Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Election funding (just thinking aloud really)

Free TVs for votes, free fans for no votes, flip-flop politics and missing polity - there's little about recent politics that isn't greeted with cynicism or disgust.

At a recent debate on NDTV's We The People about an increasingly dysfunctional Parliament, one of the suggestions made to end the mammoth quibbles and get things done, was to allow MPs to vote on (most) policy matters independently.

The argument was that allowing an MP to vote against his party on a policy matter would enable him to better represent the interests of his immediate constituency. The electorate too would have something definite by which to judge the performance of their representative.

It's an idea that's almost perfect on paper.

In anything other than theory, it's terrifying.

The Election Commission of India allows a candidate to spend Rs. 25 lakh on his/her campaign for the General Election. A widely reported study by the Centre for Media Studies, however, suggests that as much as Rs.10,000 crore was spent during the 2009 elections (pdf), with "conservative estimates" putting the figure at Rs. 3 crore per candidate.

This picture definitely has a lobbyist waiting to make sure that the candidate turns into an MP, that too one with a valuable independent vote.

Yes, we have our Radias, the farm and fertilizer lobbies, but I'd hate to see it reach the hysteric proportions it is wont to.

At a time when corruption is the dirtiest word in the country, it was interesting to see something a little related to this discussion pan out on the other side of the globe.  Lawrence Lessig, once free culture advocate and now anti-corruption crusader in Washington DC (and all-round awesome guy) talks to Jon Stewart.

Election vouchers? Hmm.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Snooker noob!

Got to watch about three hours of top class snooker at the World Snooker Championship 2011 finals in Bangalore.

It's been a while since doing something new has been so much fun.

It was a pleasure to watch the two players be so precise, patient and meticulous. The angles and straight lines their bodies formed with the table and cue made for a stunning sight.


More photos if I can get 'em.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Every holiday has a story

A torn backpack even before I boarded the connecting flight was the extent of my worries when on holiday to Sikkim. Then the earthquake hit.

Yes, I felt it and yes, things shook.

Shopping in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, that Sunday evening, I later learnt that I was just 64 km from the epicentre of the earthquake that measured 6.8 on the Richter scale. A day later and we might have been at the very same spot.

Someone said later that it went on for about 35s. It felt like a minute.

It was loud. A-cement-mixer-outside-your-window loud. Even if you ignored the screaming.

I wasn't screaming. I was being dragged out of a souvenir store by an alert friend - the best person I could have shared a quake experience with, thanks B! - while saying something about not having paid for the pretty coin purses that I seemed to have run out with.

Mobile phone networks died before the world even stopped shaking, but data services stayed reliable, tweets, IMs and emails were dispatched. "All fine."

People ask me if I was afraid. After the fraction of a second it took to realise that I wasn't going to be buried in rubble (yet), I really wasn't. Adrenalin, a boringly practical instinct, the remarkable - if misguided - conviction of one's invincibility, and a pocketful of cash are perfect for situations like this.

Expunge oneself of the souvenirs that never were: check.
Call Dad, ping friends, email editor with an offer to be available for information: check.
Stock up on water, a torch, biscuits and chocolate: check.
Get ready to spend the night out on the road: sure, can do.

Running through this mental checklist, all I could think of was how when I got home, I should blog about the pressing need for universal mobile phone charging stations and public telephone booths. With time to readjust my personal lines of right and wrong, I was convinced I would be justified in breaking into an electronics store if the situation got any worse.

It didn't, and I met too many nice people in Gangtok to be guilty of misdemeanor or have to to live on the street.

A couple of hours later, safe inside a new friend's home that was warm in so many ways, I realised just how shaken we all were. (I blame two aftershocks, a dying phone and the sight of broken photo frames.) I felt I ought to be reporting this, but wasn't sure I wanted to. I found my legs unusually unsteady, clutching onto a water bottle was stupidly comforting, and I wasn't sure I wanted to take off my shoes and jacket just yet. What if we had to run out again? Even two days later at the airport, the sound of every plane taking off made me jump.  

Surprisingly, maybe because I was watching much of it unfolding with a sense of distance, I ate and slept very well that night. It was as if I hadn't a concern in the world.

The day after
M.G. Marg, Gangtok, the morning after. 

Maybe I didn't. Things could have been so much worse.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Saying something and nothing at all

All news these days seems bad and sad and personal.

And here I am sitting warm and far away from everywhere the things are falling apart. Emotions and opinions forming and changing with every text/tweet/IM/update that hits closer to home, all the while switching tabs to watch the hottest new DJ cat.

No, there's never a numbness; just a feeling of helplessness at the inability to find the words or the oneness to be able to show family or friends, even those from another day, another life, another home, that I hear their pain, their fear and relief at their own close shaves.

I wouldn't dare claiming to understand; sympathy just seems noisy.

I quote a significant chunk from A Literal Girl, because she says so eloquently what I still can't:
[We] say our thoughts are with people in places we aren’t. There’s a certain futility to this. Everybody has something to say, but is it always worth saying something?
I don’t mean that people should not speak, that we should censor ourselves or limit our reactions. But when I sit down to write about this, I feel distant and impotent. I think: I should have said something sooner, I should have reacted instantly, already the time for speech of the sort I want to make has passed, already we are moving on, collectively, talking about it in new or different ways. But part of me, the part of me that doesn’t move at internet speed, that moves at human speed, is still back there, still formulating thoughts and opinions based on what I’ve seen, even if it’s secondhand, thirdhand.
The most reassuring text/note I see these days is the forlorn and whimsical x.

So x.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

In defence of the soppy romance books

My romance with Mills & Boon started somewhere in class 9 or 10, with the first book I read in between studying for exams.

For someone with a proclivity then to get lost between the covers of story books, M&B made for convenient exam time reading - it gave me my everyday fix of fiction, but nothing fizzy enough to distract me from pages of fractions or history facts.

So, when I read that "Mills & Boon's romance novels should come with a health warning, according to a report published in an academic journal," that also blamed them for "unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, unrealistic sexual expectations and relationship breakdowns", I shall employ the same contemptuous sneer perfected by the hundreds of Greek gentlemen with chiselled faces/bodies that have graced the very covers of these far-from-erudite publications.

Cover of Sweet Deceiver (heh-heh). Note the sneer. 

To say this of the books established as a successful study technique, and with a proven record in improving one's mood and eliciting the (rather un-heroine-like) guffaws?! <-- Mock shock.

Far from being titillating, M&B's have had an exceedingly calming effect on my nerves, with their steady fare of clich├ęs, unwavering pace of narration, predictable plot lines (they exist if you look hard enough) and the supreme comfort of knowing exactly what is going to happen.

There's a place for the predictable. And it's warmer and fuzzier than the gloom painted by this particular study.

Now if I were issuing warnings about safe sex practices in academic journals, I'd look away from M&B and keep my chaperoning eye on them Messieurs Donne and Marvell.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Stop the Presses!

I spend my evenings - six days a week - at work at a newspaper, labouring lovingly over news copy that, I am acutely aware, will only be served cold with someone's morning coffee.  

Considerable time and effort goes into making a newspaper. A bunch of reporters, photographers, sub editors and editors are working odd and/or long hours, following a tradition of news gathering and dissemination fine-tuned over decades, as a regal masthead never fails to point out.

All that work for nothing.

The said masthead has only borne witness to a news cycle that only gets shorter. And Thursday's story with Wednesday's data that I painstakingly corrected and placed in prime position on what will be Friday's newspaper, just so you can read it on Friday evening after work, is then just a jaded retelling of something you already saw on the tele or your RSS feed.

So, it is exceedingly heartening - I thanked the lord and everything - that a major newspaper breaks this floundering tradition with a clarification of what a print-based news organisation can do to turn its fortunes around.

When The Guardian gets ready to "double digital revenues" and "spend 80% of its focus on digital", I am hopeful that it is an example of how newspapers can break the "breaking news" cycle to put the emphasis back on good journalism, without the "deadline" excuse for shoddy reporting. Or for rehashed press releases.

From editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger:
Every newspaper is on a journey into some kind of digital future. That doesn't mean getting out of print, but it does require a greater focus of attention, imagination and resource on the various forms that digital future is likely to take.
The article continues:
Based on research that showed that half of readers read the newspaper in the evening, the aim was to create a title that would be "as relevant at 9am as 9pm". It would focus less on breaking news and instead aim to emulate "Newsnight not News at Ten".
Seems obvious for any newspaper, no?

Nothing tells a story like words and pictures. Whether on 20 sheets of paper delivered at your doorstep or via scrollable text at the click of a mouse. Surely it is common sense for print to converge with online/ digital journalism?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Privacy 1, Rubbish news 0

An oft repeated statement about social networking sites is that putting up any personal information online is an automatic renunciation of privacy.

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," former Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously said.

However, using the many benefits of sites that encourage sharing personal information does not automatically translate into non-existent expectations of privacy.

So, I'm glad that there's been a recent ruling that's a definite shot in the arm for privacy in India, especially given recent possible erosions of the same.

Details of the case against TV9 Hyderabad brought in front of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority of India have been explained in detail at that link. To summarise, TV9 accessed the photographs and personal details of members of a networking site for gay men and splashed the same all over the tele in their hour-long report about "rampant gay culture" in Hyderabad, claiming that the information was easily accessible and in the public domain.

The absolutely juicy part of the ruling against their argument:
“While the names, particulars and photographs etc of individuals may be available in the.. members-only section, it cannot be said that such names, particulars and photographs are therefore available in the public domain”

As paraphrased:
Justice Verma seems to be saying, merely because one volunteers to publish information about oneself on a social networking site, one has not thereby foregone all of one’s rights to privacy against the world. Social networking sites are thereby construed as private spaces and decidedly not “public” ones.

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