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Archive for November 2006

Airport security and dancing

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I had to cancel a trip to the US for meetings today because of respiratory infection. While I was a tad disappointed by this (my wife and family were overjoyed, strangely) it was also a relief not to have to go through the ignominy of the security checks of US airports (note I say US and not North America – my trip to Canada was as sweet as going through Chennai airport in better times).

With the current heightened security environment caused by the FBI warning to India about possible Al-Quaeda attacks on southern Indian airports, I was planning to check in three hours earlier then required. And I was worried about the security in LAX where I was supposed to land this time as a passenger from south India sporting a beard.

In previous trips to the US, I have devised something called the ‘DC Dance’ for going through security at US airports. It starts even before you leave for the airport. You dress as smartly and formally as possible, without wearing a jacket (I hate jackets). This usually for me means a nice powder blue shirt, black trousers and black formal shoes. I hate the shoes especially because they are murder on your feet before, during and after 11-hour flights in Economy. Also, hate wearing them to the toilet in planes.

Make sure all your coins and keys are backed in your bags. And when you get to the security counter do not act nonchalant. Watch the security procedure carefully and when you get close to the X-ray machine (this is the dance part) take off all metallic items that are removable (woe unto those who have metal plates fixed in their bodies, make sure you have a doctor’s certificate or something) from person. For me this includes a small gold chain my co-brother gave me for my engagement, my marriage ring, my lucky charm ring with elephant hair in it, my favourite brass buckled belt etc.. My cell phone and wallet are already in my cabin bags and I just carry my passport and ticket (with all staples removed for good measure). Then you take off your shoes..what relief! The shoes are a necessity because of the ‘shoe bomber’ (Duh!)

And then take your computer out and any camera gear out. And put these all into the tray provided and send in for scanning. The goal of all this is to not get a beep when you walk through the frame and when you get wanded. No beeps – then go collect bags and stuff, get dressed, do not stop anywhere, just board plane.

If not – well, you know the stories.

One story that struck me appeared in the Hindu this Sunday(12 November 2006) and really was a lesson on what should not be done in the air – by American air marshals. According to a wired.com story there is a study that shows that better baggage screening could make a bigger difference than ‘profiling’ (that is, all Muslims with beards are bad – Nah!). The comments to this article seem well informed…but if the recommendations are accepted I will be one of the few(?) people rejoicing.

Written by jayanth

November 14, 2006 at 4:06 am

Posted in Humour, Opinion

Are we ready for Blogblock 2?

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Does anybody remember the infamous blogblocks that happened around July this year? It seems to have generated a lot of heat at that time, but is not on ‘anti-censorship’ radars any more, i think. One of the most interesting and thoughtful discussions that I read on this topic is on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog.

I say this because the Reporters without Borders released its Internet Enemies list on 7 November 2006 and India does not even get a ‘honourable’ mention. So much so that neither their press release archives nor their annual report mention the ‘blogblocks’. They have a release on the mediaah ‘cease and desist’ by the Times Group though.

Why so, i ask myself?

The Reporters without Borders list is stomach churning to read and details the censorship that even a hint of ‘free speech’ brings. The most hair-raising quote from the release is the one for me;

Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

I am sure the blogging community in India will rest till ‘Blogblock 2’ happens and scream bloody murder and leave it there. So long till blogblock 2 then….

Written by jayanth

November 13, 2006 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Media, Opinion

Beggars in Chennai, San Franscisco or Spain..

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Had a very interesting experience yesterday. Was out shopping in Purasaiwalkam, one of the most crowded shopping areas in Chennai. As I was getting ready to enter into my car a haggard looking man with really short hair accompanied by a similarly thin woman carrying a small baby stopped us (my wife, my daughter and me).

Over the noise of the traffic I could hear him asking if I spoke Hindi. “Ji haan, boliye,” I said more to show off my (limited) prowess in Hindi to ‘my girls’. He launched into a story of how he had come to Chennai from Uttar Pradesh in search of work, but the ‘agent’ who promised him work and a place to stay ran away with all his money. Common enough story.

He said he just needed money for a ticket to get home. Rs. 210/-. He said that this money would buy just one ticket and since his wife may not get thrown off the train, as she had a small baby, they would manage.

My wife and me, we looked at each other. It was a very convincing story and the baby was smiling beautifully at us. How can you resist this? We had a quick chat and gave him Rs. 100 – all I had in my wallet (we just finished shopping remember?). He slipped it into his pocket, thanked us and disappeared into the crowd with his family.

I am sure many of us have been in the same situation. It was a long minute before we made the decision to give out the money and the thoughts that ran through our minds were;

‘Is this guy conning us? No, he seems decent enough and genuine enough.’

‘Are we encouraging begging? Shouldn’t we get him the ticket rather than give him the money.’

As we drove away both of us were silent for a moment. Most of use believe that we should not encourage begging and hence don’t give out money. Well, Tony Long, the copy chief at wired.com has a very interesting perspective on this issue. This is the quote I like most from the article;

“So the next time a bum tries to cadge a buck out of you, at least have the courtesy to pull the earbuds out and engage him as a fellow human being. Don’t give him any money if you don’t want to. But acknowledge him. He’s not a blot on your aesthetic little world. If he is, well, your problems are bigger than his.”

A few years ago in my aimless reading I came across a short sci-fi novella called ‘Beggars in Spain’ by Nancy Kress. It is the story of genetically engineered children who are ‘sleepless’ and hence hyperintelligent. It is a very different growing up story and the reason for the title comes from two situations;

Quote from the wiki on the novel;

“Tony Indivino, while defending his idea to create a Sleepless-only enclave to Leisha, poses the question that shapes the novel and gives it its title. “If people are only worthwhile so long as they contribute to society, what do you do when you’re walking down the street in Spain and you see a beggar? Do you give him a dollar? Why? You’re justifying his existence, which accomplishes nothing. What if you see six beggars? What if you see a hundred, and they gang together and steal your money and then beat you to death out of sheer jealousy of what you have and they can’t?”

Leisha Camden, the protagonist in the novella concludes the piece with her own surmise which makes more sense to me;

“Yes, there are beggars in Spain who trade nothing, give nothing, do nothing. But there are more than beggars in Spain. Withdraw from the beggars, you withdraw from the whole damn country. And you withdraw from the possibility of the ecology of help.”

Well, most of my post have a movie reference in them and the no brainer choice for this post would be Pay it Forward.

I only wish I had asked for the baby’s name.

Written by jayanth

November 11, 2006 at 8:41 am

Posted in Opinion