Vantage point

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Necessary vs Sufficient

Why is the last day of February so important in India, but the corresponding day (and it's not a fixed one), i.e when the government announces its budget, not so important in the US? Sure, this year there was a lot of attention given to Bush's budget. But it was mainly because of concerns over the federal deficit and the military expenditure. Why do we in India attach so much importance to it? Because it is different. And why is it different?

A friend and I were discussing this a few days back, and we concluded that it is because there exists in the United States, a significant constituency of people who think that big government is bad. While the liberals are in favour of government intervention in several issues, those opposing them who believe in small government, low taxes and free trade are significant in number. Which is why you see a lot of conservative commentators lamenting the fact that the Republican administration over the last 6 years has not been fiscally conservative at all.

In India, this constituency, at least in terms of electoral impact, is absent. The public does not demand small government, greater liberalisation and simplification of the tax regime. The Indian public just demands prosperity. They don't have any opinions or convictions about the nitty-gritties of how that "prosperity" is to be achieved. Whatever little reforms we see, are introduced because the politicians, whose electoral fate depends on delivering this prosperity, know that they are what will take us towards that prosperity. Most politicians themselves do not hold any convictions about economic policy. If you are charitable, you can call it their pragmatism. If you are not charitable, and I certainly am not, you can call it their intellectual and ideological bankruptcy. P Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh fall in this category. As did Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh.

Mind you, these 4 gentlemen are still better than the tragically laughable economic decision makers we had before 1991. At least they have the "pragmatism" to take the necessary steps. Which means they are a lot better than the economic decision makers from 1965-1985 who were not literate enough to read the writing on the wall.

But if we keep '65-'85 as a benchmark, we will end up under-achieving. And that's what we will continue to do, as far us there exists no credible groundswell of support for alternative policy ideas. Ideas as simple as "big governments are bad".

Unfortunately thanks to cultural, historical and epistemiological problems, the overall consensus in our country is one of "Maibaap sarkaar must ensure we live well". And looks like it will stay that way.

So prepare for another budget which will make news. Because our country is not (yet?) prepared for the day when budgets are rendered irrelevant.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

So It's Official!!!

A new IIM will be set up in Shillong. Which is fine. But the hilarious thing is, it will be called the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Management.

Wow, an IIM named RG? It is so beautifully and serendipitously poetic. After all RG is the religion of IIMs. So it seems like Congress sycophancy towards the dynasty can lead to mirth in more ways than one.

P.S - If you don't know what the hell RG is in the IIM(and IIT) context, refer to this.

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Good Ayn Rand Interview

Rand summarises her opinions on democracy and welfare legislation. For thosse who find her books and essays too prolix, this is a good capsule to watch.

Link via email from Chetan

Update: This one is good too(you can see the other parts of the interview by going here). A lot more light-hearted and shows her sense of humour, as opposed to the stony seriousness that one associates with her due to her writing.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Bush Awaits

During one of his several dozen vacations, George Bush was apparently reading Camus' The Stranger. That was funny, not just because it meant Bush and Nilu shared the honour of being the last 2 guys in the free world to discover Camus, but also because the book is about a white guy killing an Arab without any reason.

So as much as I await the release of the movie 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, I know that my eagerness can not be a patch on that of George Bush's. A movie about 300 white guys slaughtering Persian hordes led by a delusional megalomaniac? A movie in which the Persian King's "immortal" personal guards (much like the Iranian Quds revolutionary guard) get their asses handed to them?

Get the popcorn, Condi.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Overrated Virginity

A big debate is happening among some bloggers about virtues and pitfalls of virginity/chastity. Go to this page and follow the related links. As is natural with such debates, issues of religion, morality, rationality, independence, personal freedom etc have come up. Nothing wrong with that.

But one missing ingredient in this debate, often woefully under-represented, is the simple fact that sex with a virgin female(and I suspect a virgin male too, though I can not present first-hand evidence) is not as much fun. It is always more enjoyable doing it with a woman who knows what she is doing. So virginity is overrated in more ways than one. And it is as much a "gift" as badly fitting shoes that bite.

Now if only this fact were more well known, there would not be as many suicide bombers.


Erdos-Bacon Number

Everybody knows about the legendary Kevin Bacon game and the resulting Bacon number. Some of you might be aware of the root of this idea from mathematics called the Erdos number, which connects scholars to the prolific Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos.

But how many of you knew about the Erdos-Bacon number? This hilarious concept combines your connection to Paul Erdos as well as Kevin Bacon. Sci-Fi writer and blogger Ben Rosenbaum thought of this idea a couple of years back and Cory Doctorow blogged about it as well.

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Review of Cars

Quality animated films, much like ogres, are like onions. They have layers. They also have witty dialogue and an absorbing storyline. It is this evolution in the writing of animated films, primarily spearheaded by Pixar, that has drawn a big adult audience to them in the last few years. Which is why Pixar's Cars was disappointing. It just didn't do anything for me. The storyline was meandering and boring, had an overdose of sentimotionality, and it just wasn't funny enough.

Mater, voiced by Larry The Cable Guy is funny of course, but not memorably enough. In fact the only moment which I found hilarious in the film was a small part of the scene when Lightning McQueen is about to race Doc Hudson. The two Italian mechanic cars turn up with Ferrari flags and penants, much like the fanatic tifosi. And the bit towards the end where Michael Schumacher makes a guest appearance tickled too. But other than that the movie was a big drag.

Does not stand a chance against Happy Feet and Over The Hedge at the Oscars. But then again, we live in the post-Reese-Witherspoon-winning-Best-Actress-Oscar era. So anything is possible.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Kind of Subsidy I Can Make Peace With....

.... is the one that benefits me immensely. One such subsidy-loving moment took place last week when wandering around in the public library, I came across a graphic novels section. And found Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again. An ocean of joy engulfed me as I grabbed them and clutched them to my heart as if they were 150-dollar laptops on Black Friday Sale.

As one of the first ever posts on my blog said, I never particularly cared much for Batman. I found the series tacky and quite unconvincing. But Frank Miller breathed new life into the franchise and gave it the depth it lacked. The Dark Knight Returns was phenomenally different for the shades it gave Batman and even Superman. And of course, his take on the start of the Batman story Batman: Year One was the main inspiration behind Christopher Nolan's well-crafted Batman Begins.

This year, Miller is coming out with a new Batman comic. Can't wait to get my hands on it.

Bob Kane's spirit should be thankful to Miller.

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Dryer Conundrum

Doing confirmatory factor analysis for several hours can lead to some interesting questions. And here is one such.

Wasing machines have been selling well in india for the last couple of decades. At approximately a million units a year, they have been selling, if not like hot cakes then at least moderately warm ones. Which is why I wonder why dryers are not doing well in India. In fact no company has seriously pushed dryers. Why is that?

With monsoons lasting for 3-4 months, especially in a humid city like Bombay, I would have seen tremendous value in a dryer. Even for fog-ridden North India in winters. Drying cothes the old-fashioned way is a headache in inclement weather and is tacky even otherwise. Having clothes hanging from a clothesline in your balcony or some room in your house..... yuck!

Why then is a dryer not pushed by consumer durable companies in India? And I am not talking about the washer-and-dryer combo. That just drains out water. I am talking about actual dryers which leave your clothes feeling warm, the way Kramer loves them.

First Big Win for Joost

Viacom has announced its partnership with Joost, weeks after it created a ruckus over 100,000 clips of its content (primarily The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) being on YouTube. Negotiations with Youtube have broken down, and Viacom has thrown in their lot with Joost. Joost is a project run by the same guys who created Skype and Kazaa. It is in beta stage right now, but its mission statement, if realized, could revolutionize TV viewing in a way even TiVo couldn't.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Favorite Plum

My favorite plum
hangs so far from me
See how it sleeps
and hear how it calls to me
See how the flesh
presses the skin,
It must be bursting
with secrets within,
I've seen the rest, yes
and that is the one for me

See how it shines
it will be so sweet
I've been so dry
it would make my heart complete
See how it lays
languid and slow
Never noticing
me here below
I've seen the best, yes
and that is the one for me

Maybe a girl will take it
Maybe a boy will steal it
Maybe a shake of the bough
will wake it and make it fall

My favorite plum
lies in wait for me
I'll be right here
longing endlessly
You'll say that I'm
foolish to trust
But it will be mine
and I know that it must
cause I've had the rest, yes
and that is the one for me
I've seen the best, yes
and that is the one for me

- Suzanne Vega

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Ghaati on the floor!

Maybe everyone else in the world already knows this. But I have been avoiding the TV show the way Paula Abdul avoids sobriety. Among the 12 male semi-finalists for this year's American Idol is apparently a Maharashtrian dude called Sanjaya Malakar. His sister, Shyamali(one of the trademarked ghaati names) was also in the auditions. I am surprised TOI, which is rabidly hungrier for some valdiation of Indians from the white guy, hasn't put this on the front page yet.

So it's not all bad for Indians on primetime TV. So far the only Indians I have seen on American primetime are the software engineers or NRIs who stupidly get stung and then arrested on Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator. Every episode features at least one desi stooping lower than ever before just to get some action.

Though I am not sure which ordeal is worse - facing Chris Hansen or facing Simon Cowell.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

I, King Maker

Now coming to big one - the Indiblog of the Year. Admittedly, Vantage Point has its loyal followers, and I would have expressed modest surprise at the nomination had I not been so conceited. Now, I might be conceited, but I am also pragmatic. And I can smell a money-making opportunity. If there's one thing parliamentary democracy has taught us, it is that people with single-digit-percentage votebanks can make the much bigger leaders grovel, and can also make some money in the process.

So taking inspiration from the BSP, DMK, RJD, NCP, TDP and Joe Leiberman, I declare myself King-Maker. The race for the top spot is very hot. Amit Varma wants to defend his crown. Greatbong and yourfani (where i goes from 0 to infinity) would like RTDM to take the top spot. Falstaff would want to add one more footnote to his cap. Nilu would like to make sure that even the most emaciated orphans in Switzerland know that Recursive Hypocrisy is a cool name for a blog. Nilu would also like to convince all the potassium makers in Kazhakstan that he wants Krish to win. Krish himself, will not consider the honour that important since bookies have tipped him this year to be the first man ever to bag the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Economics and Peace in the same year and for the same work.

All of these contenders are invited to participate in an auction for the Sabnisian endorsement. Bidding starts at Rs. 125 crore. The bids can be sent to me by email and the bidders are requested to read the following instructions beforehand -

Amit Varma - I WILL NOT accept payment in cows. Paintings, I would not mind.
Greatbong - In addition to the money, I would also like my picture in your banner montage.
Falstaff - I WILL accept payment in Philly Cheesesteaks!
Nilu - Make sure theothernilu does not send me a separate mail on the same topic, or else your mail will seem too moronic to finish reading.
Krish - I also need a notarized promise that you WON'T thank me during your Nobel acceptance speech.

Readers, let the voting begin. Contenders, let the bidding begin. The extra votes you get over the next 2 days thanks to me could be the decisive factor.

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Indibloggies '06

Rather late in the day to make a post about the Indibloggies for which voting has been on for the last few days. The polls close on the 20th, so it's not too late. You can go forth and vote at this link, but before that note this important message from the organisers - If you don’t get an email after registration or after completing the survey, please check your spam folder, many Gmail users have reported this. I am not sure why this happens coz the mails are being sent from indibloggies mail ID only.

The norm is to make some recommendations to your readers about the voting. So all those of you who worship the snow-turned-into slush that I tread on these days, here are my recommendations about some categories that I feel strongly about -

Best IndiBlog directory/service/clique/network - Desipundit. This is a redundant recommendation really. DP are the obvious favourites here, and it is very creditable that despite their being essentially a blog-filter which anyone else can set up, they are miles ahead of the competition.

Best Entertainment Indiblog - My plug here goes to Beware of the Blog by George Thomas without any equivocation. There would have been heaps of equivocation had my other favourite entertainment blog - Angst In My Pangst been nominated as well. But it hasn't. So in George we trust.

Best Group/Community IndiBlog - The Indian Economy Blog hits the nail on the head in all matters economic. In my mind, there really is no competition. And I'm not just saying that because I cross-post on it once in a blue moon. But in case you aren't sure, then check out the blog for yourself.

Best Humanities Indiblog - The Middle Stage by Chandrahas. In terms of pure writing skills, in my humble opinion, it is the best Indian blog. The content kicks ass too.

Most Humorous IndiBlog - Greatbong. Naam hi kaafi hai.

Best New IndiBlog - Shruti's Kalchakra has been like a whiff of fresh air. She deserves this award uncontested.

So those are the categories I feel strongly about. What about the big one? The Indiblog of the Year? Check out the next post for that.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

IIPM Back to Strong-Arm Tactics

A reader just mailed to let me know that IIPM is back to its old tricks. Issuing death threats as well as legal threats. This time on Wikipedia where they have apparently been trying to whitewash the page and turn it into another advertisement.

iipmstudent9(an alias used to leave obscene comments on Rashmi's and several other blogs during the 2005 episode) issued legal threats and Alam Srinivas issued death threats to an editor called Makrand Joshi. Obviously, wikipedia banned the two bullies indefinitely.

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Anna Nicole And California's Governorship

Anna Nicole Smith's bodyguard has now joined the race for her inheritance by claiming he could be the father of her child. He's the fifth guy claiming to be the father, and there's also Smith's mother, friend and some other people in the race.

It is estimated that within a month, the number of people vying for her second hand money.... which would then make it third hand money... will easily cross the number of people vying for California's governorship in 2003.

Now while a terrorist attack, tsunami, earthquake or tornado hitting the US right now will be a sad sad thing if it happened, at least it would push the annoying Anna Nicole story out of the media's consciousness.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Colbert's Bachchan Obsession Continues

The "hirsute hindi heartthrob" provides more fodder to Stephen Colbert. This clip is about Amitabh surviving a camel's kick. And also mentions the Uttar Pradesh Yashbharti Award.

I hope the Indian in Colbert's staff is working on a bit about Aishwarya marrying trees even as we speak.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Abhishek ka Kela

That Aishwarya Rai is going around marrying trees of all kinds is old hat. Some are really understating the whole situation by calling it a setback for feminism. Feminism? This is a bloody setback to the process of evolution.

Bloggers of varying levels of hoariness and hairyness have cracked all sorts of jokes about this. Don't want to repeat those. But one thing strikes me as ominous from Abhishek's perspective - Among her husbands is a banana tree. Pause for a moment. Take that in. Yes, a banana tree. A woman is marrying a banana tree.

Peepul trees are no worry. But banana trees represent a competition for young Bachchan.

Update: Here's something a reader sent me -

He chose the banana tree because it was a South Indian species of banana which is no longer than four inches, so as to cause the minimum discomfort to its bride at the time of consummation. These acts completed, the Pandit feels the risk to the Bachchans well-being is now minimal.

This has to be the funniest real news story since the Vice President's lesbian daughtter getting pregnant.

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Mungda Originally Meant for Mera Naam Joker

Very few people know that the famous song "Mungda" was actually written for Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker. It was not included in the film because that would have meant the producers would have to add a 3rd intermission in the movie, on top of the 2 existing ones.

The song was actually supposed to be sung by the Russian girl from the circus to Raju.

How do I know this? Because the song's second line is "Mangta hai to aaja Russia naahi to main yeh chali"


Shahrukh and Amitabh can go feuding into oblivion. Rajkumar, Rajni and Balayya, who have been monopolising youtube love, can slip into the dark recesses of history. We, the people of India have found a new Superstar. Raja!! Or whatever his real name is. Check him out in the video below. All you future Raja-bhakts will have to be patient. He appears only at 1:08. Until then feast your eyes on those shapely well-toned bods. And towards the end of the video, he displaying a dancing prowess which will surely send Hrithik scurrying for cover. Behold -

Update: Another gem! jeans dhila karo!

(Links via chat from Shreyas T)

P.S. - Saket, should I now expect a Bhojpuri backlash in the blogosphere, bizarrely classifying me a South Indian and abusing all Southies?

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The Chappell Botham Feud

Interesting. 30 yars and still counting.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Racism and Indians

Maybe I will be flamed for writing this. But this is based on my interactions with people of all colours and backgrounds in the United States.

And as politically incorrect or self-loathing as this may sound, at this stage, I am convinced that we Indians on an average are the second most racist people.

I hope that the sample on the basis of which I have come to this conclusion is not representative of the population, and that I will have to change my opinion in the future.

Update: I changed my post. Indians are the second-most racists. The most racist on an average are Arabs. But apart from Arabs.

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How would you feel if people kept predicting Australian wins in cricket and then puffed their chests like vain frogs at being right?(Maybe a wrong example to give just after England have beaten Australia in the 1st match of the tri series final, but you get the point). You would think, such deluded idiots.

Something similar has been happening in India for the last couple of years. The stock market is booming. A lot of yuppies have money. They invest their money in the market. Obviously, their portfolio grows. They start resembling frogs. Extremely amusing!

Here's a newsflash - EVERYONE is making money on the market right now. Everyone. And when everyone makes a lot of money, you know what ensues? Check out the CPI(no, not the political party) and the WPI. For that matter, check the real estate prices as well as the rents.

Another funny thing about boomtime investments is, their success, especially in India is confounded by so many different factors that it is like a lottery. When all scrips are doing well, some portfolios will often outperform others on a purely arbitrary basis.

But watching the reactions of newbies in the stock market is, for the lack of a better word, cute. They will track their portfolios every hour, feel jubilant at the few hundred rupees they've made in a few hours, compare notes with each other, have silly little games, and generally behave like kids at a party.

As the venerated Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway wrote during the course of a different market boom -

"The line separating investment and speculation, which is never bright and clear, becomes blurred still further when most market participants have recently enjoyed triumphs. Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money. After a heady experience of that kind, normally sensible people drift into behavior akin to that of Cinderella at the ball. They know that overstaying the festivities -- that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future -- will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There’s a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands."


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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why America is the Great Satan for Iran

As tensions build up between US and the Iran, it is amusing and even frustrating to see the coverage and opinion of this issue in the American media. As much as I despise Islamic fundamentalism, and am worried by its rise at so many places in the world, including Iran, I can't help but be surprised at how even the supposedly free, knowledgeable, unbiased and objective American media is telling just half the story.

If you were to ask the common man on the streets in America about Iran, he will probably say, "they took our embassy staff hostage and kept them hostage for over a year. They have always been anti-America, calling us the Great Satan, have been supporting terrorism against Israel, and are now creating trouble in Iraq."

All of which is the truth, but only half the truth. Iran did not magically appear on the scene in 1978. It has an older history, most of which was progressive and almost evolutionary in its movement towards a modern state. What halted and even subverted this movement was British and American meddling, for the sake of oil.

Iran, like all most countries in the world, was a feudalistic monarchy at the turn of the 19th century. But a few years later there was a Constitutional Revolution, completely internal, which cut the powers of the monarchy, and took them towards democracy. There were progresses, and even though there were some setbacks during WW2, Iran was well on track to become a moderate Muslim state. A democratic activist, Mohammad Mossadegh, became popular and was elected Prime Minister. He was a modern-minded man, extremely popular, and though he had support from the Ayatollah of that time (I forget his name), the movement was more nationalist in nature than religious.

The issue of contention was oil. What many people do not know is British Petroleum, was once the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The Britishers held controlling stake in it. Mossadegh nationalised the company in 1951, refusing to let Britishers control such a vital resource. The Britishers were pissed off. They wanted to overthrow him, but a post-WW2 Britain hardly had the muscles. So they conned America!

This is where Americs enters the picture. They conned America into thinking that Mossadegh was a communist supporter. Though Truman didn't fall for the British trickery, Eisenhower did, and ordered the CIA to depose Mossadegh, a democratically elected modernist, with a "friendly" monarch.

This is what amuses me about American foreign policy so much. For all their claims of "spreading democracy", they have actually been more involved in nipping democracies in the bud.

How was Mossadegh overthrown? Obviously, the CIA does not have open offices in foreign countries. The whole coup was engineered from within the US Embassy in 1953 by a man who was FDR's cousin. This coup, carried out from within the US embassy, derailed Iranian democracy by overthrowing the popular Mossadegh and replacing him with Shah Pehlavi. Does this piece of information not put the 1978 embassy situation into perspective? But the 1953 plot is never talked about on American TV and the common man feels crazy Iranians barbarically attacked the US embassy.

Though Pehlavi's White Revolution had lofty objectives, remember, he was a dictator. His regime was corrupt and oppressive. And it was supported by America. This helped the Shia clergy, the only remaining opposition after Mossadegh and his supporters were neutralized, gain support. They became popular, and eventually 1978 happened.

Even after 1978, when Saddam attacked Iran, America kept supporting him. Saddam's attack on Iran was a megalomaniacal and opportunistic move, which he thought would help him wrest control of Kuzhestan, which was to the two countries what Kashmir is to India and Pakistan. It was a clear cut aggression by Saddam, and it was repelled even by the weakened Iranian army. But America and Britain blatantly supported Saddam, arming him, even as he carried out chemical attacks killing tens of thousands of Iranians.

Now after all this, is it surprising that Iranians call America the Great Satan? America meddled in their affairs first. Iran never went to finger America. America fingered Iran, by derailing democracy and foisting a dictator on them, just for the sake of British Petroleum. Then arming an enemy dictator who carried out chemical weapons.

Americans are nice people. But they are deluded, and rather bizarrely have a victim mentality in the most undeserving contexts. In the case of Iran, if the media is truly professional in putting things into context, they will realise that it was their government which "started the fight". Iran is merely finishing it.

This is not to say I support Ahmedinejad in this stand-off. I find it disgusting that religious zealots are running that country. And I think Ahmedinejad is a nutcase. But he is a nutcase whose seeds were planted by America.

The same man who created the Interstate Highways in America, Dwight Eisenhower, also created the Iranian Fundamentalism problem.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Shivam Vij and Journalistic Ethics

I am a blogger. I am not a journalist. I write opinions. Even rants. But I don't write anything which is factually incorrect. Even the most opinionated and politically incorrect bloggers, like Nilu, do not go as far as to concoct facts.

So I was surprised when I read this article in Himal Mag about Indian bloggers and MSM by Shivam Vij. About the IIPM issue, he writes -

In the brouhaha that followed, the management institute even managed to pressure the employer of one of the bloggers into sacking him.

As I had written on my blog in 2005, I was not sacked. I resigned for reasons that I explained. Several bloggers also noted in their posts that I resigned. Heck, even Shivam himself wrote that I had resigned.

Coming from a run-of-the-mill journalist, this could have been dismissed as "bad homework". But I was surprised to see that in an article by Shivam, who had been actively involved in the discussions on this. I thought that maybe someone on Himal's editorial team was chopping and changing his article and made this change in an attempt to paraphrase what happened. But the same line also appears on Kafila, a group blog to which Shivam contributes.

That line is factually incorrect, and considering that Shivam KNOWS that I resigned and was not sacked, I wonder why it was written.

I have written to Himal Mag requesting that they correct the line, and have also mailed Shivam to make the change on Kafila.

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The Best Superbowl Ad

Was a bit disappointed by the Superbowl ads. One that I liked -

And this is the one that the get-offended-twice-an-hour crowd got offended by.

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Hot Madrasi Babes or Girls or Chicks

Saket has written a post about a site that is running a contest on India's hottest college chick. That's right, there's a contest to find the college equivalent of Aishwarya Rai, or Preity Zinta or Rani Mukherjee or Bipasha Basu. Sadly for them, Sania Mirza does not go to college.

Saket's post is bound to get several panties in a twist. Firstly he wants the girls to send nude pictures so that tha organisers can assess how the girls look naked and decide if they are really hot. Secondly, he is disappointed with mugshots, presumably because boobs are an important consideration in terming a girl hot. And most importantly he says Madrasi chicks(I am guessing by that he meant South Indian and not just Tamil) in general are uglier than Punjabi babes.

Now here's where things get interesting. That undoubtedly hot Madrasi chick, theothernilu has noticed Saket's post and is running a contest of her own.

As Russell Peters says, somebody gonna get a hurt real bad.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sit Tight

Columnists have bled their pens dry comparing the current US-Iran impasse to the days preceding WW1 when a small spark, that of the Archduke's assassination, set off the fire.

Such sparks can work only when both sides are just itching to have a go at each other. In this case, it would certainly seem so. The Bush government, which seemed more hawkish in Rumsfeld's days, now seems more mawkish in Gates' days in all matters related to Iran. Ahmedinejad himself is rattling sabres like a modern day Zorro. He plans to boast about their nuclear capabilities later this week. And he is doing everything to provoke the US, emboldened after the Iraq mess about his country's chances. And now this has happened.

For all we know, this could be an Iranian ploy to fabricate an excuse for doing something retaliatory.

Ahmedinejad seems to have read his hand very shrewdly. There are risks, but the game is in his favour. He knows that the Iraq war has become very unpopular. He knows that the Democratic aspirants for '08 all want to get out of Iraq. And he knows that after the Congress results, it is unlikely that Republicans will win in '08. In fact if he keeps Iraq burning for the next couple of years and more soldiers die, the war will become even more unpopular, and Bush's ratings will plummet even further. He is betting on political considerations ensuring that America will not actually attack, at least not with full force.

But he needs to be careful he does not overplay this hand and not crank it up too high. Another 9/11 could change the political compulsions in the US overnight.

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Learnings of the Week

Learning 1: -2F(-19C) with windchills at -20F(-29C) is COLD. Never have I used the bold uppercase more meaningfully.

Learning 2: My childlike fascination for luxurious soaks in the bath tub, born out of a typically-desi-middle-class bath-tub-less upbringing, is very useful in weather like this.

Learning 3: Bayesian Statistics is beautifully poetic, not in a Neruda-like way but in an Ogden Nash-like way.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

A Vital Question Arising Out of the Cauvery Judgement

When the hell did Pondicherry become Puducherry?

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Rare Good Piece About Vidarbha

Most of the media coverage as well as blogging about Vidarbha makes me sick. It is usually an example of someone going there, talking to the cash strapped families, asking about the suicide, looking very shocked and saddened, and taking some sort of a moral high ground to make urban India feel sorry for its prosperity. The most idiotic story I saw had NDTV's Srinivasan Jain going to a Barista in Nagpur and asking people there how they feel about spending so much money on coffee while farmers commit suicide in the countryside.

So when you read or hear about Vidarbha, it is usually post-modernistic babble, drawing shallow interpretations, and blaming the easiest targets - globalisation and multinationals. And very rarely does a good piece come along where the writer actually understands and talks about what went wrong, rather than indulging in sophisticated breast-beating.

Naveen mailed me an article by Sanjeev Nayyar - Killing With Kindness.

Cotton procurement in Maharashtra is a prime example of the havoc wrought by good intentions.

Cotton farmers commit suicide in Maharashtra but prosper in Gujarat. The prime minister visits Vidharbha and announces sops, yet the suicides continue. Both states accounted for roughly the same proportion of the country’s production in 1991-92 (Gujarat was 12.7 per cent and Maharashtra was 10.5 per cent). While Maharashra’s share has increased only marginally in the period since, to 14.8 per cent in 2005-06, Gujarat’s share is up three times, to 36.5 per cent; Maharashtra’s area under cotton has grown just marginally, Gujarat’s has nearly doubled; and Gujarat’s yield is more than three times that of Maharashtra.

What went wrong is a classic story of how sops do little but bankrupt the exchequer and, at the same time, make the beneficiary so weak, he/she becomes uncompetitive.

Do read the whole thing.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

How Sad

The successes of Sachin Tendulkar and Shiv Sena are funny, in that they are so sad, they make me laugh. Sachin Tendulkar was beaming after his century against the West Indies, and the Shiv Sena is jubilant at having won the Mumbai Municipal Elections.

How the mighty have fallen. Tendulkar scoring a century at home against a mediocre side is suddenly considered worthy of celebration. And the Sena winning Mumbai is considered an achievement?

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