Vantage point

Friday, June 27, 2008

The '99 Aus-SA Semi-final: A tie no matter how you slice it

Today I read about a new system to be put in place for resolving ties in decider matches. The system has already been adopted for the ongoing Asia Cup, in case the final ends in a tie. Bowl-outs have been used in T20 games a few times, but this new idea seems a tad more systematic and less random. Instead of 6 balls being bowled at the stumps with no batsman, there will be batsmen facing the deliveries. The side with most runs will presumably win.

Under the rules for the new tie-breaker, each team will nominate three batsmen and one bowler. Each side bats one over, with the innings being declared closed if it loses two wickets.

Sounds good. But what if runs scored even in that one over are the same for each side?

If the teams finish tied on runs scored in that one over, the side with the higher number of sixes in its full innings and in the one-over eliminator will be declared the winner. If the teams are still tied, the one with the higher number of fours in both innings will win.

This got me thinking about the most famous tie in ODI history - the 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa. My friend RajK has always insisted that the outcome was unfair to South Africa and the match should have been replayed. Of course, he will say anything to make SA look good. He is their only remaining fan. So I wondered, suppose this system had been in place back then. And the one-over-a-side eliminator had also resulted in a tie (in terms of runs scored, as well as sixes and fours hit). How would the result have looked? Of course, both teams scoring the same number of runs in the one over eliminator is a huge assumption, considering South Africa is involved. Given their penchant for choking, they would have probably lost it in that over itself. But let us assume a tie nonetheless.

The general impression I had looking back was that South Africa, riding on Klusener's strokeplay and Gibbs' early cameo, had a more six-four-full innings. So I dug up the scorecard. Well, it turns out that both teams hit 3 sixes each in their innings. Fair enough, I thought. Not too many sixes are usually hit in low-scoring matches, so the likelihood of those two small numbers being equal was reasonably high. But surely the number of fours would give us a result?

It does not! Both sides hit exactly 17 fours each in their innings! What are the odds?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Monkey God we can believe in

I am not sure if this is satire or reality. But it sounds too bizarre to be imaginary, so it has to be real. Barack Obama apparently carries around with him a small metal figure of Hanuman, after being exposed to the Ramayana during his childhood years in Indonesia. So he is being gifted a 2-feet high hanuman idol, which will be handed over to him after 11 days of "purification".

Will there now be charges leveled against him of being a secret Hindu? Will he be accused of pushing the Simian agenda? If McCain picks Bobby Jindal as his VP candidate, will Jindal attack Obama saying "Yes, I was born in a family that believed in these monkey gods, but I saw the truth and converted to Christianity, whereas Sen. Obama is still following pagan gods"?

Will Obama threaten to attack India if the government destroys the Ram Setu to build the shipping canal? Will Obama call up Andrew Symonds to convince him that being called a monkey by an Indian is a compliment?

Or will that statue come alive and start terrorizing McCain into submission like another gold Hanuman statue did with another white man here -

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Commies Have Lost It

It is difficult to believe that Indian communists could get any more absurd than they already are, but they have managed it. The CPI(M) has warned Mulayam Singh that the Samajwadi Party could lose the support of Muslims if it backs the UPA on the Indo-US nuclear deal. I am having a tough time deciding if this statement is more stupid and clueless, or if it is more offensive to the intelligence of Indian Muslims.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Its going to be a lot better

There is one sentiment I have detected as being dominant across every group, every ideological bastion and every individual that I have interacted with. That an Obama-vs-McCain election is a good thing. Because even if one guy wins, the other side won't mind it that much, nor will it threaten to move to Canada. Remember, I rarely talk to extremist nuts from either side. So there is this feeling of wholesomeness around the election. A sense of satisfaction that finally, after lord knows how many years, the American public can actually choose the best among the two, instead of the least worst of the two.

And after years of divisive campaigns, it is sort of strangely pacifying to know that a vast majority of the country would not mind either a President McCain or a President Obama.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Irony of the Public Financing Controversy

After months of widespread understanding that he will do so, Barack Obama finally announced that he would be foregoing the public financing of his campaign. Which means that he has opted out of using taxpayer money to fund his campaign. McCain, on the other hand has announced that he will be taking public money. This means there is a cap on the money McCain can raise and spend whereas there is no such limit on Obama.

Now of course, McCain and other Republicans and conservatives are attacking Obama, because he had first promised he would opt for public financing. And now he has gone back on its word. The Obama camp is offering a variety of reasons for doing so, with the main one being that independent groups spend a lot of money during campaigns anyway, so the caps are meaningless. But the Obama camp is at fault here, and is rightly playing defense, hoping that the story will blow over in a few days.

The irony of the situation tickles me. McCain is a conservative. Conservatives are supposed to stand for reduced spending, and leaving taxpayer money alone as far as possible. Although McCain has always supported the public campaign financing system, other conservative politicians and pundits have spoken against it. They dislike what they see as a waste of taxpayer money, and in case of restrictions on private donations, they think of it as a violation of first amendment rights.

But, a conservative is opting for a taxpayer-funded campaign, and the other conservatives are supporting him.

Obama is a liberal. Liberals are all in favour of spending taxpayer money for reasons they see right. In the case of campaign financing, they view private donations as playing in a role in big bad corporations and special interests dictating the Washington agenda. So public campaign financing is in line with their ideology.

But a liberal is opting out of a taxpayer-funded campaign, choosing to run his campaign on privately raised money, and the other liberals are supporting him.

What next? Conservatives arguing for curbing gun owner rights, and liberals arguing for expanding them?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Closest Thing to Meduvada-Sambhar

Have you ever craved meduvada-sambhar in the US? Do you, like me live in a place that has only North Indian restaurants, and no udipi types? And do you, like me, avoid making it at home, because deep-frying the vadas is a pain?

Here is the closest approximation. Make sambhar at home. That is not too difficult. And then instead of meduvadas, use hush puppies. No, not the shoes, the actual food item the shoe brand was named after. I usually buy them from a Long John Silver's outlet. In texture they are similar, in taste they are passably similar.... in shape they are of course not, because they dont have holes. But then, beggars can't be choosers.

Try dipping hush puppies in sambhar and eating them. Not bad, I tell you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Did Your Undershirt Hurt Your Ankle?

If your undershirt broke your ankle, you can sue the undershirt manufacturer. Sounds absurd? Well, anything is possible if a thong can injure an eye, leading to a lawsuit.

Bravo Balasaheb!

Bal Thackeray wants "hindu suicide squads" to counter Islamic terrorism. Capital idea. I hope the Thackeray family's children and grandchildren will show us Hindus the way by being the first hindutva suicide bombers.

Considering Thackeray's penchant for marathi and Shivaji, there is an apt proverb describing his mentality - "Shivaji vhaava dusryachya ghari".

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


There is something wrong with this world, for it often fails to recognize the undeniable brilliance of my wit and humor.

Ordered sushi pickup. Went to the restaurant. The guy behind the counter handed me the pack, and I handed him the credit card. There was some problem with the credit card machine, and it didn't seem to be interested in spitting out the receipt. So he was struggling with the machine. This went on for a couple of minutes.

So I say, "Hurry up, the sushi is getting cold."

He freezes, looks up and says, "What?"

I had expected a smile so I said "Umm... my sushi is getting cold", and gave him an ear-to-ear grin.

The grin was wasted, because he said, "No, no. Don't worry. Sushi does not get cold. Sushi already cold."

I grin again and say, "I know. I was just kidding."

He says "Oh." stares at me for a second, and then goes back to struggling with the machine.


This is a Weird Country

You can find heart medicine for dogs in stores easily, but it is hard to find places that rent out cutlery.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dalits and Capitalism

Over the last year or so, I have been a reasonably regular but largely silent reader of Kafila, a group blog. I hope the writers won't ming me calling it a primarily left-of-centre blog. It has been fascinating to read the posts there. Most of the posts there are fairly detailed, so I can't read all of them, but I do try to read the posts made by one Aditya Nigam. I will admit that what got me hooked to his posts was the fierce left-vs-left ideological civil war in the aftermath of Nandigram. Nigam was one of the people who strongly took exception to absurd suggestions by dyed-in-the-wool Communists that left-liberals criticizing the West Bengal government over Nandigram/Singur were doing something wrong. So I read those posts, admittedly indulging in schadenfreude. But other posts by Nigam also struck me as interesting too. While I do not agree with a lot that he writes, I did keep going back.

So that brings me to a recent fascinating post by him describing his experiences on a trip in rural Poorvanchal (Eastern UP) hosted by the dalit "maverick intellectual" Chandra Bhan Prasad. In the words of Nigam,

Chandra Bhan Prasad, well known now as the maverick intellectual who celebrates capitalism, consumption and globalization and who was the first to advocate a Dalit-Brahmin alliance against the Sudra (OBC) castes.
We were out to see these villages for ourselves and assess how ‘globalization’ had transformed lives of ordinary Dalits in the last twenty years or so. This is after all, Prasad’s central thesis in many ways: Liberation through entry into the market and the world of consumption – and through it, the Brave New World of Capital. Travelling through these villages of Eastern UP thus, was a unique experience.

Nigam seems to find some support for Prasad's assertions, although he does not seem to buy into them completely. And indeed, these might be just tiny oases in the massive desert of Dalit suffering. Nevertheless, it is heartening to read a positive story about dalit self-empowerment, especially through market forces.

Now, the point of this post is to pick a bone with Nigam about what he wrote here -

The expansion of economic activity over the last two decades is clearly linked to ‘globalization’ and ‘liberalization’ and could not have been imagined earlier. The series of processes unleashed by globalization are extremely complex and it is not quite clear that all of them can be clubbed under the rubric of ‘capitalism’ and ‘free market’. It has for instance unlocked a whole range of creative energies that involve entrepreneurship, simply by making available a market and cash flows in a scenario where both were extremely limited. In the days of the halvaha system, cash hardly passed through the hands of the Dalit labourers. Entrepreneurship, commerce, markets and fairs – all these have been around since antiquity and we need to be a bit more careful in assigning all these to some innate capitalist instinct. They become part of capitalism only when tied to the logic of accumulation. So far as we can see, a lot of enterprise that has emerged is a simple extension of a logic of need and the pleasure of consumption – none of which need lead to accumulation in the capitalist sense.

Nigam may or may not realize this, but what he is applauding here is essentially the "capitalistic instinct". I especially take exception to the suggestion that entrepreneurship, commerce, markets etc become part of capitalism only when tied to the "logic of accumulation". Accumulation is not really central to the idea of capitalism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of capitalism is -

an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

Very simple. Everything is owned and decided by private individuals. So private individuals taking part in commercial activity with each other, taking their own decisions, and displaying entrepreneurship is all part of capitalism. When Nigam says that all these have been around since antiquity, no one will be shaking his head more vigorously than Adam Smith's ghost.

That is the point that "Capitalists" or most supporters of free markets are trying to make. Economic activity by private individuals is as natural and ancient as the desire to mate. The government has no business stepping in and taking it over.

As for "accumulation", I am not sure what Nigam means by that. If by that, he is referring to the profit-maximization motive, then yes, I agree it is central to the idea of capitalism. But then what is point of trading in markets, and engaging in entrepreneurial activities if not making profits? Indeed, it is opportunities to make profit that have led to the relative prosperity that Nigam witnessed in Poorvanchal.

I also want to talk about private ownership, or property rights, a pet issue of mine. Although left-liberals rightly champion the cause of the victims of Sardar Sarovar, Nandigram, Singur, etc, I have not heard a single one of them demand that the right to property be restored as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution. That will solve all these land-grabbing problems in one go, and ensure that they are not repeated.

Of course, the right to property was deleted from the fundamental rights for a different reason. To make it easy for the government to take land from the "big fish" without any trouble. Ironically and tragically, it has also enabled the government to take land from the "small fries" and turn it over to the big fish. Which shows how disastrous and stupid it is to take away fundamental rights for utilitarian reasons.

Taking away something as basic as the fundamental right to property from everyone because the big bad zamindars and corporate wolves could misuse it is like outlawing oxygen because murderers and rapists use oxygen to stay alive.

Anyway, coming back to the point, I am interested to know what this "accumulation" exactly is, that makes capitalism capitalism. Nevertheless, I am heartened to find common ground with Nigam in recognizing individual commerce, trade, markets, entrepreneurship etc. as being vital and useful for progress of even the small fries. That collectivism is not the only panacea. I will end with something else he wrote on the same page that I heartily agree with -

It is also interesting that these transformations are taking place not out of the logic of resistance but the abandoning of the ascribed status. For, the logic of resistance requires a definition of the Self, a fixation of identity – something that flight from an oppressive relationship abandons. A peasants’ or workers’ resistance can only emerge by reifying the category of the peasant or the worker, freezing it so to speak. So a marxist can only see a worker abandoning that subject-position as ‘betrayal’ or ‘embourgeoisment’ (Lenin’s ‘labour aristocracy). Real life however, shows many other instances where it is precisely by abandoning given subject-positions that social power structures undergo transformation.

Hear, hear!

Friday, June 13, 2008

RIP Tim Russert

Whenever I lamented the fact that American TV news media is dominated by partisan hacks (both on the left and the right), bimbos/himbos, and brain-dead line-toers, I always considered Tim Russert an exception. Catching Meet The Press every Sunday morning was a treat, because that was the only show where politicians actually got asked tough questions, and they could not get away with verbal gymnastics. Even during the Primary season debates, he was the best moderators. I associated Tim with the romanticized idea of fierce uncompromising journalism, free from the trappings of political posturing, tabloidization of the media, and the convenience of comfort zones.

With his untimely death, American TV news has lost its last big lion.

P.S. Even in death, Tim managed to do something phenomenal. Charles Krauthammer is on Fox News praising Russert. This is the first time ever that Krauthammer has managed to be on TV for 10 straight minutes without sounding like a completely clueless moron. Who would have thought Krauthammer had it in him? Tim deserves all the credit.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gotta Love the Dutch!

I know people who have mixed marijuana with tobacco, made a joint, and then sat smoking at public places in India or in America, with the concern that a passing cop might smell the marijuana and give them a hard time. They hope that the cop will smell only the tobacco and not the marijuana. All of them have gotten away with it.

A new Dutch law ensures that those people might still be concerned, but in a different way. The Dutch government is going to ban smoking (cigarettes) in public places like bars, restaurants, cafes etc. India plans to do the same. Most US states already have such laws in place. But as the astute reader might have realized, the Netherlands has legalized marijuana in certain locations (called Coffee Shops) since years. What about those places then?

Simple, you can smoke a joint in a "coffee shop" as long as it is pure marijuana. If there is even a tiny bit of tobacco in there, you are breaking the law. I can picture some dude, tired of having to go outdoors to smoke a cigarette, especially in winters, mixing tobacco and marijuana and rolling a joint. He will sit and puff away at the joint in an Amsterdam coffee shop, hoping that any cops nearby will smell only the marijuana and not the tobacco.

Absolutely gotta love the dutch!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Please Stop!

Ever since it became official that Obama is the Democrat nominee, the print and TV media has been acting as if it was an unexpected shock. Granted, the official moment a black man became the Presidential nominee in a western country is historic and needs to be noted, but do they have to act so jubilant, surprised and pumped up about it? These are the same people who have been saying for almost 3 months now, that it is over. That it is almost impossible for Hillary to win. That elephants flying, monkeys climbing out of people's behinds, and Richard Gasquet winning a grand slam was more likely than Obama losing. Where did this enthusiasm come from then?

Yes, Prime Minister Nehru

This one seems straight out of a Yes Prime Minister episode. It describes how Nehru's valiant attempts to do away with the chaprasi (peon) system were thwarted by a wily bureaucracy using techniques that Sir Humphrey Appleby would be impressed by.

Link via Ravikiran who learnt about it through a comment from Chetan, who was forwarded the article by Kevin Bacon.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

An Absolute Treat to Watch

The smartest pundit in America, a conservative, sits down with the quickest thinking interviewer in America, a liberal satirizing conservatives. It was like watching a well fought chess match.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's Official

Obama is the nominee

What Nonsense is This?

Five tourists from UK and US have been ordered to leave India because they took part in a Tibet peace rally. Obviously, this is because of arm twisting by the Chinese Communist Party of India (Marxist). But the reason given seems straight out of Yes Minister -

The government insists that the five have violated visa rules. "On tourist visa, you cannot take part in a religious activity. If we allow that, you will have people coming here to propagate their religion. It's only for travelling and sightseeing, etc. So, they have violated the visa rule by participation in the march," said Ashim Khurana, joint secretary (Foreigners) in the ministry of home affairs.

Hmmm.... so the next time the pope comes to India and holds mass... can we please expect a similar response? Yes, I know he does not come on a "tourist visa", but he is officially one of the "people coming here to propagate their religion". Tell him to return from the airport as soon as he blesses the stair-car.