Vantage point

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ResearchMBA - MBA Papers and Ideas

I have started a new project called MBA Papers and Ideas. I am reproducing below the first post on that blog, explaining the idea behind it. Please go through it and mail me if you are interested in becoming a part of it. It would be great if you can link it on your blogs too. Please note that "this blog" in the write-up below refers not to Vantage Point, but the MBA Papers and Ideas blog.

I have been thinking of starting this blog for a long time. I finally decided to start it after writing my post on Walmart entering India.

The idea is very simple. The Indian blogosphere is rich with debates and discussions about all issues, including those related to business. A lot of new ideas are put forth, critiques offered, and suggestions made in the blog posts written. However most blogposts are written based on intuitive reasoning. A lot of theoretical propositions are made based on common sense and logic. While there is nothing wrong with it, since it is the first step in the evolution of theory, it would help if there was some research and data analysis done to back up the theories.

For instance, while writing my post on Walmart, I thought about my own buying behaviour when I lived in Bombay. I was earning a reasonable amount of money. I could afford to travel in taxis. And yet I shopped for my groceries almost exclusively from the local kirana-wallah. Why? Several reasons. The nearest Supermart was 8 km away and Bombay is not a city where you travel unless you really have to, even if you can afford a luxurious ride. Plus my local baniya would take my order on the phone and deliver anything to my diirstep within half an hour, even if it was just a loaf of bread.

I further realised that my buying behaviour in India was different than in USA. In USA I usually visit the story once every two weeks and stock up on everything. Even vegetables and meats come frozen, and everything else is packaged. The weather here is such that even the items which can't be refrigerated, like bread for instance, last longer. In India however, I had to buy something or the other every day or at the most every other day. I HAD to rely on my baniya, even if Big Bazaar offered me greater discounts.

So I wondered, can I generalise my own experiences and the learnings from it to the population? Maybe. But to do so with any degree of confidence, it would help if I had some research to cite and back up my claims. Who will do this research?

And then I thought about my MBA days. All those Marketing term papers. The toughest part was identifying a question interesting and important enough to impress the Professor. And there I thought of a natural synergy waiting to be created.

There are thousands of MBA students in India looking for ideas to research for their term papers. There are hundreds of bloggers debating in India and putting forth intuitive theories, but with no time or resources to back them up with research. This is a ripe scenario for mutual back-scratching.

This blog has been created to enable such back-scratching. Bloggers should post here those theories of theirs which they would like researched, and which they think will be interesting enough to make good term papers. MBA students can come to this blog, get ideas for term papers, and write them. They can post their term papers on the blog, creating a resource of research rich for reference and citing. This will also help build recognition and reputation for MBA students. If an MBA student writes a term paper, publishes it here, and it is linked to and cited by several bloggers and even columnists, it will show up on a google search for his name. It will also be a very good CV point, if the idea of this blog is successful. Plus the knowledge will be there for everyone to access. What happens nowadays is good papers are written, presented, published in a booklet by the organisers, and forgotten in a few weeks. There is no archive where the research can be stored and referred. So you can send your papers to be posted here even if you didn't get the idea from this blog.

So this is an attempt to create an open source repository of basic business research. With the retail sector changing so rapidly, there will be a plethora of ideas for Marketing students. I am sure there will be ample idea for Finance as well. The exact operational details will be worked out in a few days. I will definitely need a group of bloggers interested in co-managing/editing this blog with me on a voluntary basis. We can run it on blogspot as a pilot project and if it is successful, maybe think of shifting to a separate domain.

As of now, let us just run this as a pilot project. I will be posting ideas I get for research. If you have some ideas, you can either mail them to me, or if you are interested, I will make you a member of this blog so you can post it yourself.

Mail me at gaurav.sabnis(at)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kirana Will Still Rule

So Walmart is officially in India now. The Indian Left has predictably started making noise. I suspect a lot of left-leaning-human-face commentators will also shed barrels of tears bemoaning the imminent death of the small Indian shopkeeper. They will write about how Walmart got a "backdoor entry" into India.

But is this tie-up, which has Walmart managing only the back-end supply chain and procurement and Bharti managing the front-end, only a convenient arrangement to scale the policy barriers? Or is it something more? A strategic decision? I suspect it is more of the latter than the former.

All those who expect big retailers like Walmart to come in and devour small kirana shops should pause and think. Can Big Retail really do that? Just look at what the average kirana store offers the average Indian household. Firstly, it is just a stone's throw away. So anytime the family needs something, it is easy to just stroll over and get it, even if it is as paltry as a loaf of bread. Secondly, there is the trust about all the items being fresh and reasonably priced at the friendly neighbourhood kiranawalla. Thirdly, there is free home delivery, usually on a bicycle, for the regular monthly supplies, colloquially called "ration". And fourthly and most importantly, there is credit. Since the shopkeeper knows the families in the vicinity well enough, he can actually extend credit based only on the jottings made in a tiny pocket-sized plastic-covered notebook.

A vast majority of middle class India still shops from one of the millions of tiny kirana stores for precisely these reasons. And there is no way Walmart or even the local big retailers like Foodworld, Big Bazaar or Reliance can lure away a chunk of the middle class big enough to make the kirana store go out of business for at least another few decades.

The small segment of the population which has made Foodworld and Big Bazaar run successfully is the very upper-middle-class. Families in this segment have a car so they can plan weekly or biweekly trips to the big shops. These families actually purchase a lot of packaged food items and it makes sense for them to travel that extra distance. These families don't need credit. And yet even these families will still buy a considerable proportion of their groceries from the local kirana stores. This segment of the population is small. It is growing, but it is not growing nearly fast enough to gobble up the main clientele of the kirana store - the middle and lower-middle class.

Walmart surely understands this. It has learnt from its mistakes in Korea, Japan and Germany. Supply-chain principles may remain largely uniform all over the world. But retailing has a very culture-specific flavour. Taking the same modus operandi that worked in the US and superimposing it in other countries will not work. And if Walmart failed in countries like Korea, Japan and Germany, which Americans at least have some understanding of, can they dream of a retail success in a country as complex, diverse and confusing as India?

The threat from Bharti-Walmart or Tata-Woolworth is not to the friendly neighbourhood baniya, but to purely desi retailers like Big Bazaar and Foodworld. These desi retailers have been raking in the moolah because the upper middle class has grown in the last 5 years or so, there has been a rise in salary levels in that segment, and there isn't enough competition. With more players entering, competition will hot up. And margins will surely go down.

Another bogey being raised regarding Walmart is about their ruthless procurement tactics which squeeze every penny out of the suppliers and the manufacturers. Let us assume for the sake of argument, and for the brevity(!!) of this post, that such tactics are evil, and harmful to the local economies. Even if we assume that, organised retail does not and will not, for several decades, have the marketshare big enough to get a clout to actually pull off those tactics in India.

So comrades, unless it is Big Bazaar and Food World that you consider the meek and weak, do us all a favour and shut up. The desi baniya will continue to do well for ages to come. And the day that Big Retail is actually poised to capture marketshare of the Indian retail industry big enough to drive the baniya out of business, is the day that the economic indicators in this country will have changed so much that communism will exist only in museums and history textbooks.

Chappell, Thank Walmart

Greg Chappell, who has been the focus of the Left's ire for the past few days will be overjoyed to read that the other shoe has finally fallen. It's official. Walmart is entering India. The Left will be too busy organising Grand Marches, and appearing on news channels decrying Walmart's entry to pay any attention to him now.

The Indian Government's response is hilarious and theatrical, and only complete idiots will buy Kamal Nath's statements. He said -

"We will have a look (at) whether permissible limits have been adhered to,....We will see whether it as per rules and regulations."

Nice playacting, Minister. Are we expected to believe that Bharti and Walmart would announce such a decision without ensuring that there are no roadblocks? I am sure all the lobbying in Delhi has been done, all the "dues" paid, and everything has been figured out. The Government, due to Left pressure, did not have the guts to open up the retail sector to FDI, even though it is the right thing to do. So it has worked out this backdoor entry for Walmart.

But it is fun watching all parties play out their roles in the drama so sincerely.

Something from my playlist

'Cause in my head there's a Greyhound station,
Where I send my thoughts to far-off destinations.
So they may have a chance of finding a place where,
They're far more suited then here.

I cannot guess what we'll discover,
When we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels,
But I know our filthy hands can wash one another's,
And not one speck will remain.

- from Soul Meets Body by Death Cab For Cutie

Get Dada In

Readers of this blog will know my soft spot for Sourav Ganguly. So they won't be surprised to see me thrilled at the possibility of his return to the team. The national selectors meet on Tursday to pick a team for the SA test series. Yuvraj Singh is injured and Rahul Dravid may miss the first test. There is now absolutely no cricketing reason not to pick Sourav Ganguly, considering the fact that he has the experience of having played 2 test series there.

As it is, the way he was dropped reeked of personal issues. Granted that considering his head was on the line he should have scored centuries to shut detractors up. But even the 30s and 40s he scored in Pakistan were good enough to keep him at least in the 16. After all, most of the team had failed, and Yuvraj Singh, the guy chosen ahead of him got 3-4 chances in every knock. However the modern age Janus, Kiran More dropped him and kept him out.

Now with a new Chief Selector in charge, one hopes cricketing sense prevails and Ganguly is picked. And I hope he is played. And as a Ganguly fan, I will keep all my fingers and toes crossed hoping that he cashes in on this opportunity and makes a triumphant return to the team.

Borat - Tres Disappointing

Put it down to the magnified exepectations its previews and publicity raised, but I found Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazhakhstan a bit disappointing. The movie was funny, but the best bits were on youtube already and there was very little good stuff that was new. So purely as an enjoyable funny movie, it was disappointing for me. However if you haven't OD-ed on Borat clips on youtube like I have, it is one of the funniest films in recent times. Especially if you are discerning enough to look beyond the slapstick and recognize the underlying dark humour.

The movie is an excellent satire on prejudice and stereotypes. People who have been offended by it, and found it, of all things possible, an anti-semitic film are so not in the same zip code as the point.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Grand March

This is a post I was planning to make a couple of months back, but I forgot. It is still as relevant, and will continue to be, sadly, for decades to come. Quoted below are a few passages from Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Though he wrote it mainly about European liberals, it applies equally to Indian grand-marchers too. (the emphasis are mine)

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch. And no one knows this better than politicians. Kitsch is the aestethic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements. Whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch.
The fantasy of the Grand March … is the political kitsch joining leftists of all times and tendencies. The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles not withstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March. What makes a leftist a leftist is not this or that theory but his ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called the Grand March.
The Grand March goes on, the world’s indifference notwithstanding, but it is growing nervous and hectic: yesterday against the American occupation of Vietnam, today against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; yesterday for Israel, today for the Palestinians; yesterday for Cuba, tomorrow against Cuba — and always against America; at times against massacres and at times in support of massacres; Europe marches on, and to keep up with events, to leave none of them out, its pace grows faster and faster, until finally the Grand March is a procession of rushing, galloping people and the platform is shrinking and shrinking until one day it will be reduced to a mere dimensionless dot.

Lal Slam

You can put limits on anything, but not on the levels of absurdity that Indian communists can scale.

The absurdest of them all, Somnath Chatterjee says - "let nobody lecture us". Talk about monopolistic practises!!

House of Nanking

Until yesterday my main complaint with Chinese food, as much as I love it, was that it lacks variety. Yesterday I realised that I was as wrong as someone would be if he ate at all the desi restaurants abroad and complained that Indian food lacks variety. Just like desi restaurants here primarily serve Punjabi food, keeping other cuisines well-concealed, I guess Chinese restaurants too serve food only from certain provinces.

The food I had at House of Nanking in San Francisco downtown was unlike any Chinese meal i have had before. It was not sauce-based, but was dry-ish. It used different vegetables. And the spices used were decidedly different. I will leave the technical details of how the food differed to Madman-like knowledgeable people.

One peculiarity about the restaurant is that the owner personally attends to you. And if you are not Chinese, then the menu cards provided are just ornamental. The guy orders on your behalf. You just tell him what vegetables and meats you like and don't like. And he decides what soups, appetisers and entrees you should have. We didn't try to overrule him, but legend has it that resistance is futile. Once the guy says "I take care of you", he has the final say on your order.

He started us off with flaming rice soup. The rice was still quite crispy and full-bodied and not soft like in other rice soups. There were peas, eggplant, and a couple of other vegetables I now forget.

Next up, the appetizer was onion cake. It was a bit like onion kachoris you get in Indore, but not entirely. It was flat, and cut into 6 slices like a pizza.

The entrees were fish-and-eggplant-fry, deep-fried-beef-with-beans and an all vegetable dish with 7 different types of vegetables. What set the food apart was the seasoning which was completely unlike any food I have tasted before. And it was divine.

Needless to say, we attacked every morsel of the food with an enthusiasm matched only by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Church of Lady Inertia

More universally practised than Islam or Christianity is the religion of laziness which is governed by the Church of Lady Inertia. Here are some things you need to know about the religion -

- Inertia is the deity of laziness and she is omnipotent. She pervades every particle of creation, material and non-material. She occupies even thought processes and neural nodes.
- You pray to the Goddess Inertia by not doing anything. Make yourself comfortable and stay that way as long as you can. The longer you are lazy, the happier you make the goddess.
- The Lawbook of the Church of Inertia consists of 1 main law and several smaller bylaws.
- The 1 main law has been around since the beginning of time. But it was revealed by the Goddess to a certain Isaac Newton when he was praying to the Goddess under an apple tree. That law is also called Newton's First Law of Motion.
- Followers of the Church of Inertia do not believe in the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang would imply a lot of effort at the beginning and implying that the universe started because of effort would be blasphemous.
- Effort, hard work, toil are all bad words and any pious Lazyist must shun them. Anyone found to indulge in these blasphemous acts will incur the wrath of the Goddess.
- The original sinner according to the holy book of Inertia was Eve. She took the effort of picking the apple and offering it to Adam, thus spoiling a hitherto effort-free world. The Goddess Inertia would have punished her, but punishing someone requires effort so she did not do it to avoid breaking her own commands.

Come join the church. All you need to do is nothing for a long enough time to show your dedication to the Goddess.

The Buddha Returns

Gautam Bastian returns to blogging with a superb post rebuting Ramchandra Guha's objections to the market.

The Travelogue So Far

The Bay Area visit so far has been spent mainly away from downtown, as opposed to the NY visit which was exclusively downtown. No, that isn't entirely correct. I did go to the crookedest street in the world, and yes, it is as crooked as can get. And I visited Ghirardelli. But apart from that it has been the outlying areas.

A word about time differences. Substantial time differences are easier to manage. For example if you go to Europe from India, lunch becomes a heavy breakfast, and dinner becomes a late supper and all that. Similarly, a 10-12 hour time difference may throw your sleep schedule out of whack, but is still manageable. A 3 hour time difference like the one between EST and PST can be quite tricky. So for the past few days I have been steadfast on EST while my friends here are on PST. I thus wake up at 5 a.m. while they snore away contemptuously for hours. I feel ravenous when they are feeling barely peckish. And at night, I start feeling extremely sleepy shortly before midnight.

So anyway, Friday was dedicated to the 17 mile drive. It has to be the most scenic stretch of road outside of the Western Indian coastline. Many photographs were clicked, and more importantly, the drive was almost completely desi-free. The only desis I met were people I knew. Ran into Vinayak, Bhavna and a couple of other COEP-ians near the Restless Sea. Which was quite a coincidence, since Vinayak was the same chap I ran into at the Mumbai Airport while flying to the US. That makes it two fortuitous run-ins in 4 months. If fate is trying to send me a chick-flickish message, then it is getting its gender combinations mixed up.

Friday was also all-desi-food day. In the morning we went to a place called Tirupathi something-or-the-other. As typical a Southie restaurant as can get. not a single non-Indian in sight. The ambience, the crowd, the waiters, the food, everything was straight out of a Bangalore stardotstar-sagar restaurant. The rava dosa and the rasam were impressive.

At night we went to a disappointing restaurant called Roti in Burlingame. Disappointing. Enough said.

Saturday was bookmarked for getting drunk in the socially acceptable way, i.e on wine. Napa Valley it was. More specifically, the V Sattui Winery. Different types of wines were tasted, and thank heavens for the Taiwanese. FSM must really love me to send along people who know less than wine than even I do. A couple of Taiwanese girls actually appointed me their wine tasting consultant, and thanks to the training provided to me during my MBA, I was able to give authoritative advice about a topic I know less than a grape-squeeze's worth. The only truly value-adding input from my side was the quip that Madeira is the Sanskrit word for wine.

The original plan was to stop by the House of Nanking on our way back. But reliable sources informed us that the traffic on Oakland Bay Bridge was jammed all the way to Seattle. So we took a detour and decided to drive back to San Bruno(which is where I am put up) via Fremont. Since we lost out on House of Nanking, we decided instead to have food made by the Kings of Nan, i.e Afghan cuisine, and watch the first few episodes of House on DVD.

The Afghan meal at Salang in Fremont was one of the best meals I have had in my lifetime. I had raved about the food at Ariana in Manhattan. Salang made Ariana food taste like Pizza Hut food. I went totally mujahideen on the food and was more stuffed than a thanksgiving turkey. In what was a rare and momentous occasion, I even felt charitable enough to order dessert. The desert was bakhlava, which is a lot like the marathi sweet chirota placed on top of the desi sweet kalakand.

On to downtown now!

Pondy carwashes and gifts for dogs

The title of this post can be sung to the tune of "Money for nothing", but that's neither here nor there.

Most living beings in this country bemoan the consumerist culture which permeates existece. Most living beings in India bemoan that we are becoming consumerist. I have never had any problems with consumerism. In fact I strongly encourage it since it is a fertile source of entertainment and wonderment, not to mention inspiration.

How can you not be inspired by the sheer ingenuity of the man who thought to himself - "Hey, men like watching boobies. Men like getting their cars washed. Why not combine the two and start topless car washes?". There are topless car washes springing up all over the country. And the idea is also being used to raise funds in some instances. Of course this kind of topless car wash just won'

But even that idea does not hold a dainty mop in front of a product I saw advertised on that venerated resource - Telebrands. Doggy Steps, a gift for your dog. These are steps which will help your dog jump on to the bed. I am guessing the first draft of the ad voiceover was - "Are you too fat? Does the fitness of your dog present a problem when you take him out for a walk? Here is a way by which you can make your dog as fat as you. Doggy steps". But later they went with the funda of "Get this as a christmas gift for your dog(!!)" which they use on TV. In fact they even have a wreath in the corner of the screen to suggest to you that it should be bought as a christmas gift for your dog.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Connect these 3 images. The answer is from the world of television.

Songs Scrubbed Blue

Over the last few weeks I treated myself to a Scrubs marathon, in preparation for the 6th season starting next week. After the heady heights during the 90s of Frasier, Seinfeld, FRIENDS, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc, the American sitcom has lost colour. The one saving grace is Scrubs (I am not counting South Park, because it is a cable show). I recently came across a great link where I found all its episodes on streaming(and several other sitcoms too). Can't post it on my blog. Mail me if you want it.

But anyway, the point of this post is, that on top of being a hilarious sitcom, Scrubs can also serve as the source for some great music. Not since The Wonder Years has a sitcom been able to find a song fitting the occasion so consistently. So if you like alternative and indie music, check out this link. It lists all the music used in Scrubs so far and serves as a nice playlist.

False Dilemma

According to wikipedia, the logical fallacy of false dilemma—also known as falsified dilemma, fallacy of the excluded middle, black and white thinking, false dichotomy, false correlative, either/or fallacy and bifurcation—involves a situation in which two alternative points of view are held to be the only options, when in reality there exist one or more other options which have not been considered. The two alternatives presented are often, though not always, the two extreme points on some spectrum. Instead of such extreme simplification and wishful thinking, considering the whole spectrum, as in fuzzy logic, may be more appropriate.

The false dilemma fallacy refers to misuse of the or operator.

Great Example - Either the stock market is a fraud on the public or these deals that dominate the business pages are a fraud on the public.

Listen Chump

If you have a problem with me calling Federer the greatest tennis player of all time, don't waste your time arguing with me. Go take it up with Federer. Maybe he'll concede to your whining and stop being the greatest. And that'll make you feel happy.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Date With The Emperor of United States and Protector of Mexico

One of the things I have to do is visit this grave of the man whom really a lot more people should be aware of. I had written about him here when I learned of his existence courtesy Neil Gaiman.

Shoner Gate

Doing the very touristy thing, the first place I visited after coming to San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether it was due to the fact that it was Thanksgiving, or for some other reason, but about half the tourists there were desi. I have heard that Niagra Falls is completely desi territory now, but I had no idea Golden Gate would be as well. There were so many desi faces everywhere, that if not for the splendid view, I may as well have been on the Howrah Bridge.

If you pay fleeting attention to the desi conversations, 95% turn out to be either Gujju or South Indian. Gujjus in California, like Gujjus everywhere, travel in massive contingents, with all possible extensions of the family tree stuffed inside a station wagon.

Then another touristy thing was done. Ghirardelli. Again, desi desi everywhere.

I have nothing against desis. Some of my best friends are desis. But seeing them everywhere is dabba painful.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Manjunath Shanmugam Integrity Award & RTI Helpline

Reproducing below an email sent to me by Jaishankar, one of the Trustees of the Manjunath Shanmugham Trust.

On November 19, 2006 Manjunath's first death anniversary the Manjunath Shanmugam Trust has undertaken following initiatives.

1) Launch of a national helpline that will help people across the country in using the Right To Information Act. (9250-400-100)
2) Manjunath Shanmugam Integrity Award.

The objective of Manjunath Shanmugam Integrity Award is to honour and encourage person/s or institutions who are working to uphold the values of truth and honesty in the Indian public life. We are looking at deserving candidates who have reported and actively rectified/have worked to rectify corrupt practices in government, public or corporate life.

The nominees will be evaluated on the basis of

1. Gravity of the situation and its impact

2. Corrective action undertaken , not merely reporting the situation

3.Extent of difficulty faced by nominee in correcting the situation

The valid entries will be assessed by a panel of distinguished jurors, drawn from the corporate sector as well as public life.

Nominations will be accepted from 19th November, with details and form available on the MST's website The award carries a citation and a cash prize of Rs. One Lakh.

You can help us by nominating a deserving person. If you wish to nominate someone, please download the nomination form and send it to us at the address mentioned. You can also spread the word around through your emails/blogs.

We wish to make this annual award a success, and encourage more people/institutions to work to improve Indian public life.

IIMB ('91)
Manjunath Shanmugam Trust

Quizzing Workshop for School Kids in Pune

The Boat Club Quiz Club has started spreading its wings of late. It conducted an inter-school quiz hosted by Abhinava Vidyalaya. It also designed an online quiz for IIT Bombay SOM. Next up, a quizzing workshop for kids.

The Boat Club Quiz Club will be hosting a workshop on quizzing for school students this weekend and the next. Should you or students known to you desire to be a part of this, please send in an email to shamanth[at]gmail[dot]com or call 9881000957(this is only if you havent confirmed your participation already).

The details are as follows:
We will hold the workshop in two sessions. Students may attend any one.

Session I: Saturday, the 25th of November, 2006. 10 30am to 12 30pm. Facilitated by Shamanth.
Session II: Saturday, the 2nd of December, 2006. 9 30am to 11 30am. Facilitated by Salil Bijur.

Both sessions will be held in the Library of Symbiosis Secondary school.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In Defense of Religion!!!!

I am an atheist. I think god does not exist. I do not believe in any religion.

There aren't many atheists in a sample population. So we atheists tend to stick together when it comes to debates and discussions. My atheism, like theirs, follows from what I think is rational thought and logic.

So recently I was surprised to find myself disagreeing with a lot of atheists. Several columnists and writers, chief among them Richard Dawkins, have been tearing apart religion, holding it responsible for many of the world's problems. Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, etc. They speak of injustices commited in the name of religion over the years and contend that if there was no religion, the world would be a much better place.

Now whether the world would be a better place or not is something I can not be sure about. I would love to live in a world where people would not believe in a flawed and illogical concept called god. But would that world necessarily be better? I can't say.

Human history is full of massacres, oppression, injustice, and not all of them have been driven by religion. We humans are not angels, and there is hatred inside us. It will express itself. Religion has been just an excuse in many cases. It could easily have been anything else. World Wars, The American Civil War, The Korean War, Vietnam War and the Bangladesh uprising were not caused by religion. Neither did religion drive the cold war. Blaming religion seems like a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

When there are wars, massacres, and oppression, these are between two groups. These groups could be formed on the basis of anything - race, ideology, power, or religion. Most religions do not talk about killing people from other faiths. Zealots go on a killing spree because of intolerance and a desire to have their own way. And intolerance has been one of the baser instincts, long before religion came along.

By laying the blame for the world's problems at religion's feet, many atheists are actually weakening their own case. What they are saying isn't logically sound and is easily open to valid attacks.

Unless of course, this is a deliberate strategy. Maybe the atheists have seen that irrationality seems to rule the world. So let us beat the believers using their own weapons. ;)

Flood her mailbox

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary(D) defeated Rae Hart Anderson in a Senate race in MN. In her concession, which was conveyed via email, Anderson wrote to Chaudhary "It is my sincere wish that you'll get to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior." I have a suggestion for Chaudhary. He should politely reply back with an email which goes -

"Thank you for your suggestion. But it is my sincere wish that you'll get to know Brahma as Lord and Savior. It is also my sincere wish that you'll get to know Vishnu as Lord and Savior. It is also my sincere wish that you'll get to know Shiva as Lord and Savior. It is also my sincere wish that you'll get to know Ganesha as Lord and Savior. It is also my sincere wish that you'll get to know Indra as Lord and Savior........."

and so on, until all the 330 million Hindu gods have been named. The mail will max out her inbox. That'll teach her evangelism.

Why he flipped out

Q - Why was Michael Richards so irritated that he flipped out?
A - Those pretzels were making him thirsty. :-P

Kramer's last tactless outburst

Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld find himself in hot water after he liberally used the n-word on a group of hecklers. To further compound the situation, he appeared on Letterman's show via satelite to apologize. His apology was so lame that the audience started laughing, and frankly I too was laughing. Especially his claim that he was not a racist so he was surprised at his own reaction. Hilarious. Reminds me of Darren Lehmann.

Everytime someone makes a racist comment, he turns around and says "But I am not a racist. I just lost control." or something. Mel Gibson has done that too. As Sinbad, a comedian said on CNN yesterday said, that's like shooting someone dead and then saying "I am so surprised I killed him. I am actually not a killer."

Update: Here's a clip of the said outburst.

The n-word is a hot potato in the US. No non-black man can get away with saying it. I attended an 'Uncensored - Everything Goes' show at Improv when I was in New York. It was fun. The were picking on members of the audience in a no-holds-barred way. ompletely uncensored. Completely? No. Not really. One of the comedians, a white guy while picking on a black member of audience said "Hey man, I'll pick on you. But I won't use that word."

I personally find this touchiness about the word a bit mystifying. Not talking about the Michael Richards case here. If used in that way, people have the right to be offended. Of course, Richards has a right to say that word, but then he must also be prepared for the public outrage and disgust that has followed. I am talking about the way blacks will get offended even if the word is used in a non-pejorative way. For instance, I heard an Indian comedian talking about how black members of the audience got upset when he greeted his black friend saying "What's up, my nigger?".

And at the same time black rappers, comedians, and actors will spray the word liberally in whatever they say. If they really feel the word is so bad, they should stop using it themselves. And if they use it themselves to take the sting out of it or whatever, they shouldn't mind when someone says it in a non-offensive way.

How Safe Is the NY Subway?

I've always been of the opinion that it is in America's interests to pay close attention to all the terrorist attacks that happen in India. Especially those committed by Pakistani elements like the Lashkar-e-Toiba which are connected to the Al Qaeda.

After the 11 July serial blasts in local trains in Bombay, the NY subway was placed on a high alert. But how safe is the subway really? I recently traveled in the NY subway and found that in many respects it was similar to the Bombay local train system. Massive crowds at rush hour, poor infrastructure, and not many policemen around. What's more, there is no security presencein the train cars at all.

After the London metro blasts, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to add 1000 surveillance cameras and 3000 motion sensors, in addition to a technology which scans commuters in a matter of seconds. However all these measures will be fully implemented only in about 3 years or so. That still gives terrorists a big enough window to carry out the attack.

The 9/11 Commission Report

Just went through the 9/11 commission report. I was shocked to find that it did not even mention the hijacking of the IC814 Indian Airlines flight in 1999. The report already details how the Americans ignored a lot of hints which could have prevented 9/11 from happening. By omitting mention of the 1999 hijacking, they are ignoring another big clue.

On December 24 1999 5 terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines plane, and took it first to Pakistan(one of the three countries that officially recognized Taliban), then UAE(one of the three countries that officially recognized Taliban) and then to Kandahar in Afghanistan. Kandahar is where Bin Laden was at that time.

The hijackers initially used box-cutters and small knives to gain control of the aircraft. The hijackers of 9/11 also used box-cutters.

The Taliban was not only unhelpful to India, but it was actually helping the hijackers. Passengers and crew members talk of hijackers brandishing new guns after the plan landed in Kandahar.

The Indian government gave in and released 3 terrorists in exchange for the passengers' safety. One of the three terrorists released, Sheikh Omar Saeed a British born Pakistani, later arranged for money to be sent to the 9/11 hijackers. Sheikh Omar Saeed also later murdered Daniel Pearl when he was doing a story on the Al Qaeda network in Karachi.

The pilot of the IC814 said that the main hijacker kept talking of a "Millenium Gift" for India. It is believed that the hijackers planned to blow up the plane on 31st December, but they later changed their minds after their demands were met. The 9/11 commission report talks of a Millenium Plan which was foiled or cancelled.

There are way too many connections. The released terrorists all went to Pakistan immediately.

The IC814 hijacking was important and connected enough to Al Qaeda and extended organisations. The US intelligence agencies could have learnt from it. At the very least, they should have seen how any plane can be hijacked the way IC814 was, using box-cutter and barging into the cockpit. The plane was hijacked by Pakistanis. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11 is also a Pakistani. Ramzi Yousef, the man who bombed the WTC in 1993 was a Pakistani.

I have always believed that by not giving IC814 due importance, the Americans neglected learning a very important lesson for improving their airline security as well as working on the intelligence inputs. So I was astounded to see that the 9/11 commission report does not even mention the hijacking which has so many common links with 9/11.

Very disappointing. And if there is another terror attack on American soil, it will certainly be due to this inability to fit all the relevant pieces of information into a larger picture.

Da Man is Back!!

And how!

Monday, November 20, 2006


Politicians are selfish and further their own agenda. All of them. It is part of who they are. Which is why it amuses me when the Left in India is touted by many to be the only "principled" political group in the country. A lot of people buy into this rhetoric mainly because of their rants against America and Israel, and the tears they shed for the victims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

Yet, all these principles vanish into thin air when the oppressor is someone on their own side. Left parties have led several support rallies against America and related issues. But on the topic of Tibet, they are maintaining a studied silence. And even the Indian government, which allowed protestors to run amok during Bush's visit, harass women in Mumbai's locals, and go rioting in Lucknow, is following the Left's lead by placing Tenzin Tsundue under house arrest.

The house arrest decision, already ridiculous beyond belief, is even more outrageous when you consider the current fad of Gandhigir in the nation. Tenzin was born in India, has been in India all his life. He is an Indian citizen. To place restrictions on his movement is reminiscent of everything that Gandhiji stood against. Gandhiji's own party is clamping down on a non-violent protestor. Why? Just to suck up to China, and probably to appease the Leftists.

The message this sends out is, if you are a violent protestor, like the folks who havegone on rampages in Mumbai, Lucknow, Hyderabad, etc to protest against America, then the government will stand by and let you protest. But if you are a non-violent protestor, you will be restrained.

People talk about how the common people in this country are forgeting Gandhi's principles and his teachings. When the government, run by his own party, has forgotten them completely, is that a big surprise?

Shameful. Yet another chapter for the book "Manmohan Singh - Worst Prime Minister Ever".


The Indian Supreme Court has held that unless actual penetration happens, it is not rape and will be held as just "outraging modesty". In the judgement, a British court ruling has been cited. Even after 60 years, we are still looking at archaic British definitions to run our legal system.

Link via email from Madhu

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Live On, Manju

Today marks a year since Manjunath Shanmugham was brutally murdered by the oil mafia for trying to do his job honestly. It's been a year, and his booming voice, massive smile and friendly banter is still fresh in my memory. I can not even imagine what his parents must be going through.

To mark this day, the Manjunath Shanmugham Trust has started two initiatives - An integrity award and an RTI Helpline. Both initiatives are a positive step, and will do a lot of good towards bringing greater transparency.

It is important to remember that Manju was killed, not just because a few people were evil and corrupt, but because of a flawed system lacking in checks and balances which allowed these kind of people to do as they please. To really honour him, it is necessary not just to ensure that his murderers are punished, but also to take steps towards making the system better. An RTI helpline is a welcome step in that direction.

Hats off to the IIML Alumni. They have shown sincere dedication to this cause, and have not let their focus waver, inspite of being busy professionals. Through their work with the trust, as well as their follow-up with the murder trial, they have ensured that Manju's death does not become just a relic in news archives.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Answers and a Question

Here are the answers to some questions I posted over the last few days.

All the artists/bands featured in this question are those whose tracks will be preloaded on Microsoft's newly released MP3 player - Zune. Yeah, I know it wasn't the best google-proof question possible. Only one guy answered it - Praveen Krishnan.

The other two questions were answered by a lot of folks so I will plead laziness and not mention their names.

The connect here is the term 'Chewbacca Defense' which in internet slang and pup-culture lingo has come to stand for a non sequitur. The three pictures were of Johnnie Cochrane, who was O.J.Simpson's lawyer, Chef from South Park... the show which gave birth to this phrase, and of course the wookie himself - Chewbacca. The elegant piece of argumentation from South Park goes something like this - Why would a Wookiee, an eight-foot tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I'm a lawyer defending a major record company, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you're in that jury room deliberatin' and conjugatin' the Emancipation Proclamation, [approaches and softens] does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

And the answers to these two questions are FedEx and The arrow in FedEx is between E and x. And the arrow in goes from A to Z.

And now for the question. Identify him. Small pics I know, so there are two of them, one a close up.

Finally 43/43

Yes, I know this makes consecutive Stewart-related posts, but the occasion is grand enough to merit it. I have finally found the clip where The Daily Show completed the mention of each one of the 43 Presidents of the United States. Rejoice!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stewart about Beck

Every time I hear Glenn Beck speak, I marvel at the stringent quality control mechanisms that his ganja supplier must be implementing. The dude is off on flights of fancy that are beyond imagination.

Jon Stewart described him perfectly today - "Glenn Beck - finally a man who is not afraid to say what people who are not thinking... are thinking."

The Pink Game

I hearby announce my creative commons patent on a new game that I invented - The Pink Game. It can be played at parties, in buses, in cars, in classrooms using paper, during phone conversations, and most importantly, can serve as an excellent flirtation device.

The rules of the game are simple. The prerequisites are simpler - you need to have heard Aerosmith's 'Pink'. What you do is add to the song's lyrics, one line at a time. Every line must begin with, or contain the word 'pink'. And of course, follow an AABB rhyming scheme. Needless to say, the lines have to be sung in tune, and utmost efforts must be made to sound like Steven Tyler.

These are the lines I wrote.... actually co-wrote a couple of days back -

Pink like a termination slip
Pink as my favourite hair clip
Pink cos I'm red and you're white
Pink, it makes me feel alright

Pink even in this big rainbow
Pink when I bruise my left elbow
And pink on the neck of a parakeet
I'm pink when I'm hit by the sleet

And every pink string in my wardrobe goes
Like a cultured rose
In the abyss of pinkness toooooo
Pink, the crust on my bottle of glue
Pink, the lace on my left shoe...

You get the idea.


Note To Self

Must watch The Prestige by this weekend. Must make sure I am able to claim again that I have watched every Christopher Nolan movie ever made. In other exciting Nolan-related news, after rescuing the Batman franchise from the pool of kitsch, he has started work on The Dark Night. I am not thrilled about casting Heath Ledger as The Joker though.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Quite a Coincidence

It is quite a coincidence that two men whose long flourishing careers received jolts due to bloggers are both starting the second innings of their life at approximately the same time.

Dan Rather, who lost his top newsman job at CBS because of a series of events put in place by bloggers, recently started hosting his own show on HDNet. Admittedly, that is a rather lame second innings, considering only a fraction of Americans have HDTV.

No lameness in the second innings for the other blog-burnt guy though. Trent Lott, who had to resign as Senate Republican Leader after bloggers made a major issue out of his nostalgic comments about segregation, has been elected back to the position.

Who would have thought that the blogosphere's 2 biggest casualties would almost synchronize their return?


The water was rushing into his nostrils and filling up his wind pipe. It was clogging his ears and burning his eyes. He was flailing, struggling... drowning. He could almost smell the reaper.

Then he stood up. And suddenly what felt deep to him moments back suddenly looked so shallow. So insignificant. So puny that he couldn't believe he almost drowned in it.

He stepped out of the water, and walked away. His clothes and his shoes would dry in a while. After all, the sun was out.

Brands and Arrows

Here are two questions I made from a forward sent to me by Malvika. These questions for me represent the ideal Business Quiz questions, those which involve using what you know and applying some lateral thinking. Both have to do with brand logos and arrows. Identify the brands in both cases. Both are very famous brands whose logos you see on a daily basis.

1. There is a concealed symbol in one of the most visible logos in the world - an arrow. It was introduced to denote speed and precision, which are part of the positioning of the company. However, they chose to keep it subtle, a subliminal symbol. The creator of the logo explains why this was done thus: The power of the hidden arrow is simply that it is a "hidden bonus." It is a positive-reverse optical kind of thing: either you see it or you don't. Importantly, not "getting the punch line" by not seeing the arrow, does not reduce the impact of the logo's essential communication. The power of the logo and the marketing supporting the logo is strong enough to convey clearly the brand positioning. On the other hand, if you do see the arrow, or someone points it out to you, you won't forget it. I can't tell you how many people have told me how much fun they have asking others "if they can spot 'something' in the logo.”

2. The arrow in the second logo is very visible. But not many people pay attention to what it conveys. If you think about it, you will realise that the company is trying to say that it can supply everything you want. There is also the hint that it brings a smile to your faces.

Frisco Ahoy!

This blog will be spending it's Thanksgiving Break in San Francisco.

A friend of mine recently said to me, "There are only 3 cities in the US which have a character, a soul, and an intangible presence that separate them from the other assembly line cities. Three cities which you absolutely must visit and savor. One you visited recently (NY), the other you will visit next week (SF).. and the third...."

"The third?" I asked.

"It's more of a lake than a city nowadays."

Heh. Reminds me of something I heard after Katrina - Mardi Gras ki maar di g**d.

Anyway, coming back to the point, I will be in San Francisco from 22nd to 26th November. Will definitely meet Kings, and most probably Naveen. If any other bloggers (or just readers) from the Bay Area would like to meet up, drop me a mail at gaurav.sabnis(at)gmail(dot)com.

I may or may not crack jokes like this - What would you call the pilgrims who got very horny at their first harvest in the new world? Thanksgiving Tharki.

Enough goofing around for me. I'll get back to Hierarchical Bayesian Models. You let me know if you want to meet up.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Screamer

Caught this episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S a few days back. Though I have stopped finding the series funny, that episode struck a chord, because I have recently seen a situation like that happening with some people I know.

Pre-Emptive Strike

Whoever says blogging is a useless activity that does nothing in spreading knowledge, should read about this experience of mine.

I was in Walmart, gathering my weekly loot, when a friend called. Spoke to the friend for a while, and noticed that a young desi-looking lady in the aisle was looking at me. There was a dude with her. After I hung up, they came up to me and the lady asked "Hi, Are you from India?". This question itself set a small alarm bell ringing in my head. Penn State is full of Indians, Walmart doubly so. Why would a couple generally walk up to me and start talking? Very very fishy. I said yes I was. Then there was some small talk. Where I was from, where they were from. How Bombay and Pune are amazing cities. The lady then said she couldn't help overhearing me say something about PhD. Was I a PhD student? I said indeed I was. The guy then took over the reins and said even he was a PhD student, and he understood how difficult it is to make do on a PhD stipend. I didn't say anything. Then he said he had funding problems because his advisor didn't have any money after the 3rd year, but he managed to get through anyway because of an alternate revenue source. I nodded.

He then said, "So Gaurav, take care. PhD life here can be very tough. It is always good to have supplementary income. Makes life much easier. We bought a new car this year." Then he asked me for my number. No, he didn't actually ask me for my number. He must have adapted to being fake-numbered many times. He asked me to note down his number on my phone. And then ring him up at once so that my number will be saved on his phone.

Two days later, as expected, I got a call from them. The lady was talking.

Her: Hi Gaurav, how are you doing?
Me: Fine. How about you?
Her: We're great too. Listen, we're visiting a friend in your neighbourhood. Would love to drop by for a chat. Are you free?
Me: Oh yes yes. Of course. In fact I was just about to call you guys and visit you.
Her: Really?
Me: Yes, you see, I didn't tell you that day in Walmart, but I have this freelance independent venture business. It is really great in supplementing my income, and I think you guys can benefit from it too.
Her: (looooooooong pause) Ummmm...
Me: Are you there? It is really brilliant, and has guaranteed success you know. You guys should sign up for it too.
Her: Actually Gaurav, we kind of have a similar business too.....
Me: Doesn't matter, you should sign on for this one too. The more the merrier, right?
(Him and Her discussing something which I couldn't hear for a while)
Her: Hey Gaurav, sorry, just remembered we have to visit another friend of ours. Will call you some other time. Bye.

She hung up without letting me say anything more. And I collapsed on the bed laughing. Thanks Hirak, George and Ameya for enabling me to turn a potentially harrowing experience into an entertaining one.

Local Flavour

Since Penn State is the provider of my daily pita bread and 'I can't believe it's not butter', it is only fair to write something about the University's oldest and most influential institution - Joe Paterno. But I don't know enough about American football to write about him, so I'll just leave the wikipedia link on, and write about the second most influential institution - The University Creamery.

When I first got here, I found it funny that even in a college town as serious about partying as this one (my advisor says Penn State is now a football school with a drinking problem, it's a drinking school with a football problem), the most famous place to visit is an ice cream shop. But one lick of the Bittersweet Mint and I saw the light.

The Creamery produces simply the best ice cream in the world. It is the largest university creamery in the world, and even Ben & Jerry took a course from here. What makes the Creamery remarkable beyond the ice cream, is its total Puneri attitude. Service is slow, the layout, even in the new premisis, is badly planned. This leads to huge queues. And even though a single portion is so huge that even yours truly at his hungriest can finish only half of it, no mixing of flavours is allowed. In fact a sign which could belong to any Puneri restaurant informs the customer that the Creamery will not mix flavours under any circumstance.

If you still insist on mixed flavours, you better have been elected to the highest office in the land.

The queues outside the creamery are crazy, especially on home game days, when the 100,000-plus capacity Beaver Stadium shows as much interest in having ice cream as watching football. In fact the Creamery moved to its new location, simply so it could be closer to the stadium. Which works out fine for me, because it also makes it closer to the Business Building. Several hueristics have enabled me to identify the perfect queue-free time to visit the Creamery.

Hey maybe I should have written about their flavour Peachy Paterno, then I could have covered both institutions in one post.

Brangelina, GET OUT!!!

Brangelina have been camping in India for what seems like aeons now. And they have been doing some fairly stupid mundane things and hitting the headlines. And these are stupid everyday things that are done in India day in and day out - ride a rickshaw, buy local snacks, land helicopters without permission, ride local trains, visit the Gateway.... it's just getting on my nerves. I think they should do the one mundane thing they haven't done - take a dump in the open air along a railway track, and just haul their asses back to California.

By the way, I just read that they won't be adopting an Indian kid. Good news. Wouldn't want a compatriot of mine to suffer from Oedipus Complex. ;)

Man walks into restaurant and sits down in a comfortable corner

Waiter: Sir, kya lenge?

Man: Ek, coffee

Waiter: Sir, with Karan or without Karan?

Monday, November 13, 2006

How Did This Not Win The Grammy?

That is of course the slower studio(!) version. This is the original. Whoa dude indeed!


The answer is something that has become a part of internet vocabulary. Explain.

Orchid Thief

K: I don’t want to die, Donald. I’ve wasted my life. God, I’ve wasted it.

D: You did not. And you‘re not gonna die.

K: I wasted it. I admire you, Donald, y’ know? I spend my whole life paralyzed worrying what people think of me and you - you‘re just oblivious.

D: I’m not oblivious.

K: No, you don’t understand. I say that as a compliment, I really do. There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.

D: Oh, God. I was so in love with her.

K: I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was really sweet to you.

D: I remember that.

K: Then when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti. It was like they were laughing at me. You didn’t know at all. You seemed so happy.

D: I knew. I heard them.

K: How come you looked so happy?

D: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.

K: She thought you were pathetic.

D: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thank You For Smoking

When I heard of this film, I expected it to be tobacco's equivalent of An Inconvenient Truth. But it turned out to be completely non-preachy, and absolutely entertaining. It is one of the best movies to come out this year and is definite Oscar nominee material. In fact I would say it is a shoe-in for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Based on the Christopher Buckley best-seller, the film is about Nick Naylor(Aaron Eckhart), chief spokesman for Big Tobacco. In his own words, "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everyone has a talent." Throughout the movie, Naylor practices and preaches his talent. He practises it on adversaries, executives, politicians, a hot reporter(or so it seems), and he preaches it to his son. Along the way is a collection of some hilarious dialogues and copious irony. A few -

Joey Naylor: Dad, why is the American government the best government?
Nick Naylor: Because of our endless appeals system.

Nick Naylor: Right there, looking into Joey's eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own consumers: the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land mine developer, the baby seal poacher ...
Polly Bailey: Baby seal poacher?
Bobby Jay Bliss: Even *I* think that's kind of cruel.

(after a man calls in on Dennis Miller's show and threatens to kill Nick)
Dennis Miller: Now we'll take a break to fire the call screener.

Jeff Megall: Sony has a futuristic sci-fi movie they're looking to make.
Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'

Watch it!


Deepak Shenoy has been doing a wonderful job making sure that the IIPM page on wikipedia stays encyclopedic and does not become an ad for IIPM, nor a place to abuse IIPM. Recently however, someone from IIPM is making his job tough, making random edits and threatening a total revamp. He needs help. Any of your wiki-ers out there, please help him.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Parker and Stone Still Got it!

Last week's South Park episode, Go God Go was billed as being centered around the theme of evolution. Knowing Parker and Stone's pithy wit while commenting on socio-political issues, I was really looking forward to a future classic. The episode itself was a slight disappointment. Cartman's wait for the game, freezing himself, Richard Dawkins boning Garrison... it all seemed very random. However the episode ended with "to be continued".

The concluding episode Go God Go XII totally redeemed the creators. It all came together superbly in the end, and the episode was totally hilarious. Plus the "message" of the episode was different from what I would've predicted, and that added an extra element of interest. And yes, the episode is totally owned by Cartman. Especially the scenes in which he is talking to himself over the phone (don't ask for an explanation... it'll be a spoiler) are a hoot and a holler.

What's that you say? I'm a South Park Republican? Better than being an elephant or a donkey, I say.


I don't know if the process of making the film screwed up in capturing all elements of the manga. Or if something massive got lost in translation from Japanese to English. But Akira was one heck of a boring movie. Until halfway through it, it was engrossing. But later it just became boring and pretentious. I am usually a big fan of movies which leave the ending open to interpretation. But in this film the mythology itself was so half-baked and badly told, that it is like leaving the entire story open to interpretation.

This is only the third anime film I've seen. The previous two, i.e Spirited Away and Grave of the Fireflies were outstanding. Maybe it was in comparison to those classics that I found Akira disappointing.

Whatever the reason, it was a boring movie, and not one I would recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why Dubya Needs Cheney

My friend Girish today gave me a revealing insight into why George Bush needs Dick Cheney on his team. Because without a Dick, a Bush is just a pussy.

Google Free Question

i.e, feel free to use google while answering this question. The question is, connect all the musicians given below. You need to know about music as well as business to be aware of this.

Who Sucked Least

Observing the couple of months leading up to the US Midterm elections was a bit like watching an India-West Indies cricket match. Both sides trying to outdo each other in stupidity. In the end the person who fails at sucking, wins. The Democrats weren't quite as thorough in their efforts to lose, and ended up winning the house as a result.

In an India-West Indies match, the batsmen will have a mix up and be at the same end. And the fielders will fail to take the bails off. Or a batsman will unnecessarily sky the ball, and the fielder will drop a lolly. Or the batting team will go slow enough to make the runrate mount up. And the fielding team will bowl a few no balls for good measure.

Something similar happened here. The headliner was of course Mark Foley. News of his fetish for under-age boys becomes public. How stupid is Mark Foley? If he likes young male flesh, why did he enter politics? He could have taken up a job where such things are commonplace, and just become a catholic priest. But no, he insists on being a politician and lands another egg on the Republican's already gooey face.

Then of course, there was another confused Republican. Don Sherwood. Of all the idiotic things he could do, he beat up his mistress. This is what happens when conservatives start dabbling in the Bohemian domain. They get the rules mixed up. Sherwood forgot that wives are for beating, not mistresses. What is the point of having a mistress if you waste your time beating her up? Lesson for all politicians with mistresses. Stick to beating and mistreating her. And if at all you feel like doing something to a woman who isn't your wife, kill her off. Dead girlfriends tell no tales. Ask Ted Kennedy.

Of course, the Democrats felt very uneasy at all these suicidal attempts by the Republicans. They felt the need to match them, and so John Kerry went ahead and called the army guys dumb. Nice way to respond to allegations of being unsupportive of troops.

Then there was Democrat Jim Webb who has written contentious novels which supposedly demean women. Of course he didn't have to worry. His opponent George Allen thought it prudent to call Webb's staff members Macaca. Nothing pulls in the minority votes like a good racial slur.

A couple of days before the election, everyone was expecting the Republicans to pull some rabbit out of the bag, some expose which will boost their prospects. All they managed to do was orchestrate the announcement of Saddam's death sentence, which didn't exactly electrify voters the way they would have expected. Asking Musharraf to send over Osama would have been a better idea.

So after an endless series of self-goals and hit-wickets, finally the Democrats managed to suck less and win the House. The Senate is still undecided with a recount for the last seat looking imminent. But a Democrat House with George Bush as President promises fun times ahead. I suspect Bush will have to whip out his veto gun every few minutes like a Texan cowboy who finds himself in a town not big enough for him and his opponent.

Sambusa and Batuta

Yes, batuta, not batata, even though samosas do have batata.

Amit Didolkar mails me -

Quick note on the Sambusa being the same as the Samosa ...

Ibn Batuta (he of the land of Morocco), on his travels to Hind came across the Samosa (with minced meat of course not halwai style potatoes .... or the sindhi style cabbage filling inside) ... loved it ..... and described it in great detail in his writings.

I assume as a result of his experiences and fascination, the Rx travelled all the way back to the African continent - with the usual corruptions (a la Indian-Chinese) on the countries his writings would've had an influence in (or he travelled back in).

Old world travellers as first cross-cultural pollinators?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

An Excerpt

...Mbumko and Ashwatthama at least. But that was not to be. Celia clutched the yellow emerald tightly and jumped. No feeling is as liberating as a free fall - this was the last discovery Celia had made prior to her death a month back. Free fall was the moment when you romanced the most ancient force in the universe - gravity. And the goose bumps arising out of gravity's ministrations could not be replicated by anyone else.

Mbumko's theory was horse faeces. It still did hurt like crazy when you hit the hard ground after falling a few hundred feet. Even if you were dead. You didn't break any bones, nor suffer any injuries. But it still hurt. And for the next few minutes Celia yelled and yelled, until the pain subsided. A creature which might have been an early evolutionary stage of a rabbit observed this from behind a plant that might have been an early evolutionary stage of a ficus. He did not find Celia's presence surprising. Nor did her yells disturb his ear drums the least bit. What intrigued him and made him scratch his whiskers in deliberation was the yellow emerald in her hand. It was not scheduled to arrive for a few more decades if he remembered his lessons at an institution which was definitely an early evolutionary stage of a school.

He hopped towards Celia after she was done yelling and said to her, "The forceps are not ready yet."

She looked at him quizzically.

"I said the forceps are not ready yet."

She continued staring in confusion.

"Do you understand me, corpse? Or do I have to stick the corpse of a babelfish into your ear?"

"What forceps?" Celia finally said.

"Do you think I am dumb because I resemble a dog?"

"You don't resemble a dog. You resemble a rabbit."

"What is a rabbit?" he asked.

"Something like you. But never mind that. What forceps?"

"No no, tell me more about this rabbit you speak of. Is it some sort of a creature? Is it like a dog?"

"Not really."

"Does it have whiskers?"

"Yes, it does"

"Then it is like a dog, corpse. Don't think for one moment that I don't understand what you are trying to do."

"Just having whiskers doesn't make rabbits similar to dogs."

"Does it have a tail? Ears? Fur?" he asked.

"Well, yes."

"Well then, corpse, remind me to explain to you at more leisure what the word 'similar' means."

"Let me narrate you some lines from a poem I learnt at school." Celia said, "My brain is scratched in certain parts so I don't remember the whole thing, but here goes -
disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
exceeding stiff and strong;
Though each was partly in the right,"

"they all were in the wrong" he completed Celia with a flourish "What do you take me for? A woodland creature?"

Then he paused for a moment and said, "Ah ha, so you admit that you are wrong."

"Listen, as fascinating as this sophistry is, I really would prefer we talk about these forceps you mentioned."

"Yes, the forceps aren't ready yet. Come back in 20 years."

"Dammit, what forceps?"

"Listen, it's been charming chatting with you. But my shift is about to end. Pavlov will be replacing me in a few minutes. Now he knows about dogs. Now excuse me while I de-manifest."

"What? Wait! Don't you dare de-manifest on me, you bundle of lint." But it was futile. He had already de-manifested.

"I swear, if one more creature de-manifests on me today, I will...." Celia trailed off, like she often did when she couldn't think of a fitting way to conclude a sentence. She decided to wait for Pavlov.

A few minutes later Pavlov did manifest but....


Funnily enough, most people claim to swear by truthfulness are actually the biggest practitioners of truthiness.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Assorted Thoughts on the NYC trip

New York rocks. It absolutely rocks. It is already my most favourite city in the world where I eventually want to live. "Bombay of the World" is the term Satyen and I agreed describes it the best. There are so many parallels between NY and Bombay, it's freaky.

The most striking parallel is the almost hardwired desire to be on the move all the time. New Yorkers are always in a hurry, and don't like standing still, much like Bombayites. Wordsworth would not be happy in either of the two cities. This desire to stay on the move is amply evident in the way New Yorkers zigzag while walking on the pavements. They just automatically take the path of least resistance, i.e whichever crosing has a "walk" signal. They'll end up walking more distance, but save on time. It's almost like an optimization algorithm.

A bit about the food. Each meal was an orgasm for the tastebuds. First, the Ethiopian food at Meskerem. For the uninitiated, Ethiopian food is very Indianish. But it is also very different. There are a lot of curry-like thingies, sukhi-sabji-like thingies, gravylike thingies, and you have all those, laid out in a big plate, with a dosa-like thingy. I recommend the lega tib. There is also an appetizer called sambusa, which is quite like Samosa. I actually had sambusa twice. At the Meskerem in Upper West Side, it was like the samosas you get in cinema halls in India. At the Meskerem in the Village, it was like the samosas you get at any halwais. Found the difference very interesting.

Lunch next day was Chinese food and Japanese drink. A selection of dim sum with sake. Learning for the future - sake is very strong, and gets you high pretty pretty fast.

Next meal, again in the village, was kati rolls. For the first time I found myself really liking a desi restaurant in the US. The food was great of course. Nothing anodyne about it. The kati rolls were just as juicy, spicy and messy as back home. Even the decor of the restaurant reminded me of Bombay restaurants. Small seating area, small kitchen, measures necessitated due to exhorbitant real estate prices. A great touch was massive framed posters of hit hindi films. Later that night, after having downed several alcoholic drinks of several genres, and having hopped from bar to club to bar to comedy club, we went to the Kati Roll branch near Times Square.

Lunch the next day was at a small restaurant called Ariana, an Afghan place. As is mandated by Afghan law(!!), there was a picture of the yellow-eyed-Nat-Geo girl on the wall, and a picture of some pathans enjoying a leisurely relaxing game of buzakashi. Here too samosas were had, spelt samusa. Also had was a baingan(eggplant) appetizer whose name I now forget. And the Kabuli Palow with Lamb Kebab. Divine does not even begin to decribe the Afghan food. Washed down with the Taj Mahal beer which you don't get in India, and with good reason. It tastes like pigeon piss.

My last meal in New York, before I took the bus back to State College, was take-out from a place in Chinatown. The dish was modestly decribed as Chiken leg over rice. But gadzooks! What whicken! What rice! What spice! Enclosed in that white styrofoam box was the best Chinese food i have had all my life. I hope that the next time I go to Chinatown I am able to locate the exact place.

Anyway, enough about food. Did a little bit of the touristy thing. Walked around lower Manhattan, around Wall Street, marvelled at how Nariman-Point-like it seems. Laughed my ass off at tourists childishly posing with the Bull. Laughed particularly hard at a Chinese gent solemnly taking a photograph of the Bull's hindquarters. Walked to Ground Zero. Craned my neck to see the tall buildings around it, and then tried to imagine two towers which were more than twice as tall as even the tallest building around.

Walked around Central Park a whole lot. Central Park, especially early in the morning is like a dog show. Dogs of every breed, every colour, every size accompanied by their poop-collectors, could be seen everywhere. I could think of one particular dog-lover back home in India who would not leave Central Park for hours once she got there. She'd just admire every dog there. Even saw a little dachshund who was a spitting image of Hazel, not just in appearance but also in attitude.

Observed the marathon for a while. Lately it seems like whenever I go to a city, the folks there feel the need to run a marathon. Last weekend, there was a marathon in DC. This week NYC.

The subways were squalid in a very real way that I liked. Not spic-and-span high-maintenance like subway trains in some other trains. There was an air of earthiness around the NYC subway system, not unlike the calloused hands of a shop-floor worker.

Now on to the Village. The Village was the highlight of the trip. Won't go into the details, because as they say, what happens in the Village stays in the village (Yes, I know that's Vegas, but go along with it, will ya?). But anyone who goes to NYC without spending more than half the time in the Village better be at least under 18 years of age or over 88. No other excuse will do.

There's a lot of New-Yorking still to be done. Museums to be overturned, Empire State Buildings to be climbed, and more comedy clubs to be visited. If all goes well, I will return to the city next month.

Best Movie Title Ever

Maybe not ever. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is still a classic. But easily the second best ever is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I REALLY want to watch this movie asap. Within a few days of its release it has already climbed to #167 on the IMDB Top 250 list. Sascha Baron Cohen seems to have a full scale winner on his hand. Of course everyone is going to watch the movie. Remember Borat's appeal? "Please watch my movie. If it not succeed, I will be execute".

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sewer Ke Bacchon!!

Ravikiran, Satyen and I finished a yummalicious Afghan lunch and were walking towards Central Park when we made a fascinating discovery. Several manhole covers were Made in India!! Totally made my day. Ravi clicked this picture despite an incensed looking Gabbar Singh yelling at us - "Sewer ke bacchon!!"

First Snow... of sorts

Satyen and I headed out from my house towards NYC, when somewhere along South Atheron Street, I suspected that someone had been dusting their mattress or something. But then Satyen informed me that the stuff across our windshield was not a shower of lint but was actually snow. Yes, my first official snow, but very very sparse.

Around the corner we were to pick up Savitri. She was standing there beaming and looking towards the sky. She and I exchanged the "It's's snowing!!!!" greeting customary for FOBs who see snow for the first time. Both of us were hoping it will intensify. Satyen on the other hand was thinking more on the lines of "Snow snow go away, come again another day", since he had to drive.

Eventually the Snow Gods (which is what Rain Gods are called at or below 32F) found more merit in Satyen's arguments over mine and Savitri's. And the snow disappeared.

So while technically I've experienced my first snow, I am hoping for my second snow to be more wholesome.

Apologies as Tradable Commodities

I have written previously about how demanding an apology is pretty much the most pathetic thing someone can do. But when there's demand for something, there's opportunity for trade.

So I propose the setting up of an Apologies Stock Exchange, and even an Apology Futures Market. A person can make the Initial Public Offering of a fixed number of his apologies at a face value. These apologies can then be traded in the market. When you feel the need to demand an apology from a person, you can just buy the apology from an existing shareholder.

Similarly there can be a futures market for apologies. Apology experts should be able to predict the periodicity of apology demands, and then guess their future prices accordingly.

I announce an IPO of 1 million of my apologies at the face value of $10 each. As soon as I find a book-builder, I'll release ads in the press about my offer. I expect it to be heavily over-subscribed.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mormons and Lagaan

So I am sitting in the bus, talking to Sharwari on the phone. And this white girl comes and sits besides me. On her chest is a tag saying "Sister (something)" and in her hand she holds the Book of Mormons. As I am talking on the phone, I sense that she is waiting for me to end my conversation so she can say something to me. Those just noticeable glances in my direction show that. So I think to myself - ah, I am going to get a "would you like happiness through christ" spiel. How nice.

So I hang up the phone, and the Sister turns to me a few seconds later and asks "This might seem like a funny question but..." here it comes I think .. the proselytisation pitch... "does matlab mean 'maybe' in Hindi?"

Taken aback, I fumble with words... say "Yes"... then think about what I said... then say... "No No no, it means "means"".

"i beg your pardon?" the good Sister says. So I explain to her that matlab means means. Not the ones that take precedence over the ends according to Gandhigiri. The word used to convey meaning.

"Thanks" Then the bee buzing in my bonnet bites. My conversation with Sharwari was in marathi and she could not have heard me say 'matlab'. So I ask her where she heard it.

She said she heard it in a lot of Hindi films. Apparently she was a hindi film afficionado. Her favorite are Lagaan and Dil Chahata Hai. And a few more films. She said she was a South African missionary and her best friend back home was an Indian who got her hooked to hindi films. The next few minutes were spent discussing Hindi films, with me filling her in on the new hits like Lage Raho Munnabhai which she is very excited about watching. And then she got off the bus.

If in the morning you'd have told me that a white Mormon missionary will talk to me about Hindi films, I would have bet my scholarship against it. Yet funnily enough, that is exactly what happened!!

Anyway, off to the Big Apple for the weekend. My first trip to NYC. Grand plans have been made. Plan to have kati rolls, Ethiopian food, walk around Manhattan, visit IMPROV, and try to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

About the Kherlanji Pics

Shivam Vij has removed the naked picture. He implies that I wrote the previous post just to score some brownie points over him, but he is removing the post out of respect for others who felt that it was wrong. That a lot of people besides me found it distasteful should be evidence enough that something was wrong with it.

And all these people who found it wrong, are not my "friends" as a couple of people are trying to imply. A couple of people are trying to imply that me and my "friends" are carrying out some sort of a campaign against Shivam Vij to settle old scores. Yes, I admit that there is history between me and Shivam. But that the post was made by him had nothing to do with the intensity of my reaction. And look at who else first found the post distasteful. The early "pioneers" were Greatbong and Confused. While I like reading their blogs and respect them, neither can be termed as my "friend". A lot of bloggers commenting at both their blogs also shared this opinion. A lot of whom I saw for the first time in my blogging life. For instance, Jyothsna, whom I had never read before linked to this excellent article relevant to the issue at hand. In fact none of my Cartelian friends have "rallied around" to support me, and I am glad they haven't. It would have given more fodder to the 2 people hell-bent on painting this as some sort of a witch-hunt rather than a spontaneous outburst of disgust from all sides as it really is.

The outrage I felt was an extension of my disgust at how the Indian media is callous and unconcerned about the privacy and dignity of the dead. And this disregard is seen more acutely when the victim is poor. And the police are accomplices in this. Ever remember the police laying out the bodies of Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo for display? And this is a trend common across television, english newspapers, and even regional newspapers. In fact when a well-to-do womaan is raped, you never even come to know her name. No one still knows the name of the Marine Drive Rape victim. And for a good reason. But a Dalit woman's body is suddeny public property?

I have held these opinions very strongly for years, and it is just a matter of coincidence that Shivam Vij, who is the latest mediaperson guilty of the same wrong, also happens to be someone whom I have had public disagreements with. A couple of people are writing post after post, going from blog to blog, talking as if I did it just to settle some score. But I did not. A while back, I thought that I should have foreseen such accusations and maybe desisted from making the post. But most of the time, I am not someone who will mince my words just to avoid baseless allegations.

I found Shivam Vij's post distasteful, and conforming to the cheap attention-seeking, shock-inducing standards that seem to prevail in the Indian media nowadays. In the words of another famous blogger, it "begged to be skewered". And I did it. What happened in Kherlanji was horrific. But I think a post like the one Greatbong made, does what is required to inform people about what happened, and also express outrage over it. He didn't use any macabre pics. His words were strong enough. If two people choose to read too much into it and attribute fictitious motives to me, they can do so. An overwhelming majority of people have however shown sense and are expressing opinions about whether posting the pictures was right or wrong. And maybe it is my bias, but most of them seem to agree that posting the pictures was wrong. It is also borne out by Shivam's decision to edit his post, which I think was a step in the right direction.

Hilarious Stuff

An Indian guy caught cheating on the Radio. Hilarious.

Boota Call!! ROFL!!

Link via email from Naveen Mandava