is Anand Setalvad. I don't know where he is. Age shows in JP sound. But not so in Suresh's. And, there was this Sushil Doshi, who used to commentate so fast, especially when describing a boundary. As if trying to race with the ball. But unfortunately, he moved over to TV, though he was more suited to radio, given his style.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Pitcairn verdict is out

Monday October 25, 08:58 PM

Six Pitcairn men found guilty

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Six of the seven Pitcairn Island men charged with raping and indecently assaulting girls as young as 12 have been found guilty by a British court on the remote South Pacific island, a British official says. The men, descendants of 18th century Bounty mutineers, had argued that under-age sex was a tradition dating back to 1790 when mutineers arrived on the island with their Tahitian women.

But their victims, now adults who testified via video from New Zealand, said they were treated as "sex things" as girls and raped at will under banyan trees or in garden sheds on Pitcairn. The men will be sentenced later this week but will not be sent to jail until 2005 at the earliest
due to legal wrangling over whether Britain has jurisdiction over the island.

"Six of the seven have been found guilty," said British High Commission spokesman Bryan Nicolson in Wellington, New Zealand. "Steve Christian, the mayor, has been found guilty of five rapes and a number of sexual assaults," Nicolson told Reuters on Monday.

Christian, 53, is a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the Bounty mutiny in 1789. Christian was the "leader of the pack" on the island and believed he had a right to have sex with young girls, the prosecution told the court during the trial. His 30-year-old son Randy Christian was found guilty of four rapes and five indecent assaults, said TV New Zealand in a report from Pitcairn.
Len Brown, 78, was found guilty of two rapes and his son Dave Brown was convicted of nine indecent assaults, it said. Dennis Christian, Steve Christian's cousin, was found guilty of one indecent assault charge and two sexual assaults and Terry Young was convicted of one rape and six indecent assaults. Jay Warren, Pitcairn's former magistrate, was found not guilty of indecent assault.

Pitcairn is the last British territory in the South Pacific, a dot in the ocean 2,160 km (1,300 miles) southeast of Tahiti. Pitcairn, with an area of just 5 sq km (2 sq miles), has no safe harbour, is too rocky for an airstrip, has no paved roads, no sewage treatment system and no landline telephones. Visitors must fly to an outlying Tahitian island and then travel by boat for 36 hours to get there, ending their journey in a longboat, riding the surf that crashes on to the island.

Islanders fear that the Pitcairn community, with a population of only 47, will not survive if the seven are jailed. Many of the men operate the island's only boats, which are lifelines to the outside world, ferrying in essential supplies. Britain built a makeshift court inside Pitcairn's community hall and shipped in judges, lawyers and police for the trial. The charges against the men, which date back more than 40 years, followed a report by a British policewoman stationed on the island in 1999.

The Pitcairn men are challenging Britain's right to prosecute them, arguing that British sovereignty ended when the mutineers sank the Bounty off the island in 1790. The men have been granted the right to challenge British sovereignty. They will present their case to the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for Britain's overseas territories. The case is set down for 2005 and, if the appeal is upheld, the verdicts would be overturned. A second legal challenge will see the men's lawyers argue that, if Britain does have jurisdiction, then it never promulgated the under-age sex law. Defence lawyers say Pitcairn men did not know that rape and child molestation were illegal. That hearing will take place in a New Zealand court in February 2005.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Meaning of Veerappan's death

Veerappan is dead, finally -- shot and killed around 11 pm yesterday. It's a huge relief that this society is free of a dreaded criminal, who masterminded murder in the most cold-blooded manner and looted treasure. Tamil Nadu's STF chief Vijayakumar deserves all accolades for spearheading the undercover operation with the most clinical precision and by putting their own lives at risk.

But a regretful thought overwhelms the mind. Couldn't this have been achieved long, long, long back. Yes, we could have, if Veerappan didn't have the patronage of some politicians.

So what does Veerappan's exit mean? Has our corrupt system also vanished with Veerappan? If so, then there's really sometheing to cheer about. But if only Veerappan has gone, and the corrupt system that supported him still exists, then there'sn't much scope for celebration. For, what is the guarantee that there won't be another Veerappan, even more dreaded?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Funny coincidences & paranormal phenomena

n I met a colleague when I walked into my office for work in the morning. I met him at the same spot in the evening when I was leaving for home.

n I crossed a fruit vendor at a particular spot when I was going to the market. I crossed another fruit vendor at the same spot on my way back.

n I met the neighbourhood shopkeeper in the morning when I was leaving home. In the afternoon, when I came back I met the same man at the same spot.

During the past 20-odd years, I have had more than 10 such experiences, some of them very striking, Nothing very haunting about them. Because each of those twin-encounters has been very pleasant and quite ordinary. Nevertheless, what I found unique was: same person, same spot, during my onward journey and return journey. It looked so programmed.

Of course it hasn't been too frequent. When you consider the number of occurrences and the period of time, they easily fall into the category of coincidences. And mercifully, the same set of incidents hasn't repeated itself over and over again. Imagine, meeting the same person, at the same spot during your onward and return journeys, when there is no particular reason for it to happen. When something happens all too frequently it's no longer a coincidence, but bizarre, and may be even haunting.

Another inexplicable thing that has happened to me is: I think about someone who has been out of touch, and after some time the phone rings; and as if he has heard me think, that person is on the line! Or, I get an email from that person. Sometimes the time gap has been as little as a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. This hasn't happened too frequently to brand myself as someone with telepathic abilities.

Don't think all people who call me up are the ones I had just then been thinking about. Or, don't think I am thinking about you when you are thinking of calling me. There have been plenty surprises too. Surprises are perhaps one of the most pleasant things in life. There can be a pattern to surprises too, is it not? Something like a season for things to happen, like a season of surprises.

Last week, it so happened I have been renewing old contacts. Nothing remarkable about it if I had been initiating them. But, here others also have been calling me up and saying, "Hey it's been long time.. how have you been... " Or, situations have developed when I had to renew an old contact. The point is: it's not by my design, but purely accidental, coincidental.

I called my friend in Goa the other day and he said, I was the 7th or 8th person who was making an STD call to him that day. "How come a lot my friends decided to call me today?" he was wondering aloud.

I don't know if you have noticed this: on some days there's much traffic on the roads. I am not referring to holidays, but normal working days. And, the other way round too: for no particular reason, there is so much of traffic on some days.

I am sure many people must be experiencing such phenomena. Mostly we are so caught up with our daily lives, we hardly notice such Para occurrences, like precognition and telepathy (a term coined by English essayist W.H. Myers). I have also heard of telekinesis: movement of objects from one position to another using mental concentration. I haven't yet seen someone do it.

Those of us who have had such experiences, are often puzzled. Those who haven't will mostly be sceptical, but they shouldn't be dismissive. For, there are phenomena which still can't be explained or proved using conventional scientific methods. Parapsychology is being researched by scientists, I suppose. And, one day we may have the answers, for what till then would be bizarre coincidences.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Media and responsibility

There was this seminar on "Media and responsibility" at Christ College on Friday. Tehelka editor Shankarshan Thakur, Express editor R Shankar and India Today correspondent Stephen David participated in the section on Print media.
Thakur spoke of how difficult it is for Tehelka weekly to survive, while Shankar stressed on the need for accuracy in reports. Stephen said media responsibility was a two-way process, meaning, people have to react when media isn't fulfilling its role.
I think Indian media has always been responsible, but for maybe a few cases of individual indiscretions. It has contributed a lot to the polity and social infrastructure. Though media has been doing its role, not always there is someone to carry whatever is published forward. Media is only conduit of information and a mirror to the society. It is neither a prosecutor nor judicial power. Media has been a watchdog and an agenda setter. But, why the same old problems remain and the media have to keep carrying them again and again? We have written so much about the bad civic sense we are notorious for. Neither the citizen has learnt anything nor the administration has had the willingness to enforce civic discipline. Why?
Eventhough Bangalore media has been crying hoarse about the potholes in the city, nothing much is being done. Mayor P R Ramesh is shameless. He is so peeved with the media that he refuses to talk to them. That is all. When I put pictures of potholes in my paper, I have been doing it with the apprehension of whether the reader will get sick of it. There is this risk of "getting used to it" phenomenon.
Aren't we already sick of the negative stories the media carry? Haven't we become cynical and complacent? Of course, that can't stop us from blacking those stories out. This indifference must be one reason why feel-good information and trivia sell much more rather than well-researched investigative pieces, like what Tehelka publishes.

India lose Bangalore Test

India lost the Bangalore Test by 217 runs on Sunday. Local lad, Rahul flopped and so too most batsmen.
Prior to the Test Gavaskar was brought in as an advisor. Did our batsmen get confused as to follow their coach John Wright or Gavaskar?
Let's now wait for the next Test.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Pitcairn - accused help build jail

This is a really interesting story

Child-sex accused helped build jail

By Claire Harvey, The Mercury, Tasmania

THERE are many strange things about the child sex trial on Pitcairn Island, but perhaps this is the most unusual – the seven defendants helped to build their own jail. Her Majesty's Pitcairn Island Prison, a six-bedroom kit home with barred windows and a high fence, was completed earlier this year.

The British Government, which rules Pitcairn as a dependent territory, pays the islanders $9.30 an hour for essential work such as road-mending, gardening and construction. When Governor Richard Fell decided to expand the old three-cell remand centre in preparation for this trial, he asked the Island Council if the islanders would be prepared to do the work.

"We said if you want to help build it, we'll pay for it, and if not, we perfectly understand," Mr Fell said.

"If they all said no, we would have had to have got other people in to do it. We did not force them to do it – any suggestion like that would be complete nonsense."

Next month, another odd scene will unfold. The islanders – including some defendants – will set sail from Bounty Bay in their longboat to bring ashore seven prison guards. The guards have been engaged by Britain from the New Zealand Corrections Department, in case some of the men are sentenced to jail.

They will arrive on the island like all other visitors – a 36-hour boat trip from the nearest landfall, Mangareva, and then a quick longboat trip in to Bounty Bay, the only harbour on Pitcairn.

The defendants, including Pitcairn mayor Steve Christian, face a total of 54 charges that include rape, indecent assault and gross indecency against girls as young as five. The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment – perhaps an incentive for the workmen to do a good job.

The corrections officers are scheduled to work a four-month stint on the island before being replaced by another seven Kiwi guards, said Pitcairn deputy Governor Matthew Forbes.
"We had over 150 applicants for the positions, most of whom were looking for something different, a challenge," Mr Forbes said. "We got some really good applicants, correctional officers with skills from their previous jobs."

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

B-school and pothole

The myth is shattered. The elite can also get down to earth. On Oct 4, The students and faculty of Indian Institute of Management here came out on the street -- that is the infamous Bannerghatta Road, known more for potholes and craters -- demanding that something be done. They were joined by employees of nearby IT companies, some of them MNCs.

So far it was only the IT companies that made a noise about the city's lack of infrastructure. Infy's Narayana Murthy did it. Wipro's Azim Premji did it. In fact, last year when Premji thundered that he will take his new investments out of Bangalore, a worried administration rushed to him to calm him.

The repair and expansion of roads is also about public affairs management; and city's most well-known B-school has a live project to work on.

The Aussies are here

The city is abuzz with cricket. The first Test against Australia is on at the Chinnaswamy stadium. Cricket is to India as baseball and basketball are to America. The craze is such, even a bad-form player can get a product endorsed. Australia hasn't won a series in India for almost 35 years. Can the world champions break the jinx?

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Pitcairn sex trial - postmaster pleads guilty

The extraordinary trial at the small island of Pitcairn continues. And, the postmaster has pleaded guilty. The AP report is as follows.

Man pleads guilty in Pitcairn Island sex abuse trial
Associated Press

The postmaster of tiny Pitcairn Island pleaded guilty to the indecent assault of a 12-year-old girl, the first outcome in a series of trials at a makeshift court set up on this remote Pacific outpost to handle charges of sex abuse dating back decades.

The defendant, Dennis Christian, is one of seven men on trial in the isolated British territory, which is home to descendants of the 18th century Bounty mutineers in a community whose entire year-round population numbers only 47.

Christian, 49, pleaded guilty to three of four charges against him and was released on bail until sentencing at an unspecified date, the court ruled on Monday _ Tuesday in New Zealand, from where some of the alleged victims testified by video link. The court dismissed a fourth charge against Dennis Christian after prosecutors offered no evidence.

"We are pleased," prosecutor Christine Gordon told Television New Zealand. "It saves the two complainants from going through the trauma of having to give evidence in court."
Pitcairn, roughly halfway between New Zealand and Peru, has been reeling from unprecedented attention since the trials opened last week with more than half the island's adult males on trial, including the island's mayor Steve Christian.

Most of Pitcairn's female residents have come out in defense of their men, insisting that underage sex was part of the island's culture and that none of them had been forced into it.
But prosecutors painted a picture of the island's men treating women and girls like a harem.
"Hopefully it (Dennis Christian's guilty plea) is a sign of some acceptance by some on this island of events that have been taking place," said Rob Vinson, a British investigator, to Television New Zealand.

Dennis Christian, a relative of the mayor, admitted in court to indecently assaulting a 12-year-old girl in the early 1980s. The court suppressed details about the other two charges to which he pleaded guilty. Police and witness statements on Sunday accused Steve Christian, a direct descendant of mutineer Fletcher Christian, of sexually initiating all the girls on the island.
Steve Christian, 53, pleaded innocent to six charges of rape and four of indecent assault on four women in 1964-75.

A woman testified from the New Zealand city of Auckland that Christian raped her twice, once while on a motorbike ride and again in one of the island's boats. Defense attorneys suggested to the woman that she had consented to sex with Christian, which she denied.

The trials of three Pitcairn men are underway in two makeshift courtrooms in the island's community hall. Seven men face a total of 55 sex abuse charges going back as long as 40 years. The other four trials have not yet begun.

The trials, held under British law before New Zealand judges, are expected to take six weeks.
Some islanders claim that if the accused are convicted and imprisoned, they will no longer have enough men to crew longboats _ the only way to bring vital supplies to the island from passing ships.

There is no airstrip or port on the rocky, volcanic Pitcairn Islands, which have a total land area of 47 square kilometers (18 square miles). Only one is inhabited.

Radio New Zealand correspondent Sue Ingram on Pitcairn Island contributed to this report for The Associated Press.

Pothole drama in Bangalore

There is a hilarious drama playing out on India's Silicon Capital. And paradoxically it is in the city's potholes. Obviously, the ride on our bikes is in no way hilarious, but the way our civic officials are trying to come to grips with these roads, very much is.
Eversince enlightened voters of Karnataka voted out the progressive Krishna government in May, there has been no government worth the name. And what we see on the roads is nothing but a reflection of this maladministraion.
Potholes are, in fact, nothing new on Indian roads. Anyway nothing lasts for long these days; and, why should roads be an exception. By the same logic, neither should potholes last this long. They never did. The frequent wear and tear of roads used be to as frequently repaired. But no longer. Result: the horror of driving. That's not hilarious. Residents are getting restive. Resentment is getting vocal and quite demonstrative.  
But someone is having good fun. That's the government officials. As newspapers began carrying photos and reports of potholes, the government (just to make it appear it is working) issued a deadline to get these roads repaired. The vigilant media made a reality check and found nothing had changed. Another barrage of reports and photos. Another deadline. Another joke.
Media stepped up attack. Another deadline. Again, the media did a reality check. Finally, something seemed to have been done. Even if not complete asphalting, some patches had been levelled and made motorable. With a sense of accomplishment, the mayor made a declaration that all potholes had been levelled. But the media said he was wrong.
Then came the most dramatic declaration by the mayor. For each photo of pothole published in newspapers the area engineer will be fined Rs 1,000. The media sprang back with renewed vigour. The civic reporters of my newspaper actually went to the spot and counted the potholes. We published as many photos as possible. Other newspapers too did. We lost count of potholes. With as many as we counted, we calculated how much all these potholes are worth. There was some confusion, though. Since some photos showed more than one pothole, it wasn't clear whether the mayor will take it as Rs 1,000 per photo or per pothole.
An exasperated mayor said he will review the situation on October 3. And, he did. Officials went with newspaper cuttings trying to identify the potholes. And he identified them. But, found just seven in the whole of Bangalore! And engineers were levied a token fine Rs 1,000.
But, how come just seven? The mayor makes a distinction -- between potholes which had been neglected by the engineers (who had been on a round of repairs) and fresh potholes created by heavy rain. How he could make that out is a mystery.
But what takes the cake is mayor's statement: "We can't cover the entire city with umbrellas!"
Bangalore's pothole diary will continue....

Saturday, October 2, 2004

A Kerry quote I liked

During the first TV debate in Miami, President Bush and Senator Kerry sparred over their approach to terrorism. While Kerry felt Bush had rushed to war, when there wasn't any reason for it, the President felt otherwise.

One grouse Bush had was that Kerry is inconsistent, and sending wrong message to solidiers and enemy. Bush is sure of what he is doing and thinks that's right. In this context at the fag end of the debate, here is what Kerry said:

"...this issue of certainty. It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right. What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the ground, he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues. And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble."

I think it is a very profound thought. What Kerry said makes a lot of sense; not just in politics, but in day-to-day life of each one of us.

Friday, October 1, 2004

Bush-Kerry debate round 1

Got up early morning to see the Bush-Kerry debate. Since India is ten-and-a-half hours ahead, what was Thursday night in the US was Friday morning for me. Kerry put up a good show. He was doing the attacking and Bush was doing the defending.

I agree with Kerry, that Bush shouldn't have gone to war in such a hurry. If reports are to be believed, a decision to attack had been taken much before the issue came to UN. It came to UN only because of moderates in the administration and Tony Blair. And since Iraq is on the boil, Bush doesn't have much to show anything other than that Saddam is gone.