Thursday, April 28, 2011

Delhi Stupid: We can do without this podcar scheme!

Podcar: AKA 'Personal rapid transit'. (Wikicommons)
One has to wonder: who is making money off the CM's latest "Green Scheme"?

Last night I read in The Hindu that the Delhi city government is considering an elevated pod car system. CM Dikshit, quoted in the Times of India , had this to say about the effort: "We are willing to consider a new modern, convenient, pollution-free and affordable City Pod Car System to supplement the existing modes of public transport in the capital." Officials promise the city won't have to pay anything and the rides will be affordable. The cars, they say, would be battery powered. Hmm.

Apparently, Smt. Dikshit is disappointed by her government's failure to eliminate pollution in Delhi through construction of new flyovers.  So she figures that we can do the same though the use of high-tech, battery-powered elevated pod cars.

Now I have been known to employ parody when writing about the CM. But not this time; this is all real.

For the record, I want to be clear: this is an incredibly stupid idea. I just can't figure out why the press seems to be simply printing government-issued press releases on the subject with no critical questions whatsoever. 

We have a public transportation system, we just need to improve it. If we want to get people to stop using their private cars, we need to think of a way to make driving more expensive. The 'good news' there is that the world energy market will do that for us if we don't get around to being proactive about it. What we do know is that nobody is going to stop driving just because the can travel in a system that seems to be something out of a science fiction film.

This reminds me of the times Smt. Dikshit said we should eliminate auto rickshaws.  Or the time World Class Toilets (number 1 on my CWG pet peeve list) were built--but never operationalised--in many Delhi markets.That, my friends, was a high cost, high-tech scam. There is a pretty good chance that this pod car stupidity is one more way for some friends of some powerful person to get a contract to build something we don't need. 

Let's be realistic. Put more buses on the road--the ones we have are full; if we build more, those will also be full. And while we are at it, we can add more trains to the metro. I love the metro, but it is also bursting at the seems. The other day, my 11 year old son whispered to me while we were riding on the Yellow line at rush hour: "YOU think this is bad? I'm at armpit height! I can't wait till I grow a little won't smell so bad then!"

 As for this high-fi, sci-fi pod car thing--forget about it.  It's a stupid idea!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wrong turn at the Barapullah Nallah elevated corridor

Covering a nallah is not bad in itself, but we could have done so much better than this...

I was shooting by Nehru Stadium early one morning in March and was surprised to see a crowd gathered by the side of the road. I asked the auto driver to stop and was told that Agent Vinod was being shot just below. While I didn't get to meet Saif Ali Khan--didn't even get a photo of him--I did get a photo of the Barapullah Nallah corridor and the film set. 

I realized that I used a shot from the same place for my photo essay on Delhi's Nallahs. A lot has changed in the year and a half since the first photo was taken.

I guess you could say it looks nicer--it certainly smells nicer. But a lot of people lost their homes because of this project. What if, instead of a road and a massive parking lot, we'd built a park instead, with a dedicated path for cyclists and pedestrians. There would still be room for some low cost housing to replace what was taken earlier.

Here's the view from the other side of the road. My son saw it one day and asked if it was an airport--so much empty space, it seemed like a runway.

Ripping out a road, or covering a nallah in order to make a public space is not unheard of. I was just down at Dilli Haat the other day and was reminded that it was built on top of a covered nallah. And when I did a web search, I found pictures of one highway in the US that was converted to a park 40 years ago. It happens, though not very often.

A little imagination goes a long way. Besides, if we continue to let cars dictate our urban planning, we will be left with little but tarmac below and hot sun above.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Green Weekend Out: National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi

Art: Good for the whole family!
If you are looking for something green to do on the weekend with kids now that it's getting hot, why not take a trip to the National Gallery of Modern Art? Museums are green because they fly in the face of modern throw-away culture. They are about preservation and sharing--not disposal. And they are democratic: unlike private collections, museums are a way for us all to share all kinds of interesting things--and the ideas they inspire. You will not like everything you see in the National Gallery of Modern Art, but it will make you think a lot more than an afternoon in front of the TV would.

We went a few weeks back and had a great time wandering through several exhibits, talking about the photography and paintings we saw. I taught the kids the "See-Think-Wonder" thinking routine I mentioned in Tuesday's post, and they actually enjoyed it--after the requisite eye rolling, of course. It generated some good discussion and thinking. More than that, I think it gave us all a structure that allowed us to engage with art that otherwise might have seen intimidating to talk about.  

One thing you have to love about the museum is the price tag: Rs. 10 for adults and Rs. 1 for children. Not bad--at that price, you can let your kids invite a friend and still have enough left for a Mother Dairy Lick Lolly afterward! 

The National Gallery of Modern Art is located as it is at the end of Rajpath, facing the India Gate. For more information about ticket prices and what's showing, go to its official website. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Summer Holiday Homework Advice for Teachers

I've written about summer holiday homework several times in the past, so at this time of year, I always get a few dozen of visitors looking for something related to that. Some of these visitors are probably teachers considering what to assign their students. So here is a little unasked for advice from a parent of children who nearly always HATE summer holiday homework. I'll call it the Green Light Dhaba's Summer Holiday Homework Don'ts and Do's! 

And in case you are wondering why greens should care about the state of education, let me remind you that our world is facing deep and multiple ecological and social problems. If our children do not have very good problem solving skills, how will they solve the problems we have left them with?

The Summer Holiday Homework Don'ts:
Too many students just buy their projects!
1. Don't assign so many projects.  Most kids don't enjoy projects like you think they should. That's partly because they had no choice in coming up with the idea for what to do. Also, most teachers care more about how a project looks than the thought that went into it, which means only those students who make neat looking projects get rewarded. Because of this, many children just buy their projects in the market, or copy them word for word off the internet. Think about the lesson that teachers. If you have to assign a project, consider giving students a choice. Oh yes, and don't forget to reward originality and thought as well as presentation.
2. Don't make math such a chore. A little review of math facts is fine. Excessive practice solving five digit by five digit multiplication or division problems is unnecessary and won't help much anyway. Instead, have students solve problems that require them to use their minds. I'm not, by the way, talking about the kind of word problems that follow a page of subtraction practice where all you have to do is look at the two numbers and subtract the smaller from the bigger. I'm talking about problems that make you think! Here's a site for 8-12 years old; here's a site for students, classes 5-12. Assign two or three problems a week, but give students permission to say, honestly, that they tried, but could not figure out the answer to at least one problem a week. Effort matters, and so does honesty.
3. DON'T have students mug up content. Summer holidays should be about play and thinking. No mugging facts should be allowed. They'll forget it anyway by the time school reopens.

The Summer Holiday Homework DOs
1. DO assign reading, not grammar: Reading literature is a far more effective way to learn the inner workings of a language than grammar exercises. Have students keep a reading log, in which they record all the books they read. Reading matters. Hold a contest to see who can read the most books. Tell the students they need to be prepared to talk about the books briefly, but only assign one formal 'book report'. Tell them to pick their favorite book for that.  Don't be too strict about what students read, but do say you expect they read at least 30 minutes a day in their primary language of instruction and 20-30 minutes a day in their secondary language (e.g., Hindi if they are studying in Delhi). If students do this, it will actually help a great deal. But you have to give them less work elsewhere, or they won't have time. If students complain they don't have books, then suggest they team up with some friends in the neighborhood and share. This is an opportunity for problem solving of the best kind. Be flexible in what you accept as reading material, but do not compromise on the need to read.
2. DO expect thinking: Here's one great assignment. Have students present a photograph or a piece of art and complete a short "see-think-wonder" routine. There are plenty of great photos in the newspaper these days, so access is no issue.
See--describe the art/photo;
Think--tell what this makes you think about.
Wonder--tell what this makes you wonder about; what questions do you have, etc.
It doesn't have to be a lot of work. 
Here's a short one my 11 year old did in response to this photo by Raghu Rai.
I see two men inside a wrestling school.
I think there are two other men in the background.
I wonder if the photographer positioned the wrestlers hand on purpose so that it would be aligned with the gate.

Nothing earth shaking, and he would have done more if it had been assigned by his teacher. But if you look at the photo, the wonder is exactly what we all want to know. This kind of 'thinking routine' can evoke some good thinking and some great discussions.
3. Do assign less. Assigning too much homework leads students to bad habits: copying from the internet; learning mathematical formulas without understanding them, etc. Also, homework might help you mug up for an exam, but I challenge any teacher to find conclusive research that shows homework (aside from independent reading) actually helps young students in the long run. Most research says it doesn't, or that it has a very small affect...but go look for yourself--consider it...homework!   

For more good homework ideas follow our homework helper label.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Superbug newsleak: Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to announce "Drink Up, Delhi!" Campaign

Tired of the 'negativity', Delhi Chief Minister to chart out a bold new effort to re-brand Delhi water!

Not happy!
A highly-placed source close to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has informed the Dhaba that the chief minister plans to re-brand Delhi water in the response to an "unscientific" scientific study published recently in the Lancet. The study claims that Delhi drinking water has been contaminated by antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs.' According to our source, the CM thought the matter should have been put to rest by Wednesday's press conference, where she joined government scientists and Delhi Jal Board officials in claiming, "There is no superbug, no cause for worry."

"When that didn't work," says our source, "the CM felt she had no choice but to be more proactive--after all the reputation of the city is at stake...she decided to launch a bold PR campaign stressing the World Class aspects of Delhi tap water."

According to our source, before settlling on "Drink up, Delhi!" several slogans were considered for the campaign. Top contenders included:
Meri Delhi, meri nal ka pani!
DJB--cheap and best!
Incredible Delhi's Drinking Water!
DJB: Thirsty Kya? 
Delhi Jal Board: people you can trust!

Apparently, several members of the CM's inner circle suggested a more "pragmatic" approach, given the Lancet's reputation of as one of the world's most respected scientific journals. They suggested the following slogans:
Superbugs for a Supercity!
We've never met a cholera bug we couldn't treat!
We've got super gastro-intestinal specialists in New Delhi!
No evidence of increase in Drug resistance in Cholera!
Delhi Water: what doesn't kill you will make you stronger!
Those advisers were promptly fired, said our source. "The CM felt we needed a positive spin on the issue, regardless of what the 'science' says. What is 'science' anyway? Everyone knows a positive attitude can overcome any small thing like Typhoid! The CM has never regretted making bold statements, like when she claimed flyovers would help Delhi to become pollution-free by 2010 or when she repeatedly claimed Delhi would be ready for the CWG in plenty of's perception that matters in politics, no?"

  • No evidence of increase in drug resistance in cholera''

  • The Drink Up, Delhi campaign will feature pictures of prominent Delhi residents drinking glasses of tap water and smiling. Expect hoardings to go up by the end of the month, with TV spots to follow.
     "We'd like to have Manmohan Singh drinking a glass of water in front of India Gate, Alka Pande sipping in front of the Habitat Centre, US Ambassador Roemer drinking straight from an American Embassy irrigation pipe--that sort of thing." When asked whether these figures had agreed to actually drink unfiltered Delhi Jal Board water, our source was non-committal: "The common man wants to know we care about his plight...what's in the glass is not important.  Besides, everyone knows how much money we spent making our city World Class for the CWG...they can't expect us to have piles of cash laying around to invest in things like 'public health' and clean water!"

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Energy efficiency--rebound, backfire and other problems with efficiency-only policies

    Some economists are saying that, by themselves, efforts to be more efficient may lead to increased energy consumption  

    If you read the 'green-oriented' press these days, you will run into any number of statements like this one
    Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are getting a lot of attention these days as a way to reduce the impact of energy use on the environment. But even enthusiastic supporters of alternative energy agree that the easiest way to cut carbon emissions and air pollution is to focus more on efficiency, less on pollution-free generation.
    It's hard to argue against efficiency. Policies that encourage efficiency don't have to tax or cap the consumption of energy, so they are politically more palatable.  Unfortunately, it appears they don't work very well either, if the goal is reducing carbon emissions. Here's a small bit from a piece by John Tierney that ran recently in the New York Times:
    Is this bulb backfiring?
    But a growing number of economists say that the environmental benefits of energy efficiency have been oversold. Paradoxically, there could even be more emissions as a result of some improvements in energy efficiency, these economists say.
    The problem is known as the energy rebound effect. While there’s no doubt that fuel-efficient cars burn less gasoline per mile, the lower cost at the pump tends to encourage extra driving. There’s also an indirect rebound effect as drivers use the money they save on gasoline to buy other things that produce greenhouse emissions, like new electronic gadgets or vacation trips on fuel-burning planes. 

    Some of the biggest rebound effects occur when new economic activity results from energy-efficient technologies that reduce the cost of making products like steel or generating electricity. In some cases, the overall result can be what’s called “backfire”: more energy use than would have occurred without the improved efficiency.
    Cap and dividend: read all about it!
    It's an interesting article, and you should read it. The lesson seems to be that if you want people to use less energy and energy-intensive products, you've got to make energy consumption more expensive. Some people argue for a carbon tax; others argue for a complicated system called 'cap and trade'.  I think both are flawed. The best proposal I've seen is called 'cap and dividend'.  You can read what we had to say about it last year in 'Cap and Dividend, the romantic solution?'

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Anna Hazare, Delhi Calm and the importance of democracy

    There are many wonderful things about Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, but the current draft of the Lokpal Bill may not be one of them

    I'm a fairly disciplined fellow--'inflexible' if you are in a less charitable mood.  Along with that, I confess I have somewhat of an addictive personality. However, thanks to the disciplinarian in me, I'm not an alcoholic and I no longer smoke. But I do wrestle with my share of demons. Like the computer--and media in general.

    Periodically, I try to cleanse my system by going on a week-long media fast. NoTV, no facebook, no blogger, no email--no computer at all. Because I'm disciplined/inflexible, I set the Dhaba on autopilot and schedule a couple of posts ahead of time. I allow myself a daily paper once or twice to avoid total withdrawal. Then I spend the time I save with the family and friends, take walks, read books--that kind of thing.  

    Coincidentally, that's what I was doing for seven straight days last week while Anna Hazare was engaging in another, much more important and serious fast. I confess I heard rumours of it, and I was sorely tempted to hop on-line to see what it was all about. Regular readers of the Dhaba know that  I HATE corruption, and I'd love to see us come up with some kind of way to fight it effectively. But what good is a fast if you don't stick to it? By Saturday afternoon, when I broke my fast, Hazare had already broken his.  The family and I did head down to India Gate to 'be part of history' that evening. It was a strange scene, but I'll save that for another time. At that point, I confess, both Mrs. Batti and I were still having a difficulty explaining the whole issue to the kids. They understand corruption just fine. But the details of the Lokpal Bill? 

    When we got back home, I fired up Facebook, and read 'At the Risk of Heresy: Why I am not Celebrating with Anna Hazare.' The piece is by Shuddhabrata Sengupta from SARAI. I don't always agree with Shuddha (I don't always agree with anybody, actually), but he nearly always has an interesting perspective. The central thrust of his argument is worth considering. Here's a taste:
    The appointment of the Lokpal will be done by a collegium consisting of several different kinds of people – Bharat Ratna awardees, Nobel prize winners of Indian origin, Magasaysay award winners, Senior Judges of Supreme and High Courts, the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Chief Election Commissioner, and members of the outgoing Lokpal board and the Chairpersons of both houses of Parliament. It may be noticed that in this entire body, only one person, the chairperson of the Lok Sabha, is a democratically elected person. No other person on this panel is accountable to the public in any way. As for ‘Nobel Prize Winners of Indian Origin’ they need not even be Indian citizens. The removal of the Lokpal from office is also not something amenable to a democratic process. Complaints will be investigated by a panel of supreme court judges...This is middle class India’s dream of subverting the ‘messiness’ of democracy come delightfully true. 
    It felt so good to see so many people all over the country standing up against corruption. But I found Sengupta's argument compelling and disturbing. Maybe that's because because in addition to two and a half collections of poetry and several children's books, last week I finally read Vishwajyoti Ghosh's graphic novel, Delhi Calm.  It's a good book--well worth reading. Set during the Emergency, Delhi Calm reminds us of what can happen when we allow the subversion of democracy for a 'good cause.' The crackdown during Emergency, after all, was justified in part as a fight against corruption, and a lot of good people supported it because of that. But in the end, however, it was about other, less noble things.  

    There is little question that Anna Hazare and other anti-corruption leaders are committed, thoughtful people. I'm glad they are out there shaking things up. But let's not forget that the strength of this movement is not the righteousness of one man or the demand for a Lokpal Bill which seeks to reign in corruption by creating an institution which lets us avoid the inevitable messiness of democracy. The strength of this movement is that it has mobilised people across the country to hold our elected leaders accountable for their corrupt and profoundly un-democratic use of public resources and power. 

    As this Bill--and the loose movement that is pushing it--moves forward, let's hope there is continued debate about the best way to handle what we all agree is one of the worst problems facing the country today.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Best Dhabas in Delhi: Just down the road from Jantar Mantar

    I'm a big believer in freedom of expression, which is why every so often, I find myself heading down to Jantar Mantar myself. After a few hours a peaceful protest, a justice loving person can really work up a good appetite. So I often find myself in search of a good dhaba. My favourite so far is the one pictured on the right, about two blocks from protest central. Just across the street is a sign for the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Smarak Trust Library.

    There are actual several small establishments in this cluster of stand up eateries. Mostly you will be eating on eco-friendly, reusable steel plates, though you may get your tea in a plastic cup. Overall, the environmental impact of the meal you get here is bound to be lower than much more expensive sit down establishments that rely on energy intensive construction materials, AC cooling, and the like. 
    Onion uttapam and sambar.

    Be warned: especially if you go in for the South Indian joint on the right side of the row, you are going to have to contend with quite a crowd at peak eating times. Still, I've never seen the guy taking the orders make a mistake. Be patient--all those people are there because the food is good and the price is right: this place truly is cheap and best.  

    A months back after a Free Binayak Sen Rally, we enjoyed an onion uttapam (Rs. 35); an order of idli (Rs. 20) and something else that I can't remember. But it was all tasty and good. So next time you are at a rally, why not stop by for some of Delhi's best and greenest food. You may be protesting, but your stomach and your pocketbook will have nothing to complain about.

    For more green eats, go check out the Best Dhabas in Delhi on our Low Tech Green page.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Musical interlude from Mumbai

    I was needing a few days away from the dhaba, so it was perfect timing when Kabir Arora sent me this from Mumbai: a musical number by him and two of his fellow Gandhi Fellows. 

    For more about Kabir, read this post (including the links at the bottom of it). For more about the Gandhi Fellowship, go here.