Monday, July 07, 2008

Stories that are too good to check

Several Indian newspapers fell victim to a hoax about the arrest near Goa of a supposed Nazi war criminal named ‘Johann Bach’. Apart from the media’s alarming ignorance, the episode also reveals our fascination for unconfirmed news from “intelligence’ sources.
1 July 2008The Hindu
Stories that are too good to check - Siddharth Varadarajan
On Sunday, an email message from ‘Hamman Smit’, press officer from ‘Perus Narpk’ from Shede Road in Berlin arrived in the inbox of several journalists in Goa and Bangalore. The message identified ‘Perus Narpk’ as the “intelligence wing of the German Chancellor’s core” (sic) and claimed credit for the arrest on the Karanataka-Goa border of a fugitive Nazi war criminal named Johann Bach who was responsible for the killing of 12,000 Jews in the ‘Marsha Tikash Whanaab’ concentration camp. The email contained a press release full of outlandish details about the operation, including the claim that the octogenarian Bach had revealed his identity to a holidaying Israeli couple during a rave party in Goa, and had stolen an 18th century piano from a museum in ‘East Berlin’ which he was trying to sell through a local newspaper.
The email was literally full of clues suggesting it was a hoax. The author revealed he was “hamming”, his office was on ‘Shady’ road and the rather un-Germanic ‘Perus Narpk’ was an anagram for ‘Super Prank’. Even if the journalists did not know there was no concentration camp with the name ‘Marsha Tikash Whanaab’, a quick search on the Internet might have at least triggered a warning light. And yet, a number of hacks and their editors rushed to print with this sensational story without bothering to check any of its hilarious details.
The Telegraph ran the story on Monday under the headline ‘Goa piano ‘thief’ found to be Nazi war fugitive’. It quoted “Intelligence Bureau officials” saying that Mr. Bach had come to India via Argentina, Bulgaria and Canada. The story was accompanied by a world map showing how Mr Bach criss-crosed the world before ending up in Goa. The word ‘unconfirmed’ was inserted parenthetically next to Yemen, suggesting that the newspaper had confirmed all other aspects of the story. And how was this terrible criminal caught? The newspaper provided this breathless account: “Goa’s beaches are frequented by young Israeli couples, most of them seeking leisure after a term of compulsory military service in their country. Bach, mistaking the couple for Americans, told them he had “managed” a Nazi concentration camp during the war. The German authorities put two and two together when they realised that the museum from where the piano was stolen was located close to a concentration camp in Berlin. They already knew that the camp was run by a young man named Bach, who was never caught after the war”.
The Indian Express went one step ahead of its competitors with an exclusive detail, noting in its headline that the ‘Nazi war crimninal’ had already been “airlifted to Berlin”. Clearly, if the story was too good for journalists to check, it was too good for the police to deny: “Though local police and intelligence agencies in Karnataka said they were “unaware” of the operation”, the Express noted, “Karnataka Additional DGP for Intelligence, Shankar Bidari, said his office had received information of the arrest on Saturday morning. He also said the alleged war criminal had been moved to Germany.” The only saving grace in the newspaper’s account was its attempt to cross-check the story with the German authorities: “Officials at the German embassy, when contacted, said they had received no information of the arrest in Goa”.
The Deccan Herald, which had all the usual details, also informed its readers that the arrested Nazi was “a brilliant musician like his illustrious 18th Century namesake” and later “rose high in the Nazi hierarchy”. The newspaper also said that Mr. Bach’s whereabouts “have been kept a secret” and that he would be put on trial “at the International Court of Justice, The Hague”. complained about the unhelpful attitude of the Indian police. “Although so much information regarding Bach has surfaced”, it wrote, “both the Karnataka and Goa police continue to opt for the denial mode… The Belgaum police, when questioned as to what Bach was doing in the jungles at Khanapur, said they were unaware of any such arrest.”
This brilliant hoax was the handiwork of ‘Penpricks’ a journalists’ collective in Goa whose blog, is dedicated to discovering “the rotund flanks and the shaggy underbelly of the Goan media. And of course, the rare honest rib”. One of its more celebrated exposes was the debunking of a story run by CNN-IBN about the Russian mafia taking over land in Goa. Penpricks also criticized The Herald for offering to strike a deal for the sale of lead editorials after it posed as a business house interested in positive coverage.
But even if the immediate target of Penpricks was the Goan media, it has succeeded in exposing the underbelly of the Indian media as a whole. Indeed, there is nothing surprising about the hoax receiving such widespread play in the national press. For though the ‘Johann Bach’ story was outlandish, it was no more so than the reports regularly put out by Indian police departments about the arrest of terrorism suspects.
It is easy to laugh at the gullibility of reporters and editors in the ‘Bach’ case but is our profession any less gullible when it uncritically regurgitates improbable, unverified and unverifiable details provided by the police in virtually all terrorism cases? Do any of us ever stop to ask how the police is able to reveal intimate details about a suspect’s prior movements and associations within hours of arresting him? One of the country’s worst kept secrets is that the police admit to having arrested a suspect days and sometimes even weeks after first taking him into custody. During this period of custody, the suspect is worked over and only after there is nothing more to extract is his “arrest” announced to the media. More often than not, the suspect will be paraded before photographers and journalists who will faithfully note down every ‘fact’ provided to them by the police. Some of these ‘facts’ may well be true; but in accepting them at face value, that too from a source whose tendency to distort and mislead is legendary, are we really all that different from the victims of Perus Narpk?

Eyeing the international arena

Chess champ Shyam Nikhil, though having crossed many hurdles in the sport, still fears getting back to school.


“All I want to do, ever, is just play chess” — Bobby Fischer.P. Shyam Nikhil, just 16 years, lives by the American genius’ dictum. The Nagercoil-born teenager has hardly attended classes for the past four years because he has been doing what he knows best — playing chess under the care of trainer Ghouse Kamarudeen in Madurai. He attends school only to appear for the final exams.

Winning streak

Shyam is slowly and steadily beginning to reap the rewards of his dedication and devotion to chess. The triumphs in the International FIDE rating tournament in Pallakad this year and the recent Tamil Nadu State Under-25 Championship have given him the confidence and the will to pursue the sport with more vigour.

The victories have come at the time when he is in need of financial support to make further inroads into the sport. Son of Ponnuswamy, a clerk in State Express Transport Corporation in Nagercoil, Shyam knows he has to play exceptionally well to catch the sponsors’ eye and get better in quick time in a sport where competition comes from all groups — six to 50 years.

Pressures of the game

Shyam relocated to Chennai in March this year to better his chess prospects. , Shyam says he is prepared to face the harsher tests that lie ahead. With K. Visweswaran as coach, he feels he has lost the fear factor and has become more experimental and bolder in positional play. “Earlier, if a player who is an IM (International Master) or was a better player than me, I used to get nervous and make mistakes. And whenever I was the top seed, I used to crumble under pressure. Now, it is not so. I am able to handle everything better,” says Shyam, who claimed the individual silver and team gold in the World Youth (under-16) Olympiad last year.

One aspect that continues to nag him is the fact that he has not been able to become an IM when many of his age have, but he is not overtly worried. “I am keen to get the IM norm by this year as there are a quite a few tournaments coming up — the National *B’ championship, Commonwealth championship in Nagpur and National under-17 and 19 championships.” Quiet and self-effacing, Shyam has overcome several hurdles along the way, but he is still scared of one thing — that of attending school when it reopens. “All along, I hardly went to school, now I have to go to school and make few friends and ensure that I learn from them during exam time!” smiles Shyam.


On June 17, Subroto Bagchi’s Go Kiss the World: Life Lessons for the Young Professional was launched. Bagchi is best known for co-founding MindTree, the IT and R&D services company. Go Kiss the World is an inspirational book aimed at motivating aspiring professionals, particularly from small towns.


According to the author, the time has finally arrived for professionals and they are defining what it means to be an Indian for the first time in the country’s history. Bagchi imparts lessons and values through anecdotes from his life and accounts of his encounters with various personalities. But he insists it is not autobiographical.

“The story of my life is merely the canvas. It is the lessons to be imbibed from it that form the painting,” he asserts. His book contains several references to people with modest beginnings who have achieved success, includinghimself.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is about his childhood: how continuous relocation gave him confidence, the values that a small town upbringing instilled in him and the difference that mentoring made to him. The second segment examines the making of an ambitious professional while the last explores the defining decade of the author’s life: his forties and the self-doubt and tough decisions it brought along. The book is interesting and thought provoking and gets its message across without being too preachy.

Newstrack !!! - Lastweek


Bill Gates said a teary goodbye on Friday to Microsoft Corp, the software maker he built into the world’s most valuable technology company based on the ambitious goal of placing a computer on every desk and in every home.

He leaves his full-time executive role at Microsoft, which he co-founded with childhood friend Paul Allen in 1975, to focus on his philanthropic organisation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity, funded in part by his vast fortune.

At an event at Microsoft’s headquarters campus here, Gates, who will become a non-executive chairman and work part-time, joined Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on stage to deliver a short speech and field questions from employees.“There won’t be a day in my life that I’m not thinking about Microsoft and the great things that it’s doing and wanting to help,” said Gates, who wiped away tears as the group of employees rose to give him a standing ovation.

Ballmer, a Harvard University classmate who joined Microsoft at Gates’ behest, got choked up as he tried to describe Gates’ impact on the company and society at large. “There’s no way to say thanks to Bill. Bill’s the founder. Bill’s the leader,” said Ballmer. “We’ve been given an enormous, enormous opportunity and it was Bill that gave us this opportunity.”


Fight for judges


Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif pledged after his party won the most seats in by-elections that he would keep pushing for the restoration of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf. The polls were for five parliamentary constituencies and 23 provincial assembly seats left empty following general elections in February in which a coalition including Sharif’s party trounced Musharraf’s allies.

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won three of the seats in the national assembly while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, the senior partner in the coalition, took the other two, official results showed. “We are grateful to God and to the people who voted for our party members for our victory in the by-elections,” Sharif told reporters while speaking after the funeral of a politician in northwest Pakistan. “We will continue to struggle for the restoration of the judges.”


No nuclear weapons


The U.S. has urged North Korea to “abandon” all its nuclear weapons in a culmination of the process set on course by the demolition of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex. The U.S.’ call acquires unusual importance because of Japan’s comment that the elimination of North Korea’s existing stockpile of nuclear weapons is the real issue to address rather than just the dramatic destruction of a cooling tower. Japan is one of the six parties still engaged in parleys to bring about the denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula. The other interlocutors are the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea, the U.S., China as the proactive host, South Korea, and Russia.

Speaking in Seoul, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said: “I expect that the North (Korea) will live up to the obligation that it has (already) undertaken. At the end of this (six-party process), let me just emphasise again, at the end of this, we have to have the abandonment of all programmes, weapons, and materials (by the DPRK].” Diplomats said the current phase of disabling North Korea’s declared nuclear facilities and their dismantlement in the proposed follow-up stages would only destroy its “capabilities” without dispossessing it of its atomic arsenal.


Power for what?


Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president on Sunday and prepared to face other African leaders who want him to share power with his main rival after a widely discredited election in which Mugabe was the only candidate. Mugabe sounded a conciliatory note just hours after electoral officials said he won Friday’s presidential runoff, which was marred by violence and intimidation. “Sooner or later, as diverse political parties, we shall start serious talks,” said the 84-year-old president, who has led Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence from Britain. African leaders will likely push for Mugabe to enter a power-sharing agreement with Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in order to end the country’s crippling economic and political crises. Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the runoff citing violence and intimidation targeting his supporters, dismissed Sunday’s inauguration and said he believed members of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party were ready for talks. The electoral commission said Mugabe got more than two million votes in the runoff and Tsvangirai 233,000. Turnout was put at about 42 percent, and 131,000 ballots had been defaced or otherwise spoiled. Neither candidate got credit for the spoiled ballots. Independent observers said the poll was neither free nor fair, and that many people had voted out of fear. Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Mugabe supporters beat people who couldn’t prove they voted.


Budget for monarchy


The Queen and the royal family cost taxpayers 40 million pounds in 2007-08, a rise of two million pounds from the previous year, Buckingham Palace has said. The annual report into the royal finances showed that the Queen was not immune to the rising costs that have hit millions of her subjects in the last year. It warned that cuts to the royal property budget have created a backlog of urgent works that will cost 32 million pounds within 10 years.

Outstanding projects include: Replacing the lead and slate roofs at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. (Cost: £ 16 million); Updating the heating and electrical systems at Buckingham Palace. (£ 2.4 million); Replacing the 19th Century iron and lead water pipes at Windsor. (Three million pounds)

Palace officials said a drive to conserve energy at palaces and other royal buildings had helped to cut costs and reduce environmental pollution.Electricity usage fell 7.3 percent in 2007-08, helped by the introduction of low-energy light bulbs. Water from a borehole in Buckingham Palace was used to cool the wine cellars and water the gardens.

Travel costs rose to 6.2 million pounds in the year to March 31 from 5.6 million pounds in the previous 12 months.During the year, there were State visits to the United States, Uganda, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. The Queen had 440 engagements across Britain and entertained 38,000 guests at garden parties in Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.The money, which also paid for royal staff wages, amounts to 66 pence per taxpayer each year.

Spokesman Graham Smith said the Queen should receive a fixed salary managed by the government and that parliament should set an annual budget for the monarchy.


LTTE casualties

The Sri Lankan military claimed to have driven off LTTE cadres from Andankulama general area in the Mannar district “with heavy casualties” even as the Air Force announced that it destroyed two more Tiger “facilities” in the north. The Defence Ministry claimed that troops intensified attacks at the remaining LTTE flanks positioned at the Mannar defences. On Sunday, the military said it had captured a strategic point of the LTTE in Mannar. “Troops are making tactical advances in the areas, while consolidating defences as LTTE terrorists were forced to abandon trench and bunker lines during the military launched multi-pronged offensive,” said the Ministry. It said infantry supported by armour and artillery stepped-up fresh attacks with air support on the remaining terrorist strong-points in Mannar. Troops recovered 25 bodies of LTTE cadre killed in the fighting. The military said arrangements were being made to hand them over through the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). The Defence Ministry said “scores”’ of LTTE cadre were killed and 25 bodies recovered after fighting broke out in Chiraddikulama ahead of the Vavuniya defences. Separately, the Air Force said its jets raided an LTTE “training facility and special unit headquarters” located in the general area Oddusuddan in the north.

Youtube Pick - The English loss

England 3 - Hungary 6 (Wembley, 1953). Ferenc Puskas’s immortal drag-back and left-footed finish was undoubtedly the high-point of Hungary’s 6-3 win at Wembley in 1953. , but the game had other sumptuous moments too. Nandor Hidegkuti’s first goal was a gem; feigning a shot, wrong footing the defender, and unleashing a precise drive into the top left corner. This was England’s first defeat to continental opposition on home soil. Worse was to follow in the return fixture the next year, as they lost 7-1 in Budapest to the Magic Magyars, who were by then rated the greatest team in the world. Like Holland in 1974, they lost the World Cup final to Germany. Watch it at:

Uma's Super avatar .... Super Sundari Arrives....

Pyramid Saimira Productions International Ltd (PSPIL) promises that from June it would be a time to rejoice for all the kids across Tamil Nadu as the much-awaited serial for children, ‘Super Sundari’, arrives with a bang on Kalaignar TV.
Much like the remake of the shakthimaan - girl version... :)

It would be telecast between 5.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays from June 16, 2008.
For the first time in Tamil Nadu, a super human character has been specially created to entertain kids in the form of Super Sundari. Though aimed at children, the serial promises to appeal to the entire family.

Super Sundari is a part of the family and becomes an action-oriented human whenever there is a call for help. From being an energetic housewife, imbecile village lass and then the brave Super Sundari, the protagonist, Uma Riaz, would split into different characters through the week, churning out spectacular performances.

Mohan directs the serial with Dharmaraj handling the cinematography. Ravikumar has penned witty and hilarious dialogues for G K Gopinath’s racy screenplay. The story is by Senthamizhan.

After He-man, Superman, Spiderman, Sakthi man and a whole lot of comic book heroes, here comes Super Sundari equipped with comedy, action and of course a lot of drama with well acclaimed stars like Uma Riaz, Nalini, Oorvambu Lakshmi, Vasu Vikram, Lollu Sabha Saminathan, Crazy Kumar, Alex Pandian, Balu Anand, Chams, Aravind, Maran, Sivakumar and lot of talented child artiste lighting up the small screen with laughter and play.

The telecom scam !!!

RTI Act: a potent tool for the helpless people

RTI Act a potent tool in the hands of helpless individuals - Sruthi Krishnan

CHENNAI: Nannu, a daily-wage labourer from East Delhi, lost his ration card and applied for a duplicate. Despite repeated visits to the Food and Civil Supplies office for four months, the duplicate card was not issued.

Here is where the familiar story of the uncaring system and the helpless individual takes a turn.
Nannu filed a Right To Information (RTI) application. Within four days, the Food Inspector came to his house and told him that his card was ready.

The Food and Supplies Officer invited Nannu to his office and offered him a cup of tea and handed over his duplicate.

He also had a request to make to Nannu — withdraw the RTI application.

This is the power the RTI Act vests in the hands of the individual, said Arvind Kejriwal, from Parivartan, a Delhi-based citizens’ movement that works towards empowering people, speaking at a talk organised by Ellements, a women’s collective, here on Monday.

The reason the RTI Act is a potent tool is simple — if the information requested is not provided by the officials, they need to pay Rs.250 for every day of delay from their salary. There is no other act that directly links performance of government officials to their salary, said Mr. Kejriwal.

Talking about future steps, he said that the process of filing applications should be made simpler and that the information commissions need to be strengthened.

A call centre has been started in Bihar where people can call in. The caller’s voice is recorded and that becomes their petition. He said that this service would soon be available all over the country.

The RTI Act has been effectively used to find status of ration card and passport applications. But, it can also be used to inspect any government work and ask for samples of any material used in government work, he said.

For example, if there is a road being laid near your house, you can ask for all files related to the construction. You can also ask to inspect the road, wherein the government will send engineers who will explain the work.

It is the possibility of inspection that does the trick many a time, said Mr. Kejriwal. When officials realise that someone could inspect their files, they clean up their act.

Even if you are confused about which government official to send your RTI petition to, don’t worry. Send it to any official and include this sentence – ‘If you are not the concerned authority, please forward it to the official concerned under Section 6 (3) of the RTI act.’

This section makes it mandatory for the official to forward it to the right authority.

Private enterprises also can come under the RTI act’s scrutiny if they have ‘substantial funding’ from the government. As the term ‘substantial funding’ is not defined, it is open to interpretation.

A private school where teachers were paid by the government was asked to disclose records under the RTI act because the salary was considered to be ‘substantial funding’.

It is up to the people to define the boundaries of the act. The more they push it, more can be accomplished, he said.

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

What happens next in Indian politics?

from News Archives by Selvam

What happens next in Indian politics?July 7 (Reuters) - The Indian government's communist allies, which provide the ruling coalition with a majority in parliament, could withdraw their support this week to protest against a civilian nuclear deal with the United States.
India's main opposition party, the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has already demanded a vote of confidence over the government in parliament.
But the government says it has secured support from the regional Samajwadi Party and is confident of securing a majority in case of a parliamentary vote.
The following are the most likely scenarios, according to analysts:
IF THE COMMUNIST PARTIES WITHDRAW: The left parties dispatch a letter to India's President Pratibha Patil, announcing their decision to withdraw support for the ruling coalition, led by the centre-left Congress party.
* The president calls Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and informs him of the letter and asks him to convene parliament and carry out a vote of confidence in parliament, while continuing as a caretaker government.
* Singh could try to convince the president that it still has a majority and can escape a vote of confidence -- a difficult scenario as the BJP has already demanded a vote of confidence.
* The president could also ask the BJP whether it can form a government. That possibility looks remote as the party does not appear to have the numbers and is keen on early elections.

Cellphone in ur Microwave

Ever wonder how ur cellphone would behave when waved inside ur microwave ???

Scaring..... Please do not try this....

Creating a video and don’t want to get sued over it?

With all of the lawsuits happening these days over copyright infringement and the such in online videos (such as the pending $1 B Viacom v. Google suit), people are wondering what they can do to help prevent getting in trouble themselves. Recently, the Center for Social Media (part of the School of Communication at American University) has concluded a long, in-depth project to establish a set of “Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video“, and other valuable information to help guide video creators in ways to prevent getting themselves in trouble.