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Saturday, October 29, 2005

2nd term blues of US Presidents

The second term of US Presidents have been controversial. Right now, George Bush is in the thick of it. Earlier, we had Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky. Then Ronald Reagan was embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal. NTY has a very interesting article on these second-term controversies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bangalore drowned

Today's rain was the worst Bangalore saw during the last many decades. The city registered a record rainfall of 52.5 cm up to 2 pm today for October surpassing the five-decade old high of 52.2 cm as several layouts, including posh ones, in southern parts of the city where several IT firms are located, were marooned.

Rain was one factor. But we can't ignore the contribution of lack of quality roads and drains. Most of the flooding was not because of the rain, but because of blocked drains and overflowing of ill-maintained lakes. We are not lacking in ideas. We have world-class technocrats (but not politicians, who play a crucial role in a democracy like India). But sadly, at times of crises like today's, we find that ideas have remained just that.

Heavy rain and flooding of cities is not new to Bangalore or India. Every city in the world faces the problem. But I am sure in an advanced society, people won't be cribbing about bad politicians and poor basic amenities, like we do here. The US and Europe faces heavy flooding every year, but the governments there fail-safe institutionalised disaster-management systems. When it fails like it did in New Orleans it becomes world news. New Orleans is not the norm, it was an exception. But here right from prediction of bad weather to getting down to doing something about it is pathetic, and worse, it is the norm.

Our weakest link is the delivery mechanism at the implementation stage. There is an acute lack of commitment and accountability, compounded by high-level of corruption. We have debates about debates. Bangalore really needs to be shaken up, and people have to get to their jobs on hand.

Friday, October 21, 2005

World Press Freedom Index 2005

It is tragic that Guardian's Iraq reporter Rory Carrol was abducted (and later released after 32 hours in a darkened room with handcuffs) around the same time Reporters Without Borders released the World Press Freedom Index 2005. Hats off to journalists, like Rory, who work under very dangerous conditions especially braving the threats of the state machinery.

The report says "North Korea once again comes bottom of the index. It is closely followed in the 167-country list by Eritrea (166th) and Turkmenistan (165th), which are other “black holes” for news where the privately-owned media is not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist.

"At the top of the Index once again are northern European countries Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands, where robust press freedom is firmly established.

"Some Western democracies slipped down the Index. The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources."

India is ranked 106 -- very surprising. The probable reason: news on radio is still under complete government control. The FM which was unshackled from government control just a few years back, still have no right to broadcast news.

This may look very strange when there are so many 24 hour private TV news channels. But government knows radio has a far greater reach than TV. Private radio news channels, when allowed, have every chance of becoming very popular in a country like India, which is not only politically vibrant but also has high levels of current awareness. It is easier to open a radio station than a TV station, and probably the government is fighting shy of a scenario where villages too will slip out of government's propoganda radar, like cities already have.

Except during the period of Emergency (1975 to 77) media in India has not come under any government control. The media, barring radio, even now is not at all under any government control as far as content goes. Probably the survey has taken into account the government control and licensing that is restricting the growth of the media.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Saddam on trial

Saddam Hussein's trial has begun in Baghdad, and quite obviously he has pleaded not guilty.

There are no two opinions as to how cruel Saddam was. He selfishly squandered the resources of his country, totally disregarding his people's welfare. Nemesis has caught up with him.

But that's not the end of the story. The US is still very much in the picture, and their credentials vis-a-vis Saddam are unfortunately not above board.

Saddam must be tried by a sovereign Iraq, an Iraq that has evolved democratically to have an independent judiciary. But when will that happen? Will the US be patient for that? It will be sad if Saddam is summarily tried and executed in no time. No one will gain anything out of it, except perhaps Bush's ego getting a boost.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lenin to meet Putin in Kerala's Moscow!

On October 22, Putin will wait for Gorbachev and Stalin at the railway station in Changanassery, a small town in south Kerala, to take a rickety old village bus all the way to Moscow. Krushchev wants to join them with Svetlana but only if friend Brezhnev manages to get confirmed rail tickets for all of them. These are all real people with real names. The will head for second meeting of Malayalis with Russian names at Moscow, near Changanassery in Kerala. A interesting news item by my friend Rajeev PI in Indian Express.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Kashmir quake, a week after

It's a week since the earthquake shattered Kashmir -- the Pak-controlled part taking brunt of it. As this article in Slate "One earthquake, two countries" says: "... natural disasters are also always political. In the case of the South Asian earthquake, it took only a day or two for the disaster to lay bare the political fault lines of the troubled region. Now, as the death toll balloons toward 30,000, and rescuers struggle to get tents and blankets and high-energy biscuits to victims in remote areas, politicians in Delhi, Islamabad, and Washington pick at their own sores."

The temblor also showed so tragically what a waste it is to spend millions a day to maintain this border -- that too a farcical one, for what is seen in the map is not what is on the ground! Indian soldiers cross over the Line of Control (that is the border on the ground, not on the map!) unarmed and help the Pakistani soldiers.

Good. But, such efforts too should also have a ludicrous element attached to it -- someone says Indian troops also helped rebuild Pak bunkers! I wonder who could have made that claim -- it can't be a Pakistani (how can he admit that he let the enemy come in to build his bunker), nor it can be an Indian (how can he admit that he went across to the enemy to build his bunker).

Tragedies can be a catalyst to thawing of frosty relations. But nothing of that is evident here.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Kashmirs united

There is a theory which says Nature wreaks havoc with an intent. Debatable. But if that is so, then yesterday's earthquake seemed to say a lot. It hit the divided Kashmir, and perhaps one way of uniting people. What a way to tell the bickering politicians: if you can't get the people together, I know how to! And how tragically. The toll is more than 18,000. 

Friday, October 7, 2005

One hell of a ride and...

Yesterday night was a day when my scooter (or I?) was in love with Bangalore's famous potholes. I could sense an inexplicable force of bonding between the ubiquitous craters and the wheels of my scooter...
so much so that I cruised through most of them on my way home. I am okay. Till now. But what about my scooter.... I dread going back to the mechanic. You will know why, if you read my previous posting.
 
After that cruise by night through Bangalore's landmarks, I was so relieved to reach my home. But when I stretched my hand to switch off the scooter, my heart almost stopped. I felt like sinking.
 
The key is missing. There is no key on my scooter. It is lost. Where's it? Without it how did I start this? It was there, but where is it now? Gone. Where? Fallen down? How? So rough was the ride it must have come off and fallen somewhere on the road. Gosh! How do I switch this damn thing off? What all keys I had in that ring. Break all those locks now? If someone gets that key, he will steal my scooter, break into everything that I had locked up. I knew this will happen when I pushed one key after the other into that same ring. I can't even search for it now. My brother-in-law had said if I have to put so many keys into that same ring, make sure it is well secured, like hook it to the handle of the scooter or something. He was so right. Everything is gone. What the hell do I do now?
 
I was still on the scooter. Not knowing what to do, with my hand on my chin, staring down into that spot where the ring of keys should have been, cursing myself and trying to find a way out this mess.
 
Suddenly I saw something next to my right foot. There it is. I couldn't believe this. The key had come off, fallen, and it was just there (on the floor of the vehicle) and didn't slide down to the ground from the scooter? What luck this is? I thanked the Almighty, and everyone who have been kind and generous!!! What a way to remind me, to be grateful. One key in a ring of many keys.... lost... and found.
 
One thing is sure, my next trip to the mechanic. I will prefer that any day to losing the keys.