April 29, 2006

Putting a Price Tag on War, Quake

San Ramon, Calif.: As someone visiting this country I find aspects of life, an NRI here might dismiss as mundane, so fascinating to be worth writing home about. For instance, the Americans' penchant for putting a price tag on things. Read somewhere they spend $ 200 million a day on Iraq; have spent $ 320 bn till now on the war there; and that the war costs have doubled since the fall of Saddam. The projected combined bill on hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan is put at $811 bn. And they still have to account for Osama.

I am sure they have a point in keeping count, but it can't have anything to do with strategy to contain war costs or put an end to the seemingly unending war. If cost consideration were a governing factor in global conflicts, no cost-conscious nation would go to war. I suspect that the US of A keeps tab on costs of imponderables such as war and earthquake, only to keep their accountants at full employment level.

My neighborhood paper, ' San Ramon Valley Times', reports that a quake in the Bay Area could set the country back by $ 135 billion to $220 billion, depending on its magnitude. A 6.9 quake would cost $ 135 billion at today's dollar rate. A calamity on 7.3 scale would mean 85 billion more, according to Don Windeler of Risk Management Solutions. He makes it sound as if we have an option, to choose between 7.3 level quake and a less expensive 6.9 quake. Putting a price tag makes sense, to my mind, only if cost is negotiable. Can't ask for a cut-rate quake, can we.

In the 1868 quake, they say, the Bay Area got away with a damage of a mere $300,000. We have Don's word that the next one would be much more costly. Wonder how these risk management guys come up with these intimidating figures, though I can see 'why' they need to do so. Risk management solutions need to factor in the cost of a calamity. Putting a price tag on a disaster makes it grimmer (and, hopefully, helps sell disaster insurance) . Quantifying a quake is the hallmark of an analyst. You and I aren't going to question analyst's figures. If risk management folks say a 6.9 quake would cost $ 135 bn, who am I to differ? And who would print me in newspapers, anyway.

April 27, 2006

An elephant named Mysore

He provided Sarah, 12, of Bloomington, US, a photo-op. by stepping on a watermelon, crushing it into messy pieces and mouthing them with his trunk. A lesson Sarah, a sixth grader, learnt after a behind-the-scene visit at the circus in town was, 'his table manners are terrible, the elephant's'. Mysore had his trainer Billy Morris spread out on a table apples, grapes and banana. Watermelons were on the floor. Mysore is on the payroll of Barnum & Bailey Circus.

April 24, 2006

‘Desi’ books/CDs in county libraries

San Ramon: At the county library in my neighbourhood, in California, I was pleased/amused to note a placard in vernacular saying, 'Hindi and Gujarati books are available'. Pleased, because it was a matter of pride that our books have found a place in a ‘firangi’ library; and amused by the fact that an overwhelming number of visitors to the library would have no clue to what the placard says. If the idea was to attract the Hindi/Gujarati knowing readers, they needn’t have taken the trouble, for ‘desis’ who use libraries in this part of the world are usually familiar with plain English.

But then the vernacular placard attracted everyone’s attention; it provided a cosmopolitan touch to the setting. County libraries in the US stock foreign language books, video tapes and CDs. Fremont, Calif., library has a shelf full of Hindi and Punjabi film cassettes and CDs. So has the main city library at San Francisco. My wife and I got from Union City county library some movies we couldn’t get to watch back home, in Mysore – classics such as Guru Dutt’s ‘Pyasa’ and some Bimal Roy movies. The library had most episode-wise collection of mega serials, ‘Ramayana’ and Ramanand Sagar’s TV epic ‘Mahabharatha’.

I don’t suppose these video-tapes found their way to the library shelf because the county librarian at Fremont or Union City took a conscious decision and said, ‘Let’s get ‘Ramayana’ or a Gurdass Mann Punjabi movie’. Chances are these video cassettes and books for San Ramon library have been gifted to libraries by benevolent NRIs or local Indian community associations. Wonder if the Indian consulate in San Francisco takes initiative in gifting to US community libraries books and CDs.

The placard at San Ramon library set me thinking, if they can have Hindi and Gujarati, why not books and CDs in Kannada. Imagine Kevempu’s collection or video CD of the movie ‘Beru’ being made available in one’s neibourhood library in the US. Kannada Sanghas could take initiative in mobilizing local residents to donate books. The next time they hold a Kannada literary/cultural conference in the Bay Area, Chicago, New Jersey or wherever, an appeal should be made to the invitee writers and others from India that they would do well to mobilize collection of books and CDs in Karnataka for donation to public libraries in the US or elsewhere in the world.

April 21, 2006

When Bangalore went berserk

Alexander Zaitchaik, a New Delhi-based journalist, writing in Spiked-online.com about the Raj Kumar fans’ riots, observed that for two days in April Bangalore looked like Baghdad. And, to a bemused world, this fiery convulsion triggered by the death of an old actor was just another example of Indians' idiosyncratic, borderline-religious love for their movie stars…read his story

This is in contrast to the idiosyncrasy captured in a photo of a lady in grief posted by Mr. S R Suresh.

April 12, 2006

Disclose yourself, Mr. BOOT; Or else I shall….

Or else, I shall be constrained to name you. When I first spotted odd messages on this site being signed off as ‘Blogging One’s Own Trinkets’ (BOOT) I thought it was a crank call. Spammers usually adopt such call sign that gives no clue to whether it belongs to a she, he or an it. But then, on reading his comments in Capt. Anup Murthy’s blog and mine, I sensed BOOT is no crank. He appears selective, is sensible in what he says, and, to the point; on the ball, as they say.
He gives a bit of himself away when he makes a reference to his blog in one of his comments - http://bloggingtrinkets.blogspot.com/ . But then, you access his blog, you wouldn’t find anyone’s name on it, only his gender and zodiac sign by way of a profile. Bit of a tease, isn’t he? Maybe this is his idea of flogging his blog. Which carries excerpts of essays from a collection, titled – ‘Run of the Mind’. This proves a dead give-away. Come now, Mr Vijendra Rao, your run of anonymity must end here. If anyone cares to read more on Mr Rao’s work, Click on ‘A Mysore newsman’s debut book’.

April 11, 2006

A reader-driven news web initiative

Another web news/views monthly is out on the Net. Its editor, Shivangi Sharma, in an e-mail announcing www.wenewsindia.com says its content would be based on contributions from citizen-journalists. Which is one way of saving money you would otherwise pay staff writers/reporters. A skeleton staff of re-write persons would do. What’s more, WeNews offers to share ad. revenue with contributors. Reader-reporters can have it both ways – have their pieces published on the web and get paid for it as well.
It is an imaginative venture; and can be a win-win one, if it works. I am rather skeptical about a web initiatives in India making money, unless they are about ‘shaadi’/’naukri’. The stories we read about odd bloggers making millions on their spare time obsession with the web are relevant to a San Francisco setting. In our scenario a blog has yet to become a saleable business model. A web-print media synergy is quite another matter.
Another aspect that may not be the best bet to generating ad. revenue, I believe, is ‘WeNews’ periodicity. A monthly update may not be conducive to retaining readership. A month is too long a time to expect readers, who first access the site, to make repeat visits. The widely read weblogs are those that are updated on an on-going basis, even several times during a day.
If WeNews folk have money in mind, they could try a syndicating arrangement with some newspapers for the articles WeNews generate. The web-to-print grassroots journalism is something Shivangi Sharma could work on. The syndication concept has been adopted in Denver, where publishers of The Denver Post bring out a print weekly – YourHub.com – comprising stories from 42 web sites. The Newspapers & Technology website runs a feature on it. To read it click on ‘Grassroots Web Concept’.

April 10, 2006

Cremate your worries at a price

San Ramon, CA, Apl.10: Read about this resort at Sedona, Ariz., where they say, you can ‘burn’ your worries. They keep pencils and slips of paper outside the meditation room called Crystal Grotto in Enchantment Resort (ER). You write your worries on a piece of ER issue stationery and drop it in a basket kept at Crystal Grotto. The papers are then consigned to flame, releasing your cares, says NYT travel writer Dwight Garner – ‘I scribbled something about my credit card not being declined and tossed it in’. As media guest Mr.Garner might have done it on the house. Others pay room tariff of $295 night (minimum) for the privilege of burning worries. You do things in style at ER. A bottle of Absolut vodka from room service sets you back by $ 135.

April 7, 2006

‘Churmuri’, not so ‘chutputi’ with comments turned off

I know it’s none of my business, but I wonder why Mr Krishna Prasad appears averse to comments in his blog – ‘Churmuri’. He shuts them firmly with a ‘No comments’ tag on all his postings. My sense of journalists is that they thrive on feedback. For a journalist, the only thing worse than not writing is not being read and commented upon. Besides, interaction is what web culture is all about. Comments make blogs ‘chutputi’. In blogs, they say, it isn’t just comments that are free. Even facts aren’t sacred. Blogs are about perception; about subjective reality that may not tally with facts. But then in a widely accessed blog, where comments are free, you don’t normally get away with blatant untruth without someone taking you on it.
Churmuri’, we know, blogs facts and, presumably, has little use for such comments-driven corrective device. And Mr Prasad, I am sure, has his reason for turning off comments. An open forum has its snags. There is no way, short of a turn-off, to prevent people posting spam, promoting their own agenda, crank messages posted by sick minds. We get our share on mymysore.com (look up ‘What's the idea, Elena’) But then we simply can’t do without feedback at MyMysore. Comments are its life-blood.I find ‘Churmuri’ is in the illustrious company of the Washington Post blog, which has shut off comments because, as its exec. editor Jim Brady put it, a significant number of those who posted on the washpost blog had refused to follow the ground rules, which say ‘no personal attack or use of profanity’. Brady articulates his case in ‘Blog Rage’ (click on this to read article).

April 5, 2006

Dr Sathya Raja in Sierra Leone

I wonder if anyone in the Mysore medical community remembers Sathya, who did medicine in Mysore. I read about his good work with Concern, an international healthcare agency engaged in Sierra Leone that is at the bottom end of the 177 countries on on the UN’s human development index.
To quote a ReliefWeb document, “Indian medical doctor, Sathya Raja is from Bangalore and studied medicine at the University of Mysore in India. He later did post graduate work in community medicine.
Sathya, who works for Concern in Sierra Leone, is convinced that the agency is making a difference for the impoverished people of the country. “I believe passionately this is where we belong and right now we are in a great position to make a difference in health care,” he stresses….Click on to Read More

An idea for our print media

San Ramon Valley Times, our neighbourhood daily in California, has put out an appeal to readers - ‘The Times is looking for reader-written dispatches’. The idea is to encourage local residents who are away from home; interested in writing about their experiences; and in sharing them with newspaper readers at home. “It doesn’t have to be all visits to castles and hidden Mayan temples,” says The Times, “sometimes just a visit to a grocery store in an exotic city provides an interesting tale to tell”.
I recall Star of Mysore carried some time back dispatches from Mr Srihari during his stretched out vacation in the US. We could do with more such ‘Letters Home’ from Mysoreans studying/working/visiting abroad. Such features, I am sure, would have a wider appeal, if adopted by the vernacular media. Wonder if ‘Andholana’ would give it a shot?