India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bipasha's grandeur and Aishwarya's grace

Jai Arjun Singh writes in with some examples of purplocity. First up, Indiatimes says of Bipasha Basu:
The thunder of her thighs and grandeur of her openness is just matchless.
And then, about Aishwarya Rai:
And though she takes off little, she makes you visualize the beauty she keeps graciously hidden.

Meanwhile, in a reaction to my previous post on purplocity/verniness, my good friend Prem Panicker writes in:
Prof walks into creative writing classroom, passes out copies of an unsigned essay, invites criticism.

The students spend the next 45 minutes ripping the piece apart, with merited savagery -- it really is bad.

Prof says, "I'd like you guys to know I wrote that piece".

Sudden silence in classroom. Prof: "I stayed up all night, drinking coffee by the quart, writing this -- and I took care to see that not one facet of bad writing was omitted. What beats me is how you buggers toss these things off in half an hour a day!"

Now you know where his students went.
This kind of writing is beyond bad, actually. It doesn't contain the typical elements of bad writing: the cliches, the archaicisms, the redundancies etc. Instead, like a Ramsay Brothers film, it has a badness that almost has an artfulness about it, that is enjoyable because it is simply so over the top. "[T]he beauty she keeps graciously hidden." "The grandeur of her openness." Could you or I come up with those if we tried? I don't think so!

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24.)
amit varma, 5:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Subhash Chandra Bose is dead

Yes, yes, you know that. But you probably think that he died decades ago. Hmm. Mid Day reports:
A man believed to be nearly 125 years old claimed he was Subhash Chandra Bose shortly before he died two days ago in a village near here, prompting police to launch a preliminary probe.

Baba Lalji Maharaj, who was living in Saiji village in Ashok Nagar District for the past 30 years, claimed before he died on October 27 that he was the iconic freedom fighter popularly known as Netaji, ex-sarpanch G Raghuvanshi told reporters.
My favourite line in the report:
When asked about deep scars on his head and body, he would reply that he sustained the injuries when he "fell from a plane"...
The Bong half of me wants to shrug and say something like, "That's entirely plausible, we Bongs are tough cookies." But the other half of me is, um, a bit amused at that thought.

It's hard, you know, dealing with these different selves of mine. And when you think I'm being self-deprecating, that's when it really gets ugly.
amit varma, 5:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

More pornography, less rape

A fascinating study by a Clemson professor has concluded that increased access to pornography reduces the likelihood of rape. Steven Landsburg reports:
Does pornography breed rape? Do violent movies breed violent crime? Quite the opposite, it seems.

First, porn. What happens when more people view more of it? The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments.

The bottom line on these experiments is, "More Net access, less rape." A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables...
You can read Kendall's study here (pdf link). And frankly, it's exactly as I would have thought. After all, when dudes wank off on the internet, there is an opportunity cost to that: they could easily have been getting it off elsewhere. It's safest if they do it in front of their computer, with nobody else involved. No?

(Nilu sent me the link to the study a few days ago, and blogged about it here; Gautam John sent me the Slate link today.)
amit varma, 4:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Overheard at work:
Why do I never see any young postmen?
amit varma, 3:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Leave them salads, chuck them fruits

It seems that curry is the secret to a healthy old age.
amit varma, 3:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shoot the messenger

It seems that some people use mobile phones when they want to cheat in exams or rig elections. So how do the authorities deal with it? By demanding that mobile services be shut down for a day.

I'm so glad I'm able to post this.

(Link via email from Nikhil Pahwa, who also writes on it here.)
amit varma, 2:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, October 30, 2006

The fine art of the seashore romance

When Indiatimes informs us that "seashore romance have always made for a hot and sizzling time," you know that immense purplocity and verniness lie ahead. And goofiness too, if one goes by the first picture on display. Indeed, great joy soon begins to come.

First we are informed:
In Priyadarshan’s ‘Garam Masala’, John Abraham romances with the female lead, and the blueness in the backdrop shows how close they are to the blue water. The seaside breeze would have fuelled up the fire within for sure.
Then we are told about a scene featuring Kiran Janjani and Upasana Singh:
The wave comes and goes as they continue in their intense company.
And then we have the inexplicable (and therefore surely profound) passage:
Saif and Preity Zinta walking down the sandy seashore in lazy steps. The blue sea calling before, the white sand making their way smoother.

And they are showing their back to the lens suggesting the end if the song. [Sic]
Then, of a scene featuring Dino Morea and Onjolee Nair, we are told:
The blue water seems to be at its boiling point with all those beautiful people.
And finally, a scene featuring "the Gurpreet and Kanishka" is described thus:
In the backdrop, sea water is breaking up into white droplets as it hits the beach.
I am beginning to believe that there is an art to this, and that this is not simply bad writing. Think about it: could you write like this if you tried to?

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.)
amit varma, 8:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Terrorism of the state

I don't know what else to call this:
Women who sought medical help after a botched abortion have been handcuffed to their hospital beds. And some women with late-term abortions have been given 30-year prison terms.
This is monstrous, absolutely monstrous. (I don't mean that in the good Lovecraftesque way.) That we can deny people the rights to their own bodies is a travesty, and one that I hope will be considered as bizarre 100 years later as slavery seems today, or women not being allowed to vote. Yes, we have progressed a lot in the last couple of centuries, but routinely, across the world, people are still denied individual freedoms, both in social and economic spheres. We talk with pride and respect about the freedom struggles of nations, but what of the individuals within them? When will we all be truly free?

A related piece on freedom in India: Transforming India's Mental Landscape.

(NY Times link via email from Gautam John.)
amit varma, 7:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who wants to be 'brave?'

In an exceptional post on Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, Jai Arjun Singh writes:
The real question is: in the face of war’s insanity, is it reasonable to expect a sane person not to be a coward, to choose death over life.
Indeed, if I may ask a question of my own, is it not a form of insanity to be ready to give one's life for one's country? It's collective madness, and if we all had enough self-interest to refuse to risk our lives for nebulous causes, then who would go to war at all?

Sadly, self-delusion is as much a part of our evolutionary programming as self-interest is. And so it goes.

Update: Coming to think of it, this is an unfair post. Joining the army doesn't involve self-delusion, but is perfectly rational. You sign a contract agreeing to fight for your country after balancing the perks and the good life that being in the army bring against the likelihood of actually fighting in a conventional war, which is pretty low in most countries. Then, if war actually happens, you simply go by the terms of your employment contract.

But you get my point, I'm sure!
amit varma, 4:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut defames the Washington Post?

Imagine how silly it would be if the Washington Post were to sue me, claiming that India Uncut has defamed it by linking more to the New York Times, and ignoring it completely. Wouldn't that be laughable? Well, then how about this:

A federal judge on Friday questioned whether Google Inc. defamed a small company by cutting it from its Web search ranking system or whether Google is free to choose which sites it features.

Judge Jeremy Fogel of the US District Court for the Northern District of California heard arguments in a lawsuit by LLC that seeks to challenge the fairness of how Google calculates the relative popularity of Web sites.
Well, Google, you see, does not run on taxpayers' money. It is a private company, and other people have as much right to dictate what it should do with its algorithms as they have to dictate what I should link to or how you should arrange the furniture in your house.

If users don't like the way Google goes about its business, they can shift their loyalties elsewhere. If advertisers don't like it, they can stop advertising there. And if webmasters do not approve of their pages being indexed by Google -- as indeed some webmasters complained about in the mid-90s, when an early version of Google was run out of Stanford University's network -- they can simply insert a piece of code effectively saying, "Go away, Google," which Google respects.

To try and coerce Google into changing or revealing their code, through such legal action, is equal to theft. Thankfully, no such attempt is likely to succeed, but it says a lot about the attitudes of many people that such attempts are made at all.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 3:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Desi Blogging by the Desi Devil

There's a new filter blog in town, for the desi blogosphere, started by someone I've met just once (no, I won't reveal who it is), but who seems exceedingly smart. Keep an eye on this one.
amit varma, 3:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bloggers, Pran and Milind Soman

Sakshi Juneja held a blog meet cum Halloween party at her place in Juhu last evening, where many bloggers were met. It was less of a blog meet and more of a T-shirt creation fest. Some lines we came up for T-Shirts:

"Pran is my landlord."

(This from Manish Vij, whose landlord is Pran. This will also be the title of his first book, having narrowly beaten out "I saw Rishi Kapoor at the gym.")

"Where is Vulturo?"

(This from Ideasmith to young Saket, half an hour into a conversation with him, not having realised that Saket is Vulturo.)

"Milind Soman kissed me."

(This from one of the young ladies present. Further details are not for the family audiences my blog caters to. [Namaste auntyji.])

"The Shiju Thomas Fan Club."

(This because a former room-mate, a former work-mate, and a former quiz-mate (moi) of Shiju Thomas were present at the party, and one of them has held hands with Shiju at a concert, and it isn't me or the girl.)

"Salman Khan is my driver."

(This because our gracious hostess is a Salman Khan fan, and much time was spent speaking about Salman Khan. "Even I go to Gold's Gym, yaar," pouted Manish. Er, ok, he didn't.)

And so on -- I have a sneaky feeling I've forgotten the best ones. Anyway, a line-up: Sakshi, Ideasmith, Divya, Melody, Akshay, Manish, Peter, Saket, Gaurav, Anand, moi and the partner. A vast variety of things were discussed, most of which cannot be revealed. Some of the less harmful topics: the cleavage-to-gyan ratio of Mandira Bedi; the life and times of Viveik Oberoi; traffic jams in Bombay (everyone was late); the thieves who broke into Sakshi's house thinking Govinda lives there (he lives down the road); and Maxthon, on which Manish gave me a superb tip: right-click on a tab, click on "assign alias," and assign a shortcut for whichever site it is. So now I just type in "i" in the URL field and enter to reach India Uncut.

On that useful note, I shall point you to Manish's pics and Melody's report. More shall be added to this. For now, after the frivolity of last evening, the frivolity of today morning awaits: I'm off to a quiz.

Update: I won the quiz, with Rishi, so clearly this is my best weekend ever this month. The question we enjoyed cracking most involved Conan the Barbarian, Arkham Asylum and Metallica, all connected by HP Lovecraft. Brutal joy imploded, and a more detailed report will follow someday.

Update 2 (October 30): More reports of the blog meet from Sakshi, Divya, Ideasmith, Gaurav, Saket and Peter. And Amit Agarwal had a Digital Inspiration Coffee Party in Delhi on the same day -- if only I could have been there as well!
amit varma, 9:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Yngwie Malmsteen of typing

Three times in my life I have decided that I'm going to learn how to play the guitar, surely the only barrier between me and a place in the Billboard Top 100 charts. Each time I've bought a damned guitar, learnt chords for one week, and then got bored and moved on. Immense lack of commitment.

And my heart always burns when I see guitarists shredding it up, as I stare at their fingers doing their thing, contemplating how, but for the lassitude I have surely inherited from the Bengali part of my genes, I too could have played like that. All the groupies would then have lined up outside my limo, and I would have dismissively waved them away, saying: "I must blog now."

So why do I tell you this now? Well, it's because a few moments ago I observed my fingers typing something and I realised, darn, I'm fast! I'm a two-finger typist -- I use the index finger of each hand -- and yet, I'm pretty much as quick as regular typists. And boy, looking down, I just realised why: I'm the Yngwie Malmsteen of typing!

So if I'd spent the tens of thousands of hours I've spent typing on practising the guitar, I could have had those groupies outside my limo. But I wouldn't have had a blog. What excuse to give then?
amit varma, 4:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Aliens don't want humans

They want cows.

I hear the FBI is investigating this under the code name, "The Cow Files." This is serious stuff.

(Link via separate emails from Harikrishna Avadhanam, Gautam John and Nishit Desai.)

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66.)
amit varma, 3:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Embedded astrology

An astrologer named Chandrashekhara Swamiji has predicted that Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan will get married in February 2007. If the event actually does take place, he will no doubt say that he got it from the stars. And right he will be -- it seems that Ash and Small B consulted him regarding an auspicious date for the occasion.

Perhaps you'd call this embedded astrology.

(Link via email from Arjun Swarup.)

Some earlier posts on astrology etc: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
amit varma, 3:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Orkut = Adda = Kitty Party

Anant Rangaswamy writes:
Objectors to Orkut should take a look at the Orkuts that we have had for years in the real world. Like the adda in Kolkata. Like the kitty parties anywhere in India. Like the Lion’s Club, like the Rotary, like chess clubs and carom clubs. Like the Laughter Clubs, like jazz societies and poetry readings and drama groups.

They’re all Orkuts.
Exactly. Humans are social, they need to connect with other people, and the internet lets us reach out to people who would otherwise have been inaccessible to us, sharing interests that no one in our physical neighbourhood might. Sites like Orkut enable us to form or join addas beyond the ones we can physically visit. Hell, even blogging the way I do, without comments, can vastly expand one's social circle. Immense connectivity explodes.

(Previous posts on Orkut: 1, 2.)
amit varma, 2:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blame it on Momma, Poppa and the times-a

Jai Arjun Singh writes in, regarding this post:
Wasn't there a theory that many urban Indians (especially Delhi-based ones) born in 1976/1977 are warped and dysfunctional for life because their parents were having "nervous sex" when they were conceived - it being the time of the Emergency. I seek a lot of solace in this theory, otherwise I would have myself to blame for all that's wrong.
Coming to think of it, I don't know any normal people born in 1976/77.

To be entirely honest, though, I don't know that many normal people to begin with. Can we all blame it on our parents, you think?

"Oh, I'm a kleptomaniac because my parents conceived me in the socialist years!"

Stuff like that.

Update: Confused writes in:
What is this crap about people born in 1976-77? Espcially about those born in 77, see how our arrival ended emergency, for fugs sake, give us some credit, will ya?
Ya, right. Like Indira Gandhi took one look at the millions of nervous little babies emerging into the world and said, "Enough, no emergency can be greater than this, let's call elections."
amit varma, 1:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Fishes and bananas

Don Boudreaux explains why "the improvement in the skill of one person rebounds to the benefit even of those whose skills (or, more generally, productivity) remain unchanged."

So boo to all the crabs.
amit varma, 12:50 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Psychotic chicks?

Imagine the hell that would break loose if a guy wrote this post, and not a lady. Heh.
amit varma, 12:48 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On scolding apes (and little kids)

Remember the story about the ape that rang a fire alarm. Well, it turns out that the Great Ape Trust has identified the ape: it's a bonobo called Panbanisha. AP reports:
[Al] Setka [a trust spokesperson] said Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a lead scientist at the trust focusing on studying the behavior and intelligence of bonobos, scolded Panbanisha.

"It's my understanding that she's been told not to do it again," Setka said.
This is where a few hundred million parents across the world sigh and wish their kids were bonobos. This kind of scolding certainly never works on humans.

"Don't pull the fire alarm?" I'd have said as a kid. "Ok, I'm off to do my homework."

Then when no one was close to the fire alarm...

(Link via email from Arun Verma.)
amit varma, 12:02 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, October 27, 2006

Waiter, there's a rat in my salad

Some people, it seems, don't like rats in their salad. AP reports:
A man is suing a McDonald's restaurant, claiming his wife and the family's live-in baby sitter found a dead rat in a salad they took home and had begun to eat.
While immense sympathy comes for the ladies (one of whom "became violently ill and endured long-lasting physical injuries") as well as the rat, in some places, rat-meat is considered quite a delicacy. China, for instance.

I suspect, though, that the gent will be making his own salad from now on. "MacDonald's has no business invading the West with the culture of the East," he will think, with not the slightest trace of irony. "Globalisation, pfaw!"
amit varma, 4:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When war seems imminent...

...make love. The Daily Telegraph reports:
North Korea's nuclear test has boosted condom sales and bookings at South Korean "love" hotels," a newspaper said today.

Experts told the Chuson newspaper the developments reflect widespread jitters over the October 9 test, with many people seeking solace in sex.
Yes, the thought of death does concentrate the mind and rev up the libido, and that happened after 9/11 as well, when "terror sex" became common. But I wonder why it needs a terror attack or the thought of war to bring home to us an obvious truth: that we're all going to die anyway, and we might as well make the most of what's left.

(Link via email from Deepika Shetty.)
amit varma, 3:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Terrorist attack busted

Bombay Addict alerts me via email to a terror attack that's been averted with the arrest of a couple of terrorists in Mysore. DNA says that the terrorists "were trying to attack the Infosys campus" in Bangalore, while NDTV reports that it was a plot "to attack Karnataka's Assembly, the Vidhan Soudha and the adjoining Vikas Soudha." It wouldn't be unusual if they had mutiple targets in the same city -- there is a precedent for that, after all.

Meanwhile, Manmohan Singh says about terrorism that "[f]rom an occasional footnote, it has become a hydra-headed monster." Hmm. The poor man's efforts at fighting it will, thus, be unsuccessful as long as he restricts himself to lobbing off heads. Gotta get to the heart of the monster.

And where is that?
amit varma, 2:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Defence minister? Nah!

India's gonna get a new Offence Minister.

(By the by, Anand Ramachandran, the writer of the fine piece linked above, also has a non-fiction blog titled "Papayas are people too." High-up sources -- sitting on papaya trees, in fact -- inform me that a group of papayas is planning a dharna to protest this derogatory reference to them. A spokesman for the papayas has reportedly said, "This is in bad taste. Um, period.")
amit varma, 2:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What to do about North Korea

Use carrots, not just sticks, says Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek. Zakaria writes:
Consider the countries that have chosen to give up either their nuclear weapons or a nuclear program: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina. In all these cases what worked was mainly a positive incentive, not a punishment. These countries agreed to give up their nuclear status because they got something in return. On the other hand, punishment—decades of sanctions—had no effect on India or Pakistan. So far it has had no effect on Iran or North Korea.

The most recent case of denuclearization is Libya.
Contrary to much rhetoric, says Zakaria, getting Libya to give up its nuclear ambitions had as much to do with negotiations as with intimidation. The trouble here is the dissonance between the moral and utilitarian aspects of dealing with people like Kim Jong Il. On one hand, the prospect of guaranteeing the safety of such brutal regimes, and giving such mad dictators everything they ask for is a repulsive notion. On the other hand, to keep them from going berserk, perhaps it is necessary to pander to them. Both affect the lives of millions of people, and the tradeoff is a difficult one to make -- until nuclear weapons come into the picture.

Of course, it is entirely possible that a solution doesn't exist at all, and we're all screwed. In the meantime, we might as well pontificate meaningfully, and feel self-important. Blah-di-blah-di-blah. Then Boom!
amit varma, 6:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Forget big dams...

... even small dams are a problem, as Lance Armstrong has found out.

I wonder what Medha Patkar would be up to if she was a resident of Texas.
amit varma, 6:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sports, glamour and Jyoti Randhawa

Jyoti Randhawa is quoted as saying in the Times of India:
I like being stylish. I am very fond of accessories like watches and shoes. I like wearing branded stuff. I mostly buy English shoes and love wearing sports watches that suit my personality.

As golf is a stylish game, I have tried to imbibe some glamour. It is very important for the modern-age sportsman to be glamorous.
Randhawa ends by saying, "I wouldn't mind walking the ramp if given an offer." Now, I have no idea if he was misquoted a bit -- surely he couldn't have said something as goofy as "I have tried to imbibe some glamour" -- but worrying memories of Himalaya Dassani come to mind here. Someone needs to sit him down and tell him about core competencies and competitive advantage. Golf, dude, golf -- get that foundation off and go practice yer swing.

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22.)
amit varma, 5:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

An existential crisis

I fancy if I was a bank robber, something like this would happen to me:
A gang of Romanian robbers broke into a bank's headquarters in a daring overnight raid – only to find it empty. [...] [T]hey did not know that the bank was relocating to new premises and the building was empty.


A police spokesman said: "... They couldn't find anything to steal, not even some heating pipes they tried to remove from the walls."
I hate to treat this matter as trivial, but the robbers in question can surely comfort themselves with the thought that they didn't get shot because the cops thought their shoe was a gun.
amit varma, 5:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Elementary, my dear Watson"

It turns out these words weren't written by Arthur Conan Doyle, but by PG Wodehouse. Whaddya know?

And guess who created Bertie Wooster.

Ok, never mind, I thought I'd try and pull a fast one there...

(Link via email from Kind Friend.)

Update: MadMan sends me a link to some famous misquotations. And Quizman informs me that the Wodehouse book referred to above is available here.
amit varma, 4:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Question of the day:

If she eats cloth, what does she wear?
amit varma, 4:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The end of the world...

... can happen in various ways. Have you seen this site called Exit Mundi? It describes itself thus:
Some people collect postal stamps; Exit Mundi collects scenarios of what could go wrong with the world. Sure, our planet could get hit by an asteroid. But hey, that's nothing. Did you know we could all be munched away by hungry molecules? Or that our physicists could unintentionally wipe us all out while tinkering with particles? 'Oops, sorry...'
I think I'm going to submit a scenario involving angry cows.

(Link via email from Rishi.)
amit varma, 4:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

From 1999 to 2006

Annie Proulx writes in the New York Times:
I rarely use the Internet for research, as I find the process cumbersome and detestable. The information gained is often untrustworthy and couched in execrable prose. It is unpleasant to sit in front of a twitching screen suffering assault by virus, power outage, sluggish searches, system crashes, the lack of direct human discourse, all in an atmosphere of scam and hustle.
Proulx's essay was written in 1999, and I hope you'll agree with me that what she writes accurately describes that time, but things have changed drastically since then. No?

Me, I love the internet. You wouldn't be reading me without it, and I wouldn't have found Proulx's essay without it. Her essay, by the by, is one of a series called Writers on Writing, which is available both at the NY Times website (free registration required) and in book form. There's some fascinating stuff there, dip in.
amit varma, 3:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sex and violence

IANS reports:
Nine female[s] ... vying for the love of a lone male fought a bloody battle ... that left all 10 ... dead.
Well, actually, that's not the whole story. The line actually says:
Nine female deer vying for the love of a lone male fought a bloody battle in the deer enclosure of a zoo in Ujjain that left all 10 animals dead.
But really, it need not have been deer. Remove all the artifice and we're animals, is what I'm saying. (Just like deer, but less graceful, and overdressed.) And of course, we fight and kill in subtle ways, but for the same rewards. It all boils down to that.

PS. I'm in a crabby mood today, and might well disown this post tomorrow. So there.

(Link via email from reader Pavan Kumar.)
amit varma, 2:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On Starbucks and other filters

Regular reader and tipster Vimalanand Prabhu writes in, regarding this post:
I agree with your assessment that non-regular readers need some guidance. There are a few in the US that are cashing in on this opportunity. Starbucks is a coffee shop, but it is now also in the business of recommending CDs/ Movies and Books to its "core customers — educated, with an average age of 42 and an average income of $90,000". And is doing a pretty decent job of it.
Actually, filters abound: book clubs have been around for ages, the book pages of newspapers and magazines do the job -- even if the space for them is shrinking -- and new ways of navigating the literary choices before us are constantly evolving. That said, there's tremendous scope for building a Pandora for books, something that goes beyond Amazon's innovative filters. Perhaps it's time to get busy...

(Hindu link via Peter.)

Update: Ken Falco writes in to point me to a resource of book recommendation engines.

And Peter writes in to point me to Debbie'sIdea and gnod. The first has a clumsy interface, and as for the second, I test-drive it. It asks me to name three writers I like. I feed in the names of Milan Kundera, Italo Calvino and Vikram Seth. First it suggests that I read Rohinton Mistry. And then it suggests Arundhati Roy. This is preposterous, for Roy shares nothing with the three of them, unless her being Indian, like Seth, is a factor. That's not how I want my books recommended to me. I surf away.
amit varma, 2:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Education at the Great Ape Trust

The best quote ever:
This is the first known case of an animal setting off the fire alarm in Des Moines. We will ask the Great Ape Trust to educate the occupants of the seriousness of their actions.
What's the fun of being an ape if you can't even monkey around?
amit varma, 7:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On life, and HP Lovecraft

Michel Houellebecq in the Guardian:
Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new, realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don't care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined notations, situations, anecdotes ... All they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our "real life" days.
Yes, yes, yes. Houellebecq's piece is an extract from his book, "HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life." He quotes Lovecraft as saying:
I am so beastly tired of mankind and the world that nothing can interest me unless it contains a couple of murders on each page or deals with the horrors unnameable and unaccountable that leer down from the external universes.
Yes, yes, yes. And surely you have read The Call of Cthulhu? If not, you must. The only remedies to existential fatigue are otherworldly horror and...

Update (October 25): Rishi writes in:
The alternative to the monstrously mundane is....a monster. Preferably, lots of them. But I like Lovecraft's attitude: there may well be superior intelligences in this universe, but they are probably viciously evil or, at least, casually cruel to the lesser races.
Quite. Indeed, if God existed, She'd certainly be fairly cruel, indifferent to humans and, perhaps, bemused by their vanity and their silly offers of bribes in the form of prayers and behaviour. Pfaw.
amit varma, 7:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shortcuts to culture

That's what prizes are, in my view. For example, take literature. It is hard for non-regular readers to navigate their way through the tens of thousands of books released every year, to decide what is worth reading, pick writers whose work they should follow, and so on. Their time and attention bandwidth is limited, and it's much easier to check out the Booker or Pulitzer shortlists, read what is written about those books, pick up something by the latest Nobel Prize winner on the way out of the megastore, and so on. For the layperson -- and they are the bulk of the reading public -- prizes are a filter.

And for those who take books seriously, they will surely not be swayed by prizes, but will read widely for the pleasure of it, and will value serendipity. Literary prizes haven't "replaced the art of criticism," as the strap of Jason Cowley's piece on literary prizes in the Observer seems to suggest, for criticism generally caters to the involved reader, while prizes are a market mechanism to help the irregular reader navigate the maze of choices he is confronted by. They are both filter and lottery, and I think it's a great thing they exist -- even if the results of some prizes make my eyebrows attack gravity -- because without them, less books would be read. And writers would make less money.
amit varma, 7:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Come together. Polarise

Shankar Vedantam has a fascinating article in Washington Post about homophily, "a somewhat grand word to describe the idea that birds of a feather flock together." Vedantam writes:
You can see it the next time you visit your office cafeteria or a nearby park: Whites sitting together with whites, blacks with blacks, young people with other young people. When individuals from these groups mix, it is usually because they share something else in common, such as a pastime.


Studies show that most people interested in politics associate nearly exclusively with others who have similar political beliefs. [...] Homophily may help explain some of the bitter partisanship of our times -- when your friends are drawn exclusively from one half of the electorate, it is not surprising that you will find the views of the other half inexplicable.
It makes sense, actually: examining our beliefs and constantly exploring the nuances of every issue takes effort. It is far easier to arrive at a worldview, and then to embrace it, shutting off anything that threatens it. And most of us aren't writers who have a wider responsibility to the truth, so why should we not mingle only with people like us, read blogs that reinforce our view of the world, and spend our limited energies and attention bandwidth on things that have an actual utility in our lives?

This is one reason, in fact, why polarisation is inevitable, especially on matters regarding to politics and economics, and why the most successful political bloggers will always be those who preach to the converted. It could hardly be otherwise. That's why I feel it's all pointless sometimes, and I might as well stick to blogging about cows.

(Link via Impedance mismatch over HTTP.)
amit varma, 5:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A new kind of terrorism?

The Guardian reports:
Transport police are hunting for an "exceptionally antisocial" man who has been defecating on trains across the country, causing tens of thousands of pounds-worth of damage.

The vandal, who strikes by smearing excrement inside the carriages, appears to wait until he is alone before committing the offence but investigators can discern no other pattern to his behaviour. Police say the man has soiled at least 30 trains since August, mainly in the south-east.
I hope this doesn't give any ideas to terrorists anywhere. Else, we'll have terrorists crapping in public places everywhere, and when the intelligence agencies of the US and UK start investigating, they'll drive through Mumbai's roads early in the morning and discover exactly where the training camps are.

(Link via email from Kind Friend.)
amit varma, 12:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, October 23, 2006

Karma Capitalism?

Welcome to the newest fad in town.

I wonder if the T-shirts will have "You scratch my back" at the back...

(Link via email from DNA.)
amit varma, 10:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Think out-of-the-box, think bovine

This really should be a business-school case study.

And this line makes me blissful:
The numbers don't lie, the cow cabs attract more clients.
And surely there is a reason for that. No?

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65.)
amit varma, 6:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Salman Khan's fine-tuned sense of irony

I wonder if Salman Khan is mocking us, and the justice system, when he says:
What I would really like is a woman who can drive for me.

I’d really like it if I can sit in the backseat of the car, aaram se, while she drives me around.
If the lady in question could also shoot chinkaras for him, ideally while driving, that would be even better, wouldn't it?
amit varma, 6:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The good that blogging can do

Three cheers (each!) to old buddy Ammani and ultra-cool bloggers Neha and Shoefiend for taking up a good cause, Project Why, and, through blogging alone, raising Rs 25,000 for it. It seems like a small amount, but in some places, for some people, small can be big. As Anouradha Bakshi of Project Why writes to Ammani:
The whopping 25 000 Rs that have been collected may seem small to many but it can sustain a class for more than 2 months or pay one teacher for a whole year.
Sometimes a little goes a long way.
amit varma, 5:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On the New Atheists

In a feature in Wired titled "Battle of the New Atheism," Gary Wolf writes about "the challenge posed by the New Atheists":
We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith.

The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil.
I'm not sure if that accurately describes the positions of the 'New Atheists' Wolf refers to -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett -- but it's certainly one that I don't hold. I'm an atheist for the simple reason that I have never seen any evidence to prove that God exists, just as I've never seen any reason to believe in the FSM or flying fairies or moons made of cheese. But if there is something I hold sacred, it's individual freedom. And that freedom includes the right to believe in whatever you want, as long as you don't impinge upon the freedom of others with your beliefs.

Thus, I see no reason to object if you believe in Jesus or Allah or Krishna or Mogambo, as long as your beliefs don't have, to use jargon, negative externalities. Indeed, it is the negative externalities I would object to, not religious belief per se. So while I'd condemn the Vatican's opposition to condoms and birth control, and the oppression of women carried out under the name of Islam, or the rubbish the Hindutva brigade regularly rolls out, I would certainly not demand that people stop believing in Christianity or Islam or Hinduism. Any atheist taking a "for-atheism-or-against-atheism" stance risks driving moderates away.

Wolf quotes Glen Slade, an atheist, offering a counterpoint to this. Slade says:
Moderates give a power base to extremists. A lot of Catholics use condoms, a lot of Catholics are divorced, and a lot don't have a particular opinion about whether you are homosexual. But when the Pope stands up and says, 'This is what Catholics believe,' he still gets credit for speaking for more than a billion people.
That's a valid point, of course, and that phenomenon extends across religions. But I'd still hold that attacking the externalities while respecting people's rights to believe in whatever religion they want is the practical way to go.

Dawkins and Dennett are two of my favourite modern thinkers, by the way, and I heartily recommend all their books. The two on the subject of God and atheism that Wolf's article refers to are Dawkins's The God Delusion and Dennett's Breaking the Spell. And though I've linked to it before, let me again recommend that you read this excellent interview of Douglas Adams, in which Adams explains why he is "a radical atheist."

(Wired link via email from reader Aki Kumar.)

Update: Rishi Iyengar points me to this excellent essay by Dawkins from a few years ago: Snake Oil and Holy Water.
amit varma, 4:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Leave Orkut alone

After my post about the silliness of the court that objected to an anti-India community on Orkut, Financial Express asked me for a quickie opinion piece on the subject. I wrote that last week, and it's appeared today.

On the same subject, do also read my Wall Street Journal Asia Op-Ed, "Fighting against censorship."
amit varma, 4:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ben Affleck: character v acting

Kind Friend points me to an article in the Guardian about a Ben Affleck clip that's become quite popular on You Tube. In it, he fools around with an 'interviewer' who's sitting on his lap, exhorting her to go topless. When she says she's covered up because it's Sunday morning, Affleck says:
Get those titties out! [...] Who're you trying to fool? It's Sunday morning!
Well, whatever. Now, clearly the man isn't showing much class there (drunk and classy rarely go together anyway), but the Guardian says that this clip "could well dent Affleck's current Oscar hopes," and I'm not too sure what to make of that. Do you think that an award given for acting should take the actor's character into consideration? What would you do if you were one of the people who votes for the award?

Anyway, here's the clip in question:

amit varma, 3:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

If you're not against us, you're against us

Poor Abdul Rahim. First the Taliban tortures him. Then the US government tortures him. Someone will probably make him sit through a Himesh Reshammiya concert next, and his cup of woe, truly, will overflow.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 1:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Setting Lalu Prasad Yadav on fire...

... is turning out to be a popular activity this season. The Times of India reports:
Firecrackers named after Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and his wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi are selling like hot cakes in Bihar. They are the first preference for people, more popular than those named after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.


Going by the demand, not only Nitish's but also the Sonia brand crackers are struggling in the market. Other brands such as Zinta and Mallika are no match to Lalu-Rabri.

Lalu-Rabri parachutes, rockets, and Lalu streakers and bombs are in high demand. Sales of Nitish throw bombs and Nitish flowerpots are much less. There are Sonia sparklers, Mallika bombs and Dhoni atom boms. [sic]
And although the report doesn't mention it, Prakash Karat damp squibs are also on the market. No one wants to buy them, so the Left Front has asked for subsidies.

Some previous posts on Lalu: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.
amit varma, 5:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Evolution of Dance

This is the most-watched video ever on You Tube:

Virginia Hefferman wonders: "[W]hy why why why why is it the apex of popularity on YouTube, for which Google paid $1.65 billion?"

Her answer is here.

I'd add to that and say that its simplicity plays a part in its success. It makes no demands of its readers. Not being in a language they can't understand is just one part of that.
amit varma, 5:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The fine art of filling up time

Never has so much joy come from drawing lines.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)
amit varma, 4:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

'He’s standing near us because he wants to warm his hands'

Do read this moving old post from Jai Arjun Singh.

And while you're at it, do also read about the farmers of Bundelkhand, who won't quite be celebrating Diwali this year. It's Kafkaesque, their plight. One of them has got a compensation cheque of Rs 35 that will require him to spend Rs 500 if he wants to encash it. Others have got cheques of Rs 3 that cost the government Rs 4 to print. The article also mentions that "the socialist government of the state of Uttar Pradesh [...] is bursting a two-kilometer long cracker to celebrate this Diwali." 2000 metres of farce, that is, with our money.

Anyway, Happy Diwali, and suchlike.

(Bundelkhand link via email from Polite Indian, who blogs about it here.)
amit varma, 3:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Duty to Publish

The Right to Information Act is a wonderful piece of legislation, aiming to make governments accountable to the people it is meant to serve: you and me. The section of the act that truly excites me is Section 4 of the act. (Scroll down here to read it; or you could download a PDF.)

This section sets out what some refer to as the Duty to Publish. It mandates that government departments actually have a duty to publish essential information about their departments, regardless of whether citizens ask for such information or not. It's an excellent section, but it does not include penalties for departments who fail to do what it requires -- unlike in the case of when you or I file an RTI request and someone delays it -- and is vague in some of its specifications. As a result of this, compliance hasn't been particularly high.

The Centre for Civil Society, an NGO I have great admiration for, has come out with a report that details the extent of such compliance across India's states, and the findings are depressing. The report (download a PDF here) finds that "[t]he average state education ministry discloses only 29% of the information that they are required to under the RTI Act." You can read CCS's press release here (PDF file); and here are some media reports: ToI, the Hindu.

What is heartening, though, is that all this is being reported, and that moves are being planned to strengthen that section of the act. My former quiz partner Gautam Bastian is spearheading CCS's activism on that front; more power to him, CCS and to all of us. This is important.
amit varma, 8:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

I'm metrosexual

I want to hump a city.
amit varma, 8:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

'Post-postpostfeminist woman'

I have a headache right now that is caused by a cold -- I am allergic to aspirin, to add to my woes -- but even if the cold wasn't there, I suspect the headache would. My day began when I opened my email to find this post in it. In it, the Postmodernist icon Gilles Deleuze is quoted as saying:
Everything can be used as a screen, the body of a protagonist or even the bodies of the spectators; everything can replace the film stock, in a virtual film which now only goes on in the head, behind the pupils, with sound sources taken as required from the auditorium. A disturbed brain-death or a new brain which would be at once the screen, the film stock and the camera, each time membrane of the outside and the inside?
The blogger quoting this rarefied nonsense is my friend, Fadereu, and I can only hope he is playing some giant joke on us all, as is entirely plausible for a man of his playful nature. Otherwise, immense worry comes.

Later in the day, I come across the article from which the phrase in the headline of this post is taken. The line in question:
This yummy-looking, artfully personal historical fantasia, borne on currents of melancholy and languor and rocking out to a divine soundtrack of 1980s New Romantic pop music (plenty of the Cure, Bow Wow Wow, and Adam Ant), is the work of a mature filmmaker who has identified and developed a new cinematic vocabulary to describe a new breed of post-postpostfeminist woman.
This is from a review of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette by Lisa Schwarzbaum. Lisa, you rock. Really.

(If anyone ever says "post feminist woman" to me, I will assume that it's an instruction, grab the nearest feminist woman, put her in a giant envelope, stamp her, and deposit her in a mailbox. If they say "post-feminist woman," though, I will note the hyphen and ask, "Who?")

Enough now. I have a proboscis to relieve.
amit varma, 6:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How to make yourself look younger

Use photoshop.

Sadly, real life can't be altered by software. So just as there are no action replays in real life, there is also no equivalent of a photoshop for the real you. Want to lose the paunch, don't look to Adobe, but head for the gym. Do the hard yards. And eventually you'll die -- all the Gigabyte space in the world can't store you forever. Bummer, no?

(Link via email from Sanjeev.)
amit varma, 5:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How not to write a poem

Peter Griffin emails me a link to an article on things to avoid while writing a poem. I don't write poetry, so I'll feel free to say that it's a "nice" piece. Heh. I feel like the naughty boy in class who, after the teacher says that students should not dig their nose, puts his head under the desk and instantly invades his nostrils. "Nice". So there!

No, but really, I should stop using that word. Lazy writing. And to think that I did swear once to stop using it. Immense shame lands.

Update: Arnold D'Souza has some constructive advice on how to write poems.

By the by, what do poets who don't get paid write?

Ans: Free verse.
amit varma, 1:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Giant bug on the rampage in Germany

Well, not on the rampage yet, but when it's that size, who can stop it?

That's not a rhetorical question. I want names, and I want addresses.

(Link via email from Aadisht.)
amit varma, 1:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, October 19, 2006

'The ISI has not been blamed'

Best last line ever.

Well, at least the best last line I've come across today. And when the present seems so important, and all the past seems trivial, that's as good as 'ever', I suppose.
amit varma, 4:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

ICC and BCCI pledge to work together

Great joy explodes.

An excerpt:
The ICC and BCCI have decided to set aside their well-publicised differences, and will work together with the common goal of continuous and total degradation of the game by 2008, according to a joint press release from the two organisations.

“Yes, it's true. There are plenty of crappy ideas and idiotic schemes on the anvil at both the ICC and the BCCI, so it only makes sense to team up. Both organisations are deeply committed to screwing up cricket as much as possible.”, said ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed, defying logic as usual.
More details exist.
amit varma, 4:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Microfinance, Hurricane Katrina and rural India

Mohammad Younus has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on how microfinance can be used to rebuild the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

But can microfinance work in all conditions? I don't know much about the local economies of New Orleans or Mississippi, but it's not been a roaring success in India yet. Karthik/SK/Wimpy/SKimpy explains why it is "not exactly suited for the Indian context":
The simple fact is that in rural India, the major demand for loans comes from agriculture, which involves large negative cash flows up front and (hopefully) large positive cash flows a few months down the line and the microfinance institutions here barely seem to understand this.

One of the fundamental principles of finance is that the cash flows of the source of funds should approximately match the cash flows of the application of funds. And therein lies the major failing of Indian microfinance. What Equated Weekly Installments implies is that if I give you a loan at the beginning of the crop cycle, I expect you to pay me a large part of it before the completion of the cycle! And the only way (in most cases) that you can make such payments is by going to the local moneylender, thus getting stuck in a debt death spiral.

The reason the model has worked so successfully in Bangladesh is because there the loans are not for agriculture. They are doled out to women so that they can start their own small businesses, which usually yield steady weekly cash flows – you might notice that the cash flows from the business are in tune with the cash flows from the loan.
A fine insight.

(SKimpy link via email from Aadisht.)

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 3:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Taking off a T-shirt...

... can be the hardest thing in the world sometimes. It can drive a man to despair, till he's almost screaming, ready to tear the damn thing off his body in frustration, if only he had the strength. As it stands, he can barely stretch his arms.

Such muscle fatigue these upper-body workouts cause!
amit varma, 3:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Riya Sen: every stalker's delight?

AP reports:
Riya Sen gets lots of crank calls and she likes it, the Bollywood starlet told the Times of India in an interview published on Wednesday.

“My mom and dad are used to blank calls at odd hours at home. In fact if I don't get attention I feel I am not good looking any more,” Sen said.
Now, our actresses aren't exactly nuclear scientists, but surely none of them is silly enough to say something like this. So I hunted out the ToI interview in question, and found that Riya doesn't say anywhere that she likes crank calls. The basis for that conclusion by AP seems to be the two sentences quoted above, which might well have been intended to be independent of each other.

Anything for a story, eh?
amit varma, 2:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The stars must be ambiguous

It seems astrologers are fighting over which day Diwali falls on. Mid Day reports:
While some astrologers say the festival is on Friday, others say it’s on Saturday and Sunday, while a few even believe it’s on Monday!
Meanwhile, numerologists are fighting over whether the festival should be renamed Deewali, Ddiwalli or Diwwalii.

Ok, ok, I made that last sentence up. But you know it's possible.

Some earlier posts on astrology etc: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.
amit varma, 1:40 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Self-esteem is over-rated


And with that news, I'm suddenly starting to feel good about myself.
amit varma, 8:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How to respond to crime

Paint the town pink. Reuters reports:
Authorities in eastern India are painting a crime-infested town pink in the hope that an image makeover will lift the sagging morale of residents who are fed up with the decline in law and order, officials said on Monday.


With the city's two million residents complaining about poor quality of life and depression due to crime, officials said they had decided to paint the city pink ahead of the Hindu festival of light, Diwali, on October 21.
Do note that this pinkaciousness will be implemented using taxpayers' money, but that is not something I am going to complain about. After all, crime has be fought, no?
amit varma, 4:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

'A vicious cycle of moral hazard'

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek explains in CSM why treating healthcare as "a human right" actually makes it less accessible and more expensive. Boudreaux writes:
Because providing healthcare takes scarce resources, offering it free at the point of delivery would raise its cost and reduce its availability.

To see why, imagine if government tried to supply food as a universally available "right."

To satisfy this right, government would raise taxes to meet all anticipated food needs. Store shelves across the land would then be stocked. Citizens would have the right to enter these storehouses to get "free" food.

Does anyone believe that such a system would effectively supply food? It's clear that with free access to food, too many people would take too much food, leaving many others with no food at all. Government would soon realize that food storehouses are emptying faster than expected. In response, it might hike taxes even higher to produce more food - raising the price that society pays for nutrition.

Stocking stores with more food, though, won't solve the problem.
Read the full piece. Healthcare is, in fact, a classic example of a disconnect between intent and outcome that characterises so many of the pet causes of those who think that the answer to our problems lies in the state stepping in to solve them. (Here's another.) Most often, the state just makes it worse.
amit varma, 4:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Gods v Electricity

I've read this story three times, and I still can't fathom what on earth is going on. Wisecracks elude me even.

Since I'm opposed to cheap puns, I won't even ask you to shed light on this.

Update: Even this is bizarre. Immense befuddlement explodes.
amit varma, 3:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Where your taxes go: 11

Foreign jaunts for ministers.

Look, I have no issue with ministers going abroad, sometimes the affairs of state demand this travel. But Kapil Sibal, the minister for science and technology, "spent over 100 days abroad during this period [between June 2004 and 2006], making 26 visits to over two dozen countries, including the US (eight times), France (twice), Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Iceland, and Mexico."

Seriously, you tell me what possible justification there can be for Sibal to visit Iceland and Mexico, centres of cutting-edge technology though they no doubt must be. Indeed, I believe that the ministry of science and technology itself is redundant, and a waste of our tax money. It serves no purpose, apart from reminding us of the foolishness of the central planning that has plagued India for most of its independent existence.

What baffles me further is that the Rediff report goes on to state that "the Right to Information Act could not persuade his [Sibal's] ministry to part with information about the expenses incurred." To the best of my knowledge, the ministry simply isn't allowed to withhold this information about how our money being spent, which is what the RTI Act empowers us to ask. Bizarro.

(Link via email from Krishi S, who posts on it here.)

(Earlier in the series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Also see: 1, 2.)
amit varma, 8:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Religion and the monkey

In a piece with the remarkable headline, "'Hindu' monkey bites Muslim," CNN-IBN reports:
This is a story of a simian who has been caged in Orissa for the last five years for, believe it or not, disturbing communal harmony.

The seven year-old monkey called Ramu is serving life imprisonment at Remuna police station in Balasore district.

Raised by a Hindu family, he bit some Muslim children five years ago, sparking communal tension in the area.
Imagine a planet where only monkeys live, and get regular news of the monkeys on the earth through a newspaper called Monkey Times. What must those monkeys think when they get the news of this earth monkey being imprisoned for "sparking communal tension"?

"Daddy, daddy," Baby Monkey could say, "what's wrong with these humans?"

Daddy Monkey would look at him wisely and say, "Religion, my child, it's called religion. It affects the brain."

"Don't be simplistic," Mommy Monkey would say. "We don't know if religion is the sympton or the disease. Eat your bananas now, there are monkeys starving out on earth."

(Link via email from Rk.)
amit varma, 8:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Watching ourselves live

Jason Fry writes in the Wall Street Journal (can't find the link online, I'm afraid; it's subs. anyway):
Like most doting parents, my wife and I love to take pictures of our three-year-old son. Like most toddlers, our son loves to look at pictures of himself.

The combination of the two has been responsible for countless boring slide shows over the generations. But here's a new wrinkle: We have a digital camera. Now, it's all too common for Joshua to notice the flash, instantly stop playing with Lego or swatting baseballs or romping on the jungle gym, and ask to see the picture.

It's infuriating: My kid stops playing to look at a picture of himself playing. Worse, I know where he learned it -- because, I'm embarrassed to admit, I do it too.

Last month, during a beach vacation, I caught myself flipping through pictures taken just minutes or hours before, with friends and family in the same room. I stopped, horrified, only to find myself doing the same thing the next night. How did I spend my vacation? In part, by reviewing that same vacation while it was in progress.
Yes, sometimes we do need to learn to leave technology behind. For example, my laptop gave up on me a few days ago, and until I buy a new one -- having decided on a Lenovo, I'm now looking for a good dealer -- I'm restricted to blogging from office. Now, blogging, or at least surfing and reading a lot, was what I regularly did every night before going to bed. But now, without that option, I actually read a bit. Spend time with the partner. Watch a movie. (We saw Abbas Kiarostami's wonderful Ten last night, ten months after I got the DVD.)

Indeed, the last time I took a holiday, I wished that I could just leave my cellphone and laptop (and my cares!) behind. However, there's India Uncut, and as long as I'm writing this, I can't escape technology or be totally carefree.

Interestingly, Fry also cites blogs as one of the technologies that "tempt us to shift back and forth from living life to observing ourselves living it." He writes:
I co-write a blog about the New York Mets, and have felt this double vision at work. Watching a baseball game, I sometimes feel my blogger antennae perk up at potential turning points. I find myself rehearsing blog posts; sometimes I even write down impressions and chronicle key at-bats. Which is entertaining, but it isn't watching the game the way I did perfectly happily for nearly 30 years.
Well, yes, often the first thought that strikes me when I read pieces on the web is "Is this bloggable?" But the flipside of that is that in searching for things to blog about, I read much more than I otherwise would.

Also, it isn't just new technology that does this. In my years as a cricket journalist, whenever I watched a cricket match that I also had to write about, I watched it differently than I would as a fan. One looks hard at the details, notices patterns, files away phrases and lines for later use, and I'd be structuring my report in my head as I watched the game, both of them evolving simultaneously. That's not a result of the technology, but of the task itself.

(Article via email from Shrabonti, who asks:
Do you feel like that sometimes, as if constantly taking notes on life means you let life itself pass by? Or do you feel it enriches the experience of living because you notice things that would have just flitted past otherwise?
Well, both, I suppose. Who can tell. A writer's got to do what a writer's got to do, and I'm not sure I believe in free will when it comes to this.)
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