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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Everybody wants a little black dress

Well, not me, but my good friend Ravages certainly does. Why else would he send me a link to Top 10 Affordable Little Black Dresses for plus-size women?

No, but seriously, I'm a huge fan of little black dresses, and I'm also getting sick of the current fashion of women trying to lose weight to conform to some silly popular-culture projection of beauty. Listen, big asses are glorious things. Abundant hips are joyous. No man has ever complained about a woman being too chesty. All you dieting women out there, on the orders of India Uncut, instantly go and consume a chocolate. And an ice-cream. A gellato, while you're at it. What's that, jalebi? Go right ahead!

Let today be your Eat-For-Happiness Day.

Any man who gets in the way, sit on him. Carry a meal with you, and don't get up till it's digested.

And by all means wear that little black dress. Sexiness doesn't come from what you wear but how you wear it, so feel sexy and desirable. Think of all the slim women out there who just feel... hungry. Think of them and laugh with me: muhahaha.

PS. By the by, perceptions about being slim are changing gradually. Good.

(Daily Mail link via email from Prabhu.)
amit varma, 3:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What to do about Kim Jong Il

Step 833: Don't let him get his hands on an iPod.

AP reports that the American government has imposed "luxury sanctions" on the North Korean government, making sure that Kim can't get his hands on a range of luxury items, such as "cognac, Rolex watches, cigarettes, artwork, expensive cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles or even personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis."

Yes, yes, I know, it's a masterstroke. Without his Harley there's no way Kim can beat Rambo. Anyway, not only is this plan unenforcable, even if it could be enforced, it would only piss Kim off even more. I can imagine him yelling:

"Back to the Sony Walkman? Never! Nuke Uncle Sam!"

You know what I mean.

(Link via email from Sakshi.)

PS: Somewhere Saddam Hussein is wishing Georgie Porgie had attacked North Korea first. "I'd still own Iraq," he's saying to himself dementedly, "and I can do without an iPod!"
amit varma, 3:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

RIP, Dave Cockrum

Comic-book fans will know his name: Dave Cockrum was the illustrator in the team that revived the X-Men comic series in the 1970s, and some of the characters he co-created and drew included Storm, Mystique, Nightcrawler and Colossus. He didn't benefit financially when the X-Men films were made with his characters, and Clifford Meth, a friend, said about the movie's release:
Dave saw the movie and he cried -- not because he was bitter. He cried because his characters were on screen and they were living.
And so they will stay. Cockrum has died, though, dressed in Superman pajamas, covered with a Batman blanket. And he might be cremated in a Green Lantern T-shirt.

Here's Neil Gaiman's tribute to Cockrun, and here's a tribute site made by fans.

(CNN link via email from Gautam John.)
amit varma, 12:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Neologisms can be clever little beasts, but sometimes one comes along that touches you in an unexpected way. Whoever thought Hiatus could be the name of a flower? Here, read the first para of this post by Priyanka Joseph.
amit varma, 11:34 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Conditioning, orgasms and sexual insecurity

Naomi Wolf comes up with an interesting insight in a piece in New York:
[P]ornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: It is Pavlovian. An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.
The bit about orgasms and Pavlov might explain how fetishes originate: get off on a pretty shoe when you're a child, and boom, before you know it, shoes turn you on. For people who do develop fetishes, it might just be a matter of luck whether they land up with one they can harmlessly indulge, or whether it gets more complex than that.

Anyway, Wolf's larger point is that "[t]he onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as 'porn-worthy.'" She writes:
Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification? [...] Today, real naked women are just bad porn.
I think Wolf overstates the case: most men keep porn in a separate domain from their love lives, and one does not impinge on the other. But I get the point she makes about sexual insecurity. Indeed, the handful of times that I have watched porn movies (no pun intended), I've shuddered everytime the guy has bared his organ, because he's always had an eight- or nine-inch you-know-what. (A veritable anaconda, as it were.) This is true of erotic literature as well, where the man is generally immensely well-endowed, enough to hang a week's worth of laundry when he's, um, excited.

If women consumed porn as much as men do, I dare say I'd be worried, and would insist on the lights going off before the pants went down. (And I'd have my dialogues ready -- "It's so cold, darling." Or "Trust me, I'm actually half an inch larger than average, you mustn't believe the pondy." And "What do you mean, 'Is it inside yet?'") So I can quite sympathise with the young women Wolf speaks of, who have to compete with the J Los and Jessica Simpsons and innumerable porn goddesses with their perfect, big, firm glandacious things. (I'm not good with euphemisms, but I will not write 'breasts' on my blog.)

It would be so much better if the only kind of nakedness that turned people on was not of an exaggerated ideal, but of normal people, like these (NSFW): these aren't models, and both the men and women here are, well, modestly gifted. A large part of our spam mail would also be reduced, as insecure men who have nothing to be worried about wouldn't then contemplate enlargement.

Anyway, having said that, I disagree with Wolf's overall thesis. Porn isn't killing sex and will, sadly, not solve our population problems anytime soon. More's the pity.

(Wolf link via email from Gautam John.)
amit varma, 11:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Open-source business research

Gaurav Sabnis has a fascinating idea.

I don't think the format of a blog suits it, though, with its chronologically linear arrangement of pieces. That's too user-unfriendly for a site that aims to be a resource. But I suppose Gaurav knows that, and will do something about it if the idea gains traction. Starting it off as a blog minimises entry costs.

I think a giant gorilla needs to pick me up by the feet, hold me upside down, and shake shake shake till the jargon falls off. Aaaarghh!
amit varma, 10:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The pregnant man

BBC reports that "[a] South African man has been fined $140 for taking a week off work, telling his employers he was pregnant." Apparently:

Charles Sibindana, 27, stole a certificate from a clinic during his pregnant girlfriend's checkup, a court near Johannesburg heard.

He then added his own details to the note and submitted it and took seven days off work, seemingly unaware that only women consult gynaecologists.

His employers became suspicious and investigated the matter.
I love the bit about the employers becoming suspicious. I can imagine this scene:

Boss 1: Sleeping Partner, have you noticed that Mr Sibinbandana has been absent for six days now. I am beginning to smell a fish.

Boss 2: Yes, Working Partner, pomfret. That's my lunch. In fact, I have carried out my own investigations, and on perusing Mr Sibinbanditanda's application letter for leave, have concluded that this is a fraud.

Boss 1: Remarkable pestilance, Sleeping Partner. How did you figure out that Mr Siblingsantana has pulled a fast one on us?

Boss 2: Elementary, my dear Working Partner. Mr Sublimetanpura stated in his letter of application that he is pregnant. And that is not possible. [Meaningful pause.] You see, the medical certificate attached to the application stated that he was six months pregnant. And yet, his stomach wasn't bulging at all. That was a dead giveaway.

Boss 1: Indeed, Sleeping Partner, I must commend your powers of observation and deduction. Truly you are smart. I must start eating pomfret.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. Link via email from Arjun Narayan.
amit varma, 7:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The pulls and pushes of free markets

This blog seems to be a worthy one to keep an eye on. Their post on why they exist is an excellent one, and I support their intention -- of "document[ing] the attempts made by incumbents (who push for certain rules) and politicians (who impose them) to prevent markets from becoming truly free" -- wholeheartedly. Go boys!

(Link via email from Gautam Bastian.)
amit varma, 4:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A rampage of boars

I'm a huge fan of wild boars. Reuters reports:
A pack of wild boars fleeing hunters went on a two-hour rampage through a small southern German village, biting people and damaging cars and shops. [...]

"One wild boar entered a boutique, scaring the daylights out of a saleswoman," local police said in a statement.

"She tried to hide behind the cash register."
If Alfred Hitchcock was alive today, he'd be 107 years old, and perhaps senile enough to think of making a sequel to Birds called ... Boars. But he's dead, and I shall satisfy myself with stray imaginings.

Hey, imagine a pack of wild Borats going on a two-hour rampage in a Kazakh village. Tee hee.

Update: This is not funny, sadly.

(Link via email from Patrix.)
amit varma, 3:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Amitabh Bachchan and the common man

Here's Amitabh Bachchan, quoted in the Observer, on Kaun Banega Crorepati:
Crorepati has been some kind of a wonder. For me, it's an opportunity to meet the common man, to know about his life, his feelings. These are things that don't normally happen to film actors. Three days after the show started I went on a pilgrimage to a Shiva shrine up in the Himalayas. I went by helicopter, otherwise it takes five days to get there, and there were cave people shouting "Crorepati" at me.
Er, cave people? Anyway, Amitabh won't be doing any more KBC, as you must have heard -- Shah Rukh Khan has replaced him. And when Shah Rukh goes walking up those hills, you know what the cave people will be shouting at him?


And isn't it slightly odd that the Bachchan needs a TV show to "meet the common man?" Such disconnect?
amit varma, 9:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Times of India Index

Prem Panicker writes in regarding a report by the Times of India on Dell setting up a new plant in Nagpur. The web version of the report doesn't have the opening line that the print version does, which Prem refers to:
Thought of you while reading the ToI front page today. Especially this article on Dell setting up a manufacturing plant in Nagpur.

Para one, sentence one:

"Close on the heels of the Times of India opening an edition in Nagpur, US giant Dell has logged in to the city as well."

Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Not!

I had this sudden hilarious vision of Michael Dell, desperate to set up a manufacturing plant, sending his top people out on a fact-finding mission.

Find out for me, Michael says, where the best place to do business is.

Err, sir, how do we judge that?

Simple, idiots, yells Michael -- just check to see where ToI has started an edition; that is your hot spot.
Prem means this in jest, of course, but given that ToI is an advertiser-driven publication, I wonder if the editions it publishes, and the number of pages they contain, can be considered an indicator of the relative purchasing power of people in different cities. The ToI Index, anyone?
amit varma, 12:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On limitless markets

Chandrahas recently pointed to an old piece by Ramachandra Guha titled "In High Disdain -- Why Indian intellectuals and activists are hostile to the market," which puts forth some interesting views on why so-called intellectuals keep ranting about globalisation. (The kind who type their anti-market creeds using Microsoft Word on Lenovo laptops, while perhaps even wearing Levis jeans and Nike shoes. Suchlike.)

Guha is an essayist I respect enormously, and I have learnt much from his writings, but one particular para towards the end struck me as somewhat naive. This one:
The market does have its imperfections. One is that left to itself, it tends to pollute and degrade the environment. A second is that employers generally do not pay attention to the health and safety of the worker. A third is that without consumer vigilance and action, industrialists do not always deliver on quality. A fourth is that the market disregards those without purchasing power. A fifth is that one cannot rely on the market to deliver on goods and services whose value cannot be reduced to monetary terms, such as primary education and basic healthcare.
All of these are invalid points, and I was just about planning to write a post to explain why when I came across an excellent post by my friend Gautam Bastian that serves as a perfect riposte. If you agree with any of the points Guha has raised, then I recommend you read Gautam's entire post.

PS: I'd recorded a long interview with Guha a few months ago that I'd intended to be part of the first India Uncut podcast. But the logistics of doing a podcast all on my own are a bit daunting, and I've shelved those plans now. So I'll publish a transcript of the conversation I had with him soon.
amit varma, 10:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


I was at a young blogger lad's birthday party on Saturday (I think he turned three) when a couple of PYT bloggers young Sakshi sitting there happened to mention that Ajay Devgan has an anaconda.

That caught my attention. "An anaconda?" I was about to ask. "Does he keep it in his house?"

Then I realised that the revelation was made in the context of the alleged sexual exploits of a few Bollywood stars. And that an anaconda actually meant, um, you know.

Suffice it to say that Mr Devgan can safely ignore a significant percentage of his spam.

And even though I'm just 32, sometimes I feel that age isn't merely catching up on me, it's sprinting past furiously. Kids these days...
amit varma, 10:00 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, November 27, 2006

Politics, God and Indian cricket

In one part of the asylum politicians are getting all het up about the way the Indian cricket team is performing in South Africa.

In another sadhus are holding Yajnas to bribe God to come and help the Indian team.

One bunch of jokers seems to assume that the Indian players or their coach aren't trying hard enough, and need a kick up their backsides. The other bunch of jokers seems to think that a higher power can help the side get better results. Silly them all.

There is one simple reason why the Indian side is losing in South Africa: it isn't good enough. Indian batsmen have always struggled in fast, bouncy conditions, and the only two players who are technically equipped to bat consistently well on these pitches, against the quality of bowling that the South Africans possess, are Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Those two know it, and the pressure shows.

All the pep talk and divine help in the world is helpless against that fact. As it happens, I think we should fare better in the Test matches, where I hope VVS Laxman returns to the side, and Dravid isn't torn apart trying to balance the urgency of lifting the run-rate with the necessity of consolidating. And I also think we'll suffer less in the West Indies, where the pitches are slower and Sri-Lanka-like. We got creamed in New Zealand before the 2003 World Cup and nevertheless made the finals; so don't write them World Cup obits yet.
amit varma, 3:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

God, a corncob and Transmetropolitan

So this zealot comes to my door, all glazed eyes and clean reproductive organs, asking me if I ever think about God.

So I tell him I killed God. I tracked God down like a rabid dog, hacked off his legs with a hedge trimmer, raped him with a corncob and boiled off his corpse in an acid bath.

So he pulls an alternating-current taser on me and tells me that only the official Serbian Church of Tesla can save my polyphase intrinsic electric field, known to non-engineers as "the soul."

So I hit him. What would you do?
That's Spider Jerusalem speaking in Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, a comic-book masterpiece I'm enjoying even more than I did Fables or Preacher -- which, for me, is saying a lot. Frenetic joy gambols.

But why did these lines come to mind now? Well, I read about Rae Hart Anderson's effort to save Satveer Chaudhary's soul, and I thought, boy, I wish Satveer had read Transmetropolitan and had the spunk to give it back. Well, well...
amit varma, 12:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Peaceful, easy feeling

These animals look quite happy in the womb.

How do you think they'd look if they had any idea what the outside world held for them?
amit varma, 12:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Humour is the sharpest weapon

I suppose that's why the thought of a cartoonist with a gun strikes me as somewhat odd.

On second thoughts, it's not as if there hasn't been a violent, venal cartoonist in India.
amit varma, 2:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Size Height does matter

John Bamber, who's 5ft 5in, writes in the Times about how he came upon the realisation that he had to do something about his height.
My eureka moment came when I read a book called Irresistible Attraction: Secrets of Personal Magnetism by Kevin Hogan and Mary Lee Labay. It says that while most women claim that personality is far more important when assessing a potential partner, evolutionary psychology suggests that the human brain is hardwired to find certain physical traits — including height — attractive.

A new study from the University of Essex analysed speed-dating sessions, and found that every extra inch of height a man has over his fellow Romeos correlates to an increase in the number of women who want to be introduced to him of 5 per cent.

Furthermore, statistics show that tall men earn far more than their shorter comrades and are more likely to be offered promotion. I was, I realised, being discriminated against because of my height.
Naturally, the discrimination that Bamber speaks of isn't part of a conscious process, and is veiled, even to those who practice it, by skillful, subconscious rationalisation. (Not that people are ever asked to explain their attractions, as far as that context is concerned.) You may choose the taller candidate in a job interview, or pick John Kerry over John Edwards in the Democratic primaries, and you will have plenty of good reasons for it -- even if your initial instinct had nothing to do with those reasons.

How we rationalise our instinctive decisions will be the subject of a longer piece I shall write some other time. For now, let me just state that I am an exception to this tall-guy thing. I'm around 5'10" or 5'11", but all my success, such as it is, is due to my abilities alone, and my friends love me for my personality. My height has nothing whatsoever to do with it. (After all, did you, dear regular reader, know how tall I am until now?)

I'm off to mix with some puny humans now. Tra la.

(Link via Arts and Letters Daily.)

Update: Angshuman wonders how tall Damien Martyn really is. Dude, when he leans into one of those languid drives of his, he's 10 feet tall. Or more.
amit varma, 12:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Is there something wrong with breast-feeding?

Woman starts breast-feeding kid in a plane. Flight attendant tries to give her a blanket so that she can cover up. She declines. Flight attendant calls ticket agent. The lady and her family are removed from the plane.

What comment can one make about such nonsense? The whole idea that showing a breast (a female one, that is) in a public place is wrong in some way is twisted, a perversion itself. (It is a different matter that in this case, the lady says that "she was seated by the window in the next-to-last row, her husband was seated between her and the aisle and no part of her breast was showing.") The people who think like this should just wear T-shirts that say, "Breasts are evil. Slobber slobber."

Pah, and suchlike.

(Link via email from Salil Benegal.)
amit varma, 12:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

One more quiz

The Bombay Quiz Club has a quiz scheduled tomorrow. The details are here. If you enjoy quizzing and are in Mumbai, or if you just want to check out what it's all about, do come.

The current league standings are here. I still can't get over what a brilliant post that is. Fans of HP Lovecraft will surely agree.

Update (November 27): The quiz duly took place yesterday, and much fun was had. My team came third, one question behind the two teams tied for the top position. The report is here.
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, November 24, 2006

Reason and faith are not equivalent

Discussing a report by a committee at Harvard, Steven Pinker writes:
My second major reservation concerns the “Reason and Faith” requirement.

First, the word “faith” in this and many other contexts, is a euphemism for “religion.” An egregious example is the current administration’s “faith-based initiatives,” so-named because it is more palatable than “religion-based initiatives.” A university should not try to hide what it is studying in warm-and-fuzzy code words.

Second, the juxtaposition of the two words makes it sound like “faith” and “reason” are parallel and equivalent ways of knowing, and we have to help students navigate between them. But universities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for “Astronomy and Astrology” or “Psychology and Parapsychology.” It may be true that more people are knowledgeable about astrology than about astronomy, and it may be true that astrology deserves study as a significant historical and sociological phenomenon. But it would be a terrible mistake to juxtapose it with astronomy, if only for the false appearance of symmetry.
There's more, read the full thing.

Indeed, it astonishes me that people can think of science and religion as two parallel, equally respectable forces. They're not. Science tells us truths about the world that have been arrived at by observation, experiment and the rigorous application of reason. Religion, on the other hand, is essentially, as Pinker put it, "believing something without good reasons to do so." (By "good reasons", I mean "good reasons to indicate that it's true" and not "good reasons to believe in it", for there are plenty of such reasons, such as the comfort that religion brings. But a comforting story isn't necessarily a true one.)

This does not mean that I am anti-religion per se, or wish that everyone becomes an atheist. People have the right to believe in whatever they wish to believe in, but just because I respect that right does not mean that I should respect that belief. And it is outrageous and unreasonable to demand that those beliefs be placed on the same pedestal as science.

But when have the faithful ever cared about what is unreasonable?

Update: Ravi Venkatesh writes in:
The last line of your piece reminded me of this line from H2G2 by Douglas Adams - "I refuse to prove that I exist because proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing."
On that note, I can't resist pointing you, for the umpteenth time, to this marvellous interview in which Adams explains why he is an atheist.
amit varma, 4:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Iqbal Quadir and the little guy

Here’s Iqbal Quadir, the founder of GrameenPhone, speaking about development:
Aid from western countries has mostly empowered governments, distancing them from their citizens who are left helpless. Historically, people rose from below through technological empowerment and then they participated in their governance, leading to service-oriented governments. That's what created healthier societies with checks and balances.
Quadir isn't just some random armchair theorist, but someone who has actually walked his talk. A few years ago he chucked a lucrative career in Wall Street to start a business that has brought telecommunications to thousands of villages across Bangladesh, empowering millions while becoming the largest telephone company in Bangladesh. Stressing that "connectivity is productivity," he says:
Adam Smith wanted everyone to specialize. But they can't do that if they're not connected to each other. That's why cities grew up next to rivers and oceans.
The end of the above-linked feature on Quadir resonates with me:

With this success, Quadir unequivocally disagrees with the conventional wisdom that poor countries need aid and charity. Instead, he says, "What they need are businesses. Commerce is development."
Indeed, people often wrongly equate free markets with big, rapacious companies, but to me, free markets have always been about the little guy. When there's economic freedom, businesses spring up, consumers have more choice, employment grows, and getting jobs is easier. Inevitably, prosperity results. People have more to spend, so they spend more. More money in the economy, more business, more employment. It's a virtuous cycle.

You just have to contrast the US with the USSR or East Germany with West Germany during the Cold War to see the truth in this. Or just look at South Korea and North Korea today. If poor countries prosper, they will do so because of entrepreneurs like Quadir, and governments would be better off enabling people like him to flourish rather than putting obstacles in their path, as is so common in India. Still.

(Besides the stories linked above, Yasmin Ghahremani's feature on Quadir in Asiaweek is also worth reading. And Reuben Abraham mentions here that Quadir is doing some very interesting stuff with Dean Kamen. Much respect.)
amit varma, 2:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On Wipro, dating allowances and relationships

Rediff reports:
A court in Kanpur has issued a notice to Wipro chairman Azim Premji after the wife of one of the company's employees alleged her husband had left her because the firm paid him a 'dating allowance.'
This is immensely silly. No, not just this whole dating allowance business, but the woman in question blaming the breakup of her marriage on something other than the relationship itself. Human beings are complex (and complexed) creatures: people have needs, relationships form, people change, times change, shit happens. Those who blame others for their relationships breaking up -- the other man, the other woman, the mother-in-law, work pressures, whatever -- are in denial about the inherent fragility of relationships. (Actually, of everything.)

This is especially true of marriage: the preconceived notions of what it involves often form a straitjacket around relationships that might otherwise have bloomed differently. And, at least in India, it's mostly the woman who suffers more, often having sacrificed her emotional and financial independence to fit into the traditional demands of a marriage.

So while I feel sympathy for this lady, she should really not be blaming a silly 'dating allowance' for her marriage's break-up. If her husband went dating -- and Wipro denies it has any such allowance -- the marriage was doomed anyway. Instead, if she has any daughters, she should teach them to never be financially or emotionally dependent on any man, and to enter relationships on their own terms. And to take responsibility for their own lives.

(Link via separate emails from Prabhu and Manish Manke.)
amit varma, 12:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, November 23, 2006

One good reason to blog

How do I know what I think until I see what I say?
EM Forster, quoted by Saul Bellow in The Paris Review Interviews, I.
amit varma, 9:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What's politics worth?

We all know that people who get into politics driven by the desire for public service are a rarity, especially in ultra-corrupt India. Most politicians here enter politics to get to power and make money. The higher up the ladder you go, the more money there is to be made. And what is the best way to find out the commercial value of a particular political post?

Why, auction it, of course. NDTV reports:
In the Kodikulam village near Madurai, various panchayat positions have allegedly been auctioned.

While the money would be spent for the development of the village, the local community will ensure that the highest bidder gets elected.

Although by-elections are six months away, a local farmer candidate has offered over Rs two lakh to be elected as a Councillor and then be made the Vice President of the panchayat.
Given that those figures reveal the market value of a particular post, consider that they also display the scope of corruption for that particular office bearer. (If a rare candidate wants the post to help society and suchlike, it merely reveals the extent of his philanthropy, but I doubt you'll get too many of that kind.)

I agree with anyone who says that this makes a mockery of democracy, but do consider that it also lays bare the way this particular democracy works. The very fact that these villagers thought it natural to think of these political positions in monetary terms tells us something. And I suspect one reason this practice will be stopped from above will not be because it corrupts the system, but because it reveals its inherent and inevitable corruptibility. It is better to be in denial about it, no?

(Link via email from The Rational Fool, who blogs on it here.)

Update (November 24): Nilu explains why "[i]f at all market forces are at play, it is the power of monopoly that the caste system generated. Centuries of powerful inertia."

Update (November 26): The Rational Fool investigates Nilu's point:
I dug a little deeper and found more fascinating details of the story in the Indian Express. It seems that the seat in question is indeed reserved for the Dalits. It's held by Ms. Balamani, a poor Dalit woman. What was auctioned, however, was not the seat, but the right to control Balamani! The highest bidder would retain the right to use her as a rubber stamp, and expropriate all the commissions that she would earn while she held the post...
Stunning. What to say now?
amit varma, 6:26 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bigg Boss and human nature

Here's Alan Ball on broadcast television in the USA:
The name of the game is whatever gets the largest number of people to watch. What is that? It's a car wreck. It's Fear Factor. It's getting Playboy playmates to eat sheep's eyeballs. They're proud of that! "Look at the numbers we got! Supermodels puked on each other and people tuned in!"
The quote is from Mavericks at Work, by William C Taylor and Polly LaBarre, and readers in India would surely emit a sigh of familiarity on reading it: our examples may be different, but "supermodels puked on each other" is quite what gets the eyeballs in here as well.

And surely you've seen Bigg Boss by now.

I watch it every night.

Reports say that it's not doing too well, but once you watch it for a few minutes, and get a sense of the storylines, it's compulsive viewing. Yes, all reality shows have a veneer of artifice about them, but even that reveals something real, and it isn't pretty.

The bitching and the plotting that goes on in Bigg Boss is quite unbelievable -- even the ToI office, despite its legendary politics, can't be worse -- and the hang-ups the participants have are amazing. Most of them are B-grade celebrities, either has-beens or strugglers, and yet, in their own eyes, they're superstars. Some snippets from last night's episode (I reproduce and translate from memory):

Aryan Vaid tells Kashmera Shah (aka 'Kash'), after she complains that Amit Sadh seems not to like her: Kashmera, I think you're forgetting who you are. You're Kashmera Shah. And who is this Amit Sadh? A TV struggler.

And then Vaid goes on to bitch about Sadh, and how "paka hua" he is, and full of himself. (Regular viewers would no doubt note the unintended irony in that.)

Later, Rakhi Sawant tells Kashmera, as Kashmera is making tea: At least one good thing happened to you here, you learnt how to make tea.

Kashmera replies: Arre, I always knew how to make tea. But for whom? You put Salman Khan here, you see what superb tea I give him, what great biriyani I make. But why should I make tea for Rahul Roy, that one-hit wonder?

And so on. Kashmera, playing the venal schemer to perfection, starts telling her group that Roopali Ganguly is having a scene with Ravi Kishen. Later, Rakhi Sawant tells Roopali that people have this impression of her. The poor girl is naturally distraught, and, in naeka-Bong mode, starts babbling about how all the men in the house are like brothers to her. "I call Ravi's wife 'bhabhi,'" she says. "What does that make Ravi to me?"

"If a man does not belong to his wife," says Rakhi dramatically, "he belongs to no one."

Later Rakhi tells Kashmera of how Roopali said that Ravi was like her brother. Kashmera snorts: She says bhaiyya but actually it's saiyya.

Then there's Aryan Vaid trying to patao Anupama Verma, getting all touchy-feely with her. And there's Deepak Tijori lumbering around, no doubt amused by the action around him. There's Rahul Roy, only his nose visible through his lustrous locks, languidly spouting words of wisdom such as "jo hoga so hoga, yaar."

It's a madhouse, and all these people, behaving weirdly, playing petty games, baring their self-delusion, are real people. This is no Balaji serial, and however much these chaps are aware of the camera, this is still, ultimately, real behaviour. It makes for great viewing (every weeknight at 10pm, on Sony), but I can't help but wonder what it reveals about me that I choose to watch it so religiously. Huh?

Update (November 24): Sakshi Juneja explains why she watches Bigg Boss and is rooting for Rakhi Sawant.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fighting poverty in India

In an essay titled "Why the Fight Against Poverty is Failing: A Contrarian View" (pdf file), Abraham George writes:
Handouts will not solve poverty; neither will it be solved by grand government projects, or by piecemeal interventions of NGOs. Instead, poverty will be solved with vibrant economic activity driven mostly by the private sector. The hundreds of millions of new jobs that are needed each year will come mainly from corporate business ventures in rural areas. The developmental strategy to address poverty must embrace this reality.
Indeed. And the question to ask is not why private companies should invest in rural India, but what's stopping them?

Sadly, that's not a rhetorical question.

(Link via email from Arun Simha.)
amit varma, 11:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

RIP, Robert Altman

It's the time of year when giants move on, I suppose. Milton Friedman died last week, and now Robert Altman has died. Crap.

When I was a kid, I used to like making lists: top ten albums, top ten books, all-time Indian cricket XI, you get the drift. Nashville was a perennial in my list of favourite films. I haven't seen it in more than a decade, though. I think I'll watch it again.

"They say this train don't give out rides
It don't worry me
All the world is takin' sides
It don't worry me
Cause in my empire life is sweet
Just ask any bum you meet
Life may be a one-way street
But it don't worry me

It don't worry me
You may say that I ain't free
It don't worry me

The price of bread may worry some
It don't worry me
Tax relief may never come
It don't worry me
The economy's depressed not me
My spirit's high as it can be
You may say that I ain't free
It don't worry me."

(You'll find many links here. Thanks to reader Jenson Davis for letting me know Altman had died.)
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Orgasms for peace

John Lennon would have liked this, I know. Any excuse will do for some people!

(Link via separate emails from Uday Kiran and Anthony.)
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Chicken Manchurian for President Hu

It takes a fine sense of irony to feed Chicken Manchurian to the visiting president of China. Chicken Manchurian, of course, is one of a few Chinese dishes invented in India, and this was perhaps the first time President Hu had it.

"This is really good," I can imagine President Hu saying as he bites into it. "I never knew Indian cuisine could be so tasty. Different from ours, but good nevertheless."

(Link via email from da chef himself.)

Update: The Chinese could never like the Chinese food in India, Sarang insists.
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Lions in winter?

I think it's great news for India that 37-year-old Brian Lara is batting the way he is against Pakistan. It's bound to add a little extra motivation to a certain 33-year-old Indian batsman, who is far from done himself.
amit varma, 10:42 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Think-tanks and astrology

PTI reports:
The fight against terrorism could last 30 years or more, according to a report by a British think-tank specialising in international security.

"There is every prospect of the 'war on terror' extending for 30 years or more," the report by the Oxford Research Group said on Monday.
This is rubbish. I do not care what methods these people used, you cannot see that far into the future. What happens in the world is determined by a mix of terribly complex events that are impossible for individuals to evaluate or predict or even understand fully in retrospect. Anyone who claims to be able to look 30 years ahead is essentially talking mumbo-jumbo, no more deserving of respect than your standard newspaper astrologer or roadside palmist.

And I'm sure you'd agree that even if the fight against terrorism does last "30 years or more," as is entirely likely, it does not mean that this think-tank was on to something. I can pretend to read a tea leaf and predict that the sun will shine tomorrow, but when the sun does shine, it would not mean that I can read tea leaves.

Of course, there might well be noteworthy observations and insights within the report -- I haven't read it. But however insightful it is, it cannot possibly tell me anything about 2036.

(Some earlier posts on astrology etc: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16.)
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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Keep it simple, stupid

Joel Spolsky, in an excellent post titled Choices = Headaches, points out a key problem in Windows Vista: it gives the user too many choices. There are, for example, "[a] total of fifteen different ways to shut down a laptop that you're expected to choose from."

Now, choices are a good thing, and the more choices we have, the more empowered we are. But these choices also confuse us if we have no tool to navigate them. When it comes to the internet, portals and filter blogs and search engines help us make sense of the bewildering amount of content out there in different ways. Similarly, in different ways, we manage not to lose our minds when it comes to picking from books to buy, films to see and so on. We don't let the choices overwhelm us, and they're generally not in-your-face choices, so we're ok.

But our computers are different. If I want to perform an action -- like closing the computer -- I should not be made to apply my mind on how to do it. It should be simple and intuitive. And I rather like Spolsky's suggestions on how to make that interface simpler, especially his conclusion: just one button that says "b'bye." Simple, elegant, and respectful of my time and attention bandwidth.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
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The unstoppable force

Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek:
Remember how terrified Israel was during its war with Hizbullah this summer—a war many Israelis say they lost? Well, both Israel's stock market and its currency, the shekel, were higher on the last day of the war than on its first day. This year Thailand had an old-fashioned coup, complete with a military takeover, tanks on the streets and a media blackout. The country's currency, the baht, barely dipped.

Markets are supposed to be smart. What are they telling us? That the current era of globalization is more powerful, widespread and resilient than many people realize.
Quite. And I think that's a damn good thing, because robust markets mean more choice for consumers and greater employment for people, as well as more prosperity all around. Everybody benefits.

Of course, this is assuming that there is a strong rule of law, and governments that are either not corruptible (like moons made of cheese) or do not have enough power to subvert the natural workings of markets. That's rarely the case, of course.

Despite interferences in their functioning, though, markets are resilient beasts, and represent the will of the people better than any elected government can. But that's a subject for another day...
amit varma, 11:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

I want to be a beauty queen

Why, you ask, would I express such a desire? Well, simple: if I'm a beauty queen, I won't have to carry arms. The Age reports:
Miss Israel has been given permission to not carry her rifle while serving in the army because she says it bruises her legs.
And yes, I'd wear a topless bikini if asked to, and even pose for Playboy. Just as long as I don't have to carry a gun. I'm not a huge fan of guns.

(Link via SMS from Aadisht.)
amit varma, 9:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Does your body belong to you?

Your answer, but naturally, would be: "Of course it does. How dare you even ask?"

And I presume that you'd strongly protest any attempt by the government to assume control over your body. If it issued a diktat that you may not use your left hand on Sundays, or pierce your left earlobe during summer, you would sneer in disbelief, and refuse to give in to the state's conceit.

I also presume that you'd extend your ownership to your kidneys.

I would, and that is why I agree with the Economist when it writes that "[g]overnments should let people trade kidneys, not convict them for it." I support this for both moral and utilitarian reasons. The moral reason has already been alluded to in this post: we have complete ownership of our bodies, and no one has a right to exercise control over it as long as we are not infringing on the freedom of others. Equally, we should have the freedom to trade with anyone we want as long as we are trading our own property -- and kidneys should not be exempt from this.

The utilitarian reason is that by banning trade in kidneys, we aren't stopping it entirely, but merely relegating it to shady black markets where both parties get ripped off. Black marketeers always have higher costs than legal operators, and in the case of a middleman, these get passed on to both the buyer and the seller. Also, unlike legal operators who would be within the purview of the law, and would have to maintain high standards in a competitive market, black marketeers need not give a damn about standards and practices.

So who suffers when trading kidneys is illegal? Four kinds of people do:

One, the potential buyers who die waiting for a kidney transplant.

Two, the poor sellers who value the money more than a redundant kidney, but have no way to sell them.

Three, the buyers who do get kidneys from the black market, but at a higher cost than they would otherwise have paid, and with no reliable guarantees that the kidney is disease-free.

Four, the chappies who sell their kidneys in the black market, but who might be operated upon in less-than-ideal medical conditions, and who get less money than they would otherwise have got.

Legalising the trade of kidneys, thus, should be a complete no-brainer. But it isn't. A pity, no?

(Earlier posts on the subject: 1, 2.)

Update: Quizman points me, via email, to some moving (and insightful) articles on the subject by Virginia Postrel, who actually donated a kidney for a friend. She describes the experience here, and you can look through more of her writings here and here.
amit varma, 12:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A taste of Swift

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

So says Jonathan Swift in A Modest Proposal, a delicious satire written 277 years ago. It was a comment on the state of the Irish poor, as well as on the misplaced vanity of political economists who think that they can acually 'plan' an economy.

It reminds me of Frederic Bastiat's superb satire on protectionism, The Candlemaker's Petition, in which a group of candlemakers petition the government to block out the sun. Sounds absurd, I know, but as great satire does, it serves to highlight the existing absurdity of much that goes in on the name of 'the common good.'

(Swift link via email from Naveen.)

Update: Jai points me, via email, to an outstanding essay on Swift by Devangshu Datta. Ah, such happiness...

amit varma, 10:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Noel Gallagher

No, no, the two gents named in the headline aren't hooking up, so hold your horses (unless they're irritable). Instead, they're both displaying the same honest hubris that James Ellroy had displayed not long ago.

According to PTI, Lalu Prasad Yadav recently said, ""I am India's minister number one." (Yes, obviously Govinda is going to play him in the film.) And Noel Gallagher told the Guardian:
Look. I was a superhero in the 90s. I said so at the time. McCartney, Weller, Townsend, Richards, my first album's better than all their first albums. Even they'd admit that."
Hmm. Vastly preferable to false modesty, frankly, and if a rock star's not going to strut around, who will? Someone has to strut around, no?

By the way, Oasis's (What's the Story) Morning Glory was recently included by Time magazine in their list of 'The All-Time 100 albums,' which is neither here not there, as that wasn't their first album. In fact, there aren't too many debut albums on that list to begin with.

Is your favourite album on there? Many of my favourites (Astral Weeks, Blonde on Blonde, Blue, Moondance, Sticky Fingers) are included, so I'm not complaining. Time should now do a list of the 100 all-time ministers and put Rabri Devi there. That'll teach Lalu.

Some previous posts on Lalu: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Leave them cafes alone

It's so irritating when these post-modernist types start taking apart mundane things like MacDonald's outlets or shopping malls or cafes as symbols of the ills that globalisation or capitalism or modernity is allegedly responsible for. For example, there's this lady named Charlotte Ashby writing in Comment is Free:
The homogeneity of the modern coffeehouse chain could be seen on one hand as a reflection of the democratisation of society. On the other hand it is evidence of the stifling impact of rationalising corporate culture. In the effort to create a space in which everyone can feel at home, no space remains for the transgressive, for seditious discussions of culture or political gatherings that characterised the coffeehouses of the past.
"Blogs?" I am tempted to ask, but that would be besides the point. Really, what on earth is meant by "rationalising corporate culture?" And what basis does she have for saying that "no space remains for the transgressive?" People who wish to be transgressive will surely create their own spaces for that, which seems to me the whole idea of being transgressive in the first place. If Ms Ashby relates "seditious discussions of culture" with the coffeehouses where they once took place, then she has missed the essential for the incidental.

Indeed, in no other time has it been so possible to have vibrant, cross-cultural conversations, across continents, across subjects. The local adda has been partly replaced, thanks to the internet, by the global adda. These are wonderful times, and I'm not going to complain about Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days looking alike, as long as they provide the utility I go to them for, and as long as I have the freedom to, um, transgress. I don't need a cafe for that.

Update (Novermber 21): Rishi didn't like Ms Ashby's piece either. He writes in:
"Can culture continue to be created in cafes in the 21st century or will it simply be handed down in the form of chain-authorised music, compilations and reading matter?"

The phrase "false. friggin'. dichotomy." occurs to me. But, in a way, the intellectual dishonesty is admirable. It takes a rare and bold liar to push her point by implicitly assuming that culture creation takes place solely in coffee houses. A lie, but what a stunningly large one. And so very smooth. I must use this technique in my next client presentation.

Her idea of a "transgressive space" is also astonishing:

"a world of contemporary, fashionable luxury. For the price of a cup of coffee or glass of wine it was possible to sit among polished lamps, marble tabletops and shining glassware in velvet-covered booths, enjoying the myriad reflections multiplied and refracted in gilt-framed mirrors."

Exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to find wild-eyed revolutionaries and dirt-poor, self-mutilating artists. Actually, this tells us what she is really lamenting. In spite of her lip service to "democratisation", she yearns for an [almost certainly mythical] era in which knowledge and ideas were restricted to an elite inner circle, in defined spaces, firmly set off from the rabble.
Great joy lies in being rabble.
amit varma, 11:54 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The compulsive orgasmer

I'm a huge fan of orgasms, but I must confess that I don't quite know what to make of this report:
Growing numbers of Japanese women are afflicted with an illness that gives them orgasms virtually 24 hours a day. And with suggestions that it could be deadly, the women hardly know whether they're coming or going, according to Shukan Post (11/24).

"If a guy simply taps me on the shoulder, I just swoon. Even when I go to the toilet, my body reacts. I'm a little bit scared of myself," one woman sufferer tells Shukan Post.


Yet another woman has her say. "Even the vibration of my mobile phone is enough to set me off," she says. "My friend said there's something called Iku Iku byo (Cum Cum Disease). I guess I've got that."
It appears that these ladies have something called the persistent sexual arousal syndrome (PSAS). (It also appears that I now know what 'Iku' means in Japanese, thus guaranteeing a sparkling conversation the next time I bump into a pretty Japanese lady.) The Boston Globe has a report that indicates that this isn't just the preserve of the Japanese:
When Jean Lund, a 51-year-old office manager and mother of three, told her gynecologist the problem, he snickered and said, "You're every man's dream."

"I wanted to punch him," she recalled. "I'm suffering here, and he's laughing, `Hardy-har-har.' So I looked him in the face and said, `How would you like to walk around on the verge of orgasm every second?' And he shut up."
The article points out that this condition does not imply an addiction to sex. A sex therapist is in fact quoted as saying that "[t]here's no joy or fulfillment in [sex]." It's purely a physiological thing.

One might conclude that we are all slaves to biology, and it is in extreme cases like these (and these!) that we realise it, and protest against it. The rest of the time we can rationalise our physical impulses as being healthy (or 'natural'), though we sometimes use the irrestibility of them as welcome justification when we've been naughty. ("I couldn't help myself, I was drunk, and she was coming on strong, and you know how it is with guys!")

Indeed, the disclaimer that PSAS isn't sexual addiction seems to imply that an addiction to sex is somehow a worse thing, and not entirely physiological. It's not necessarily that way, as the moving documentary below indicates.

Girl Addicted To Sex - A True Story - video powered by Metacafe

(Mainichi-MSN link via email from Naveen, Boston Globe link via email from Ravikiran.)
amit varma, 10:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

15 days in jail ain't too bad

Of course, it comes after an eight-year-long trial for a gent named Harbhajan Singh, no relation to the offspinner currently in South Africa.

Our justice system is punishment itself, actually, for anyone who gets put through the grinder. The means to an end can be worse than the end itself, and you're assumed guilty unless pronounced innocent. "The case is adjourned until the next millenium," I can hear voices in my head say, "and you must wait your turn patiently. Muhahaha."
amit varma, 10:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Rise, Serendipity

Sometimes, blogging can be such a beautiful thing. Read this post by Peter Griffin, and all the links therein. Great joy comes, especially since I play an inadvertent part in this coming together of old friends. It hasn't all been wasted, this thankless blogging, I tell myself.
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How to stop eve-teasing

Ban girls.

If the gentlemen who thought of that solution are asked to solve the Kashmir problem, they'll no doubt want to hand it over to China. Crafty.

(Link via email from Erimentha, whose lovely post on it I recommend you read.)
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Gore Vidal on gay marriage

An excerpt from a Time magazine interview of Gore Vidal:

What do you think of gay marriage?

Since heterosexual marriage is such a disaster, why on earth would anybody want to imitate it?
If you're not a cynic you're a wishful thinker, I often say, and Vidal's clearly not the latter.

And what are my views on gay marriage? Well, I support it in the sense that I don't oppose it, in the same sense that I support left-handed people being allowed to drive or blond people being allowed inside libraries. What is there to oppose? No one is harmed by how two consenting adults choose to define their relationship, and it takes astonishing perversity to want to interfere with that.

One hundred years later, I hope, people will be amazed that there was a time when gay marriage was illegal, just as we might sometimes wonder how women were once not allowed to vote, or how some people kept others as slaves.

Or is that wishful thinking?
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Friday, November 17, 2006

Who needs grass?

Not this cow.

(Link via separate emails from Arjun Narayan and Manish Manke.)

(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, 67, 68, 69.)
amit varma, 4:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

RIP, Milton Friedman

Gautam and Michael just emailed to inform me that Milton Friedman has died, and I feel a strange sense of loss that I can't explain. Friedman was 94, he was American, I never had anything remotely to do with him, so why should I give a damn? Well, maybe it's because many of the things he stood for are values I hold very close to my heart. He also articulated them with such lucid brilliance that any doubts one had were removed, any questions one had were answered.

And maybe because I wish some of his insights had entered the heads of the people who run our country.

I shall update this post later to link to obituaries and tributes, but in the meantime, let me leave you with two gems: one, this brilliant quote by him on the four ways in which money can be spent; and two, an outstanding interview that I had linked to here, and that I reproduce again below. (Here's the transcript.)

Update: Here are some pieces on Friedman by the Wall Street Journal, Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, Austan Goolsbee, Holcomb Noble, Steven Levitt, Virginia Postrel and Megan McArdle. There are more links over at Instapundit.

Update 2 (November 17): There are many more links to pieces on Friedman over at Arts and Letters Daily. Also, Ravi Venkatesh presents everyday illustrations of the Friedman quote I'd linked to above.

Update 3 (November 17): Friedman on India. (Link via separate emails from Quizman and Gautam.)
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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Da Beard

Politicians, politicians. PTI reports:
A Congress leader from Haryana has been booked for allegedly pulling the beard of a Sikh truck driver after an accident.
I can't even begin to imagine the chain of events that must have led to the gentleman's beard being pulled. I'm sure it must have begun with the chappies calling each other names. Then their sisters probably got dragged into it. Then their mommas. Then their poppas. And then, when no more could the rage be controlled, the beard must have been grabbed. And the Congress bugger must have been cleanshaven, so the truck driver wouldn't have been able to reciprocate.

These politicians are always waging unequal battles.
amit varma, 4:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A tale of two hungry Martians

Two Martians, flying towards Earth, are having a conversation:

Nghffrx: My friend, Swrtxf, I am hungry.

Swrtxf: My colleague, Nghffrx, I am afraid you will have to wait. The nearest planet is earth, and they don't have any food there, as far as I know.

Nghffrx: Oh, Swrtfx, this is most terrible. I might be forced to start eating this spacecraft, and where does that leave us?

Swrtxf: You are most melodramatic, Nghffrx. Oh wait! Look! Do you see that?

Nghffrx: What? Where? Who?

Swrtxf: It's a KFC logo! They have KFC on Earth. The heavens be praised.

Nghffrx: Wheeeeee! Drive down, quick!

Yes, it's true: KFC is now visible from outer space.

(Link via email from n.)
amit varma, 12:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

China, India and Tenzin Tsundue

The smell of dystopia comes. The Chinese government is not happy about a dissenter in India, so they get the Indian government to crack down on him. Tenzin Tsundue, the activist for a free Tibet who won Outlook's then-annual essay competition with a lovely essay some years ago, has been placed under virtual city arrest. Matt Browner Hamlin reports:
[Tsundue] has been restricted to within the city limits of Dharamsala and is being guarded by eleven police officers around the clock. He has committed no crime and is under no suspicion of any dangerous activities. Yet the Indian government has declared that he will be deported to Tibet - a country that he has never lived in - if he leaves Dharamsala during the period of Chairman Hu Jintao’s visit to India.
Nitin Pai states his position:
Tenzin is a spirited protestor. But his methods are non-violent. “Non-violence is not a strategy for us” he writes, “It is a holistic way of living; it is our basic principle for life”. That should completely address concerns over President Hu’s security. And if the Indian government is that concerned that his protests may prove an eyesore for Hu and therefore an embarrassment for his hosts, then it should place perimeter restrictions that prevent Tsundue from getting into the Chinese president’s field of vision. There is no justification for any restraints that go beyond this.

Meanwhile, China itself has not shown an appreciation for its hosts’ sensitivities ahead of the trip—it has not hesitated to make it clear that its stand on the border dispute remains unchanged. So UPA government’s Nehruvian kow-towing to China’s sensibilities is as unreciprocated now as during Nehru’s own time.

That the UPA government’s foreign policy is hijacked by its Communist allies should now be clear.
Bang on, though I must point out here that Indian governments of the past haven't been particularly staunch defenders of freedom, Communist allies or not. And I'm assuming that the second and third paras of the excerpt I quoted above are meant as an aside: even if China gave in to all our demands -- or whiny requests, as it were -- the freedom we allow our citizens and residents should be non-negotiable. Tenzin has no criminal record, and was unquestionably not planning a violent protest. It is a sad day when India starts behaving like China (unless we start doing well in table tennis, but this is not the place to be flippant).

Amardeep Singh posts on the subject here, and Desi Pundit is also tracking it. And here are some previous posts by me that touch on the subject of individual freedom in India: 1, 2, 3, 4.

(Some of the links here via mailing list email from Peter.)

Update: Space Bar writes in to say that while she opposes the Indian government's clamping down on Tsundue's freedom of speech and movement, he's not necessarily quite so non-violent. In a post on the subject, she cites Tsundue as writing:
A general apathy over Tibet and this non-action "non-violent freedom struggle' is slowly killing the movement.
Space Bar also points to a piece by Pankaj Mishra in which Tsundue is quoted as saying, "what's wrong with blowing up a few bridges?"

In any case, he wasn't about to blow up any bridges here. Such it is, such it goes.
amit varma, 11:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mice should not fly

Actually, to be precise, they should not fly east. Odd, this study. I wonder why it happens.

I'm going to walk into a Timex showroom one of these days and ask for a circadian clock.
amit varma, 6:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Help! My child is being attacked by a shark!"

Oh, I love Dave Barry. Last night I met a bunch of bloggers at Shiok in Bangalore -- I'm here till Friday, working on a top-secret project to accelerate global warming -- and at one point we started discussing Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys (we even contemplated the book as being about 'guys' in the Hindi sense). Deepak Shenoy, who runs a software company by day besides writing four blogs, mentioned that he'd send me a terrific take by Barry on The Da Vinci Code.

And so he has. Check this out, it's fantastic.

And by the by, the other bloggers present were Gautam, Prabhu, Lahar, Suman and, of course, MadMan. Large quantities of cocktails were brutally ravaged. I'm beginning to like Bangalore.
amit varma, 5:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut needs a new logo

Kind readers, I'm redesigning my entire site, and need a spiffy logo that says 'India Uncut'. Would any of you like to volunteer to make one for me? I have no money to offer, but link love will be forthcoming for anyone who sends in a decent logo, as well as a slot in the site credits for whoever's logo I use. And my eternal gratitude of course.

If you'd like to have a crack at it, here's a broad brief: I want something tasteful, subdued and elegant. It should be masculine, but in a 'sensitive-man' kind of way. It should look good in both a large size and in 130x90 size. It should be easily readable, and not scribbly or excessively stylised. Playing around with text alone is just fine, but I don't mind a small illustration to accompany it, as long as it doesn't overwhelm the thing.

If you wish to try your hand at it, do email me a jpeg or gif. But remember, I have done nothing to deserve such kindness, and you may rot in hell for helping me.

Update: Prabhu suggests that my logo should look something like this.

I suggest that Prabhu says his final goodbyes to friends and family. This will not go unanswered.
amit varma, 2:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

People with contextual advertising

Why should only websites have contextual advertising? Why can't people also have contextual advertising? For example, you see me at a mall and think, "Ah, that guy looks cute. I wonder what he's like." And then you see text ads floating around my head.

So you click on one mentally -- this involves staring at it and sort of blinking purposefully -- and wherever that link is leading, poof, it's instantly internalised. One of the links around my head would presumably say "India Uncut," so when you click on that -- blink etc -- you know it all, every word on my blog.

In return you lose a piece of your soul. That's my payout. And I collect pieces of people's souls, and whenever I'm interested in someone, and click on their links, I lose bits of mine. So here we all are, collections of fragments of souls walking around searching for completeness.

Pah, I must stop being so sentimental. I think it's lack of sleep that does this.
amit varma, 11:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A momentary lapse of reason

Forget the context of this article -- many arguments can be had on the broader issues of sentencing -- but consider just this one sentence:
The manner in which the deceased was raped may be brutal but it could have been a momentary lapse on the part of appellant, seeing a lonely girl at a secluded place.
This is from a Supreme Court judge, and he's speaking about the rape (and subsequent death) of an eight-year-old girl. And that 'but' in the middle of the sentence makes me furious. Call it contempt of court, but if the judge who uttered these words appeared in front of me, I would be sorely tempted to inflict physical violence on him. I could argue later that it was a momentary lapse of reason. "I didn't mean to cut your tongue off, your honour," I could say, "but seeing a lonely judge at a secluded place..."
amit varma, 11:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Happy Children's Day, and suchlike

I find the concept of having days for things rather silly. So today is Children's Day. What on earth does that mean, I ask no one in particular. A gruff voice from the neighbouring flat replies:

"Children's Day means I treat my children well today. I don't beat them up, or take my frustrations out on them. Instead, I beat up my wife."

"So what do you do on Women's Day?" I ask.

"I don't beat up my woman that day," the reply comes. "I buy her a greeting card, and have sex with her, but finish well before she comes, because we can't afford to spoil them, you see."

"And what about Father's Day?" I ask.

"I call him up and wish him," he says. "He asks why I haven't called for six months. What does he expect, the old man? After all, I'm so busy with my wife and kids."

Well, whatever. If there is a child anywhere in you, Happy Children's Day. And don't let the adult in you get out. They spoil the world, they do.
amit varma, 11:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Brangelina v Indian Mystic

I don't particularly like astrologers, my good readers will know. But even they can have their uses. Check out what one bugger called Anand Soni got up to in Pune:
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will split next year and Brad will run back to his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston, according to an Indian astrologer. Mystic Anand Soni met with the couple in Pune, India, where they are shooting new movie 'A Mighty Heart' - in which Angelina stars and Brad is producing.

According to India's Mumbai Midday newspaper [sic], Soni informed a shocked Brad
and Angelina that the 'Fight Club' actor was still "mentally very much together" with his ex Jennifer.
"Pfaw," Angelina must have exclaimed when she heard this, before unleashing a Lara Croftian kick that split Soni's brain in four, very tiny pieces. Then she would have led Brad off to her makeshift boudoir in Sindh Colony.

And the next morning, Brad would get up with a beatific smile on his face, turn to Angelina and say, "Jenny, my love, get the whip, no."

(Link via email from Sanjeev Naik, who also points to more on Aniston.)

(Some earlier posts on astrology etc: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.)
amit varma, 1:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Redefining poverty

You have to love the irony in this.

And when I say 'have to' I mean 'have to.' If you do not follow my instructions and find that piece ironic, I will come to your house and marinate you.
amit varma, 12:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, November 13, 2006

Summing up organised religion

You can say it in just one sentence, as Elton John does here:
[Organised religion] turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate.
A lemming, according to this source, is "[a] short-tailed, furry rodent known for its peculiar habit of committing mass suicide by hurling itself ... over steep cliffs and into the ocean."

The organised-religion kind of lemmings, of course, want to take everyone else over the same cliff. We atheist bandicoots will fight.

The article I quoted from, by the by, is a conversation between Elton John and Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters) on being gay. The Observer has another piece on how hard it is for pop stars to come out of the closet here.
amit varma, 6:47 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ladies, head to Patna

India Today recently had a cover story on a sex survey that they had done in India. From the blurbs in the magazine, a couple of excerpts:
60% young men in Ahmedabad think oral sex is important.

67% in Patna always make sure their girlfriends have an orgasm.
Also, one of the questions asked in the survey was "What do you prefer in foreplay?" While 66% like "kissing," 42 like "massage," and 36% like "looking at body parts." Exponential delight expands.

But seriously, such surveys, while they give the magazine a chance to put in lots of supposedly steamy pictures and perhaps sell more copies, make no sense. No man I know will be honest when asked questions about sex, particularly when it comes to matters like frequency of sex and whether their partner had an orgasm. Many of the 24% of people who admitted to trying "girlfriend swapping" surely did not understand what the term meant, and probably thought the question was about if they'd changed girlfriends. And let's not even talk of sample sizes and generalisations.

And no, for the reader who asked recently, my blog is not named after my, ahem, organ. Thank you very much.

Update (November 14): Naveen Mandava has more comments on the survey here.
amit varma, 6:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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