Monday, December 17, 2012

పుట్టేనేసుడు నేడు...

Interesting. A Christmas song in my native tongue (Telugu) by non-natives. :-)

పుట్టేనేసుడు నేడు... మనకు పుణ్య మార్గము చూపను...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

High Rise Buildings, At What Cost?

China's Sky City One will be taller than Burj Khalifa when it is constructed. And if it is built in 90 days, it will be a stunning new world record. But, a quick look at this video - of the recent fire in a high rise building in Dubai - will show us how fire can spread fast. And many cities are not adequately prepared to handle emergencies in tall buildings.
This video, taken on 18 Nov, 2012 (Sunday), is of the 34-story Tamweel Residential Tower in a property known as Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai. Luckily, the rescue crews evacuated everyone with no physical harm, but damage to property has been severe. (click here for news and comments on this)

Just five months ago, on 8 June 2012 (Friday), a fire in the 76-storey Al Sulafa Tower, in the Dubai Marina made hundreds of residents, from more than 700 flats, to flee from a fire. (click here for this news)

Last year, on 8 Nov 2012, firefighters in Sharjah, north of Dubai, struggled to battle a blaze in a 25-story tower without equipment to reach the flames.  (Click here to read about this Sharjah Fire)

While we must appreciate the quick response of fire-fighters in these cases, we cannot overrule the fact that some of these buildings can become death traps. 

Now, Dubai is coming up with new fire laws along with the building permission laws and norms.

I think it is not important that cities just aspire, and compete, to build higher and higher buildings. Maybe size does matter for some heads of governments with huge egos, but it is absolutely essential that civil defense systems, security and safety measures, emergency evacuation plans, and fire-drills are given due attention.

With our ambitious dreams to make our cities to have the tallest buildings in the world, we should not neglect human life; and the impact these buildings are having on general lifestyle.

I know of many tall buildings with many vacant floors here. The tenants are unwilling to pay the high rents and are leaving. Or the high rental costs are not attracting any new tenants.

We know that high rise buildings need huge maintenance costs for safety and security. And, ultimately the tenant is expected to foot the bill. So, rents go high for tenants, and not just the risk.

A rethinking is essential on whether very tall buildings are really needed, or should be allowed to be built.

I believe, rulers of countries and mayors of cities must focus on other factors like safety, security, cost and comfort issues, and not just on world records.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Obama or Romney? Who?

Four years ago, around this same date just ahead of the US Presidential elections, I had written this little post on my blog here.

My remote amateur armchair analysis turned out to be somewhat right. And here is my 200 fils worth again.

Just hours before these new elections, CNN final polls of 4 Nov 2012 ( pdf file here )  say that both contenders are tied. Romney 49% and Obama 49%. So, a very close finish is being predicted. But opinion polls may not always turn out right, in real.

Who stands where? If we wish to strictly go by US Economy analysis, we can look at what the world’s two leading authorities on it – Financial Times and Economist – say.

Financial Times’ editorial of 4 Nov 2012 says “Obama is the wiser bet for crisis-hit US”. But it also says that “Neither candidate has provided convincing answers on how he would respond to these challenges (FT article mentions the challenges. Click link to see). In a risk-averse campaign dominated by political consultants, both men have displayed a poverty of ambition.”

The Economist’s editorial of 3 Nov 2012 says “America could do better than Barack Obama; sadly, Mitt Romney does not fit the bill”. And the article ends with the lines, “…for all his shortcomings, Mr Obama has dragged America’s economy back from the brink of disaster, and has made a decent fist of foreign policy. So this newspaper would stick with the devil it knows, and re-elect him”.

Both news-media bigwigs think Obama is the right candidate. But will the people vote for him? We will know the answer in a day or so.

In the wake of the superstorm Sandy's brief whirlwind tour of his city, when Micheal Bloomberg the Mayor of New York City endorsed Obama for the Presidential race, there were a lot of jokes against Bloomberg. The climate change logic he expressed was definitely hazy. But Bloomberg, we know, was once a Presidential hopeful, and is - in his own right - a successful businessman running a successful media company. With over 20 million monthly hits to Bloomberg website, and with 427 publications using Bloomberg content, this company's big boss must have his head screwed on right, somewhere, somehow; even if the Romney camp does not think so.

As individuals, or as the electors of the Electoral College, do people vote with their hearts or with their minds? We could debate it till kingdom come. But we may not get a definite answer.

We can ask, what does final voting depend on? Does it boil down to charisma and gut-feel, affected by the speeches, debates and rally-strengths? Or does it boil down to the taxes you pay as a middle-class man, or as a billionaire businessman?

What perspectives of the candidates will matter to US citizens who vote? Is it US Foreign Policy and specifically its stance on relations with Iran and Israel? Or is it the budget cuts to reduce deficit, or the budget increases to keep US military as World No. 1?

The challenges facing the position of POTUS are far too complicated to brush off easily. The position obviously needs a person who can keep his cool, while dealing with tremendously stressful political situations - domestic and international. Contradictory as it may sound, he ought to be resolute, yet accommodating. I can see Obama being that. Not Romney.

Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, may have had a longer stint in politics and a greater experience of running businesses. But among other things, and from the debates, he seemed a bit too aggressive on military spending and too tough on issues facing the middle east, for a well-rounded foreign policy. Many middle eastern nations have no love for US. And a very aggressive Romney stand, against Palestine, can cause a very unwholesome polarization, detrimental to US interests.

I believe that the auto industry bailouts of Obama – which Romney had opposed then – have worked well and can show good results in the long-run even if they are straining the budget now. GM which had filed for bankruptcy  is now, yes, now, No. 19 on Global Fortune 500 companies' 2012 list. The Obama action had saved thousands of jobs, and revitalized an industry. Pro-active government intervention is sometimes necessary even in the most capitalistic economies. Common long-term good is very important, and there is no harm in tax payers helping fellow citizens retain jobs. Hard on the pocket now, but good in the long term. We do not see a tenable alternate Romney solution.

Obamacare, which Romney said he will do away with if he comes to office, is too big an effing deal to be done away with. Obama camp will not want to let go of that easily.

Withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afganistan, and getting the big bad guy Osama bin Laden are plus points to Obama.

So, even though I disliked Obama - for hitting out at Romney earlier to the election debates, for the lack of punch in the first debate, and for some Obama facts which turned out false, I still think he is what USA needs.

Like the news magazine Economist says, I think the people of US will stick with the devil.

They know that a known devil is sometimes better than an unknown angel.


Monday, October 01, 2012

White Mughals - Book Review

The true story of Captain James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who converted to Islam and married Khair-un-Nissa, a Hyderabadi noblewoman of royal Persian descent, is the most exciting of the three books I read, during this summer.

I am sure this book will be made into a movie; by Bollywood, if not by Hollywood.

This non-fiction historical narrative had a very special connection to me, perhaps, because of its setting.

It is largely set in the city of Hyderabad in India, which is my hometown. And I had been to many of the palaces, forts and other landmarks on the Deccan Plateau, like Srirangatnam and Bidar, which the author describes. And I have decided to go back and see them again, now, with more knowledge of local history, thanks to this slightly voluminous, but very revealing book.

The love story that unravels during 1798 to 1805 is not the only thing you will find interesting. The events that occur after their marriage, and the historical backdrop to the whole story will stimulate you more.

Hyderabad’s Koti Residency (which is now Koti Women's College), on the banks of River Musi, is where James brings Khair-un-Nissa to live with him after their marriage.  My friends from Hyderabad will know that the current name Koti (which means ‘mansion’) comes from this very place where the couple lived.  But Khair-un-Nissa’s  residence, before she moved to Koti, was near Charminar. And Purana pul was the bridge that connected the two places, over which her palanquin frequently traversed. River Musi, in those days, was a powerful river, causing hundreds of deaths by floods, during monsoons.

As ‘British Resident’ in Hyderabad, James was, practically, the British ambassador to Nizam’s court, reporting to the Governor Generals heading British India; successively to Lord Cornwallis, Lord Shore and Lord Wellesley.

He negotiated some very lucrative deals in favour of East India Company, like getting the Nizam to pay  for British Regiments stationed in Hyderabad's outskirts (in the place we now call the cantonment area near Trimulgherry).

James’ relationship with this young lady must have caused quite a stir and scandal because, soon, East India Company appoints a commission headed by the Governor of Madras, Edward Clive to look into the affair. Edward Clive, incidentally, is the son of the Sir Robert Clive, who with Warren Hastings was the first to establish political and military supremacy of ‘British India’ in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey.

Strangely, Edward Clive’s commission’s findings do not implicate James. Based on James’ personality and on the fact that in a veiled society with strict Islamic traditions, they decide that it is impossible for James to have seen and seduced the girl, without her, and her immediate family's, active interest and consent.

James must have so acculturated himself to the Hyderabad of those days – he is known to speak very good Persian, Urdu and Telugu - that this Nizam's Prime Minister’s grand niece’s choice of a British husband gets accepted by the Palace, even though with strong resistance from many quarters.

The fact that Khair-un-Nissa was from the family of sayyids  (direct descendants of Prophet Mohammed, with traceable ancestors from Persia) who do not allow mixed marriages with non-Muslims, this affair must have seemed completely  outrageous then. But, it was not blown-up to a huge proportion.  So, the writer suspects that the Hyderabadi Royal family of Nizam may have even willingly allowed this to happen; to keep James happy, and to keep British away from annexing Hyderabad into their empire.

We see in this book, therefore, the real India of those times. We see here, the political manipulations that occurred between Indian Kings  - particularly, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Tippu Sultan of Mysore,  Peshwas and Scindias of Maratha regions – and the British East India Company and the leaders of French and Dutch colonies in India.

The book clearly shows the enormous research done by its author. He must have looked painstakingly into the correspondence of those times; like that of East India Company with the Indian rulers, of Hyderabad’s Prime Ministers with James, of James with his family members in UK, and of the couple's children born with other friends and family.

For the non-Hyderabadis, let me say this : Here, you will see that Napolean Bonaparte promised assistance to Tippu Sultan, in Tippu's fight against the British in India. Here, you will see an interesting meeting of James Kirkpatrick with Edward Starchey (grandfather of Lytton Starchey) at Hyderabad in 1790s. Here, you will see that the famous Thomas Carlyle, for a while, was completely enamoured by the beautiful daughter of the couple, Katherine Aurora "Kitty" Kirkpatrick in UK (She was originally named Noor un-Nissa, Sahib Begum when born somewhere near Charminar, but she took up the new name Kitty, after being shipped off to Britain as a child).

Here, you will also see how Edward Clive, son of Robert Clive, investigates the scandal. Here, you will see how Lord Wellesley shows his cunningness in his correspondence with James. Here, you will also see how James' assistant cheats Khair-un-Nissa.

For the Hyderabadis, let me say this: Here, you will find out about the Prime Minister on whose name Mir Alam mandi and Mir Alam tank are named. Here, you will find out why Maulali became famous. Here, you will find out which French General’s tomb is at Malakpet ( He was called Moosa Ram, and Moosa Ram bagh is named after him).  Here, you will see how touring Persians described the Chowmohalla Palace (near Charminar) at that time.

Here, you will see why the British Cantonments were stationed close to Nizam (in Trimulgherry).  Here, you will see how the British developed a postal system between Hyderabad, Guntur, Vizianagaram and Machilipatnam, and also from Madras and Calcutta (Kolkata, now) with relays of horsemen. Also, you will see that the secrecy of correspondence was maintained because they used cipher.

The book has intrigue and mystery, and keeps you wanting to know more. Of course, being historical, it is very slow and not action-packed but it has enough excitement in it, to sustain our interest. We will want to know what happened next, and where the couple's story is leading us to.

More interesting are the foot notes and references. They are mind-boggling nuggets of historical information. This is an absolutely amazing book. Very thoroughly researched. The writer should be given (at least) three Ph Ds for this research!

I never thought that a non-fiction book will hold me in its grip, like this one did for about a week.

If you love reading Indian History, this is not a book to be missed.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Free Speech or Sedition?

In India, the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code , for sedition, has triggered once again, a debate on Free Speech; and whether the Sedition Law is really draconian and outdated.

The cartoonist was arrested on charges of mocking the Constitution, the Parliament and the National flag through his cartoons.

And, now, though he is released on bail on September 12 with promises that charges will be dropped, the issue of ‘freedom of expression’ is once again at the forefront.

I have seen the controversial cartoons of Aseem Trivedi and, personally, I found them very tasteless and very coarse. But, he seems to have somehow driven home his point strong enough for the government to wake up and arrest him.

Only an international public outcry from far and wide, including from ‘Reporters without Borders’ and ‘Amnesty International’, has made the government release him.

We can examine this issue from two angles; Firstly, on the law on which he was arrested and secondly, on the cartoons he drew. 

Indian Penal Code was written during the British Raj. It was drafted in 1860 and came into force in 1862. Earlier to that, the Mughal ‘Sharia’ law was largely applicable, with Hindu Law being given precedence by courts depending on which princely state it was in, and depending on who the subjects on trial were.

This particular section itself (IPC 124A on Sedition) has undergone amendments over time.  Words like ‘Her Majesty’s Government’ and ‘British India’ were replaced by newer words like ‘government’ and ‘India.’

The section states that “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”. 

This law was perhaps needed when public awareness was less, and when respect towards the government was, in effect, a demand by the government. Obedience without questions was perhaps necessary, at times, in the interest of national security. 

But, today, however, I wonder if the body politic needs any protection. Thanks to technology, the growth of social and mass media has been phenomenal. And governments cannot underestimate people’s awareness levels, and their desire to express themselves in a way they see fit. 

Which is why, India’s People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in its statement had said that Aseem Trivedi’s arrest is: “an attack on the freedom of speech and expression granted under the Constitution of India. Merely expressing one’s views against the corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and corporate through any medium of one’s choice does not in any way constitute sedition”. 

This brings me to my second point, on whether Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons were really seditious or not, and I feel that one must think before they decide. Let me paint a picture of at least four of the cartoons for which the cartoonist was put in the locker. 

In one cartoon, he drew Ajmal Kasab - the only terrorist caught alive during Mumbai Terror attacks - as a dog urinating on a book titled Indian Constitution (It is somewhat ironic that it is the same constitution that the cartoonist’s supporters say gives the cartoonist, the right to freedom of expression)! 

In a second cartoon, instead of the three lions of India's Ashoka symbol, the national emblem, he used three bloody-jawed wolves. And the usual legend under the symbol  Satyamev Jayate, translated as "truth alone triumphs" was replaced byBhrastamev Jayate which means "corruption alone triumphs." 

In a third cartoon he drew six toilet commodes (with 'polling booths' written on each) connected by pipes to the Indian parliament building; telling viewers what, or who, is being flushed into the parliamentary building from across the country. 

In a fourth cartoon, the Indian parliament building or the ‘Sansad Bhavan’ in New Delhi, is drawn, as a toilet bowl, with flies hovering above. 

Though somewhat rude and offensive, they seem to have very effectively portrayed and mirrored the frustration of the masses in the aftermath of the recent corruption scandals that rocked the nation.  We know that a political cartoonists’ job is to do just that. And, as can be seen from the support he received, many people seem to agree with the cartoonist. 

Making fun of the constitution, even in pictures, is obviously not very agreeable. But calling the act downright criminal and calling it seditious is definitely carrying it too far. It is making a mountain out of a mole hill. 

And, any law, of imprisonment for life, or for three years, for these types of drawings is definitely draconian. 

A government which wants Washington Post to accept an angry note (written in response to Post’s article calling Indian Prime Minister inefficient), must be willing to accept an angry cartoon from those who disagree.  Tolerance is a difficult virtue.  But, it is a good one to have. 

Times have changed. Exacting unquestionable obedience from faithful subjects is a thing of the past. While the writers and cartoonists must be self-censuring and responsible, I am sure the law needs a revisit. Governments too, should not misuse this law by its loose interpretation.   

John Stuart Mill, one of the greatest Free Speech advocates, in his essay ‘On Liberty’, said this:  “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” 


Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Sins of the Father - Book Review

First off, I admit, I am a die-hard Jeffrey Archer  fan.  I read all the 17 novels he has written.

So, doubts about objectivity and trustworthiness of this book review, if you have any, are definitely reasonable and well-founded. You might say my thinking is clouded. And, you are within your rights to stop reading. But hear me out. And then decide.

“Sins of the Father’ begins with Harry Clifton’s ship docking at the New York Sea Port, around 1941, soon after Britain declares war on Germany in WW II. He had been crossing the Atlantic, from Bristol in UK. The motive was to escape to the land of liberty, and avoid marrying Emma Barrington, because he simply cannot marry her due to a deep dark family secret.

The last I had seen Harry was in the last chapter of Only TimeWill Tell, when he was aboard the American ship USS Kansas Star. He was among the few rescued when the British ship he was originally travelling in from Bristol, was hit by a torpedo from a German U- boat. Harry Clifton then assumes the identity of a fellow passenger rescued along with him, Tom Bradshaw, who dies on the route to New York.

On landing, Harry is promptly arrested by New York police. And he realizes, too late, the great dangers of taking on the identity of a man whom he hardly knew.

Why does Harry change his identity? Well, you must read the first book to know the reasons.

Both the books, Only Time Will Tell and The Sins of the Father, are the first and the second from the five Clifton Chronicles that Jeffery Archer had promised readers a couple of years ago. Here is his facebook note to readers. You will see readers' comments too.

And like me, I am sure, many other readers must be hoping he won’t be finished before he finishes the five books. I wonder what’s in the mind of the master story teller, for the next three books.

Anyway, let’s come back to this book.  

Emma Barrington is in UK, when Harry is arrested in USA. She is, by then, with an unborn child from Harry Clifton, who is unaware of it. She wonders where he disappeared – and starts investigating. Giles Barrington, brother of Emma, and best friend of Harry Clifton, is also shocked at the disappearance – but has to join the war. Massie Clifton, mother of Harry receives a letter from someone, but is unable to understand why such a wonderful son, whom she struggled hard to raise up, has gone off suddenly into the dark.

These are not spoilers. You wont lose anything from knowing the above. but reading the first book is essential.

The novel is written in different parts during the WW II years (1941-1945 mainly). From the perspectives of Harry Clifton, Giles Barrington, Emma Barrington and Massie Clifton; all being key characters in the story.

Though not Chronologically perfect - considering the overlaps of narratives of the same accounts at different times by different people - it makes very enjoyable reading. It is a definite page-turner gathering momentum to reach a climax that almost made me gasp, when it ended. And I am eagerly waiting for the third novel in the series, and what it might bring.

We see that in all his novels, the protagonists are all usually exceptionally bright. Their spouses or partners are exceptionally loyal to them, and vice versa. They are all true-blue British who join the war ‘to shoot a few Germans’.

We see in almost all his writings, a generous sprinkling of historical tidbits, contemporary to the times in which the plots are set. We also see the some wonderful secret well-wishers of protagonists.

You will see them in this book too. But isn't that what we all love to read? The human touch in extraordinary tales?

My main regret is that I will forget some finer details in this book by the time I read his next book which may take an year from now to be published.

I enjoyed it. I am sure you would too. But read the earlier book first. And follow it up with this.

Joel’s verdict? Four Stars out of five.

Here's the trailer of the Book.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Will Missile Makers Make Peace?

Launch of Agni-V by India
Just six days after India test-fired a long range missile, Pakistan test-fired a medium-range missile, both capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Pakistan’s military and defence personnel say that Pakistan did not conduct this test in response to India’s. Maybe, they are right. It is, perhaps, just a coincidence that the two tests happened within the same week.

But, what does it mean to the world and to Asia in particular? With nuclear powers China, Pakistan and India, not known to be very amicable with one another, is this neighbourhood getting any friendlier with this arms race?

If Agni-5, India’s long range missile, is capable of travelling distances of over 5000 kms(3100 miles) reaching as far as Beijing and Shanghai, Shaheen 1A, Pakistan’s medium range missile is capable of travelling estimated distances of 2,500 to 3,000km(1,550 to 1,850 miles) easily reaching many major Indian cities.

And soon after these tests, we hear the usual rhetoric and political correctness in the statements of all concerned. They all say the same. They are just preparing for deterrence. These weapons are all just ‘just-in-case weapons’ meant to be used only when attacked. All countries assure us of ‘no-first-use’ policy.

But, if we look at just the last half-century or more, we do not see very peaceful and responsible behaviour in the region.

Launch of Shaheen 1A by Pakistan
Three Indo-Pak wars, and one un-declared war, occurred since 1947. Kashmir was not the main issue in all, but this issue is still unresolved. One Indo-China war occurred in 1962; a war for which India had paid dearly. But the issue of Tibet is still a bone of contention between India and China, along with other factors.

Obviously, China’s capability, especially nuclear, is several times higher than what it was in 1962. And Indo-China relations do not seem promising. India and Pakistan have both become nuclear capable, and have emerged stronger, with greater weapons of mass destruction, than what they had during earlier wars. And Indo-Pak peace talks keep getting stalled for a variety of reasons.

Even treaties made do not last. In 1954, India and China signed a treaty, ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, known in India as ‘The Panchsheel’. But did they not got to war in 1962? India and Pakistan signed the ‘Tashkent Declaration’ in 1966. But did it stop them from going to war again in 1971?

And can we have faith in our political systems that peace-dialogues between countries will make the situation to improve?

How much focus are these individual countries putting on the acceptance of talks and negotiations, as opposed to their focus on deterrence efforts, of building missiles and warheads?

How much enthusiasm do we see among the governments and opposition parties to sit, make, and approve, peace efforts with neighbours, as opposed to the enthusiasm we see with which positive steps by ruling parties are criticized, as signs of weaknesses, by the opposition?

These are questions that may not have immediate, practical answers. But these are questions that need deliberation. They must be discussed within the same halls of those hallowed parliaments where those seated have just applauded the making of these new missiles.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Did Titanic's passengers eat Oreos?

When she saw the 100th anniversary special OREO biscuit packets, in one of Bahrain’s supermarkets, my ten year daughter exclaimed excitedly, “Wow, the people on the Titanic must have tasted Oreo biscuits”!

She remembered that it was also the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. And connected the events!

I beamed proudly at her, appreciating her general awareness and her deductive logic, wholly attributable – of course - to her parentage, from father’s side. Even, if her mother disagrees. So, smugly accepting the view of our 10 year old, I assured her that the Titanic’s passengers perhaps did. But, it had got me thinking.

As I now know that Oreo biscuits were made first in 1912, and since I already knew that RMS Titanic sank on the night between 14-15 April 1912, if my daughter’s logic has to be proved correct, the passengers of the ship should have had access to the biscuits before they started their journey.

But, there was a problem. I was not sure of the exact day when Oreo biscuits began selling.   What if Oreo biscuits were produced and sold after April 14 that year? In that case, we will have to definitely conclude that passengers onboard the ship did not taste them before they started the journey.

So, I did some scientific research into this. And, guess what? I discovered the exact date. ‘On March 6, 2012, Oreo turned 100 years young’ boasts the Nabisco website. ‘The first Oreo cookie was sold on March 6, 1912 in Hoboken, New Jersey’ says the Kraft Foods website.

So, it’s official then. Oreos were being made more than a month before the ship set sail.  And I even found out from Wikipedia that the place where they began making Oreos in 1912 was in Nabisco’s Chelsea factory in 'New York City'.

But the ship RMS Titanic which had set sail on 10 April 1912, started from Southampton, UK towards New York City, USA. Not the other way round.

Which means the biscuits should have been ‘exported’ from NY, USA across the Atlantic, to reach UK, within a month, before April 10, so that anyone travelling got a taste. That is highly improbable, given the long travelling time, and the lack of information.

So, elementary my dear friends, the passengers of Titanic could not have tasted Oreos before they started.

But, yes, there is one possibility. We cannot rule out this one thing. 713 passengers are said to have survived. Many of them settled in the USA. So, it is very much possible that some of the surviving passengers may have tasted these biscuits afterwards. 

My daughter’s logic could be right in a way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Highway Deaths in a Foreign Land. Who Cares?

Three Nepali nationals being horribly killed on-the-spot when a car hit them on the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Road, near Adhari, on Friday, was heart-rending news. (Click here, for news items in Daily Tribune and Gulf Daily News )

Unfortunately, they do not have families in Bahrain to mourn for them; like those poor six girls who died in another accident horror just a few weeks ago.

Thousands of miles away, in a Himalayan country, their loved ones must be still in a shock and daze at the news of these deaths. Three different families must be mourning the deaths of their sons who left their homes to earn a few dinars more. And what they got in return was horrific deaths on a highway, in a strange country.

From there, in Nepal, the families cannot easily complain to anyone in Bahrain. And even if they complain, the question is, will it bring them back to life? No.

But I am very upset that these poor workers had to cross a road to catch their company transporation, or to go to their accomodation, on a busy highway with high-speed vehicles.

Couldn't the company not have dropped them, or picked them up, from a safer place? Is it not the responsibility of the company to ensure the safety of their workers even if it was after work-hours?

Should the workers not be discouraged to cross roads over dividers on highways? Who will now compensate their families for the sudden deaths of their breadwinners?

And should the car driver, who is now in critical condition at the hospital, feel the pangs of guilt all his life? Who is responsible for the mental trauma that the loved ones of the dead, and the injured driver, are now suffering from? Who?

I think these are points that all employers must ponder on, and act upon. I think these are lessons to learn, by all companies using different transportation vehicles for picking and dropping workers from accident prone places.

If it was in some other countries, the labour legislations such as Workmen's Compensation Acts would apply, which could have got the bereaved families some compensation. But Bahrain is way behind when it comes to legislating and implementing workable labour laws on matters such as these - especially if they have to protect expatriates.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Keralite Fishermen's Killings : Response to my earlier post

The Italian marines held in Kerala at a guest house.
A couple of my friends - who read my recent letter in Daily Tribune (Friday, 2 March) - a copy of the letter is posted here - on the controversy surrounding the killings of two fishermen on February 15, by the marines of an Italian ship, Enrica Lexie , off the coast of India’s southern state, Kerala – called me to say they are very upset with my views.

They said that I have hurt, in particular, the large Syro Malabar Catholic community here, in Bahrain, with my words; and that they would write against it. When I explained my position and clarified my views, they seem to have understood that I meant no harm.

But this letter is being written to clarify my stance further so that people do not misunderstand me, and also to preempt untoward exchanges from appearing in print.

Let me explain the background first. In my narration of the series of events that led to increased controversy – which includes the now latest opposition- walkout from Kerala Assembly on Monday, 5 March 2012 – I had listed the killings of the fishermen mistaken for pirates, the detaining of the Italian ship at the Cochin seaport, the arrest of the Italian marines, the clarifications given by the Italian ambassador, and the meeting of the Indian and Italian foreign ministers.

And I had also mentioned that Major Archbishop Mar George Alencherry, the Indian bishop from Kerala who is just ordained as Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI on February 18, said something in Rome to Agenzia Fides, the Vatican's official news agency, which has also become a controversy.

When answering a question, the cardinal said, "I will remain in close contact with the Catholic ministers of Kerala and I hope that they will help pacify the situation” I am sure he did not mean any ill, and he did not speak as if on behalf of Italy, against India. But certain sections of media, and especially an article in India’s leading news magazine, India Today, questioned his loyalty to India.

I did not say that the Cardinal said anything wrong in my letter. I only made the implication that his words were made into a controversy. But apparently some of the Daily Tribune readers have misunderstood my narration of what happened, as if it was my opinion. It was not my opinion.

Here, I must mention that the Cardinal was serving as the head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church which is India's largest and richest Catholic Church with 3.7 million members - a huge number of which is in Bahrain - when he was chosen by the Vatican to join an elite group of 213 cardinals which elects the next successor to the 84 year-old Pope.

Let me clarify that I firmly believe that whatever the learned cardinal had said was said with all good intentions. And I fully understand that, and I respect that.

This was also published in Daily Tribune on 9 March 2012 

Friday, March 02, 2012

It's Kerala versus Italy now

The ship detained at Kochi (Cochin).
An interesting legal war is going on between a tiny state of India, Kerala, and the mighty European country, Italy; and whether it will escalate into a full blown diplomatic stand-off between India and Italy is a matter for speculation.

But since February 15, when two Indian fishermen were shot dead by the marines of the Italian ship, Enrica Lexie, off the coast of Kerala, we can see this issue getting more and more controversial by the day.

Immediately, when the news of killings was relayed by fishing boats to the Indian coast guard, they and other Indian authorities had swung into action, and forced the Italian ship to move into Kerala’s Cochin sea port where it has been detained since.

Two Italian marines were arrested and are still held, pending decision by the courts. But which court will try them? Kerala court? Indian court? Or an International Court? That is a small part of the controversy.

When originally summoned by the Indian foreign minister, the Italian Ambassador to India, Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte called the incident "very sad", but defended the marines of Enrica Lexie, saying the fishing boat failed to respond to warning signals and adopted a "hostile posture, typical of pirates.”

But the Indian authorities say that the Italian Navy personnel had no reason to mistake the fishermen as pirates as the boat can be seen carrying only their fishing nets and the fish; not any firearms or any other weapons.

Now, with the Kerala High court telling the Italian Ship’s owner to deposit 3 Crore Rupees (about 613,000 US dollars), as possible compensation for the victims’ families) if it wants the vessel to be released, it is hoped that the families of the fishermen are somewhat appeased.

Though the foreign ministers of the two countries, SM Krishna of India and Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata of Italy, had met in India this week and discussed this, among others, they were unable to resolve the issue of the trial of the arrested marines.

Addressing a joint press conference after their meeting, the two ministers had re-stated the positions of their respective countries. Italy is insisting that the incident should be tried according to international laws since it took place in international waters. India, however, maintains that since the incident involved an Indian vessel and those killed were Indian nationals, the two Italians would be tried under Indian laws.

To complicate matters, Cardinal George Alencherry – India’s newest Roman Catholic cardinal – who was in Rome for his investiture  by the Pope said some words that have upset the fishermen community.

In an interview to Agenzia Fides he said that “In the episode (fishermen’s killings), of course, there were errors, since the fishermen were mistaken for pirates. But the point is another: it seems that the opposition party wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons, speaking of ‘Western powers’ or the ‘will of American dominance’.” And it also quoted him assuring the Italians that he will speak to Indian ministers to help resolve the issue peacefully.

So, why is the cardinal from Kerala, talking for Italy? Is he an Italian or Is he an Indian? That became a controversy. And the fishermen are now miffed. Particularly, because the fishermen killed were said to be catholic.

Well, what is the next course of action for the families of the victims, and for the marines who are now in custody? We do not know.

I am actually glad at the tough Indian stand, considering the way India has always been known to pander to western nations' whims and fancies, even when it is not in our favour.

There does not seem to be any quick, clear solution, in the immediate future. But one good way forward would be for the Italian shipping company to give an out-of-the-court compensation to the bereaved families, and apologize for the killings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wikipedia's Blackout - A Necessary Stand?

Wikipedia’s protest, by a 24-hour black-out, has suddenly made the world realize how much it has begun to depend on this free online encyclopedia.

Can the world live without Wikipedia for one day? The answer is, perhaps this : “with very great difficulty.” And most of the world quickly realized it.

But is this new type of strike, of shutting Wikipedia’s English website down for 24 hours, really a wise move? Is Wikipedia right in protesting against the two legislations, SOPA and PIPA, which the US Senate is deliberating on?

SOPA is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and PIPA is an acronym for the "Protect Intellectual Property Act”. These bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, according to Wikipedia, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Wikipedia says that both are badly drafted legislations that won't be effective at their stated goal of stopping copyright infringement.

The bills will apparently put the burden on website owners to police the user-contributed material, and call for unnecessary blocking of entire sites.

According to Wikipedia “Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA are building a framework for future restrictions and suppression”. This, they say, is unjust.

Wikipedia’s arguments, that the bills will only be acts of ‘restriction and suppression’ of an open internet, may hold some water. But check out my next paragraph.

I saw one of my facebook friends’ mention on his status “I’d hate to be completing my university project today”!! This clearly brings us to the real question of plagiarism and piracy which the proposed legislations are seeking to prevent.

The fact that tech companies in Silicon Valley and the media companies in Hollywood are supporting the legislations, is a clear indication of how important these companies are valuing their intellectual property; and how they do not want any copyright infringement.

If I am Britney Spears, for instance, why should some website – like youtube – allow its users to upload my video song which is 'ripped from a DVD’ or ‘copied from a TV Channel’ onto the website, from where it can then be downloaded again, by the website’s several other users, who even convert my video into audio formats and play it in their parties, with absolutely no revenue to me?? Where are the returns due to me, the real Britney Spears? How can all you users enjoy my song, my hard work, my intellectual property, without giving anything to me?

Luckily, however, YouTube is seen working hard with its Content ID software to prevent unauthorized copyright violations. But several youtube-like, me-too, sites are only encouraging piracy. And millions are acting as if there is nothing wrong. Why? Well, who doesn’t want a freebie?

I believe, in today’s world of copy-paste, it is not just typed material, available in html format that that can be used for plagiarism. I believe that the DVD Rip software, the download convertors, and free download websites are all harming the original copyright owners. They should be given their due.

So, while I do not entirely agree with Wikipedia, in its support of other websites opposed to the bills, I am thankful that, in a way, it highlighted the issue by spreading awareness of intellectual property rights.

Self-contradictory as I may sound, my stand is this: restriction and regulation on Internet may seem extremely difficult, but it is necessary.

Youtube is a very good example on how it is doing its best to prevent copyrighted material from being uploaded to its site, although not entirely successfully.
All website should do their best to protect intellectual property of people like artists, writers, musicians and even software programmers.

Maybe the two bills need some tweaking and fine tuning but they will ensure that 'creativity of the mind' gets its due credit.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Crazy about Angry Birds

I just thought I was crazy.  My wife, however, is convinced that I am. She says I am a bad influence on my children.  And the reason is I play ‘Angry Birds’ on phone and computer regularly. She says it is not right to fight - for video game access - with one’s own children.

So, I pointed out two news items from Daily Tribune newspaper’s consecutive editions of Jan 10 and Jan 11 to her; both related to ‘angry birds’.  On this matter, I said to her, I am definitely not alone.

Firstly, I pointed out that ‘facebook’ and ‘angry birds’ are the world’s most downloaded apps in 2011, according to Apple Inc. (DT, Jan 10). It is obvious that millions of people have downloaded the game applications.

Secondly, I showed her Daily Tribune's cover page picture (DT, Jan 11) of the huge ‘angry bird’ structure made from piggy banks, in Taiwan. It is now the election symbol of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). That huge structure is outside the campaign office of the presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen.

But when she was still not convinced, I showed her TIME magazine’s report that since the time Rovio launched this video game, as recently as December 2009, Angry Birds has been globally played for an estimated total of 200,000 years! And it still clocks in at 300 million minutes of play time daily! And my wife thinks I am the 'only' crazy one??

The PC Magazine too, in November 2011, announced that Angry Birds had surpassed 500 million downloads, making it the most downloaded game in the history of video gaming. Just imagine, 500 million downloads! Are there so many crazy people?

As if the game download revenue is not enough, the Finnish company Rovio is making money on merchandising and selling the angry birds plush toys, t-shirts, mugs, posters and other paraphernalia for some time now. Apparently it has already shipped more than 10 million Angry Birds toys worldwide. And according to Business Insider, expected sales of 20 million in Christmas 2011.

It is just because of these crazy people, I explained, that the global economy is running. But my wife still doesn’t believe me. 

But she said it is okay with her, and she will believe, if my children and I receive money from the company, Rovio, for playing the game.

But, I said, are they crazy?