Vantage point

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Conspiracy Theory

Mukul Kesavan disgusts me because of his obsession with facts. He writes that the BCCI didn't care about the Harbhajan issue and it was Kumble and Tendulkar who insisted on the judgment being overturned at all costs. This, even though it might be true, is totally unacceptable.

And even those who say the BCCI is acting like a bully flexing its money muscles haven't gotten it right. The actual reason behind all this tamasha is very simple. The reason which cricket journalists all over the world will never comprehend but several Maharashtra politicians will.

No one treats our respected Maananeeya Naamdar Sharadchandraraoji Pawarsaheb like this -

and gets away with it. Sooner or later, you will pay.

It all adds up. After the instances of crowd monkey chants during the ODI series in India, Saheb astutely made note of the fact that monkey is a racial abuse for the Aussie team (though not the Aussie nation). At that time he issued a joint statement with Cricket Australia condemning racism, but decided to use this fact at a later date. He also came to know that Harbhajan had been told by Symonds it was a racist term. Then, before the selection of the Indian team for the Australian tour, he had a private meeting with Harbhajan. In this meeting Harbhajan was told that unless he cursed Symonds racially again, his career would be finished.

Harbhajan duly did what he had to. Aussies reacted the way they would. And Saheb smirked in delight. He used the clout. In his defence, this was the only misuse of the clout in his tenure. In the recent past, the clout has been used only for honorable and noble reasons like ending Shane Bond's career and getting ICL cricketers kicked out of Bollywood movies. The clout got India what he wanted.

But that wasn't enough. He had heard his old foe Ponting say in the same interview - "Batsmen should not walk, umpires should be allowed to do their job" and "I have always said that the fielder's word should be taken on whether a catch was held or not". Saheb is a ruthless adversary who shows no mercy. He would not let Ponting have sole claim to the domain of making remarkably stupid and illogical statements.

So after the judgment was reversed, Saheb encroached upon Ponting's domain with this last salvo - BCCI was consistently taking only one stand that it was practically impossible for us to accept the racist charges against any Indian player.

Ricky, you better say Uncle soon or there's more grief coming your way.

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Open Letter to Ponting

Dear Ricky

I understand you are upset that Harbhajan escaped with a fine. Indians have clearly used their financial clout to rescue a raging racist. I am sure this disgusts you and your teammates. I suggest you all register protest by withdrawing from the IPL. That will send BCCI the right signal - that their money may be able to reverse ICC decisions, but it can not buy the famed Aussie integrity.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

If McCain Wins!

If John McCain wins the Republican nomination, which he seems to be on course to do given his delegate count so far, and the polls for Feb 5th, it will be beyond hilarious. Before the campaign started, the big issue for Republicans was supposedly immigration. Pressure from the Republican base is what supposedly caused the failure of the 2007 immigration reform bill in Congress. And if you have read or heard conservative pundits on TV, another of their bugbears is campaign finance reforms.

Funnily enough, not only is McCain opposed to the Republican positions on these issues, he effing co-wrote both the bills with Democrats! Campaign reforms were ushered in by McCain-Feingold and the comprehensive immigration reform bill was first introduced by McCain-Kennedy. If he manages to win the nomination despite spearheading the charge against two of the Republicans' topmost ideological positions, it will be funny. Add on top of it, his relatively moderate stance on gay marriages, his flip-flops on gun control and his support for stem cell research and all you have left where he is in lock-step with the Republicans is the anti-abortion issue where he has a perfect record.

And this man might win the Republican nomination. Can a whole party be treated for schizophrenia?

Rudy to drop out

After a pathetic 3rd place 15% finish in Florida, Rudolph W. Giuliani has supposedly decided to drop out of the race and endorse John McCain. Sad sad story really, because here was a guy who had it all going for him, and had a healthy lead. And then he went for a terrible terrible strategy of waiting until Florida to make his stand. He and his advisers were stupid enough to not realize the value of early states momentum, something that catapulted McCain to the top. What makes Rudy's decline even more pathetic is that the guy who is the national front-runner now, John McCain is not THAT different from him. Socially moderate, mild on immigration, and a largely centrist Republican apart from the unwavering support for the Iraq war and the war on terror. Come to think of it, even the challenger in the race Mitt Romney had a socially liberal past, and if you mapped these three guys on the political views spectrum, they would not be too far apart. I mean of Huckabee or Thompson were leading the race, Rudy's exit might not have seemed pathetic, because it would have meant he just had the wrong message.

And yet, whatever Rudy had going for him by way of personal appeal, natural talent and selective ideological positions, he has thrown it away thanks to a disastrous strategy even as people not very different from him are making waves. Now that he has decided to drop out of the race, I suggest his next job should be coaching the West Indian cricket team. He should feel right at home there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Make them the owners

This piece from Dilip D'souza is refreshing because for once he has included sound economic theory in his thought process. Of course, my pal Ravikiran has been quick to point out the inconsistencies with Dilip's previous positions, but I welcome the change in the right direction and would prefer to focus on the positives.

As Dilip points out, the problem with grand government plans for slum redevelopment is that they assume the demand and supply curves will remain constant. But a massive injection of housing supply will lead to a drop in property prices making those very grand plans unfeasible. Dilip may or may not realize, but this is an excellent illustration of why central planning will fail more often than not.

There is a simpler and more "workable" way out of the problem which will not put as many additional overheads on the already deficit-ridden Maharashtra government. Just give the slum-dwellers titles to the shanties they have built on public land. I will always welcome the transfer of public property into private hands, and even the most left-liberal activist will agree that it is more preferable to hand over property rights to the "little guy" transparently than to big evil builders after intense backroom dealings. Issuing property rights to slum dwellers will indeed shift the supply curve too. But the subsequent negotiations with builders for redevelopment will be driven by market realities and will be controlled by the actual stakeholders, i.e. the slum dwellers, as opposed to some minister or babu with grandiose and unworkable visions.

Personally I refuse to take a condescending position which assumes that the average slum-dweller is gullible and will be screwed over by the evil builders in such negotiations. But even if I grant the point for the sake of this discussion, surely the very activists who go on hunger strikes to protest injustice in such deals can help slum dwellers out in a collective bargaining process. A negotiation process in which slum-dwellers and their friendly principled activists have a say will be much more workable than negotiations between the government and builders with infinite opportunities for kickbacks.

Now, I have always had a great deal of respect for the late J.B. D'souza and I am happy to know that he spearheaded a realistic and workable scheme for slum redevelopment which took into account economic realities of the situation. Cynics may scoff at the idea that only 6000 odd flats were built over a long period of 25 years. But given the on-ground realities in Mumbai concerning regulations as well as property prices, it is a remarkable achievement which armchair pundits may not fully appreciate. Whatever Dilip mentions in his article about the scheme sounds very sound to me, and I would love to know more details about it. What I would like to see is the government getting out of the way after handing over titles to the slum-dwellers and letting well-meaning and intelligent folks private individuals like J.B. D'souza take a keen personal interest in what happens thereafter.

Of course, it will be workable only if strict enforcement ensures that people don't sell their re-developed houses and move back into slums. My contention is that if we let the slum-dwellers control the process of negotiating with builders, they are more likely to get houses they will be happy with and stay in. And I base this not just on my instinct or on classical liberal theory, but also my own personal interactions with "rehabilitated" slum dwellers. For 4 years that I was in a Rotaract Club, I was a volunteer for the Pulse Polio drives. The area I was responsible for contained the slums near Paud Phata in Pune and the high rise (by Pune standards) buildings near the Paud Phata Flyover where several slum-dweller families had been "rehabilitated". They lived in 6 or 7 storeyed apartment buildings with water pumps that were strong enough to pump water only up to the 4th floor. So those who stayed on the 5th floor and upwards had to go to the taps down stairs and lug water up to their houses in buckets. They had to do the same thing they did when they lived in slum shanties, only now they had to climb the staircases 4 floors and higher. Needless to say, most people who were given houses on the 5th floor and upwards had sold or unofficially rented their houses to someone else. But 4th floor and downwards, the number of such resales dropped drastically. Several of the families who stayed on in their 6th and 7th floor apartments mentioned to me that if they had a say, they would have ensured that stronger water pumps were installed in the buildings. But surely, babus who executed the project thought that giving them a pucca house was good enough and other minor details like water suuply did not merit enough attention. Which is why it is crucial to let the owners themselves take care of the negotiations with builders.

Anyway, and I mean this with no disrespect, but this is my favourite Dilip article by a long long way.

P.S. Dilip mentions in his article that his 1100 sq ft house (which I think is in Bandra-W) is worth 3.25 crores. So the houses in Bandra-W are going at 30K rupees per sq foot??? Holy hell!!!!! So I guess the only way I could buy a house in Bombay is if there is a massive recession.

Friday, January 25, 2008

WTF of the Year

Padma Vibhushan awardees..... Ratan Tata.. OK.. Asha Bhosale... fine... Sachin Tendulkar.. expected... LN Mittal... acceptable... External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee... huh?????

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Propaganda About Macaulay's Speech

Recently, I received an email forward which I have received dozens of times over the last few years. The supposed speech of Lord Macaulay to the English Parliament in 1835 which basically says that Indians are such amazing people, that to break them and rule them, it is necessary to force upon them the English education system. Here's the jpeg file -

The problem is, this smells too much like propaganda mixed with a dash of conspiracy theory. Why would Macaulay be stupid enough to go on the record saying that Indians are the salt of the earth, and hence need to be broken? The whole thing stunk so I emailed a few people even as I was googling the test. Salil Tripathi replied back pointing out something I had missed - the fact that "calibre" is spelt as "caliber", the way an American would spell it. He also sent the link to the full text of "Macaulay's Minute" dated 2nd February 1835, which is reproduced on a Columbia University page.

Here is the full text.

If you go through the page, you will notice that the supposed paragraph does not appear anywhere. Additionally, Macaulay's tone is extremely condescending and disrespectful towards Indian people, Indian culture, traditions and literature. He is making a case for imposing an English-based education system. But his whole argument is that the existing system, and existing literature in Arabic, Sanskrit and other regional languages is inferior and even false.

So the aforementioned paragraph is obviously a fabrication. A piece of propaganda to be used while decrying Macaulayism. Who concocted this paragraph? Rudimentary googling does not tell me that. But it would be safe to assume it would be someone with an RSS-ist ideological bent.

It would also be safe to conclude that whoever felt the need to concoct this must have been stupid beyond belief. The actual text itself is damning and offensive enough to be used in arguments against Macaulayism. It shows that the education system which we have in place today is the remnant of a system put in place at the behest of a man who, by his own admission, was at the very least ignorant about the existing Indian body of knowledge, and at the most was hostile towards it. Our education system is a remnant of a system designed only to produce "intermediaries" who could act as agents of the British government while ruling the country. A system built to create an army of brown sahibs.

Yet our friend the concocter felt the need to fabricate a para which praises Indian people and Indian culture, and paint Macaulay as a scheming colonialist who was hell-bent upon causing the downfall of this great culture. If this piece of propaganda weren't so willy-nilly swallowed by everyone with an email address, it would be extremely hilarious.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I wonder if the launch of the Nano is a good thing or bad.

Obviously, it will mean more congested roads and dirtier air in Indian cities. Yet, the congestion resulting from the Nano's impending success might just finally reach a critical mass where incompetent city administrations will be forced to take serious steps to improve the transport infrastructure and bring it, if not to Shanghai levels, then at least to Islamabad levels.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Hillary takes every opportunity to play the gender card, and yell from rooftops how her being a woman is a big deal. Obama however, never plays up his race card, though he legitimately could. In fact most if not all references to Obama's race come from Clinton proxies.

No matter how much I disagree with Obama on policy issues, I gotta admire the upright and gentlemanly way in which he has conducted himself on this campaign. Sadly though, when was the last time a non-sleaze won the Presidency?

Jet Airways is Superb!

Over the last few years I have flown almost every major airline from America, and most of the European ones. Recently I flew Jet Airways for my India trip, and I can say that it is by far the best international airline I have ever flown on. Apparently, Naresh Goyal aims to make it a top-3 airline in the near future. If they continue to keep up their service quality, I foresee it happening very easily. Here is what makes them so good -

- There is easily at least 5-6 inches more leg room in the economy class seats. The difference was even more noticeable since I was on a Virgin Atlantic flight before boarding Jet.
- The aircraft is literally infested with stewards and stewardesses. There are at least 10 of them in the economy section, as opposed to 3-4 for other airlines. So if you want anything, right from water to your choice of alcoholic drinks, all you have to do is push a button and they are at your service.
- The flight crew is polite, prompt and extremely helpful.
- I am a big water guy. I drink water all the time. Jet gives you small bottles of water at once when you ask for them, as opposed to other airlines which will take 20 minutes to bring you a small glass of water.
- The bathrooms on the plane are roomier than the other airlines. You don't feel claustrophobic when you are in there. Plus they have fancy Molten Brown soaps and fragrances inside the bathroom.
- The food as well as the in-flight entertainment options are superb. And more importantly, for a news junkie like me, they have a news section which is continuously updated. I was in the air when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and yet I got to know of it just an hour after it happened.
- While departing from Mumbai Airport, the Jet ground crew was helpful and inefficient in managing the queues. There was a bottleneck forming at the terminal because of the queues and they managed to streamline it in 10 minutes.
- A lot of small and seemingly unimportant things which make your flight so much more pleasant. Like giving a warm towel at the beginning and end of the flight. Having a huge selection of newspapers and magazines on board. Giving actual metal silverware as opposed to tawdry plastic ones.

The next time I fly to India or even to Europe I will gladly pay a couple of hundred dollars extra to fly Jet. How ironic that the best airline on my list is Indian, and so is the worst airline on my list (obviously, Air India).

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I got back from India yesterday. The best thing about being back in the US was that instead of being bombarded by jingoistic and stupid outpourings from the India media about the Sydney test and the whole bhajji-bucknor-benson episode, I was bombarded with inane analysis about the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries from the American media.

Is there anything worse than the jingoistic and illogical Indian media outlets going on and on about the Sydnet test? Yes! Worse are the supposedly logical and rational columnists and bloggers holding a contrary view for the sake of holding a contrary view. Take for instance Hawkeye's post. He makes the mistake of addressing the lowest common denominator in the Indian media, and ends up making a post filled with factual mistakes (FYI, the ponting-kumble agreement does not extend to umpires), a poor understanding of image anlysis.... and even trigonometry (his whole beef with the video replays evidence about Ponting's dishonest catch claim), and even worse, dubious understanding of logic.

To make matters worse, he approvingly links to an article by Suresh Menon filled with as many factual mistakes (e.g. - Dalmiya got the result of a test match overturned in South Africa!! Really? And did pigs fly during the presentation ceremony?).

The mental distress caused to me by reading this contrarian but equally stupid blog posts and columns proves that no good can come out of Bucknor being an umpire.

The Realer Question to Ask

... is why isn't the jingoistic media and the average Indian cricket fan not taking the BCCI to task? Why was Bucknor umpiring in the test in the first place?

In 2004 I was one of the crores of Indians who woke up early in the morning of January 6th hoping to see India win their first ever test series in Australia. The match ended in a draw thanks to horribly incompetent umpiring by Steve Bucknor, among other things. Sourav Ganguly, the then Indian captain wrote a scathing report about his umpiring. Bucknor has given further and ampler proof of his incompetence even in a setting where India were not involved and Australia were possibly the victims - the 2007 World Cup finals. And yet the ICC appointed Bucknor as an umpire and the BCCI did not protest against it.

So on another January 6th, 4 years hence, India lost a test match which they would possibly have won. A large portion of the blame goes to Bucknor. But then, he is after all, incompetent at the very least, and maybe even biased. He gave the middle finger to Parthiv Patel in the 2004 series, a gesture if, it had been made by a player to an umpire, would have resulted in a long ban. Yet, Bucknor stood in the test. And the BCCI did nothing about it.

The BCCI also permitted a series schedule in which the Indian team had little time to acclimatize. When India pulled off a surprising draw in the 2003-04 series, they had 2 practice games before the first test, one of them against Victoria, the same side against which the practice game was washed out this time. They then had another practice game against a very formidable Australia A side before the third test. An Aussie A side which contained Hussey, Hodge, Clarke and Tait. And yet this tour seems to have been poorly planned, with little time to acclimatize, and a lesser opposition chosen for the interim practice game.

Of course, Bucknor was a bad umpire in the Sydney test. Of course the Australians played and behaved in a manner that made Jardine's 32-33 side look like paragons of sportsmanship. But that does not explain why the incompetent nincompoops at BCCI should escape public wrath.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Real Question To Ask

... is not whether Australia will continue to be successful even after Warne and McGrath's retirements. The real question to ask is, will Australia continue to be successful even after Steve Bucknor's retirement?