Thank God this doesn’t happen in India

by Ritwik on July 19, 2009

Its common to say – “this only happens in India”. Perversely, a lot of Indians have even begun saying this with a degree of affection for the chaos prevalent in this country.

To balance this perspective somewhat, and also as a concerned “citizen of the world”, I present to you a deeply unsettling development that hasn’t happened in India (yet):

The British Government has drawn up new guidelines “to help prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.” A new body called the Independent Safeguaring Authority has been established which is responsible for issuing licenses to anybody who wants to work or volunteer with the aforementioned vulnerable sections of society.

I’ll just say it again: anybody intending to work or volunteer with kids, even an author who wants to read out pages from a book, will need to be certified as safe by a quasi-government body.

This is so incredible that I cannot find words to express my outrage. So I leave that to a professional writer:

It seems to be fuelled by a combination of prurience, sexual fear and cold political calculation, when you go into a school as an author or an illustrator you talk to a class at a time or else to the whole school. How on earth — how on earth — how in the world is anybody going to rape or assault a child in those circumstances? It’s preposterous.”
-Phillip Pullman

I would like to add that this move seems to have resulted from an absurd kind of political correctness, one that runs like “kids should be protected at all costs, even at the cost of social sanity”.

This really has brought home to me the sheer extent to which governments have started entering people’s life. What the f*** happened to the counter culture? Where is the universal declaration of human rights? How is this even possible under a democratic regime?

Charlie’s Diary talks about the considerable ill effects of such a move, and the very real danger of false positives.

But beyond that,  this sucks also because it makes the system extremely unforgiving. There is simply no scope for an offender to reform. Commit one offence, or even be doubted of an offence and the government can bar you from working in a school, or in a day care centre, or as a school bus driver, presumably even as a traffic warden.

I can only hope and pray that common sense will prevail and the ISA will be dismantled.

Why statues won’t help Mayawati

by Ritwik on July 17, 2009

Recently there has been a fair bit of comment on the Mayawati government’s decision to build statues and memorials to “Dalit icons” [including herself] at a cost of thousands of crores of taxpayer money.

While the commentary on this matter has been relatively recent, large scale edification has been on Mayawati’s radar ever since she first assumed chief ministership of India’s largest state, back in the mid nineties. Over the last two decades and more, erecting statues of Ambedkar and other Dalit icons has been seen as a potent symbol of the shift in the dynamics of power. Like all manifestations of identity politics, Dalit leaders sought to give their followers “pride”, as a substitute for real improvement in the ground situation.

Much of the reporting and “analysis” regarding the latest statue building exercise, in newspapers and on TV [between such vital topics as “dhoni ke dhurandar” and “rakhi ka swayamwar”] hasn’t touched upon the topic of electoral gain: will this statue building spree benefit Mayawati electorally? A happy exception is Gautam Bhatia’s article in Open magazine, in which Bhatia lambasts Mayawati for wasting not only vast amounts of money, but also a real opportunity of providing change.

Bhatia’s piece aside, the lack of electoral speculation is hardly surprising – the Indian media [particularly of the English language variety] has a terrible record of predicting electoral outcomes.

We must not forget that this is the same media which was projecting no more than 150 seats for BSP in the 2007 UP assembly elections [BSP finally got 200+ for a simple majority]. After that stellar performance, the media pendulum swung the other way, with commentators falling over themselves projecting 40+ parliamentary seats for the BSP. Some went so far as to project Mayawati as a viable candidate for Prime Ministership.

The people, sadly for the commentators and happily for the country, gave Mayawati a total of 19 seats, way less than any opinion poll prediction.

The media, still licking its wounds, has apparently decided not to stick out its neck once again, and is thus refusing to speculate about the electoral dividend [if any] generated by what one reporter has charmingly called the ‘BSP School of Architecture’. The reporter, an avid propagandist of the BSP movement, seems to have temporarily stopped writing on Dalit issues ever since the Lok Sabha results. Now, he wisely devotes his attention to matters such as LGBT rights and persecution of Uighurs in China.

Since I am not a journalist, nor connected to the media in any way, I will go ahead and do what most Indians are very happy doing in their drawing rooms/paan shops/offices/playgrounds etc etc – predict the fate of politicians and political parties.

I contend that this grand architectural exercise is not going to help Mayawati in any way. The fact remains that BSP candidates lost 15 out of 17 reserved constituencies in UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This clearly implies that BSP’s trustworthy core votebank of Dalits deserted it in large numbers. It is my hunch that non-jatav dalits didn’t vote for Mayawati this time as enthusiastically as 2007.

Mayawati seeks to win back these sections through the tired old formula of “pride”. I firmly believe that his formula is now past its sell-by date.

How will I prove my assertion?

Well, certainly not through a “caste based voting pattern survey”, or whatever the hell it is called. In a secret ballot, how the hell do you get to know that 33.67% leuva patels voted for BJP?

I have a much more reliable formula on which I base my political predictions. My weather vane is our ever unreliable Indian English media. Much as when the Met department predicts rain, I apply sunscreen, when I see a topic garnering massive attention in the English language press, it is clear that the issue has no great resonance with the masses.

For example, almost nobody wrote about Mayawati’s “social engineering” [going on since at least 2003] before the 2007 UP elections. After her stunning victory,social engineering was the buzz in town. This time, the English press focused only on social engineering, forgetting about such petty matters as crime and ganglordism, and the BSP was swept aside. In much the same way, statues had resonance in the 80s and the 90s, when the press was busy elsewhere [high number of beauty queens from India, for example]. Now that the press focuses on statues, I am sure the real issues lie elsewhere, such as water scarcity in Bundelkhand.

A world of sheep

by Ritwik on July 16, 2009

sheeple

courtesy: xkcd, a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language.

Common sense just died

by Ritwik on July 13, 2009

Rock band Deep Purple has been fined for playing “unlicensed” music during a performance in Russia.

According to rules, all performers have to obtain a license from Russian Authors Society, an NGO that represents  the rights of foreign performers in Russia.

The problem: Deep Purple has been fined for playing their own songs. According to a local court, the rock band should’ve obtained a license from Russian Authors Society before playing their own music.

It gets better: The offender [Deep Purple] has been asked to pay the fine to the affected party, which is, umm, a band named Deep Purple.

Full story on Contact Music

Equal Rights are not a zero sum game: Response to Swapan Dasgupta

by Ritwik on July 8, 2009

Appliepiecrust has written a strong rejoinder to Swapan Dasgupta’s diatribe against gay rights.

You can read it here

Excerpts:

Mr. Dasgupta is concerned about “in-your-face-gayness” and militant gay activism, and believes all gay activism to be defined by this “perverseness.” This concern can be addressed with two brief points. The first is that some amount of what he terms “in-your-face-gayness” isrequired for increasing the visibility of an otherwise invisible minority. The second is simply that not much gay activism is militant or “in-your-face” at all – a lot of this activism is happening in the courtrooms, on editorial pages such as these, and in day-to-day lives of people living their lives honestly and openly.

Great Danes

by Ritwik on July 8, 2009

Danish friends of a friend were recently in town.

They decided to go on a bus trip.

Just before boarding their bus, in Connought Place, they had their first encounter with poverty

poverty, of the killing kind

the one that kills you, and kills your dignity.

They were shocked, and moved to comment:

In denmark, we don’t have such things

In our country, we tax the rich

and give to the poor, and

thus nobody is really poor.

we have free education, world class hospitals

and no crime, grime and grimness.

my friend, listened, with envy

and also rattled, by jaw dropping naivete

small problem, he said,

really minor, indeed

the only thing is: you were never, in fact, a colony.

Boot Cake in Gujarat

by Ritwik on July 8, 2009

This week NDTV 24×7 will be airing Kathryn Millard’s film, The Boot Cake at the following times:

The Bootcake – a film by Kathryn Millard – Part 1
July 4: 3 – 4 pm
July 5: 1 – 2 pm
The Bootcake – a film by Kathryn Millard – Part 2
July 11: 3 – 4 pm
July 12: 1 – 2 pm

The Bootcake – a film by Kathryn Millard – Part 2

July 11: 3 – 4 pm
July 12: 1 – 2 pm

A short synopsis (from NDTV)

A small desert town on the edge of western India’s famous salt plains is the unlikely home of the world’s largest population of Charlie Chaplin impersonators. The Charlie Circle of Adipur embraces businessmen, shopkeepers, a doctor who prescribes Chaplin movies for medicinal purposes, teachers, engineers, students and a three-year-old pre-schooler. They all share a passion for the silent film star of the early 1900s, with his twirling cane, wobbly walk and agitated eyebrows.

Award-winning Australian film-maker Kathryn Millard stumbled across the beguiling Charlie Circle during research for another film project. She was immediately invited to join their 116th birthday celebrations, which included a parade of Charlie look-alikes through town along with dancing girls, floats, strolling musicians and a camel. Would she do them the honour of bringing the grand centrepiece: the birthday cake?

And not just any cake, but one in the shape of a boot, as homage to the famous scene in The Gold Rush, where the starving Tramp boils and eats his own boot.

The Boot Cake is a wonderful, mad, poignant story of resilience and hope.


Blogs are an unforgiving medium

by Ritwik on July 5, 2009

Everyone knows that there exist people who make money off their blogs. They run these little “ads served by google” on their online pages and get paid every time someone clicks on one of these links. If one has many thousands (or even hundreds of thousands or more) readers, then these translate into a lot of clicks on ads. In the language of e-commerce, such clicks are called click-thrus. In the era of Web 2.0, blogging is a major industry.

But just how hard is it to convert your blog into a profitable venture?

The “business” of blogging comes with a very unique set of challenges, over and above the basic challenges that are to be faced by any entrepreneur.

When you sell a product,  you face the following fundamental challenges:

1. making a good product
2. promoting your product
3. providing strong after-sales support and service to make sure the consumer returns to you time and again, and also sends others your way through word-of-mouth.

Companies that manage to meet these challenges adequately over a period of time are generally successful, that is to say, profitable.

Now let us consider blogs. A blog owner has to inevitably be good at points 1 and 2.

(1) He has to create a good product – an interesting blog that preferably fills a niche in the market.
(2) He has to constantly promote his product (ie, his blog) on search engines, on sites like technorati, and through word of mouth.

Point (3) is not critical to blogs simply because no physical product is being sold. But a blogger does have to use good sources and generally be honest with his readers,respond to their comments and engage in discussion, otherwise his credibility would go up in smoke.

But, even a blogger excellent at handling what I call the “fundamental challenges” would struggle to monetize his blog. The problem is not strategy. The problem is content.

In terms of content, blogs are unique. A blogger has to literally think of fresh, interesting, slightly out of the ordinary stories practically every day to keep readers interested. He dreams up some idea, packages it in an attractive style and tone, maybe adds a dollop of sensationalism, and finally looks for a HOOK (maybe in the form of a smart title) to find an ever greater number of potential readers. A blogger gets no breaks; he does not have the luxury of waiting for moments of inspiration unlike musicians, artists or novelists.

A musician or a novelist can produce an album/book over the course of a long period of time, then sit back and relax and spend their royalty cheques as they recharge their batteries, till they hit the next jackpot idea. A blogger simply cannot afford that. 2 or 3 days of no activity on his blog and his readers will move on, taking the advertising dollars with them.

I know what you are thinking: journalism. Newspapers, news channels and websites survive on the basis of fresh content served everyday. So what’s unique about blogs?

Simply this: ever heard of a newspaper produced by a solitary journalist? Ever heard a news broadcast created day after day by a single person? There may be some blogs with multiple authors, but the vast majority of blogs are the personal musings of a solitary individual.

At a deeper level, newspapers can choose, and are generally encouraged, to be formulaic. Their basic function is very well defined: serve news. This function requires a lot of hard work, writing and editing, but not necessarily creativity. Blogging is different. You typically wouldn’t change your newspaper if it covers news adequately. On the other hand, you’ll never stick with a blogger who becomes formulaic, who fails to hit you with new, interesting, maybe bizarre events and commentary day after day.

You read newspapers because you want information, film reviews, gossip and a couple of editorials and analysis. On the other hand, from a blog you basically want entertainment. Or at the very least, information not provided by other sources. Familyhack is a great example of such a blog.

As I become a somewhat regular blogger, my respect for people like Seth Godin keeps rising; bloggers who make money are people who have the ability to produce exceptional content on a daily basis to keep us all entertained through our virtual wanderings.

Installing software makes computer obese

by Ritwik on July 4, 2009

A user on Microsoft Answers discusses a matter of crucial importance:

I’ve noticed that as I copy data/install programs on my Laptop, the weight of the Laptop increases. I have a bad back and am medically limited on the amount of weight I can carry so I need to be very carefull not to inflict injury upon myself.

I have also noticed my XBox feels heavier as well (the more games I save or purchase from arcade). I generally don’t travel with my XBox so that is not an issue for me, but note the I am having the same results.

My ask, what is the weight/file ratio? So for example, how many GB’s = 6oz? I dread the day I need a dolly to commute to work with my Laptop.

Thanks in advance!

– K

It would be worthwhile to go through the long list of helpful replies

Left Front Government drags feet over OBC reservation

by Ritwik on July 3, 2009

Everyone knows that the left parties in India [ie, CPI, CPI-M, RSP and Forward Block] are passionate supporters of caste based reservations.

We see this here and here and here

Why then, is the CPM-led Left Front Government in Bengal dithering over reservation for other backward classes [OBCs]  in higher education? According to a report in the Indian Express, V Hanumantha Rao, the convenor of the parliamentary OBC forum of MPs has done some plain speaking in a letter written to the state government:

Even though the matter relating to providing reservation to backward classes in higher education including medical and engineering has been under discussion for years in your government but so far no order has been passed

According to West Bengal minister for backward classes Jogesh Burman, the government is busy deciding the extent of quota to be provided to OBCs in state funded higher education institutions.

The problem: deliberations on this have been going on since 2001, with no signs of a speedy resolution on the horizon.

What one fails to understand is, given how convinced they are of the benefits of OBC reservation, why have the “ideologically committed” Left forces been wilfully delaying implementation of the Mandal Commitee recommendations at the state level?

And here I thought that  the Left’s  hypocricy extended only to matters such as SEZs and nuclear agreements.

(read full Indian Express report: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/cpm-govt-sleeps-on-obc-quota-centre-not-happy/434393/0)

Reinterpretation of Dreams – a critique

by Ritwik on July 2, 2009

The following is a critique of Jean Drèze’s article Interpretation of Dreams published in the Times of India [April 28,2009]. Read it here

——————-

In an article published in the Times of India, noted economist Jean Drèze has launched a stinging attack on the BJP [‘Interpretation of Dreams’, Apr 28], calling the preamble to the party manifesto an “exercise in obfuscation”.  Undoubtedly, the BJP’s politics is based upon deception. BJP ideologues, if given a free reign, would love to rewrite Indian history to suit their own world view. But in pointing out the excesses of the BJP’s rhetoric, Jean Drèze has swung to the other extreme. His article has ended up sounding, perhaps unwittingly, like an apologia for colonialism.

To take just one example, Drèze cites the Ramayana, Mahabharata et al to prove that famine existed in India and thus India was not a “land of abundance”. Famine has existed in all societies. What is pertinent is not just the occurrence of famine but the rate at which successive famines occur. W. Digby, noted in “Prosperous British India” in 1901 that :

stated roughly, famines and scarcities (in India) have been four times as numerous, during the last thirty years of the 19th century as they were one hundred years ago.

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis points out that here were thirty one serious famines in one hundred and twenty years of British rule compared to seventeen in the two thousand years preceding British rule.

It is generally accepted that this was because of the mercantilist economic policies thrust upon India by her colonial masters. Wikipedia tells us:  “British policies led to the seizure and conversion of local farmland to foreign-owned plantations, restrictions on internal trade, heavy taxation of Indians to support unsuccessful British expeditions in Afghanistan, inflationary measures that increased the price of food, and substantial exports of staple crops from India to Britain.” (Dutt, 1900 and 1902; Srivastava, 1968; Sen, 1982; Bhatia, 1985).

In view of this, it would be difficult even for an eminent economist like Jean Drèze to prove that economically, India was better off under the British than without them. It seems that Indians knew how to manage their agriculture better than their “advanced” colonial masters.

Does Indian nationalism exist? Do Indians have a sense of national pride, some sense of the history of their civilization?  Reading Drèze’s article, one would think that such sentiments would by and large be restricted to the so called upper castes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Even though the BJP’s manifesto talks of the “hurt pride” of India, Drèze considers it appropriate to substitute India for “upper castes”. In doing so, he denies the freedom movement, which derived its strength from the support of various sections of society. In contemporary times, the BJP, according to Dreze’s argument, should be the natural party of so-called upper castes. But it derives its strength from so-called other backward classes [OBCs]. Examples of OBC stalwarts like Narendra Modi, Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar can be cited and multiplied, but will it open Dreze’s eyes to the fact that the hurt pride of India does not constitute the hurt pride of upper castes only but also that of the under classes?

Colonial rule contributed not only to misery but also to cultural stagnation of Indian society. Most non-European societies had to undergo the painful experience of colonialism which didn’t allow indigenous modernity to grow organically. European ideas were thrust upon non-European people with minimum regard to their histories and experiences. Apart from pauperizing the colonies, colonialism broke the continuity of civilizations. In matters of caste too, colonialism wasn’t a silent spectator; it played an active role in altering caste dynamics. Thus, Indian society is unequal today both because of its own ills and because of the ills perpetuated by colonialism. Any comment on Indian society which fails to note this point, as Drèze’s intervention appears to, can hardly be deemed fair.

Medieval European society was characterized by widespread inequality and cruelty. Europe was witnessing “witch” burning on a massive scale; hundreds of thousands of women were most mercilessly put to death, often with the authorization of the Holy See. Europe’s dark past does not prompt scholars to dismiss achievements of European Civilization out of hand. Similarly, Drèze should not flippantly disregard Indian thought and tradition because society was (and is) unequal and discriminatory.

The problem with Drèze’s approach is that it concedes the patriotic space to the BJP – which in turn does not hesitate in making pernicious use of it. Undoubtedly, India has many failings, but at the same time there are real achievements to the credit of the Indian civilization. More than occasionally, Indians have been known to take pride in the achievements of their countrymen even if they are not related by caste. People may be attracted to support aggressive votaries of India “pride” when they see famed scholars casually dismissing the glories of India’s past.

The BJP is definitely given to constructing a romanticized ideal of ancient India as a society free from all defects. But equally, Drèze must examine his position and determine whether by denying the achievements of Indian civilization, does he manage to successfully ridicule the BJP or does he end up making himself ridiculous in the eyes of the average Indian?

Amnesty International’s new anti-abuse ad

by Ritwik on July 1, 2009

Anti-abuse ad

Amnesty International has installed a new anti-domestic-abuse ad fixture in Hamburg, Germany which is equal parts clever and shocking: when you look at the photo, it’s a smiling couple; when you look away, it’s a dude punchin’ a lady.

Full story on gizmodo