Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sania and Hillary

It’sn’t often I get to see TV at prime time. At that time, I am in office, putting together the paper I work for. Today was a compensatory off I availed of for having worked on Republic Day. And, I got to see two programmes I enjoyed. One, Walk the Talk with Sania Mirza. And, two, Hillary Clinton’s address and the subsequent Q&A at the India Today Conclave.

It is so nice to see someone so young as Sania perform so well, on and off the court. There is also probably another reason why I like her. Sania looks so much like a friend of mine (also from Hyderabad) who is now in the US. When Shekhar Gupta asked Sania what was her ambition: she very realistically said that she would like to come within top 20 or 25 in the next two to three years. I hope she does.

I am in awe of the Clinton family. A remarkable couple – each a celebrity in his/her own right. I was closely following the flood of articles in the US media at the time of Monica case. Some were on how much the scandal affected the family, how the two drifted apart, how they came back together and the many reasons for that…

When Bill and Hillary were courting, she was a fledgling lawyer, and she was among the few “brightest lawyers of America” handpicked to assist in the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal… That was… when… in 1972. She and others were actually locked up, cut off from outside world for a few days (because of the secrecy surrounding the case) and so Bill, apparently had a real tough time, forget meeting her, even getting to talk to her…

Their life history is very interesting… they had real tough times… personal and political (the constant Republican hounding) and they always survived… including the Monica thing… which Clinton firmly believes (even after all his confessions) was a Republican set-up.

Will Hillary become the first woman President of the US? It is easy for Rabri Devis and Phoolan Devis to be elected to high offices in India. In the US it is tough even for a Hillary. A woman US President is a mental block, which the Americans will have to first remove, before even assessing Hillary’s credentials.

But given this lady’s capabilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if she creates history in 2008.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Tsunami of communal passion

Tsunami-hit area turning into a communal play ground; where different religions fight it out to "serve" the people. A dirty game of oneupmanship.

When I went on a trip to a few of the affected areas last month, when talking to people out there, I could see all signs of this. In Nagapattinam, there were already undertones of this happening. Some reports too had come in.

Now comes a report in the New Indian Express from Kollam. The opening para says: "The covert and overt moves by communal outfits to push their sectarian agenda under the cover of building houses for the tsunami-hit people threaten to vitiate the communal peace and harmony in Alappad panchayat, the headquarters of Mata Amritanandamayi Math." (The full report is appended below.)

This is disturbing; that too in Kerala where people are supposedly intellectually superior; that too in Alappad where the ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is situated.

Can't religion be kept out of all this? Or, in other words, can't social and charitable work be done without the banner of religion? Isn't the work more important than affiliations of benefactors?

Hopefully the "enlightened" people will not let this game spin out of control. And, the mutt will keep itself focused on charity, rather than let itself be caught in an ugly tug-of-war.


Tsunami land turns communal playfield (From New Indian Express)

Friday February 25 2005 00:00 IST

KOLLAM: The covert and overt moves by communal outfits to push their sectarian agenda under the cover of building houses for the tsunami-hit people threaten to vitiate the communal peace and harmony in Alappad panchayat, the headquarters of Mata Amritanandamayi Math.

The mishandling of the tsunami relief work by the government has turned conducive for such forces to indulge in communal games.

The leaders of Sangh Parivar organisations, Missionaries of Charity sisters led by Sr Nirmala of Kolkata and Apostolic Nuncio (representative of the Pope) to India Pedro Lopez Quintana have already descended on Alappad.

The Sangh Parivar has intensified its campaign for leaving the construction of houses in Alappad to Mata Amritanandamayi Math. They suspect that Christian missionaries are trying to have a foothold in the headquarters of the Math by volunteering to construct houses in Alappad.

An organisation called Hindu Raksha Sena has conducted a poster campaign making a call to boycott the visit of Sr.Nirmala, the Mother Superior of the Missionaries of Charities, when she made a visit to a relief camp at Azheekkal last week. Her visit took place under tight police security.

The Hindu organisations have also targeted Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Revenue Minister K.M.Mani for "ignoring'' the Math and Seva Bharathi which were in the forefront of the relief works and for "appeasing'' the organisations belonging to the Christian community.

The Hindu outfits are trying to rope in the Karayogams of Araya community and the Dheevara Sabha which have decisive say on the day-to-day life of the people in Alappad in their campaign. However, the 11 Karayogams in Alappad panchayat have not taken a unanimous stand in extending support to the campaign of the Hindu organisations.

The lapses committed by the government in conducting the rehabilitation works turned a fertile ground for the communal forces to fish in troubled waters.
The delay in starting the rehabilitation work and the failure to chalk out a proper action plan have developed an anti-government feeling among the victims. The exclusion of many deserved people from the list prepared for the distribution of benefits and the inclusion of many undeserved have added fuel to the fire.

According to official sources, certain forces trying to worsen the situation played a role behind in pushing up the number of applications for houses. The government has received over 20,000 applications for building 2000 houses. Of the 2000 houses, 1,300 have been allotted to the Amritanadamayi Math.

Out of the total 992 houses planned for construction in the first phase of the rehabilitation in the 1 to 6 wards of Alappad panchayat, Mata Amritanandamayi Math had been allotted 495 houses. The other organisations allowed to build houses are: CBCI (75), CASA (31), Infam (10), YMCA (9), KCBC (127), KSEBOA (I) and other NGOs(244).

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Toys for the elderly

Trust the Japanese to be at their innovative best. They don’t believe that toys are only for children. Japan’s growing population of lonely elderly people, now have talking toys to give them company. After all, didn’t someone say, “old age is second childhood”. There are over 23,000 people in Japan who are over 100 years old. Here is a clipping on this.

As Japan goes grey, toymakers design dolls for the elderly
Wed Feb 23,11:29 AM ET

TOKYO (AFP): As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely elderly -- companions which can sleep next to them and offer caring words they may never hear otherwise.

Talking toys have become such a hit that some elderly people have embraced them as substitutes for the children who have grown old and deserted entire neighborhoods in the rapidly greying country. The Yumel doll, which looks like a baby boy and has a vocabulary of 1,200 phrases, is billed as a "healing partner" for the elderly and goes on the market Thursday at a price of 8,500 yen (80 dollars).

About 8,000 Yumel dolls, designed by toymaker Tomy with pillows and bedding maker Lofty, have already been sold in less than three months in limited marketing in sleeping sections of department stores. "Toymakers are targeting senior citizens as the number of children is falling. We are also striving to attract them," said Osamu Kiriseko, who headed the Yumel project.

Another toymaker, Bandai, in November 1999 launched the Primopuel doll which is meant to resemble a five-year-old boy who needs the same sort of attention, asking to be hugged and entertained. The toy has proved a hit not only with children but with the elderly and more than one million dollars have been sold over the past five years.

On November 13, Bandai went to a Tokyo amusement park to celebrate the fifth "birthday" of Primopuel, inviting doll owners to pay homage at a nearby shrine in a ritual just like parents of real Japanese five-year-olds do that month. "There has been demand for dolls which can 'heal' you but toys available on the market were mostly for daytime," said Kiriseko. "I thought that you need to enjoy the night together if you really hope to live with a doll."

The 37-centimeter (15-inch) Yumel -- deriving from the Japanese word "yume", or "dream" -- looks like a sleepy baby boy but is equipped with six sensors and an IC chip which keep track of the owner's sleeping time. The doll can be programmed to "sleep" or "wake up" in accordance with the owner's pattern, saying "good morning" with open eyes at due time or inviting the elderly to sleep with the doll's eyelids drooping.

"I feel so good, g-o-o-d n-i-g-h-t," the doll says before falling asleep if the owner pats it on the chest gently. Or Yumel may ask, "Aren't you pushing yourself too hard?" when it judges the owner has been going to bed too irregularly or not spending enough time playing with it. "If you lead an orderly life, Yumel will be in a good mood, singing songs or pleading with you to do something like buying him toys," Kiriseko said.

He said the doll could serve as a more suitable companion for the elderly than man's best friend. "The market for this doll overlaps with a market of dogs, cats and other pets," he said. "But some older people worry about the possibility of dying and leaving their loved pets behind." Some 500 customers have sent in comments since October, many of them hailing the changes to their lives since Yumel entered the picture, with a 95-year-old woman the oldest respondent. "Thank you for giving me a heart-warming baby. I'm no longer alone," an 82-year-old woman wrote while another senior woman said she was raising the doll "as my own child".

Some customers are so much in love with the doll that they are troubled by casual questions it asks. "Some say they cannot give Yumel good answers when it asks questions such as 'Why do elephants have long noses?'" Kiriseko said. "You may think they don't have to answer as it's just a doll who's asking, but they are truly perplexed," Kiriseko said.

The toymaker found a solution in the new-version Yumel: The doll's statement has been modified from a question to the statement, "It's interesting elephants have long noses." Japan is a country with one of the world's lowest birth rates and oldest populations. The nation's birth rate hit an all-time low of 1.29 children per woman in 2003. The government said Monday that Japan's population rose a mere 0.05 percent in the year to October 2004 and could decline this year for the first time since records began in 1950.

Traditionally, the eldest son was expected to live with their parents as they grew older and many young Japanese still stay at home for financial reasons as Japan has some of the world's highest rents. But the custom is fading out in the younger generation as more Japanese singles choose to live independently and favor careers and lifestyles over the pressures of having children and taking care of their parents.

The Japanese are also famous for their longevity, with more than 23,000 people aged 100 or over. In December, a software firm released on the market a 45-centimeter (18-inch) robot for the elderly named Snuggling Ifbot, who is dressed in an astronaut suit with a glowing face. If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, "I'm bored today," the 576,000 yen (5,600-dollar) robot might respond, "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"

To a statement, "Isn't it nice today?", the robot could say, "It is a fine autumn day," by detecting the season from its internal clock. The robot's maker Dream Supply said the Snuggling Ifbot had the conversation ability of a five-year-old -- considered just enough for small talk to keep the elderly from going senile.

(From AFP)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bangalore - Dying City?

I try to be as positive as possible in my outlook. But sometimes reality is so striking that I can’t help but feel depressed. It’s about this city, Bangalore. Gone are the epithets Pensioners Paradise and Garden City. With no governance (ever since Congress under Krishna lost power last year) the city is cracking under the weight of modern-day problems.

The biggest problem is traffic. The other day, I was passing through the just inaugurated Jayadeva flyover. It is a very important junction in South Bangalore. Roughly: to its north is the way to MG Road, to the south is the road to Bannerghatta National Park, to the east is the way to Hosur Road and to the west is the way to Mysore Road.

I was stuck there for more than half an hour. The irony is that when the flyover was being constructed, I didn’t have to wait for even a minute! I just took a detour as indicated there. Can’t believe? It’s truly amazing. I don’t know why there is such a heavy traffic pileup after the flyover was inaugurated. Somewhere something has been messed up thoroughly.

But not that all flyovers are bad. For example, the ones at Silk Board Junction, Bellary Road, KR Puram etc really good. They have made traffic flow much smoother. So also the under bridge at Mekhri Circle.

Bangalore roads are narrow and full of junctions (crosses, as it is referred to here). Close to 100 roads, big and small, have been made one-way. Many flyovers and underbridges are coming up. But they are all only temporary solutions. Soon flyovers too will get chocked with traffic.

Solutions: Regulate building construction within the city. Develop outskirts. Improve public transport.

Unless someone in power wakes up and gets things moving, Bangalore will soon be a Dying City.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

NYT buys

The New York Times Co. agreed to buy the online consumer information group for 410 million dollars from holding company Primedia in an all-cash deal. The deal announced late Thursday highlights growing traditional media interest in Internet properties following the Washington Post acquisition of news site last December and the Dow Jones Co. acquisition of employs approximately 500 experts or guides who create content on thousands of topics ranging from the arts to zoology, attracting 22-million visitors per month., which uses considerable advertising, features a variety of information sites about personal finance, consumer electronics, history and geography and other topics. It has been among the most visited properties on the Internet but has been slipping to competitors such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN.

Along with their flagship newspaper, the Times owns the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, 16 regional newspapers, 8 television stations and 2 NYC radio stations. It also publishes nearly 40 unique news related websites., which was put on the block late last year, also attracted interest from Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and AOL. Combining the websites of the two firms would create the 12th largest entity on the Internet, the company said.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Ariel Sharon and The Kashmir Bus

I know there is no connection between the two. But the passing of Sharon’s Bill on troop pullout from Gaza (hardly any mention in Indian media) and the heartening progress in Indo-Pak talks (covered quite prominently) have happened too close to avoid finding some commonality between the two.

Sharon is a hardliner. He was the one accused to of stoking the flames of intifada after his controversial visit to Temple Mount some years back. He is the one who would have cared two hoots for the welfare of the Palestinians. He deeply wished that Yasser Arafat would die. He would have openly assassinated Arafat had not US and Europe dissuaded him from doing so. Not surprisingly, when Arafat died, rumours were afloat that Israel had poisoned him.

It is a different Sharon today. May be because his hated enemy Arafat is no longer around. He is so much changed that the same Sharon is facing death threats from Jewish hardliners for his troop withdrawal plan. He is so besieged by security that he is hardly visible in public. People are drawing a parallel with the time a decade back when Yitzak Rabin was shot dead for his peace overtures.

Ceasefire, and now the pullout: some hope. But will the hardliners go away?

That is the same question we need to ask in Kashmir too. A bus service between the two Kashmirs exclusively for people of the region will start rolling next month. India and Pak are said to have made a lot of compromises in agreeing to the deal; so much so that the two nations clarified that the new development is without prejudice to stated positions on Kashmir.

I only hope and pray that hardliners will see reason, and not derail whatever little progress is being achieved for a peaceful world: be it in West Asia or Indian Subcontinent.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Kissing school teaches art of locking lips

By Linda Thomas of Reuters

SEATTLE: There's more to a kiss than meets the lips, as couples are learning at a kissing school in Seattle.

Psychotherapist Cherie Byrd, 56, got the idea for teaching kissing classes while dating a man who was a horrible kisser. "Yuck. He was clumsy, unskilled and half-hearted," Byrd said. "I told him if he wanted the relationship to continue he had to let me teach him to kiss." The boyfriend didn't last, but Byrd, a self-described "luscious kisser," said that gave her the idea to teach the art and craft of kissing to other couples. Since 1998, more than 500 couples have paid $275 (145 pounds) to learn Byrd's secrets for giving or receiving a passionate kiss.

On a typical class day, up to a dozen couples create "love nests" with sleeping bags and overstuffed pillows on the carpeted floor of the classroom. Each class begins with foot rubs, back-to-back dancing and tender kisses on the hand. Students slowly graduate to neck nibbles, ear exploration and finally lip locks. As Byrd guides couples through exercises, such as kissing only the bottom lip or licking an ear, soft music plays. In a calm, breathy voice she tells them to "tease, surrender and risk" touching their partner in ways they've never tried before.

Most are married and in their late 30s to mid-50s. Some couples have come from as far away as Africa, Korea and cities all over the United States, Byrd said. Byrd's school, simply titled "Kissing School," appears to be the only one of its kind, although there are Web sites that offer kissing tips and techniques. Several books also cover the subject, including one by Byrd.
"We're basically clueless," Byrd said. "It's more than a smashing of lips." Byrd says that more important than technique is the connection between two people. "It's hard to truly connect with your beloved in our society because we're in such a hurry," she explained. "Multi-tasking leads to sorry, sloppy smooches."

While most students at Seattle's Kissing School are couples, singles are also welcome to take classes, provided they don't mind kissing total strangers. Gary Getz and Lorrie Clemens, married for nine months, flew from their home outside Palo Alto, California to Seattle to attend a kissing school on Saturday.

"It was Lorrie's idea to take the class," Getz said. "But I certainly benefit from her interest." Getz said he resisted his wife's suggestion of going to a kissing school at first. And after completing the day-long class, he reported that he was somewhat disappointed. "As a guy, I thought it would be more technical," Getz explained, "The put your hand here and pucker up this way kind of thing." But he added quickly, "It was very enjoyable."

Other than an occasional, muted "yes" coming from the couple in the corner of the room, there was no conversation until the end of the kissing exercises. Each partner was then asked to rate the other's kiss on a scale of one to 10. One is "not so good" while 10 is a kiss that "sweeps you off your feet." After a brief discussion, the couples went at it again to try to improve their scores. Getz and Clemens rated each other's kisses at 9.9. "We want to keep on practicing," Clemens said.

The instructor's top tip for creating a kiss that is satisfying and sensual is to slow down. "Men in particular rush through kisses and let their minds wander too much," Byrd said. "A kiss is really a gift of your heart. It's your energy transferred to another person's body." Although the class is very intimate, Byrd has never had couples go too far with their kisses.

The room, in an old school building, is well lighted and not the most comfortable place to get carried away, even with the fluffy pillows and blankets. Only one couple failed the class in Byrd's opinion. "One guy thought he knew everything and didn't need any lessons," Byrd said. "I feel for his poor wife."

As couples left Saturday's class, hair tousled and in search of lip balm, Byrd went home to an empty house. The kissing school teacher is not married and at the moment doesn't have a boyfriend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

China overtakes US

China has overtaken the US in the consumption of basic agricultural and industrial goods. With a booming economy and 1.3bn people, it is now the world's largest consumer of grain, meat, coal and steel, says the Earth Policy Institute.

China is well ahead of the US in the consumption of goods such as television sets, refrigerators and mobile phones, according to the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. However, per capita consumption in China - the world's most populous country - remains far below that of the US.

According to the report:
- 64m tons of meat were consumed in China in 2004 compared to 38m tons in the US
- 258m tons of steel were used in China in 2003 compared to 104m in the US
- China's factories and homes burned 40% more coal than in the US
- The number of PCs in China is doubling every 28 months.

No wonder, the US is scared of China's growth.

The latest official figures for the Chinese economy, the sixth-largest in the world, show it is growing at an even faster rate than expected. It expanded by 9.5% in 2004, its highest rate for eight years.
Imagine, when the fast-paced development translates before long into high per capita consumption too!

(From the BBC)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day facts & figures


One legend has it that Valentine's Day originated to commemorate the anniversary of the death of St. Valentine, a Roman clergyman who was executed on Feb. 14, about 270 A.D., for secretly marrying couples in defiance of the emperor. According to another, the holiday began as a Roman fertility festival. Americans probably began exchanging handmade valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther Howland, a native of Massachusetts, began to sell the nation's first mass-produced valentine cards.

Young and Looking for Love
118 - Number of single men (i.e., never married, widowed or divorced) who are in their 20s for every 100 single women of the same ages.
Corresponding numbers for the following race and ethnic groups are:
Hispanics: 159 men per 100 women

Non-Hispanic whites (single race): 117 men per 100 women
Blacks (single race): 89 men per 100 women
Asians (single race): 129 men per 100 women

Young at Heart and Looking for Love
33 - Number of single men (i.e., never married, widowed or divorced) age 65 and over for every 100 single women of the same ages.
Corresponding numbers for the following race and ethnic groups are:
Hispanics: 37 men per 100 women

Non-Hispanic whites (single race): 33 men per 100 women
Blacks (single race): 34 men per 100 women
Asians (single race): 30 men per 100 women

Try Looking Here . . .
Below are names of some romantic-sounding places:
Valentine, Neb. Lovelady, Texas

Valentine, Texas
Loving County, Texas
Loveland, Colo.
Lovington, N.M.
Lovejoy, Ga.
Loving, N.M.
Loves Park, Ill.
Love County, Okla.
Lovelock, Nev.
Lovington, Ill.
Love Valley, N.C. Romeo, Colo.
Loveland, Ohio Romeo, Mich.
Loveland Park, Ohio Romeoville, Ill.
Loveland, Okla.

Be Mine
2.2 million - Number of marriages that take place in the United States annually. That breaks down to about 6,000 a day.
138,600 - The number of marriages performed in Nevada during 2003. So many couples "tie the knot" in the Silver State that it ranked fourth nationally in marriages, even though its total population that year was 35th.
25.3 and 27.1 - The estimated U.S. median ages at first marriage for women and men, respectively, in 2003. The age for women is up 4.3 years in the last three decades. The age for men is up 3.9 years.
The proportion of women 20 to 24 years old who had never married more than doubled between 1970 and 2003 from 36 percent to 75 percent. Changes were also dramatic for men the corresponding rate for men in this age group increased from 55 percent to 86 percent.
54% and 57% - The percentages of American women and men, respectively, who are 15 and over and currently married.
4.6 million - Number of cohabitating couples who maintained households in 2003. These couples comprised 4.2 percent of all households, up from 2.9 percent in 1996.

Candy is Dandy
1,006 - Number of locations producing chocolate and cocoa products in 2002. These establishments employed 42,538 people. California led the nation in the number of such establishments (with 114) followed by Pennsylvania (with 100).
619 - Number of locations that produced non-chocolate confectionary products in 2002. These establishments employed 24,284 people.
3,782- Number of confectionery and nut stores in the United States in 2002. Often referred to as candy stores, they are among the best sources of sweets for Valentine's Day.
24.6 pounds - Per capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2003; it is believed a large portion is consumed around Valentine's Day. Candy consumption has actually declined over the last few years; in 1997, each American gobbled or savored more than 27 pounds of candy a year.

$425 million- The combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut flowers in 2003 for all operations in 36 states with $100,000 or more in sales. Among states, California was the leading producer, alone accounting for nearly three-quarters of this amount ($306 million).
$52 million - The combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut roses in 2003 for all operations in 36 states with $100,000 or more in sales. Among all types of cut flowers, roses were second in receipts to lilies ($70 million).
23,094 - The number of florists nationwide in 2002. These businesses employed 119,117 people.

28,914 - Number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2002. Jewelry stores offer engagement, wedding and other rings to lovers of all ages. In February 2004, these stores sold $2.4 billion worth of merchandise a much higher total than in the preceding month or succeeding months.
The merchandise at these locations could well have been produced at one of the nation's 1,892 jewelry manufacturing establishments. The manufacture of jewelry was an $8.3 billion industry in 2002.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Mobile phone, finally

Finally, I am getting a mobile phone. I was one among those five or six people in my office who don’t have one. Mercifully, no one has so far called me “a prehistoric relic of a Neanderthal”. Or, at least I haven’t heard.

But, I have a friend working in a software firm, who found my “non-mobile status” extremely discomforting. “Why don’t you get one yaar,” she used to say. “It will be so easy to call you and keep in touch.” She just couldn’t understand how could I not have a mobile phone. A typical NewGen product, I thought. “I will,” I used to just nod in reply.

Hopefully, people will now accept me as a part of modern civilisation once I get this little toy (which I have heard many people describe as an extension of a body part.) Also, hopefully I will have more interaction with my software firm friend!

Not that I never understood the tremendous advantages a cell phone conferred on its user. Isn’t it so obvious in this info-age! But what really kept me off was a feeling that I didn’t really need one. Most of the time I am in the office or at home, barring a once-in-a-while outing with the family, or a visit to the department store or bank. Should I get a mobile, so that I can take the odd calls that come during those times, I used to wonder.

That friend’s remark reminded me about the comments people used to make some couple of years back. “Hey look at that taxi driver… even he has one.”
I used to tell such people, “What is so surprising if taxi drivers or maid servants have one? They are always on the move, aren’t they?”

I think now mobile phones have ceased to be items of novelty: at least not the possession of one; though probably expensive fancy and high-end handsets are still objects of desire, and, for some, hollow statements of their status.

But I also found there is another breed of “intellectuals” who pride in their non-possession of mobile phones. “So you have fallen to the mobiles!” was one exclamation I heard. Note that guy’s usage of the word “fallen”. Crap. He is as stupid as someone who is proud of having these modern-day gadgets.

I am sure you are wondering, why am I now going for a mobile phone. Have I become so mobile, and that a handset has become totally indispensable? Not really. I just got a feeling that the time has come to grab the convenience of a modern-day gadget. Intense competition among service providers now gives me a lot more of options than what I would have had a few years back.

There is another reason too. I found that the mobile phone revolution reduced our “tolerance limit” to a great extent. Information travels much faster now. The availability of a cellphone tempts us to communicate, even when there is no need to, contributing to what scientists call “information overload” -- may not be desirable, but quite a fact of life, like the junk mail. And, more importantly, people want quick responses from you.

I am an info-freak and my profession is also all about information. Keep up, or get lost out. I must cruise as fast as I can on the information superhighway, at least to make sure that I don’t lag behind.

That is the real reason why I am getting a mobile phone, now. Finally!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Naxalite problem in Karnataka

For the first time, there was a major terrorist attack in Karnataka yesterday. An army of some 200 odd Naxalites (armed revolutionary extremists who believe in a violent means for change) swooped down on Venkatammanahalli village in Pavagada taluk in Tumkur district. They attacked a school which was functioning as a camp for Karnataka State Reserve Police personnel with AK 47s and grenades leaving six policemen and a civilian dead.

India's Naxal problems, which in a vague sense is linked to pan-Asian Maoist ideology, is a problem which our governments haven't been serious about. Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are the states most affected. A part of Karnataka is also infested, but there hasn't been violence to this extent till now.

We don't need a degree in political science or sociology to see that such movements are most rampant in areas where there has been no development. Poor roads, no communication, no good water supply or electricity; lack of good shelter, schools, and hospitals -- these areas are pathetic. At the same time, these inadequacies are no justification for taking to arms.

That's precisely the point of confusion. Is this a law and order problem or a socio-economic problem? The fact is it is both. But sadly it is not being viewed as either. Neither the umpteen developement schemes of the goverment running into crores of rupees not taken off nor the police given adequate equipment to fight the Naxals.

If the Naxals are accused of using the wrong methodology to solve a genuine problem, the government stands equally guilty of just not doing anything to solve the problems.

Isn't all this so scary when there is hardly any governance now-a-days?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Bloggers lose their jobs

It's happening again. Bloggers are getting fired in the US. In some cases workers had posted under pen names on their blogs nasty comments about their company. In some others, there were uncharitable comments abouts colleagues. The bloggers say no harm was intended. But no one seems to be listening to them. Many say weblogs are very much books or magazines or TV: a mass medium. So the ethics one is supposed to follow for traditional media should be followed for blogs as well.

  • My Jan 16 posting: Think before you post your blog entry
  • My Nov 18 posting: Croatian diplomat fired over blog comments
  • ---------------------------------

    Blogging Can Get You in Trouble at Work (Feb 9 ABC News report)


    WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2005 — Heather Armstrong worked as a Web designer for a Los Angeles software company. In February 2001, she started a blog — a Web log or online journal. "It's sort of my hobby," she said. "Other people like to play instruments; I like to write online." No names were used in her blog — not hers, her co-workers', nor her company's. But she was terminated after company executives were tipped off and read her posts, which included unflattering descriptions of many of them.

    "What I was doing was completely benign," Armstrong said. "I never mentioned any trade secrets. I never mentioned the company." Her Web site is located at Since her termination, some bloggers have taken to calling the act of being fired because of one's Web site being "dooced."

    Anonymity on the World Wide Web?

    At companies across the country, employees are being fired for Internet postings employers do not like. It is a new and increasingly prevalent cause for termination. The firings raise a central question: How much anonymity can anyone expect on a portal called the "World Wide" Web? "Many people don't understand how what they're writing on a blog is not as anonymous as they think it is," said Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group. "They feel like they're having a conversation with friends and family, when they're really having a conversation with anyone who comes by."

    Last November, David Pilgreen, posted a message on a chat site frequented by his fellow Kmart employees. Hoping to rebut rumors of lackluster Thanksgiving weekend sales, Pilgreen — who worked at one of the retailer's distribution centers — posted positive, but internal, sales information. "I never meant to harm Kmart or cause them any trouble," he said. His bosses already knew Pilgreen's screen name, "DeepPerple." DeepPerple was immediately in deep trouble, fired after 16 years.

    In a written statement, Kmart said that "as with all Company communications, confidential information should not be divulged to outside parties." But employers can be very sensitive to the kind of information employees share — even if it's not directly related to the job. Jessica Cutler, who formerly worked as a lowly staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, shared no private office information on her now-notorious blog. On, she instead posted very detailed information about her sex life, some of which involved alleged trysts with high-profile politicians. "I deserved to be fired for that," Cutler said. "I took a risk by posting that stuff on the Web in the first place." Cutler can afford to take responsibility for her actions. The mini-scandal and her writing landed her a six-figure book deal.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2005

    Israel-Palestine ceasefire pact

    No need to get so excited about the news of Israel and Palestine deciding to end hostilities. A great development, of course. There has been many such agreements before. They have all collapsed. Perhaps the only difference now is that Yasser Arafat is not around. Mohd Abbas is known to be a moderate.

    But the problems are going to crop up only when we come to the fine print. Especially on the status of Jerusalem. And, it is not so easy to disarm the terrorist groups. They need to save their face, one. And secondly, they have to be decently rehabilitated. The only other major terrorist campaign that has some what subsided is the IRA's. And, how difficult it has been.

    Monday, February 7, 2005

    Is only democracy the goal?

    With Nepal on the boil there is talk of democracy again. We had a few rounds before with Afghanistan and Iraq; and also most of the time when Bush opens his mouth.

    Coinciding with elections in Iraq, Newsweek of January 31 has two articles one by Fareed Zakaria,
    High Hopes and Hard Facts, and the other by Andrew Moravcsik Dream On, America.

    Sunday Times of India newspaper of yesterday had a wonderful Special Report on democracy; and the different forms of it prevalent in different countries: from the US and the UK to India and Pakistan; to Singapore and Russia; to Afghanistan and Iraq. There is voting in all countries. But does mere voting rights for people make them democracies?

    Jug Suraiya, in the main article, makes a good comparison between Singapore and Bihar (state of India, which is currently electing its state assembly.) Singapore is so progressive that it boasts of First World standard of living. Bihar is backward. Singapore has very limited individual freedom for people. But Bihar has so much freedom, that you can really do anything. Which one will you choose, Jug Suraiya asks. He says really democracy is when you have a choice to choose; and when no body else tells you that this is the democracy you should have. Democracy, or freedom, can’t be enforced.

    It is said that democracy with all its faults is much better than a dictatorship with all its good. India and Indians should be proud that our democracy is so vibrant. But what we should feel ashamed of is that the vibrancy has brought in chaos rather than order.

    I really doubt if mere freedom to vote makes a country democratic. May be true to some extent. Democracy is all about people; and therefore, it is of no use if people are not good enough for it. People -- who are not good enough for democracy -- will elect leaders who are not good enough for democracy. What if the people have the freedom but they don’t know to use it?

    The right to vote (or democracy) is not the end. It is only the beginning in the pursuit of having a well-evolved society with a reasonably good standard of living. And, it is often the leaders who determine that, and not the type of government.

    I am sure Bush knows that...

    Friday, February 4, 2005

    New fear of motorists

    Even when there were parking attendants, vehicles used to get stolen. Parking becomes free from April 1. If there aren’t attendants, how safe will our vehicles be? Mayor has this plan of handing over these streets to private parties who will then be allowed to put up ads there. They will also have to keep attendants who will wear uniforms and identity cards. But since we have a poor record of ideas getting translated into reality, the fears are genuine.

    Thursday, February 3, 2005

    Internet & children

    One of my friends (Ms A) is quite worried. She is the mother of a girl and a boy. The girl must be around 14 and the boy around 10. The girl has been demanding internet connection at home. Ms N has been putting it off. "I don't think I can put it off any longer," she tell me.

    Both she and her husband return from work only by say 9 pm. The obvious worry for Ms N is that her daughter may get into "unwanted" sites and "chat" with strangers etc etc. Ms N realises that at one stage or the other every teenager while surfing "will stray into such sites" and do "a bit of chatting and all". Unavoidable.

    But she is wondering how she can curb it (without making it so obvious to her daughter) so that it doesn't get out of hand. "And, you know these kids know much more than we do, yaa..!" she exclaims in near desperation. Very genuine concern for a mother.

    One suggestion I gave her was to let them log into the net only when either father or mother is at home. Don't let out the password. If they insist on knowing the password and right to log in any time they want, tell them that the family needs to keep a check on the internet and telephone bills. "We didn't tell you don't surf. Limit it."

    I have read somewhere that it's a good idea NOT to keep the PC in a very secluded corner. Let it be in an open area where it is visible to others. That will be a deterrent.

    Any other thoughts on this very modern-day problem?

    Tuesday, February 1, 2005

    Free parking in Bangalore

    Mayor R Narayanswamy's decision to make parking free on streets of Bangalore is really good. But I was worried about the loss of revenue to the corporation: like Rs 5 crore annually from 142 streets.

    He has some brains. For, he has come out with a good alternative scheme. Hand over these streets to bidders. The highest bidder can put up ads on poles at designated places. Plus, he will have to maintain the street using an attendant who will wear a uniform and carry an identity card. Motorists won't have to pay.

    This will be from April 1. Not that we never have good schemes. If all of them had been sincerely implemented, India would have been a Heaven on Earth!