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Thursday, March 29, 2007

SC stay on OBC quota in IITs, IIMs

Today's Supreme Court stay on the government's order providing for 27% reservation for Other Backward Class people in higher education institutions like IITs and IIMs was striking for one reason: its observation that the census of 1931 can't be the determinant for identifying the OBCs. While upholding the reservation policy, the court directed the government to get the current figures.

It's amazing that all through the debate we had in the recent past, this crucial point never came up. The government hasn't done a proper survey of the OBCs; and it has been relying on data that is over 70 years old!

Once again, let it be noted that no one is -- definitely I am not -- against reservation for the disadvantaged people. Positive discrimination has a huge role in societal development. The contentious point here is the method being adopted by the government to identify who should be get reservation, what parameters adopted to determine the beneficiaries. The approach is skewed and lopsided.

"Reservation cannot be permanent and appear to perpetuate backwardness," the court said.

Sadly this issue is so inextricably entwined in politics. Reservation policy is not about welfare of the deserving. But how the most number of people can be pampered with free lunches, so to speak. Not quite surprising: for a largely poor country like India, where lack of development is a vested interest that the huge majority of immature politicians seek to perpetuate.

Yahoo to remove limit on storage

This could be a path-breaking development. The New York Times is quoting a Reuters story that Yahoo plans to offer unlimited e-mail storage to its customers from May. Two reasons behind this move: one, explosive growth in the size of attachments, and two, storage costs are dropping. Read more here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

User-generated journalism

The Changing Media Summit has been examining the future of journalism in the wake of new technology that's increasingly redefining mass communication. Newspapers, radio, television, mobile phones, internet: all are in the midst of tech-triggered changes.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger spoke of the possibility of newspapers allowing lot more of user-generated content. He said: "We are grappling with this balance of what goes on to the website and what goes in the paper. A great part of that web [content] will be generated by users in time."

But he was quick to clarify that this will only be a complimentary role. "The role of journalists in this multi-media age has not changed and that user-generated content will only be a compliment to their work." (Source: Press Gazette)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Whither Indian cricket?

Looking back, when we wanted India to win against Sri Lanka yesterday in the World Cup cricket, we were hoping against hope; that it would be India's day. But, it wasn't.

It isn't the defeat in that particular match; it's about how we lost: an expose of total ineptitude. India didn't have a clue to Lankans' guile. It was all there in the body language. Sri Lankan players exhibited confidence and determination. In contrast, Indians were clearly struggling from the word go. Our batsmen were pinned down; the only two who showed some resistence were Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. It wasn't that our team lost after putting up a good fight. It was just meek surrender.

We need to realise at least now that ours is a middle-level team capable of winning once in a while when conditions suit us. We had hyped up enormously the prospects of an overrated team. Strangely, our excitement is all before the match; while normally, it should be after a victory. Somewhere something is horribly wrong: the way see cricket, the way we play it, the way we perceive it, the way we have made it an inseparable part of our national psyche.

Like all teams, India too has always had moments of glory and moments of shame. But what is of recent origin is the transformation of cricket to everything other than a wonderful sport. The turning point was when one-dayers gained popularity over Test matches. This combined with the explosive revolution in telecast technology and mushrooming of TV channels, transformed what should normally be hightened interest into some sort of perverted obsession.

Crores of rupees by way of endorsements and media campaigns were at stake, people had launched themselves into deifying cricketers, bats, balls, pads, stumps etc. If a game, worse a victory or a loss, has come to have such a bearing on budgets -- corporate and individual -- and on people's lifestyle -- even to the extent of determining life and death -- then, it's definitely not a sport that's to be enjoyed.

Hope cricket doesn't degenerate to this level.

(Photo credit: Adnan Abidi of Reuters)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Water scarcity: what you and I can do

Just imagine a day without water! Give a thought to it at least today -- the World Water Day.

The idea to devote a day in a calendar year to this most basic necessity for human existence grew out the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Millions of people have just no access to water, clean or unclean. And those who have some access have no way of getting clean water. And on another level, water -- from small amounts right within our houses to large amounts from swollen rivers -- is wasted.

Yet, availability of water continues to be taken for granted by all of us at all levels from the governmental to individual. We have still not woken up to the fact that there is only a finite amount of water on Earth but our consumption is growing. The interesting point, however, is that on the whole there is enough water for all of us! What needs to be done is regulate the available water in such a way that there is minimum wastage and water is equitably distributed.

The river water disputes -- especially the Cauvery -- illustrate the gravity of the situation. Sadly, governments haven't mustered enough will power to treat it as a common development problem of all of us; instead it is looked up on as a political issue and emotions are whipped up needlessly over it.

Ideas like interlinking of rivers and rainwater harvesting haven't taken off at all. In Bangalore, no effort is made by authorities to make sure that new housing and commercial complexes have rainwater harvesting facilities on their premises.

What we can do?

Even at the microlevel we all can contribute in a small measure towards conserving water. Next time you wash your hands at the washbasin just see how much you open the tap. Most of us open the tap much more than what we need to. More water flows out than is needed.

We can notice that opening the tap more, and letting more water flow out on to the hands, doesn't always necessarily clean our hands faster. The same is the case while washing vessels and taking a shower. A lot of water is usually wasted. And, we don't realise that.

So, just consciously open the tap only to the extent that is actually necessary. Also, many people while brushing teeth, keep the tap water running throughout. Water just keeps running; water is simply wasted. There is no need to; we need to open the tap only when we rinse our mouth.

If we observe carefully there are a number of occasions when we waste water, quite without our knowledge. While we wait for governments to do their bit, we can make a small beginning by doing our bit. Not that this way you and I can remove the world's water scarcity at one stroke. But surely we make a small difference, and in an incremental manner it has an effect.

Some of the best practices aren't enforced or implemented, they are just practised, quietly, at an individual level.

Related links:
-- World Bank report on India's turbulent water future
-- Water debate: Viewpoints on BBC
-- BBC programme: Water scarcity, a looming crisis
-- World Water Day
-- Rainwater harvesting
-- The Tirupur example of Public-Private Partnership

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blog posting in Malayalam script

I have been thinking for quite a while on blogging in Malayalam using the transliteration device. My desire intensified the moment I saw and enabled the Hindi transliteration option on blogger. That means.... हिंदी मे अभी लिख सकते है ... I can now write in Hindi.

I Googled... and thanks to technology, all I took was one hour for moving from the "I know nothing about this" stage to "I am able to type in Malayalam font on my blog" stage. പ്രദീപ്, that's my name typed in Malayalam. Wow!

This is how I did it: I came to this site, went to Section 3.1 in the contents (Using Mozhi Keyman to type Malayalam directly), and followed the instructions there to download Keyman and use it. You can visit this site too for lots of info.

Wow! that's some achievement for me! ഇതു ഇത്ര എലുപ്പമാനെന്നൂ എനിക്കരിയില്ലയിരുന്നു. I mean, I didn't know it was this easy.

Of course, there are small font issues to be ironed out like some letters don't transliterate in the way it should. For example, I am not able to get right the sound of the second "l" in the word Malayalam. It's taking only the sound of the first "l"; that is: “ല”. I don't know how I can overcome this problem. Suggestions are welcome.

Anyway, this is a big luxury, I shouldn't complain. I shall try to sort them out as I go along.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Stray cats enter home, attack women, boy

This didn't happen in Bangalore. Nevertheless, it will be of interest to Bangaloreans, particularly animal lovers.

Two stray cats attacked three people after they got into a house in North Platte, Nebraska, in the US, says an AP report quoted in Boston Globe. "Both cats were shot, tranquilized and taken to the animal shelter, where they were euthanized. The bodies were sent... for rabies checks... Authorities want to find out who owned the cats. Under city ordinance, cats may run free if they don't become nuisances...." the report says.

Bob, you served cricket well

Yesterday being my weekly offday, I hit the bed early, around 11 pm, with the transistor radio. The two world cup matches were going on predictable lines and slowly sleep took over; until I was woken up by an SMS beep at midnight. It was a news alert from Cricketnext.com. "Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer passes away in Jamaica." I couldn't believe it. That really woke me up. I switched on the TV and the Breaking News was all over the channels. (Photo credit: Cricketnext.com)

Only the day before he was addressing the media and taking the defeat at the hands of Ireland in his stride saying such things happen. And then, he is no more. Such is the life we lead.

Though Bob Woolmer was reputed to be a great coach with Warwickshire and South Africa, it wasn't a pleasant experience with Pakistan. The sort of attacks he was subjected to was probably never warranted. But the professional coach that he was, he must have adjusted to them.

We still don't know the events leading up to the tragedy. A very sad end to a great cricketing career.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cricketers cracking under pressure

In 2004, we got to know a term called 'tsunami'. Yesterday, a lot of us kept hearing the term 'minnows'.

The defeat of Pakistan and India in the Caribbean World Cup yesterday by Ireland and Bangladesh was nothing short of a complete shock. Worse, Pakistan is out of the competition just four days after the 40-day tournament began. The Pak team has been in a mess for some time. But never one imagined they would plummet to this extent, beaten by Ireland.

Skipper Rahul Dravid kept saying after the match, "We should have batted better." Wasn't that obvious? He should have told us why the team couldn't bat better.

There are no cricketing reasons for India's defeat. There's too much hype around, not cricket, but cricketers, leading to extreme psychological pressure on the team members. It may be worthwhile recalling what Rahul said before leaving India: "The World Cup is a big event. I do not think that you base your career and everything on the fact of winning a World Cup..."

Those words spoke a lot. A good amount of reason for India's performance is hidden in that statement. It indicated the amount of pressure the team is under. The Irish or Canadian or Bangladesh team captain wouldn't have said like that. The team needs a break; a real good break.

Yes, cricket is a passion in India; it's one unifying factor in a highly divisive country like ours; a huge economy is riding on cricketers' adverts and match telecasts.... but the bottomline is cricket is just a game... subjected to all uncertainties like any other game.

Things have really crossed all limits if people are worshipping cricketers and sinking thousands of rupees for rituals in temples for the team's victory. What has been happening today in various parts of the country -- the violence and threats of violence against cricketers -- is only making matters worse.
(Photo of Rahul Dravid from Indiatimes)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences

I am very sceptical about forwarded emails. It's very difficult to know whether some of the photos that are forwarded are original or morphed. And there is no way of knowing whether some of the amazing facts contained in these forwards are true or not. Basically they lack authentic source or credit.

Today I got a forward about the mysterious coincidences between Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy. I remember reading about this some years back in an article about the world's unexplained mysteries.

Instead of re-forwarding it, I am putting it up here, after doing some research myself. The person who started this chain mail, obviously has lifted it straight from this website, which in turn seems to have been lifted from here or some other similar one. There are plenty of websites on the amazing Lincoln-Kennedy similarity.

Here is the amazing string of coincidences...

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
Both wives lost a child while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Both Presidents were shot in the head.

Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy's Secretary was named Lincoln.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.
Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are composed of fifteen letters.

Lincoln was shot at a theater named "Ford."
Kennedy was shot in a car called "Lincoln" made by "Ford."

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.

And Lincoln was shot in a theater and the assassin ran to a warehouse.
Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and the assassin ran to a theater.

This website
lists a few more coincidences:

Lincoln and Kennedy each has 7 letters.
Andrew Johnson and Lydon Johnson each has 13 letters.

A Lincoln staffer Miss Kennedy told him not to go to the theater.
A Kennedy staffer Miss Lincoln, told him not to go to Dallas.

If nothing else, these forwards are a good read.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

India's infrastructure woes

Business Week has an excellent story on India's infrastructure. Much of the country's ills can be traced to lack of infrastructure; even Bangalore's dog menance. We have progressed in so many fronts. The purchasing power of individuals has increased, but look the place all of us live.

It's worth reading this article. Extracts:

... This economic boom is being built on the shakiest of foundations. Highways, modern bridges, world-class airports, reliable power, and clean water are in desperately short supply. And what's already there is literally crumbling under the weight of progress....

... The infrastructure deficit is so critical that it could prevent India from achieving the prosperity that finally seems to be within its grasp...

... India today is about where China was a decade ago...

... (Prime Minister Manmohan) Singh, in fact, is promising a Marshall Plan-scale effort...

... Envisioning a brand-new India is the easy part; paying for it is another matter... Country's public debt stands at 82% of GDP, the 11th-worst ranking in the world... Much of the money for these new projects will have to come from private sources....

... Politicians who refuse to play the game pay a steep price. N. Chandrababu Naidu, the former chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh... (was) tossed ... out of office two years ago. During his decade in power, Naidu didn't do enough for rural areas...

... And so it goes in India. Unless the nation shakes off its legacy of bureaucracy, politics, and corruption, its ability to build adequate infrastructure will remain in doubt. So will its economic destiny.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ho Chi Minh City's last public letter writer

Fountain pen in hand, Duong Van Ngo sits near the post office in Ho Chi Minh City waiting for his next job. He is the last public letter writer of Saigon.

A polyglot, he bridges different worlds -- connecting people across the planet with his fountain pen. His profession may be dying, but in his 60 years on the job, he has created many marriages ..... -- More in Spiegel magazine

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bangalore is also about stray dogs

Economic boom and stray dog menace: Bangalore's perfect showpiece of antithesis.

The paradox is too striking. It's amazing that after so much of debate, we still haven't found a humane method of ridding Bangalore's streets of dogs. How easily the issue has shifted from the "stray dog menace" to the "killing of innocent dogs". Not surprising -- this issue, like many others, is handled in a reactionary rather than a constructive manner. It's definitely not that there aren't solutions.

I like dogs. I also have had an unforgettable, terrifying midnight encounter with stray dogs, with one of them biting me. And, I have to very often avoid stray dogs.

(I know I am not among the lucky people.)

Like at 11 in the morning, when I walk to the nearby department store or to the vegetable shop, I have to walk carefully in order to avoid provoking dogs. And, being bitten a second time.

Easy to lament, but tough to see reason. So, I look around and I find that not all dogs that appear stray, are so. Many belong to people -- from lower middleclass to absolutely poor -- who live in houses that aren't secure. Their houses and huts have no boundary walls. Their dogs are their only safety, both at night time and day time.

Some of these tents and huts that house construction workers, are within or beside upmarket residential layouts; and dogs freely roam around the place.

Dogs, as we all know, are very conscious of territory. So, when I walk to the nearby department store, I am worried about what the dogs that are sleeping under the tree think their territory is, and whether I am encroaching their area.

(Of course there is an easy solution: don't walk to the department store, just take the car.)

When the Animal Birth Control programme was launched the logic was: the population of stray dogs will progressively reduce, and Bangalore will be rid of dogs. It should have. But the population of stray dogs has only increased.

We haven't been able to stop encroachments. We haven't been able ensure clean surroundings. We haven't been able to regulate the growth of Bangalore.

Can we rid the city of stray dogs?

True, it's meaningless to round up at random dogs from the streets and kill them arbitrarily. But, we don't have any other way either, do we? So much for our human and monetary resources. So much for the progress we have made.

People are held to ransom daily in one way or the other, so what difference does a few stray dogs make?

When one looks around, sometimes, it's so difficult not to feel helpless. We have to put up with stray dogs; because Bangalore has found no humane way to rid the streets of them.

Accept this reality.

(If you can't travel by car, just keep away from stray dogs.)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Should we pay money to beggars?

How much ever be the progress we have achieved, we still have beggars in the world; on M G Road and Brigade Road of Bangalore too. They present a pathetic sight. They have to, by definition, don't they? For, tugging at the hearts and emotions is their aim.

All of us, at some time or other, have asked ourselves this question: should I give this beggar a coin? Different people react in different ways for different reasons.

I am sure none of us want the beggar to hang around for far too long and would like him/her to be dismissed as quickly as possible. For that, some people -- with the sole purpose of getting rid of the problem -- either quickly dig into their purse and hand over a coin, or just put up a stony indifference.

There are some others who are sympathetic; feel they can't be helpless, put in whatever little they can, and hand over a coin to the beggar. They also think this is one small way of helping out the needy.

There are also people who are determined just not to oblige. They think giving a 50 paise coin to a beggar doesn't help him or her. It doesn't in any way go towards improving the beggar's life standard. Besides, obliging the beggar is a way of perpetuating an unacceptable social practice.

I belong to his category. I have on a few occasions in the past obliged; but I don't now. I shake my head and indicate not to expect anything from me.

A couple of days back, I discovered that there was a different way of looking at this issue.

I was travelling in an auto with a friend on M G Road. At the Cauvery Emporium junction, a small girl approached the auto with her hand stretched out. As ususal I ignored her. But my friend put his hand into his pocket and took out a toffee, and gave it to the girl.

"If ever you give something to beggars, never give them money, because it never goes to the people who employ them," he told me. "Instead give them something to eat, like a slice of bread or chocolate, or something to drink."

In kind, instead of cash. May not be a complete solution to them problem, but definitely a kinder one, a more realistic one. Seems to make a lot of sense.

PS:- Beggars can get angry, arrogant and ungrateful, for whatever reason; as this post by Anoop shows.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Betting on tomorrow's news

I didn't know such a thing existed.

There is this unusual online practice of gambling fake money on future news events. According to USC Annenberg graduate student Daryl Paranada, in this article in the Online Journalism Review, website users can compete with one another by making predictions about future events.

"Predicting future events has always been uncertain, but prediction market websites like NewsFutures.com have made betting on the news a viable -- and often fun -- activity for Web users."

Not quite surprising, given the uncertainty of news events.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Reporters told to write shorter stories

One of the ways journalism has changed is in the length of stories. Newspapers and magazines now a days carry shorter articles and news reports. There are more of graphics, illustrations and photos. One reason is that people have lesser time today to go through long-winded articles, two, the printable area of newspaper itself has shrunk.

The Editors' Weblog is reporting on how Washington Post has asked its reporters to write shorter articles. "Len Downie, executive edior of The Washington Post, has made it clear: writers will have to write shorter stories if they want to go on writing them. Downie’s memo is representative of a trend to trim and trim more. The memo also discusses the Post’s new policies for the structure of its content."

Washingtonian.com has the full text of the executive editor's memo.

And there is a comment on the above site welcoming the move. A good observation:

"This is good news, not bad news. Kudos to Downie. Based on the memo, I believe he's trying to get articles in the Post that people actually will read and that maintain journalistic excellence. Young people - our future market - like shorter articles, and succinct writing has greater impact than bloated writing. The Post has figured out that long-winded journalism is all but dead, putting the paper far ahead of most."

Friday, March 2, 2007

Another child killed by dogs in Bangalore

A four-year-old boy, Manjunath, who was playing hide-and-seek with his friends, was chased, attacked and mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs in the BEML area of Bangalore on Wednesday evening. This is the second time in the recent past a child is succumbing to attack by stray dogs.

Like last time, the death of Manjunath too will unleash fierce arguments. Like last time, the government will try to remove the stray dogs from the streets, but animal rights groups will oppose that. The government will, in all probability give up, and it’ll be status quo.

It’s a shame that Bangalore’s administration hasn’t been able to effectively rid the city of stray dogs. I don’t think there is any major global city where small children and two-wheel riders in the night live in danger of being bitten and killed by dogs.

I love animals. I had at one time 12 cats, spanning three generations, in my house. Till very recently, till we moved into an apartment, we had four cats in our house. Once we also adopted a stray dog, and looked after it till it died. But, still, I don’t understand the animal rights-human rights conflict here, if at all there is one.

No one is blaming the dogs. 1) Be it a pet dog or a stray dog, if provoked it will bite. 2) Small children are always attracted to animals. Some birds, like crows, attack small children, especially if the children have eatables in their hand. Animals tend to get closer to small children. 3) Animals need to be treated with respect, just as human beings are. Just because they can’t talk like us, we shouldn’t show our brute power on them.

It’s precisely because of these reasons, that I would like Bangalore – in fact any public place – to be rid of stray dogs. Stray dogs are a menace to people. The city abounds with stories of how much of nuisance they cause. Two-wheel riders are a major target. I was myself surrounded by half a dozen dogs, one night, and bitten by one of them. Worse than the bite or the money I had to shell out for the anti-rabies vaccine was the scare that these dogs gave me. The worse point that night was, when for a brief while, I thought a dog, really a ferocious one, would just pounce on me.

At night, I am scared not just about the criminals who might mug me, but dogs too. I don’t blame the dogs, never; not for one moment. I blame the civic administration, the state government and organisations that are committed to providing dogs a dignified life.

Animal rights activists, and many animal lovers, should first accept that Bangalore’s streets and public places shouldn’t have stray dogs wandering around. No, we can’t have stray dogs on Bangalore’s streets. There has to be, first, an agreement on this single point.

How to achieve this objective? Shooting at random may be too harsh; and some innocent, non-violent stray dogs, whatever that means, may also get killed. Round them up, take them away. To where? Keep them in well-managed kennels.

Do we have enough of them? We should; a large number of kennels. Treat the dogs well there. They can put up for sale, and people, who are looking for pets, can buy them. There can only be pet animals in a civil society, not stray and wild animals.

NGOs that are involved with animals receive crores of rupees of funding for protecting animal rights. This money has to be productively utilised. The funding agencies, like the government, should find out what’s happening to the money that’s disbursed. The government should work alongside these NGOs and put an end to this situation that is at one level demeaning to dogs themselves, and at another, threatening the lives of people.