Tuesday, April 29, 2008

what if andrew symonds burst into tears?

(Warning to American readers: What follows is about cricket)

As I watched the aftermath of Harbhajan Singh's infamous slap, I couldn't help but feel that the way Sreesanth's breakdown was treated says something nice about Indian culture, or at least the Indian media. If Andrew Symonds had burst into tears, mucous running down his face, when Harbhajan called him a monkey, you can bet that the Australian press would have been all over him. Crybaby! Then again, maybe he'd have seen Harbhajan get the fine/ban he deserved for racism.

Here in India, though, despite Punjab's reputation for machismo, Sreesanth has been given a carte blanche for letting his tears flow. Even though he has repeatedly acted the tough guy on the pitch, nobody has dared to suggest that the next time he gives a batsman his baleful glare, the guy will just laugh and warn him that he might get his behind paddled, or caution him lest he get overwhelmed by his emotions. You can be sure that America's sports columnists would be over the moon at the opportunity. We've already joked about it in one movie (OK-a chick flick). But it's true. There's no crying in baseball.

More significantly, though, I wonder how Harbhajan would have been punished if Sreesanth had not bawled in Yuvraj Singh's arms on national TV. What if Sreesanth had instead fumed in anger, and complained to the board (like the Australians)? Would Harbhajan have received an 11-match ban, losing 30 million rupees? I think not.

The punishment needs to fit the crime. A little slap is certainly wrong--we can't condone violence--but 4 matches / 1 crore would have been more than sufficient to send that message. I think what is happening here is that the board is making up for its failure to punish Harbhajan for his much more serious offense--the racial slur he busted out in Australia. At that time, they blew with the prevailing wind rather than take a tough decision and send a clear message to the players. And now, no surprise, they're doing the same thing.

The only stunning thing was that India sided with the sensitive southie, instead of the tough guy from the north who did what any Bollywood hero would do and everybody is always talking about.... Delivered "one tight slap" to a guy who (frankly) has been asking for it since he first stepped on the pitch.

electricity, heat and traffic

Does anybody know if Delhi (or any Indian city) has ever contemplated adopting climate-based work schedules, or even shifts, to reduce the burden on the power and transport infrastructure? It occurred to me the other day during the height of the BRT fiasco that there's never any traffic on the roads before about 8:30 a.m. Then there's a jam that lasts from about 9:15 until 11:30--when it appears most people actually start work. (Anyway, I can never get anybody on the phone before then).

At our house, there's a power cut most mornings around 10 a.m. and sometimes another one at 10 p.m.--not too long, thankfully--presumably because the guys who overcharge us need to shed some of the load. Then there's all that talk about not running your geyser (aka water heater) in the mornings, etc, etc.

What would happen if businesses were encouraged to run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- perhaps with preferential power tariffs, guaranteed insulation from power cuts, or something? Others could continue their usual 11:30 to 7:30 schedule (during which time no work is done between 11:30 and 1 and 6 and 7:30 as far as I can tell). But maybe it would help a bit....

In any case, the roads would clear up if half the people finished their commute before the others got out of bed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

of scanty skirts and snazzy uniforms

First it was the purists decrying the dastardly practice of paying cricketers real money--though only a pittance compared with the sums paid to professional athletes in baseball, basketball, football and soccer. Now the BBC has even weighed in--against the bastardization of the game with cheerleaders, fireworks, music, Bollywood stars, and other fanfare.

Though I have to say there's something especially sleazy about the cheerleaders--perhaps because they had to be imported from foreign shores since no local woman would be caught dead with her tits out on national TV--and notwithstanding my general loathing for the monopolist tactics of the BCCI... I have to say that I love the Indian Premier League--pompous name or not. I don't care about the hoopla. I never watch Extraaaaaa Innings anyway, so I don't see much of it. But the games are fun, and it's refreshing to see the mix of international players on each side.

No, it's not because I'm an American and I can't sit through a One Day International or even (gulp) a Test. I've been known to watch a whole series at one go. And no, CNN/IBN, there are no cheerleaders in baseball, even in the debauched USA. Only football and basketball. And only in the pro games do they look and perform like a dance team selected from the country's top strip clubs. In college, they're a bit more like gymnasts, and the terribly short skirts can remain a tasteful nod to so-called "necessity"--like in women's tennis--so that dry-mouthed leches can retain their veneer of respectability.

Go Daredevils!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

fixing BRTS

Already, with a several million dollar destruction project lurking like an unacknowledged elephant in the room, the fingerpointing has begun. Who is to blame for the BRTS? Is nobody in charge? We need somebody in charge. A new committee! A new chairman! A new office! It would really be a lot of fun if I didn't rely on this route to get to Andhra Bhavan for the unlimited thali.

The latest "convoluted solution" according to CNN/IBN includes removing the Blueline buses from the corridor. I'm not sure that this makes any sense--surely since the centre lanes are virtually empty it would be better to push the Bluelines into them along with the fabled DTC "low floor, A/C buses". But I won't go into that.

In the meantime, they've decided to let taxis with yellow number plates use the (almost empty) center lanes. This makes no sense whatsoever. First of all, there aren't all that many taxis. Second, they are no better than cars in terms of environmental impact (or safety, or whatever). A much more sensible proposal would be to make the BRTS center lane available as a carpool lane--any vehicle allowed in provided it contains at least four passengers including the driver. This would alleviate some of the pressure on the two "slowspeed car lanes", and encourage people to share rides rather than take separate vehicles, thus reducing the number of cars on the road or simply rewarding those people with a smaller "carbon footprint." Fines for driving in the carpool lane with fewer than the required number of passengers should be set at Rs. 5000. I'm no expert on cops, bribery, etc. But perhaps it would work if all the fines were assessed by mail through the central office, and marshals were equipped with digital cameras to record the license numbers of offenders.

I know. I'm getting crazy here. Wait, maybe we could give them all Simputers! No, Nokia Communicators! No, laptops!

Maybe we should save everybody the headache and start ripping up the lane barriers again.

brt: what is it for?

According to the newspapers and TV channels, Delhi's newly opened Bus Rapid Transit System (or BRTS) has already been a dismal failure. The move to build separate lanes and bus stops in the center of the road for buses, so they don't have to weave back and forth amid the bicyclists, pedestrians and delivery carts to make their stops, has done nothing to relieve traffic congestion in the car lanes. But was that ever what it was intended to do?

From the outset, we've heard that the BRTS would be all things to all people. First, it was supposed to relieve congestion on the route and make things safer for bicyclists and pedestrians by reining in the (mad) bus drivers and encouraging car drivers to opt for public transport instead. Then, Post-Nano, it was the solution to Delhi's air pollution woes, a feat that can only be accomplished by reducing the number of drivers. Then, when the anti-Metro lobby got ahold of the idea, it was supposed to be a more equitable and humane form of transport for the millions of poor people who presently are at the mercy of the Bluelines and DTC, which hasn't upgraded its fleet in eons despite (I believe) a Supreme Court edict ordering it to do so.

Was it ever possible that it could accomplish all these things while simultaneously making the way faster and smoother for cars? Of course not. When you reduce the number of lanes from three to two, traffic slows down. That is an inescapable rule of urban planning. In order to ease congestion, the BRT essentially has to force people to give up their cars and take the bus. And because there are no other measures to do so--such as high license fees, restrictions on entering the city center, etc--the only way to do that is to MAKE CONGESTION WORSE.

Now the bus takes 30 minutes to do the route it takes you an hour and a half by car. We shouldn't be surprised. That was exactly what the BRT was designed to accomplish. But is it a good thing? Should the city be designed to improve the lives of the greatest number of people, or for the people who have money? Chaos has surely resulted. But maybe it is the kind of chaos that Delhi needs--lest we spend the tax money intended to develop the country building air-conditioned passages from every posh South Delhi house to every elite shopping mall and five-star hotel.