Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A scorpion on your cigarrette pack?

After much deliberation and opposition from the tobacco lobby (obviously more of the latter), the government today recommended an insipid move that from now will force all packages of tobacco products sold in India to display images of a scorpion and message that tobacco kills. Yes, a scorpion! So instead of seeing this, you see the image of a scorpion. Not the standard skull and bones that signify danger worldwide.

So what if many have little idea what a scorpion is meant to represent here (presumably some kind of threat). And too bad if it means various things to different people. A Google search on what a scorpion symbolises threw up several suggestions: had these on its list - Transition, Death/Dying, Sex, Control, Solitary/Being Alone, Treachery, Passion, Protection, Defensiveness! Wonder which one our Group of Ministers wanted us to associate with?

The tobacco lobby argues that more explicit pictorial warnings will ruin the livelihood of workers in the tobacco industry. They don’t seem to bother about the fact that smoking indirectly kills so many prematurely each year. A generous estimate (see point 5 in the letter) by the All Bengal Beedi Workers' and Employees' Federation places the number of workers in this industry in India at about 40 million. On the other hand, smoking kills a million annually in this country. A fair trade-off you think? Surely not, when you consider that these workers can be gradually shifted to other sectors as most of them practise little specialised skills and focus just on farming tobacco and collecting tendu leaves for the beedi.

So, till the government decides it has enough balls to call a spade a spade, hopefully, you’ll stay away from the sting of the scorpion!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A day after, Sarkozy says he wishes he hadn't sworn

Even as France comes to term with a swearing president and labels him a "national shame", Sarkozy says a better response to the snub would have been to ignore him. Here's what he told Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France: "Il est difficile, même quand on est président, de ne pas répondre à une insulte, j'ai sans doute les défauts de mes qualités. Ce n'est pas parce qu'on est président qu'on devient quelqu'un sur lequel on peut s'essuyer les pieds. Cela étant, j'aurais mieux fait de ne pas lui répondre." (It's difficult, even as the president, not to respond to an insult. I sure have negative qualities but that doesn't mean once elected as president the person can be used as a doormat. That said, I would have fared better had I not responded to him.) Interestingly, the last sentence came as an afterthought that was slipped in by the presidential spin doctors once the journal sent a transcript to be cleared by Sarkozy. The editor Dominique de Montvalon maintained Sarkozy had not uttered those words during the interview! So, he may not be that repentant after all!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is it wrong for a president to swear in public?

Nicolas Sarkozy's plummeting popularity rating just got another punch in the face this weekend. Snubbed by a bystander at Salon International de l'Agriculture, whose hand the president offered to shake, Sarkozy let out a string of abuse. Here's what was exchanged between the two:

Bystander: "Ah non, me touche pas, tu me salis" (Oh no, don't touch me, you soil me)
Sarkozy: "Casse-toi, casse-toi alors! Pauvre con va..." (Get lost, poor jerk, get lost then!)

You can watch the swear video here.

This has allowed opponents of Sarkozy to fire another round of criticism. Opposition Socialist leader Francois Hollande lead from the front, saying his behaviour wasn't beffiting that of a president. Can a president be always expected not to abuse, more so when rebuffed? Isn't it impolite to snub the head of the state int his fashion? And to play the devil's advocate, why should he not abuse when the people are free to do so? Moreover, wasn't Sarkozy's retort more "statesmanlike" than what it would have been had many of us been in his shoes? Whatever the answers, I am having the last laugh. A bright start to the week... And had it been in India, the politician's sidekicks would have beaten the man to pulp and the state machinery unleashed to legally hound the poor fellow!

And not to forget, the slew of PILs that would be filed seeking to prosecute the guy for dishonouring the state and disrespecting one of its highest symbols.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Next time, read the fine print in your restaurant bill

A group of ten friends were stunned when their bill had a surprise inclusion on it, even though it came free. Somebody from the restaurant had slipped in an abusive and sexually-explicit message on their bill at Joe Delucci's Italian eatery in Staffordshire in the UK. It is alleged that the move was deliberate since the friends had complained about the joint's poor service. Quite a way to get back! In case, you are still looking for the message, it appears right below fish cakes on the bill.

Monday, February 18, 2008

India vs Bharat?

I was struck by a similarity between the still unfolding kidney scam and the Nithari scandal just about a year back. In both cases, the perpetrators were rich and the victims poor migrant labourers. In the organ trade, labourers were duped onto the operation table and in the latter a rich businessman exploited helpless labourers living in slums nearby. Moreover, the crime spots Nithari (in Noida) and Gurgaon are at the frontlines of where India and Bharat meet. Where an urban and rapidly growing India crashes into Bharat that seems to have been left out of the development loop. Any surprise then that such confrontations should arise in these pockets and between these two groups of people?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to quit Facebook?

Can you, in the first place? As Nipon Das, a Manhattan business consultant, found out it turns out to be more like a line out of Hotel California - “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”! It appears Facebook has no clear guidelines on how to delete your Facebook account and that a lot of your data remains online even after you "deactivate" your account. Under pressure from users, Facebook is finally working on a simpler way to say "Au Revoir" to the networking site. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A word from a victim of global warming

While working on a report on the Clean Development Mechanism that aims to mitigate global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I came across this strongly persuasive article from Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepal Times. For us, smug in our sanitised environs, global warming remains a distant threat but many as, Dixt points out, paying for the misdeeds of others. The best way to save the Maldives from drowning, he adds, is not to fly there anymore. And if you want to trek in the Himalaya, try doing it in Second Life.

Here is his article:

For many of us who live in countries in the periphery like the Maldives or Nepal, there is a real feeling that we don’t just have to suffer for someone else’s crime. We actually have to pay for their misdeeds as well.

You don’t have to be a scientist to see what is happening to our mountains. The people of Pokhara in Central Nepal saw something apocalyptic last winter: Machapuchre, the 7,000m high pyramid-shaped peak that towers over the town was snowless for the first time in anyone’s memory.

In the Everest region, the Imja Glacier now has a lake three km long where there was just ice 30 years ago. When one of these lakes burst 10 years ago it washed away a newly-built hydroelectric plant. Dorje Sherpa lost his daughter and grandchild. He blamed the gods, but had he known, he would have blamed fossil carbon.

For us in the Himalaya, global warming is already a fact of life. And of death.

Scientists can do more modeling, find out the exact speed at which the Himalayan ice caps are melting. Or they can simulate the impact of melting snow on Himalayan rivers in the next 50 years. But actually, we don’t need any more evidence. What we need is for experts to tell us what to do. And then we need to find the money to do it with.

It’s not just the people of the Himalaya who are going to be affected by melting snow and ice. The water tower of the Tibetan plateau is the source of major rivers on which nearly 1.5 billion people in Asia depend directly. The Indus that flows into the Arabian Sea, the Tamir of the Taklamakhan Desert, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, all the rivers of Nepal and Bhutan, the three great rivers of Burma, the Mekong, and the Yangtse and Huang He that flow down to the China Sea—they all start as melting snow high in the Himalaya.

The melting of the ice cap on the Tibetan plateau and the mountains on its rim is already affecting the flow of these rivers. Perhaps we do need more data to give us a better idea of what to plan for. But the data is out of bounds. The Himalaya is a war zone. It is located in a multiple conflict zone: Afghanistan, India vs Pakistan, India vs China. Hydrological and precipitation data is still a military secret in our mountains.

Countries in the region also need better transboundary early warning so when a glacial lake bursts behind Mt Everest, villages on the Nepali side are warned in time.

The worst case scenario is a magnitude eight earthquake in eastern Nepal or Bhutan that could cause dozens of glacial lakes, swollen by global warming, to burst simultaneously. It’s like nuclear war, you don’t want to think about it. But we must. And we must plan for these disasters.

As journalists, we’re ambulance chasers. We are used to covering disasters after they happen. Here is one chance we have to predict a disaster so safeguards can be put in place. It’s not a question of if there will be a glacial lake catastrophe, it is a question of when.

Climate science is complex. We haven’t even started factoring in Global Dimming: how Asian Brown Cloud over the Indian Ocean is filtering the sun but adding to global warming because of a blanket of soot particles in the atmosphere. The fine black dust is also covering the snows and so it melts faster. So there are certain things we can do regionally and right away (like reducing the brown cloud, or funding mitigation like glacial lake outburst protection) while we wait for the world’s polluters to agree on emission cutbacks.

The Himalaya are the youngest mountain range in the world. Our rivers are older than the mountains and cut through the main range in spectacular gorges. Combined with heavy monsoons and heavy population density, the slopes of these mountains were fragile even without global warming. Climate change just magnifies all the problems we have many times.

These mountains are perhaps seeing some of the most dramatic changes since they were formed 65 million years ago. How to ensure that these changes are not too drastic and global average temperatures don’t rise more than two degrees is not in the hands of the inhabitants of the mountains. It is in the hands of the big polluters, two of which are our next door neighbours.