Friday, June 30, 2006


Checkout Gapminder, a pretty cool tool from Google (still in beta).

Gapminder is a non-profit venture that develops information technology for provision of free statistics in new visual and animated ways. In short, it enables you to make sense of the world by having fun with statistics.

Currently the tool allows simultaneous comparison of two statistics (out of about 15) of all countries, or specfic countries and even animates the change in values from 1975 to 2005. Surely, as more statistics will be added, has potential to be very useful---looks like yet another cool tool from Google.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Battle of Algiers

Watched the movie "The Battle of Algiers", about an armed revolution in Algiers, Algeria against the French colonizers. A must-watch movie, it is top-notch as regards direction and screenplay and often while watching it is hard to believe that it is not a documentary. The movie shows an untainted view of the lives of the revolutionaries, their fearless approach to kill for independence and at same time the extreme torture used by the French. The revolution in 1957 did not succeed as most members of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) were systematically hunted down and killed. But in 1960 a mass movement restarted and Algeria got independence on July 2, 1966.

One of the memorable dialogues in the movie (by Ben M'hidi, a top FLN leader) ...

It is hard to start a revolution
It is harder to sustain it
It is hardest to win it
and after that the real difficulties begin ...

Watching the movie, parallels can be drawn to non-violent and armed struggles of today---some which are fighting for independence, others that are fighting against market fundamentalism, feudilism, government policies, religous intolerance, forceful occupation, gender/sexual-inclination based oppression etc.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mehdiganj and Coca Cola

Villagers from Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh, have begun a hunger-strike to demand the closure the Coca-Cola bottling plant.

Their case against Coca Cola is here.

Community leaders have accused the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj of creating severe water shortages affecting over twenty villages, polluting agricultural land and groundwater, illegally occupying land, evading taxes and treating workers unfairly.

Monday, June 26, 2006

World Cup: War, Peace and Racism

Amy Goodman talks to David Zirin on Democracy Now!
(David Zirin is a U.S-based sports writer and has a weekly column "Edge of Sports").

David talks about the significance of the biggest sporting event, the rise of Ghana, the biased commentary regarding the same, the initial efforts to ditch Iran for the World Cup by the US and the EU, and racism (yes, racism!) in football.

Amy also mentions at the start, "In the Ivory Coast this year, warring sides called a temporary truce to a bloody four-year civil conflict when the national team qualified for their first ever World Cup."

* * * * *

In 1967, Pele travelled to Lagos, Nigeria to play two exhibition games for his club Santos. Nigeria was in the midst of a civil war and both sides agreed on a 48-hour ceasefire to watch the king of football play. Football stopped a war.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

football mania #2

Downtown Seoul is a sea of red, as South Korean fans watch their game against Switzerland on a giant screen.

Saw these on Sepia Mutiny.

Is that a between-the-legs dribble/pass ?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Iraq body count

Iraq Body Count, a campaign group, reports on the number of deaths (as of June 1, 2006) in the on-going war in Iraq.

Iraqis: 40,000+
Americans: 2473
British: 113
Others: 111

The US and UK military authorities do not record the number of civilians killed by their forces.

[Picture source: BBC]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pune trivia

Pune, a city in India (where I have lived for 20+years), has several peths. A peth, a word in the Marathi language, roughly translates to a locality.

Each peth has a name,

some are named after people, e.g., Narayan Peth, Sadashiv Peth, Nana Peth, Rasta Peth,

some are based on a temple located in the locality, e.g., Kasba Peth, Ganesh Peth, Bhawani Peth

and seven of them are named according to the day of the week---Raviwar (Sunday) Peth, Somwar (Monday) Peth, Mangalwar (Tuesday) Peth, Budhwar Peth (Wednesday), Guruwar (Thursday) Peth, Shukrawar (Friday) Peth, and Shaniwar (Saturday) Peth.

Any guesses why these peths were named after days of the week?

* * * * *
P.S.: Businesses in different localities/peths would be open for business on different days of the week. Hence each one of them got their names based on the respective day of business.

The practice of markets/businesses open on a single day of the week still exists in villages in Karnataka (maybe also true in general for rural India).

Monday, June 19, 2006

fountain colas

John Abraham after some research found out that Diet Pepsi is not harmful to health and incidently is also endorsing it.

You may want to look at this video, starring Diet Pepsi and Mentos, before you decide ...

Check here for fountains with Diet Coke (this one has fancier fountain patterns).

Nope, this is not the case with just Diet colas! Check here for the Mentos+Coke experience.

... whole new meaning to fountain drinks!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Thwarting women in power

India Thwarting women in power
Thousands of women in Madhya Pradesh were elected in the last panchayat elections; since then, the story has taken a dismal turn. More than 1,300 women sarpanchs face false charges of corruption. About 50 have been removed from office through forced no-confidence motions. They have been threatened and humiliated.
Most women sarpanchs are not allowed to work freely. They are either forced to sign on papers prepared by influential lobbies or become part of their husbands' politics.
Radha, forced to quit the post, and unable to handle the humiliation they heaped on her routinely, consumed poison. Fortunately, she was taken to the hospital on time, and two persons - Chhatar Singh and Lala Singh (the former sarpanch and his relative) - were arrested. Lying on the hospital bed, with both anguish and anger evident in her voice, Radha said, "They used to openly tell me to come to their house at night. My dream was to work for my village. But the power of my opponents and the corruption of bureaucrats shattered that dream."

war resisters

On today's Democracy Now!, American troops that are resisting to fight in Iraq.

- Army Specialist Suzanne Swift arrested for refusing to return to fight in Iraq.

- "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq", a book by Peter Laufer, profiles a number of soldiers who refuse to participate in what they believe to be an illegal and immoral war.
But I think that the stories that we're telling here of those who oppose the war, who are deserting, who are going AWOL, who are filing for conscientious objector status, who are saying no to this war -- I think that it's important ammunition, these stories, to broaden the debate in the general society about the war. This is a great tool for going to those who are still undecided about the war, for going to those who still support the war, and to say, look at what's happening to people like Suzanne Swift. Look at what is going on in the military. Look at what these soldiers are saying who were there, who served, who were injured, who received medals for their valor.
You cannot impugn the credibility of those who signed up for the military, served, and come back and say this was wrong, the same way you can impugn the point of view, say, of you and me if we stand on the street corner with a sign that says stop the war. We're different than those who come back. Their credibility is phenomenal in the argument against the war.

and on a previous show,

Lieutenant Ehren Watada becomes the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

urban planet

According to the UN, more than half of the world's population will be soon living in urban cities.
Despite almost four millennia as centres of civilisation, it was only fairly recently that cities attracted more than a small percentage of the global population. With hindsight, the 20th Century was the century of urbanisation.

In 1900, only 14% of humanity lived in cities. By the century's close, 47% of us did so. This change is revealed in the growth of the number of medium-sized cities. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; but by 2000, this had risen to 411.

An interactive map showing the expansion of world cities from the year 1975 onwards is here.

One of the most notable effects of urbanization has been the increase in slums and shanty towns. In Bombay, approximately 50% of the population lives in slums. A series on Dharavi (Asia's largest slum) and profiles of few of its residents is here.
* * * * *

Had borrowed this book from the library, but did not end up reading it.

An introduction to a chapter from the book (which I think is related to above) is as follows,

The bottom line is that a planet of finite resources and increasingly unmet social needs cannot sustain an economic system that is driven by corporate interests and is based on ever-increasing free-trade and international competitiveness. This system can and must be replaced by an alternative that challenges its insistence that all economies be contorted to the end goal of international competitiveness, and its emphasis on beggar-your-neighnor reduction of controls on trade and investment. Economic localisation is just such an alternative. It involves a better-your-neighbor supportive internationalism where the flow of ideas, technologies, information, culture, money and goods has, as its end goal, the rebuilding of truly sustainable national and local economies worldwide. Its emphasis is not on competition for the cheapest, but on cooperation for the best.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

World Day against Child Labour

June 12th is World Day Against Child Labour.

Some numbers,
  • An estimated 246 million children worldwide are engaged in some kind of labour, about 180 million of them in hazardous conditions.
  • According to the Indian census of 1991, there were 11.28 million working children under the age of fourteen years in India---over 85% of this child labor is in the country's rural areas.
  • As per the Indian census of 2001, there are 12.5 million working children in age group of 5-14 years as compared to the child population of 252 million.

A study (by ILO) reports that the number of workin children has fallen significantly for the first time. The decrease in numbers is mostly in Latin America, with little change in African and Asia-Pacific countries.

Monday, June 12, 2006

underground children

A picture essay of children literally living underground in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital.
They live in tunnels, sewers and drainage holes, hidden beneath Addis Ababa's teeming streets.
They move from one makeshift shelter to the next, chased away by police or the rivers of water and refuse that flow when the rains come.
An exact number is too difficult to pin down accurately, but various estimates put the total number of street kids in Ethiopia between 60,000 and 150,000.
* * *

The Smugglers' Due, a NYT article (registration required), about teenage Chinese immigrants that come to the US, either sent by their parents or who come on their own. The article is about Chen, one such immigrant, who came to the US as a teenager via arrangements provided by 'snakeheads'---the immigration racketeers. The immigrants work their asses off to pay their dues to the 'snakeheads' for several years and face consequences at home if their payments are late. The article is Chen's story so far and his lonely battles for survival.

* * *

Poverty affecting children ain't a pretty picture. Poverty affecting anybody ain't a pretty picture.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

football mania

[Source: Mid Day]
Mumbai's dabbawallas took on Brazilian street football team Boys from Brazil at Kamala Mills on Friday. Two matches of 10 minutes each were played and Brazil won 5-1. Kiran Gavande, the captain of the dabbawallas team, picked up a blinder of a pass and shattered the defences of the Boys of Brazil to score their only goal. Ragunath Medge, the president of the dabbawalas, when asked which team he was supporting in the World Cup said, "Italy, because it is Rajiv Gandhi's sasural."

Any idea why the reference to Rajiv Gandhi?

Friday, June 09, 2006

'Blue Lady' Blues

The Supreme Court on 5th June gave permission for the Malaysian ship 'Blue Lady' (SS Norway) to anchor at Alang, Gujarat. An article regarding this is here.
The Blue Lady's owner admits that the ship contains asbestos. But the ship carries neither documents required as per international law, nor a complete inventory of its hazardous wastes.
Arguing before the court in favour of allowing the ship into Alang, the Technical Committee cited two reasons. One, that monsoons were approaching and if the ship were not allowed to be anchored, then the ship might get damaged in the high seas. Two, that there were 13 Indians on board -- all crew members -- and they would suffer from paucity of food and water, if the ship was not allowed in.
In the meantime, following adverse publicity about low occupational safety standards at Alang, GMB has imposed a ban on media persons visting the area.
The media appear to have failed to take note of the fact that the apex court has allowed anchoring of the ship on humanitarian grounds and not on legal grounds. As noted earlier, in a similar episode in 2005, the Danish ship, Riky, was allowed into Alang and dismantled despite repeated diplomatic recall requests from Denmark. The apex court is hearing the Riky case and is yet to decide on the issue.

Laal Salaam

Mao's teachings inspired me and instilled a sense of courage to face any difficulty in the path of revolution. By the time I quit studies during Pre-Degree, I was fully fired up by the communist ideals which Mao had been preaching-permanent revolution and the importance of the peasantry, of small-scale industry, and of agricultural collectivisation. I became a committed Naxalite through Mao.
- K. Ajitha (link here)

"Importance of the peasantry, of small-scale industry, and of agricultural collectivisation." Mao the visionary is kept alive through the courage and persistence of women like K. Ajitha.

An excerpt from the book "Memoirs of a Revolutionist" by Peter Kropotkin
A revolution from its very outset must be an act of justice towards "the downtrodden and the oppressed," not a promise of such reparation later on; otherwise it is sure to fail. For revolutionists not to succeed in proving to the massess that a new era has really begun for them is to ensure the certain failure of their cause.

Men have traditionally failed to bring about a successful revolution because they have always betrayed the cause of bringing justice to women, a group which has historically, been the most downtrodden and opressed.

Creating a classless society is the ideology that women Maoists zealously follow. They are often seen exhorting villagers to fight untouchability and encourage inter-caste marriages. They urge villagers to fight the higher castes and the police who commit atrocities on them. They also compel women to fight their abusive husbands. (link here)

The real revolution will come from here. These women will bring it about.

Sir! No Sir!

Army Lieutenant Ehran Watada becomes the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

* * * * *

'Sir! No Sir!', is a film on the GI anti-war movement during the Vietnam war.

From the film website ... The Vietnam War has been the subject of hundreds of films, both fiction and non-fiction, but this story–the story of the rebellion of thousands of American soldiers against the war–has never been told in film.This is certainly not for lack of evidence. By the Pentagon’s own figures, 503,926 “incidents of desertion” occurred between 1966 and 1971; officers were being “fragged”(killed with fragmentation grenades by their own troops) at an alarming rate; and by 1971 entire units were refusing to go into battle in unprecedented numbers. In the course of a few short years, over 100 underground newspapers were published by soldiers around the world; local and national antiwar GI organizations were joined by thousands; thousands more demonstrated against the war at every major base in the world in 1970 and 1971, including in Vietnam itself; stockades and federal prisons were filling up with soldiers jailed for their opposition to the war and the military.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

reservation related links ...

The A to Z of OBC, Yogendra Yadav's FAQ on OBC reservations.

A listing of who and how many are the OBCs and reservations that currently exist in educational institutes and government jobs in each state.

Articles in Frontline: (links via Satya)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Social Profile Survey of Indian Media

A survey of the social profile of more than 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and television channels reveals some interesting numbers,
  • No Dalit or Adivasi among top 300 journalists
  • "Hindu upper caste men" — who form 8 per cent of the country's population — hold 71 per cent of the top jobs
  • OBCs, who are estimated to constitute around 40 per cent of the population, account for an "abysmally low" four per cent
  • Muslims are "severely under-represented in the national media": they account for only three per cent among the key decision makers in the national media, compared with 13.4 per cent in the country's population
  • Doubly disadvantaged sections of the population, such as women Other Backward Classes or backward caste Muslims and Christians, are nearly absent among the key decision-makers. The survey, for example, found that there was not a single OBC woman among the 315 journalists enumerated

The rising import of 'suicides'

Jaideep Hardikar in his article (The rising import of 'suicides'), tries to find answers to the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha and other parts of India. Why are farmers committing suicides? Is it drought, irrigation, financial support, market volatility? Why are they perennially indebted? What is the role of India's import policies?

He concludes that both local and global policies have pushed farmers to the brink.
Farmers' leader in Wardha Vijay Jawandhia once remarked: "If I were given a choice, I would like to be born as a European cow, but certainly not as an Indian farmer, in my next birth." There, a cow gets a US $ 2 subsidy per day and enjoys all the comforts. "And here, in India, a farmer is a debtor all his life. Post his death, his son inherits his debts and has to borrow money for his funeral."
Notes Devinder Sharma, a policy analyst: "A complicated and veiled system of tariffs allows western countries to protect their tiny farming populations while millions of farmers in developing countries are swamped under a tide of cheap imports." While cotton prices have declined by more than 60 percent since 1995, U.S. subsidies to its barely 25,000 cotton farmers reached 3.9 billion dollars in 2001-02, double the level of subsidies in 1992. Interestingly, the value of subsidies provided by American taxpayers to the cotton barons of Texas and elsewhere in 2001 exceeded the market value of cotton output by 30 per cent.
The past decade of liberalization policies have pushed the peasantry to a point of no return. Ironically, though tragically, the government preferred to stand by the market, not the bullied farmers, all these years. It preferred to announce special packages than to correct the policies. It punished small-time moneylenders than caning the giant loan sharks, who sat sometimes on the treasury benches within the system. It's procurement centres have refused to pay a farmer his little legitimate price but gleefully waived hundreds of crores of rupees on excise and other taxes of the corporate industries. It paid for the teeming Metro's (here, read Mumbai) wasteful extravagance and vulgar extravaganza, but in a tearing hurry withdrew whatever little villages have enjoyed.
The reasons for the distress therefore are policy-driven. It's not the lack of implementation, but the policies themselves that are at the root of the prevailing crisis, and the crisis-driven distress suicides in the region. It's also not, as some newspapers suggest, a successive spell of drought that has hit the farmers, but a perennial drought of good policies. It's not the lack of reforms but the fast-track reforms that are at the root. Add to it the lopsided 'open market' economy weighed inherently against the marginal farmers. Distress is devouring the region at a much greater pace in the wake of open markets, not otherwise. All this, and the state government's failure to protect the peasantry are taking their toll on the region's agricultural economy, as they do in any other part of the country as well.
Jawandhia remarks, "It is increasingly becoming difficult to farm in an agricultural country like India." It's only ironical that food producers are starving, while the purchasers have stocks beyond their consumption limit.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Caste and Indian Media

Caste matters in the Indian media, Siddharth Varadarajan reports in The Hindu.
If television and newspaper coverage of the anti-reservation agitation was indulgent and one-sided, the lack of diversity in the newsroom is surely a major culprit.
how it contrasts with the extraordinary indulgence the national media showed the nearly month-long anti-reservation agitation of doctors and medical students at AIIMS and other colleges. Despite the 24x7 presence of TV cameras, the daily protests in favour of reservation by AIIMS doctors and staff under the banner of `Medicos Forum for Equal Opportunities' were virtually blacked out.
would the media's coverage have been more balanced had there been a greater degree of caste diversity in the newsroom and editorial boards of our newspapers and channels? Put another way, in egging the forward caste students on to oppose any extension of reservation, were forward caste editors and reporters reflecting their own personal impatience with the idea of affirmative action? Was the media coverage, then, a display of trade unionism by the privileged?
There are no official or industry statistics but every journalist is aware of the extent to which forward castes dominate the media. When B.N. Uniyal surveyed the scene in 1996, he found not a single Dalit accredited journalist in Delhi. Today, the position is unlikely to be much better. At a recent meeting of Journalists for Democracy, it was reported that an informal survey had found that the number of accredited North Indian OBC journalists in Delhi was under 10.
In an ideal world where professionalism is paramount, the caste or religious affiliation of a journalist should not matter. But journalism that has little or no space for the majority of citizens is bound to end up missing out on the complexity of the society it seeks to cover. Story ideas will not be taken up, or if taken up then covered only from a particular perspective.

Friday, June 02, 2006

arguments against anti-reservationists

Why We are opposed to Reservations..?, an article by Prof. Rahul Varman (IIT Kanpur), about his disagreement with the anti-reservationists. The article is compelling and in it I also found his thoughts on the question,
Why reservation should be based on caste and not based on economic levels? (with the intention of supporting poor upper castes)
Some say that instead of caste we should talk about the economic deprivation and by bringing caste reservations we’ll only bring in more divisiveness. I do not understand this argument; it is like saying that we should not address the gender oppression as an issue primarily concerning women, as men also have been sometimes oppressed; or that racial discrimination is not about the blacks and Hispanics in the US, as whites also are sometimes on the receiving end. Further, as if acknowledgement of this form of discrimination(s), instead of being a logical step towards affirmative action, would actually promote them. Coming back to reservations in the present context, it is true that a lot of men and upper castes are also oppressed, but here we are talking about a specific systemic historical subjugation of a massive magnitude, at present perhaps involving more than half a billion people. Reservations may not be answer to this problem but the issue cannot be addressed by bringing in every other kind of discrimination also while attempting to address this issue. Caste problem can be solved only by addressing caste issues; similarly if there are other discriminations that exist in the society (and of course they do) they need to be identified and addressed too, not substituting one form of redressal for the other. Further if the social and economic equity spreads it will not harden the caste identity but loosen it as I’ll argue further through the experience of the southern states later.

The analogy of caste discrimination with gender and race issues stands out. These are primary issues in themselves and so are supporting the deprived in all the other categories and each has to be solved considering the primary factor. Solutions to gender discrimination or affirmative action for African Americans/Hispanics cannot be based on economic criteria or other criterias---they have to based on the fact that women and colored people need to be empowered and so has to be the solution for caste discrimination. I think this is a very important point in the reservation/caste-discrimination discussion. Thoughts?