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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lions and elephants roaming Golden Gate Park

James D Miller wants to give San Francisco what it wants. Heh.
amit varma, 10:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Look ma, no gears

Ratan Tata reveals some of the specs of his Rs 100,000 (apprx. US$2270) car.
amit varma, 7:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A glitch in the matrix

Residents of Mumbai will sense the familiar in this carnage. The New York Times reports about New Orleans:
With bridges washed out, highways converted into canals, and power and communications lines inoperable, government officials ordered everyone still remaining out of the city. Officials began planning for the evacuation of the Superdome, where about 10,000 refugees huddled in increasingly grim conditions as water and food were running out and rising water threatened the generators.


Across the region, rescue workers were not even trying to gather up and count the dead, officials said, but pushed them aside for the time being as they tried to find the living.
There's some good coverage on Hurricane Katrina on Instapundit -- particularly this post. CNN has been doing a great job as well, and there are some affecting video clips on their site. And here are reports from the BBC, the Washington Post and Reuters.
amit varma, 6:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Labour problems force plane to land

Thankfully, there's a mother involved, not a union.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Pigs and the family

The Reddy family is fighting about pigs. Sushama Reddy says:
Pigs are the most misunderstood animals. It’s (sic) not as detached as a cat, but neither will it slobber all over you like a dog, but the fact is that a pig is extremely loyal. I think they are ideal pets and look so very adorable. I don’t mind rolling in the muck like a pig.
Well, we wouldn't mind it either, as long as she posted the pics. Meanwhile, her dad, CP Reddy, says:
Pigs symbolise pain and misery. They are dirty and it’s unpleasant to even have its picture at home. I don’t like the idea of Sushama collecting these things.
Interestingly, it seems from the article these quotes are from that Sushama doesn't even collect real pigs, but "pig soft toys, wall hangings, soaps, key chains, ceramic and clay pigs in different sizes." Dudette, get a real hog into your life, that's where the action is. Or a real cow.

(Link via the rockacious, bloggacious best-blogger-on-the-planetacious Sonia.)
amit varma, 3:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

God's advocates

Heh. Check out this page: "Over Three Hundred Proofs of God’s Existence". I'm scrolling down and picking three random ones from that page:
(1) God is awesome!
(2) Like, totally, dude!
(3) Therefore, God, like, exists and stuff.

(1) The Bible says Jesus turned water into wine.
(2) Can you turn water into wine?
(3) No? Well there ya go.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) I prayed to God, and then lifted a car off my trapped puppy.
(2) I couldn't have done that without God.
(3) Therefore, God exists.
Nice. Read them all.

(Link via Zoo Station.)
amit varma, 12:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Liberal and conservative dreams

Kelly Bulkeley, who most recently wrote a book called "Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions", reveals in an interview what liberals and conservatives dream about. He says:
[W]hat I've found as a general trend is that the dreams of political liberals tend to have more bizarre, fantastical kinds of elements: more flying, more dead people coming back to life, more weird sexual dreams.

Conservatives, by contrast, tend to have more dreams of everyday events, every day settings and interaction.
Er, but what if "weird sexual" things are "everyday events" for you? You're probably a libertarian then! Libertarians mostly find themselves unable to support either conservatives or liberals (in the American sense; many libertarians would call themselves classical liberals). As I'd stated here, libertarians believe in individual freedom, and end up opposing the left because they are against economic freedom, and the right because they are often against social freedom. So we end up supporting free markets, and the leftists call us right-wingers and "free-market fundamentalists", and we end up supporting abortion rights and gay marriage, while opposing censorship, and the right calls us "woolyheaded liberals" for that. Everybody hates us, and all for sticking to that simple principle of freedom.

And no, I am not going going to tell you what I dream about.

(Interview link via email from reader Shravan Enaganti.)
amit varma, 8:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When the earth shook ... slightly

It turns out that there were low-intensity tremors in parts of Maharastra, including Mumbai, yesterday. Mumbai happens to lie on a faultline, and it is not inconceivable that it will be struck by an earthquake someday. I happen to live in an oldish building, though not as dilapidated as this one, and that worries me a bit. As also the fact that on the evidence of the aftermath of the recent floods, Mumbai will not be able to cope with a really big disaster.

A slightly smaller worry (and one I'd stated earlier): As in the story I just linked to, Mid Day keeps abbreviating "buildings" to "bldgs", and I keep misreading it as "blogs". And so my head is full of "weak blogs", "collapsing blogs", "dilapidated blogs" and "blogs that the BMC does not maintain". I worry that people will meet me on the road, stop me and ask, "How's the water supply in your blog?" Sigh. What can I do but building about it?
amit varma, 8:20 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A shooter, not an assassin

Ahmed Al Maktoum, the shooter from Dubai, is upset that an assassin from Dubai in the film Sarkar is referred to as an Olympic gold medalist in shooting. Al Maktoum won an Olympic gold in the double trap last year, beating India's Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and feels it's a derogatory reference to him.

Dude, next time let our guy win. Ok?
amit varma, 8:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Start with toilets

Sudheendra Kulkarni writes in the Indian Express that India's drive towards becoming a developed nation must begin with providing toilets for its citizens. And how do things stand now? He tells us:
Consider the statistics about the Total Sanitation Campaign, the centrally sponsored scheme of the ministry of rural development. Of the 138 million rural households, only 23.7 per cent have own toilets. The coverage in a state like Bihar is as low as 6.5 per cent, with BPL (below poverty line) households accounting for a paltry 0.7 per cent! Even in a rich state like Maharashtra, the coverage is only 19 per cent. The percentage of schools having toilets is 43 per cent and many of them are of very poor standards.

Is there is a solution? Yes. It has three components: massive public and private investment in sanitation; major efficiency enhancement in the functioning of panchayats, municipal bodies, and government departments; and, above all, large-scale people’s participation through organised voluntary action and penalty for offenders.
The solution for problems such as this, in my view, is more likely to come from within communities, and via private enterprise and money (by which I means NGOs more than Nike), than from the government. Read Kulkarni's full piece, it's a valuable update on what is happening in this context, and on what remains to be done.
amit varma, 7:50 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Speaking of destiny

Reacting to this story (that I linked to here), reader G Evans writes in:
If the children were "destined to be killed by their own mother," how is it not possible that the mother was destined to be prosecuted for murder?
Nice. Couldn't have put it better myself.
amit varma, 7:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It's all gone wrong in Iraq

But it's not too late. The Iraqi constitution is rather messed up, but if they read Kingsley Jegan's advice in time, they could still turn it around.
amit varma, 9:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Scarecrows for terrorists

Could India tackle agro-terrorism?
amit varma, 8:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Certain officers run amok"

That's the response of Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, to the blatant misuse of power displayed by the Punjab Police, who arrested Gautam Dheer, an Indian Express reporter, because they were displeased with a story Dheer had written. I'd blogged on it here, and the Indian Express has an apt editorial up here.
amit varma, 2:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The beautiful girls of Russia

Edvard Radzinsky writes in the Wall Street Journal:
For the greater part of the 20th century, Russia's population suffered from the nightmare of wars, repression and perpetual hunger. There was the famine of the Civil War, the famine of the years of collectivization, and the famine of the Second World War. It almost seems as if the relative prosperity of recent years has engendered a peculiar reaction of the flesh, something almost akin to gratitude. All across the country, a plethora of beautiful girls has sprung up.
Read the full thing. Radzinsky, who has written some fascinating books on Russian history, traces the position of women in Russia from the 18th century, when a popular saying went "A chicken's hardly a bird, a woman's hardly a person", to today's post-Soviet Russia, when Russian women "don't want to change the world. They want to conquer it."
amit varma, 2:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What was that again?

Rahul in Kabul is like a bulbul: It flies away just when you think you’ve caught it.
That's what "a bandhgala diplomat" remarked about Rahul Gandhi's trip to Afghanistan as part of the prime minister's entourage recently, according to this Telegraph story. Well, whatever.
amit varma, 2:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The kids of today

Arun Simha points me to a fine blog called "The Religious Policeman", self-described as "The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment." It's fascinating stuff, laced with wit, and I especially laughed aloud at the following excerpt:
Conversation between two mothers in a Saudi supermarket:

Mother 1: Oh hello, haven't seen you for ages*, how's little Abdullah?

Mother 2: Little Abdullah? He's really big now. He went off to Iraq to be a suicide bomber. And little Mohammad?

Mother 1: Same thing. No longer little either. He also went off to be a suicide bomber in Iraq

Mother 2: There you go. Don't children blow up quickly these days?

* (Ironic greeting exchanged between veiled ladies.)
Read the full post here. Good stuff.
amit varma, 2:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A bribe to hold your baby

The New York Times reports from Bangalore:
Just as the painful ordeal of childbirth finally ended and Nesam Velankanni waited for a nurse to lay her squalling newborn on her chest, the maternity hospital's ritual of extortion began.

Before she even glimpsed her baby, she said, a nurse whisked the infant away and an attendant demanded a bribe. If you want to see your child, families are told, the price is $12 for a boy and $7 for a girl, a lot of money for slum dwellers scraping by on a dollar a day. The practice is common here in the city, surveys confirm.

Mrs. Velankanni was penniless, and her mother-in-law had to pawn gold earrings that had been a precious marriage gift so she could give the money to the attendant, or ayah. Mrs. Velankanni, a migrant to Bangalore who had been unprepared for the demand, wept in frustration.
Most of us reading this are used to the endemic corruption in India, but I can't help feeling utterly shocked at this story. I can't imagine what goes through the minds of the nurses and attendants who ask a mother for money to allow her to hold her new-born kid. How stone-cold can you be?

(Link via emails, separately, from Abhay Jajoo and Vimalanand Prabhu.)
amit varma, 1:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bloggers meet in Delhi

What does a Mumbai blogger do when he shifts to Delhi? Why, he organises a bloggers' meet, of course. Saket Vaidya might have ditched his Mumbai pals, but Delhi bloggers are rejoicing. If you blog and are in Delhi on September 4, roll on over and meet some fellow bloggers. Saket has the details here.

PS: If you do hop over and meet Saket, you might notice that one of his legs is rather longer than the other one. That's the one we've been pulling. You tug on the other one, and let's see if we can get them the same length.
amit varma, 1:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, August 29, 2005

Let him go

The Mumbai police has stopped Salman Khan from leaving the country.

What have we done to deserve this?
amit varma, 4:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Contradictions and lies

Smriti Irani lays out the BJP's stand on reservations:
BJP totally stands by reservations for women in parliament. The only thing it objects to is reservations on the basis of religion. In our country, everyone should be equal under the law. One should not encourage division on the basis of religion, region, caste or creed.
I shall offer no comment on that.

In other news, the Supreme Court calls Zaheera Shaikh a liar. Well, she kept contradicting herself, so she was clearly lying at least part of the time. Now they'll fight over which parts of her testimonies were truthful. What a mess.
amit varma, 4:26 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Yesterday I watched yet another amazing Test between England and Australia. Today, a lacklustre performance from India. And the difference is clear to me: enjoyment. The iconic figure of the English side is Andrew Flintoff, who is quick to smile on the field, and clearly enjoys every moment he spends on the field, relishing the game he loves. His attitude has rubbed off onto his team-mates, and it helps, I suppose, that England's captain is one of the more relaxed guys around.

Contrast them with the Indians, who look under pressure even when there is no reason for it. They seem burdened, and only those who know them well can really shed light on what it is that holds them back. Trapped in a cycle of diffidence, they're just getting worse and worse.

Perhaps they simply need to smile more. As I'd once written here, that alone can be the start of a turnaround.
amit varma, 3:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The tactical failure of LK Advani

LK Advani has blundered away his position in Indian politics. The darling of the far right, he thought he'd win himself the support of moderate (and secular) Indians with his comments about Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan, but he only succeeded in angering his core constituency on the right. And now, he's trying to woo them back with his support of Narendra Modi, which is ensuring that those moderates who were impressed by his statements on Jinnah have gone back to disregarding him. He has become na ghar ka na ghat ka, while earlier he could at least call one of them his home. What he must have thought of as a significant tactical shift has backfired completely.
amit varma, 3:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


We all know what MSM stands for. Well, now Arun Simha tells us all about how MSB (Mainstream Blogs) can be even more partisan.

I must point out that I strongly disagree with what Arun says about Instapundit, though. Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) is certainly not "a biased hack", nor can he be described as the far right. (Arun doesn't back up these assertions, and I wonder what he bases them on.) Reynolds is broadly libertarian, which is perhaps the reason I enjoy his blog so much. I find his commentary to be crisp and balanced, and I think he has done more to demonstrate the potential of blogging than any other blogger in the world. That is why he is so popular, and if popular is mainstream, well, I don't see why that's necessarily a pejorative.
amit varma, 2:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Share the love

Desi Pundit solicits links.

As I've mentioned before, I think Desi Pundit is a terrific initiative by some really good bloggers, and I wish them all the best. In case you haven't heard of them before, they're a filter blog for Indian blogs. In other words, they read all that the Indian blogosphere has to offer, and serve up the best stuff for you. Worthy aim.
amit varma, 2:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Champagne and Posto

The dogs of Shilpa Shetty and Bipasha Basu respectively. Where did I get this information from? This Mid Day headline: "Canines fall prey to lifestyle bug."

Fans of Bengali women and food will be pleased to know that Posto is not one of the affected canines.
amit varma, 12:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

In a police state of mind

Frightening news from Chandigarh. The Indian Express reports:
A report by The Indian Express this morning on a complaint against Inspector General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini to the state human rights commission brought the might of the Punjab cops to the reporter’s door.

Throwing all legal norms out of the window, a police team, reporting directly to IGP Saini, stormed into the residence of The Indian Express Principal Correspondent Gautam Dheer and took him away late tonight.

Giving no reason for the arrest, denying him access to a lawyer, police refused to even confirm where they had taken him.
Well, at least the Indian Express is an influential newspaper and can slug it out on their man's behalf. Journalists from smaller, local papers would not get such support. And we wouldn't even hear about them.
amit varma, 12:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Look ma, a century

"No matter what you choose to do in life," parents sometimes tell their kids, "make sure you're the best at it." Well, Gopal Singh's parents must be proud of him. He just notched up his 100th prison sentence.

If he goes on like this, all his prison sentences could come together to make a prison novel.
amit varma, 11:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Off with her legs

The Telegraph reports:
A farmer chopped off both the legs of his wife while she slept, accusing her of being a spendthrift, reports our special correspondent.

Syed Fakruddin of Andhra Pradesh, who worked on a sheep farm in Kuwait, returned last week to find that his wife, Sadiquin Begam, had spent all the Rs 4 lakh that he had sent on jewellery and clothes.

A furious Fakruddin bought an axe on Wednesday, while returning to his home in Anantpur district and hacked the legs of his wife while she slept. Fakruddin then rushed Sadiquin to a government hospital, where the limbs had to be amputated.

The police dropped the case registered against the farmer when he surrendered the next day as Sadiquin did not want any action taken.
So do you think that a crime should be condoned just because the victim forgives the criminal? I think not. That's like saying that a rapist should be let off if the rape victim forgives him, or even agrees to marry him, which a lot of people, even judges, seem to think is acceptable. Cases like this set just the wrong precedent.

Update: And here's a story about a woman who wanted to commit suicide and jumped into a lake with two daughters, aged four and two. They drowned, she survived, and is being prosecuted for murder, as indeed she should be. Her husband is appealing for clemency, though. The fellow "feels that his children were destined to be killed by their own mother." Such nonsense.

Update 2: Vimalanand Prabhu writes in:
I fail to understand what the Public Prosecutor does in India. Isn't it his duty to file a case if some crime has happened? What if the lady got killed? In that case, she cannot take any action against her husband. Should, therefore, we not file any case against the criminal?
amit varma, 11:39 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Politicians and novelists

In an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Lying for a Living" (subscription link), Daniel Akst writes about the similarity between politicians and novelists:
The fact is that politicians and novelists have a lot in common, even beyond the irresistibly cynical observation that they both lie for a living. Members of both camps seem to believe that they have a lot to say, after all, and both feel compelled to say it at great length. Anyone who has been on a book tour can tell you that it feels a little like a political campaign, if a losing one. Contrary to the image of the lonely artist forging his works in the smithy of his soul, the working novelist must be adept at marshaling the support of agents, editors, booksellers and any number of former and current spouses. And these days so many novelists need to teach writing to supplement their income that an aptitude for academic politics is almost part of the job description.

Both politics and fiction-writing depend heavily on public approval, which is why both are such essentially narcissistic lines of work. Members of these two egotistical tribes must also find the right balance between following their principles and giving the public what it wants. Each seeks prizes available only to a select few. And in both camps there is considerable fretting about money.
Hmm. Maybe I should aspire to be a politician as well.

(Link via email from reader Anuj Tiku.)
amit varma, 10:55 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The kamasutra neckline

That and much more about the modern choli explained here.

I didn't quite understand a lot of the jargon. Some more pictures would have helped.
amit varma, 12:17 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How the anti-evolutionists do it

Daniel Dennett, the author of the marvellous books, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," "Consciousness Explained," and "Freedom Evolves," exposes the modus operandi of the proponents of Intelligent Design:
[T]he proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.

Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat," you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: "See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms." And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.

William Dembski, one of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design, notes that he provoked Thomas Schneider, a biologist, into a response that Dr. Dembski characterizes as "some hair-splitting that could only look ridiculous to outsider observers." What looks to scientists - and is - a knockout objection by Dr. Schneider is portrayed to most everyone else as ridiculous hair-splitting.
Read the full piece, good stuff.

(Link via TA Abinandanan.)
amit varma, 12:02 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Soniaji of the NDA, and the family cow

The Indian Express reports:
A full-page ad issued by a Congress staff outfit welcoming party chief Sonia Gandhi to Kerala has turned out to be an embarrassment for the party on the day of her arrival.

The highlights:

• "It is a matter of pride that Soniaji heads the NDA Government at the Centre. Even the Left parties can share this pride."


• "At first, Vayalar Ravi may frown at you. Then he will be like a cow...He is a family member of 10 Janpath."

(Link via email from Aadisht Khanna.)

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20.
amit varma, 11:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A revenue stream for terrorists

Porn. BBC reports:
Rebels in India's north-eastern state of Tripura are making pornographic films to raise money for their separatist campaign, officials say.

The information has come from surrendered guerrillas of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), according to police.

They say the rebels are forcing captured tribal women, and some men, to take part in the films.
Read the full piece, the account of the sexual abuses carried out by this terrorist group is quite harrowing.

(Link via Secular-Right India, who, tongue snugly in cheek, put it in perpective here.)
amit varma, 12:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A rat, a buffalo or a cow

Sunita Menon gives Anil Thakraney his rebirth options. Heh.
amit varma, 11:49 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Morya Re

[You're in heaven. God is sitting at the table next to you, sipping a ristretto, looking distressed. Satan walks in.]

Satan: Hey, dude God, how's life? You called, and here I am.

God: [Sighing] Sit down, Satan, sit down.

Satan: [sitting] Hey, dude God, what's up? You aren't looking too, if I may say it, good today. If you're feeling horny, I could help set something up.

God: No, no, it's not carnal. It's just that, well, I'm so bored out here in heaven. And everytime my intercom buzzes, it's some boring human worshipping me in some boring way. I'm sick of this.

Satan: Hmmm. I could tell you to go to hell. Or rather, come to my party tonight. But dude God, you've looked pretty pleased this time of the year for the last few years. You rather used to enjoy the bhajans they played at Ganesh mandals in that Indian city, Bombay or Mumbai or whatever. What happened now?

God: You bet I used to enjoy it. In the last few years, they've been playing bhajans to the tune of popular Hindi songs. But, as you can read in this report, they're putting an end to it. Back to the boring devotional tunes.

Satan: Well, I'll be damned. Actually, heh, I already am. Hmmm. [Clicks on the report.] Hey, this is an interesting bit:
A CD called Ganpati Top 15, marketed by Krunal Music has tunes from Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Bunty aur Babli, other Hindi movies and some raunchy Telugu movie numbers. These CDs are flying off the shelves. Kajra re, for instance, has lyrics that go, “Morya re, morya re, Ganpati Bappa morya re.”
God: Sigh. Yes, that CD rocked. Especially Morya Re, such a fun song, raunchy in a holy kind of way. But those days are over. Cry. Sob. Weep.

Satan: There, there, cheer up, dude God. Come over to hell in the evening, and I'll set up some dance-bar action for you. Ok?

God: Sniffle. I'll be there.
amit varma, 12:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Can't do nothing right

The Indian cricket team's been having a tough time on the field. And off it as well.
amit varma, 12:52 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Gotta go to the gym

In an interesting paper titled "Fear of Death and Muddled Thinking – It Is So Much Worse Than You Think," (pdf file) Robin Hanson writes:
The fear of death is a powerful influence on our thinking, even if we are not often conscious of it. Our society, like all others before it, has a strong need to feel in control of death, even if we must embrace fairy tales and quack cures to gain that sense of control. The idea that we mostly do not understand and cannot control death is just not a message that people want to hear. The message that medical miracles can control death, in contrast, is a message that people do want to hear.

So we now spend 15% of our national income on medicine [US figures], even though half of that spending has been clearly demonstrated to be on average useless, and even though we have good reasons to doubt the value of most of the other half. Furthermore, we seem relatively uninterested in living longer by trying the things that our evidence suggests do work, like gaining high social status, exercising more, smoking less, and living in rural areas. Such apparently effective approaches to increasing lifespan just do not have the magic allure of conquering death via medical miracles.
It's actually almost reflexive on the part of humans to go into denial about whatever seems too horrible to contemplate, and which we are helpless to do anything about. When the West first heard about the kind of things Hitler was up to, they seemed too horrifying to be true. Much of the world was in similar denial about the brutalities of the Soviet Union, especially under Stalin. Our minds simply cannot handle certain thoughts: best ignore them altogether.

(Link via Marginal Revolution.)
amit varma, 12:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Regulatory coercion

I see no justification at all for this.
amit varma, 12:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The age of irony

Reader Arun Giridhar sends me this link and comments that he finds the headline a little ironic. A little? The headline: " CDMA cos seek PM's intervention — `Market forces must determine tariffs'". The report begins:
Telecom operators using CDMA technology have written to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, seeking intervention in policy matters relating to spectrum allocation, access deficit charge, and interconnection.

The operators have also asked the Government to allow market forces to determine the telephone tariffs.
Hmm. I think I'll stop thinking now.
amit varma, 11:47 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Secretive Guardians of Musical Eclectica

Krishna Moorthy, who writes an extremely interesting blog called Flotsam, responds to Michael Crowley's article about rock snobs (that I'd linked to here) by saying, "rock snobs don't die, they are just re-released in a new format." Read his full post for more, and if you can, also answer his query: are the vinyl sellers in Fort (near the Bata store) still around?
amit varma, 11:26 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A hot debate

Are temperatures hotter in heaven or hell? Sibin Mohan points to an entertaining debate on that subject.

Update: Prashanth Narayanan points me to another nice debate: "Is hell exothermic or endothermic?"
amit varma, 1:04 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Protest to support

Reader Har Ishu writes in to express confusion at the Times of India website's cricket page. At the time of his mail, and now as I type this, there are two conflicting headlines on that page. They are:

Send protest mail to Team India
Ganguly & Co need support of fans

Heh. As Har writes, "So what is a fan supposed to do? Support it by sending protest mail?"
amit varma, 12:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, August 26, 2005

Yawlidi (My Little Boy)

If you are a regular reader of my blog, just trust me and download this superb MP3, by a lady named Souad Massi. Rockacious!

(Link via Quizman. And ah, you can buy some of her music here.)

Update: What is that song about? Salam Pax writes (link via Quizman):
Souad Massi is a North African city planner who lives now in France after she lost her job years ago when all things where up in the air in Algeria. The song title means [My Son]. It is written from the point of view of a mother who is telling her son he should wake up early, to go to school, learn to read and become someone important and later you will abandon us and you will destroy those will stand in your way, but you still have to wake up early.

I like to think of it as a funny song about people you support and encourage and then turn on you.

I should tell you that this song is not typical of the album, the rest has a folksier feel with lots of Andalusian influences. There is a song called [Yemma (Mother, I lie to you)] which will break your heart. It’s about a girl calling her mother back home telling her all is OK, I need no money and people don’t insult me on the street. [My link.]
Find more of her MP3s here.
amit varma, 11:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

It's about freedom

People often ask me why I am a libertarian, and what libertarianism means. I reply that I don't consider it to be a political or economic school of thought, but an adherence to a single simple principle: a respect for individual freedom. As Wikipedia puts it: "It holds that every individual should have the right to do as he pleases with his property (which includes his own body), to the extent that doing so does not infringe on the same rights of others to dispense with their property as they please."

Some of the implications of that are outlined in a nice essay by Arnold Kling (of EconLog) titled "Libertarian Basics." If you can spare five minutes, do go through it, you might find it rewarding.
amit varma, 6:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Effort as a scarce variable

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution has a piece of advice for writers:
Every day, stop writing just a short while before you really want to quit. The next day you will be very keen to get going again. For most mortals, your real enemy is the number of days when you get nothing written. Getting "not enough" done each day is a lesser problem.
And here are some more writing tips from him.
amit varma, 5:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rock snobs and the iPod

Michael Crowley writes in the New Republic:
"Since the dawn of rock, there have been individuals, usually young men, of argumentative tendencies who have lorded their encyclopedic musical knowledge over others." So states the introduction of the recent "Rock Snob's Dictionary", compiled by David Kamp and Steven Daly. I like to believe I'm not the insufferable dweeb suggested by this definition. Certainly, much of the dictionary's obscure trivia (former Television bassist Richard Hell is now a novelist; Norwegian death metal stars actually murder one another) is news to me. But I do place an unusual, perhaps irrational, value on rock music. I take considerable pride in my huge collection and carefully refined taste. And I consider bad rock taste--or, worse, no rock taste at all--clear evidence of a fallow soul. I am, in other words, a certified Rock Snob. But I fear that Rock Snobs are in grave danger. We are being ruined by the iPod.
Read the rest of the quite excellent piece here.

(Link via Arts and Letters Daily.)
amit varma, 5:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Gang wars in jail

If they can't stop them in the prisons, how will they stop them outside?
amit varma, 2:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When the sects don't meet

Mid Day reports:
Senior Police Inspector N V Nikam from the Special Branch, involved with keeping a watch on various Muslim sects in the city, was suspended on Tuesday for playing cards on duty. His colleagues said they played cards to kill time, as there was very little work in the department.


“The branch mainly collects information on Muslim sects in the city when they hold meetings or plan other activities. But when there are no meetings, we have nothing to do but play cards,” said a colleague.
This makes me both sympathetic and angry. I feel sympathy for Nikam, because as long as he is discharging the tasks given to him to the satisfaction of his bosses, I don't see why anyone should be concerned with what he does in his spare time. And I feel pissed off at the government that they are not allocating their resources efficiently -- especially when law and order in India is such a cruel joke. That's my money they're spending, and I wish they'd spend it well.
amit varma, 1:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Matching outcome to intention

The Indian Express reports:
If all goes according to plan, in May 2006, citizens will have the first quantifiable indication on just how the government is spending the money it collects in taxes.

In a first, Finance Minister P Chidambaram today tabled an "Outcome Budget" in Parliament that seeks to pinpoint scheme-wise targets, quarter-to-quarter, on each and every planned expenditure by Central ministries and departments in a financial year.

The annual document lists clearly-defined deliverables for each scheme/programme, its budgetary outlay, processes and timelines, as well as risk factors in meeting the target. Next May, when the second Outcome Budget will be tabled, there should be clear answers to which targets have been met - and those that have not.
This is a fantastic initiative, as this will empower us with the information about what precisely is being done with the money we pay in taxes. In a sense, it's the right to information act applied to the application of the union budget. This information will probably be released in jargonese, but there are enough people around to demystify it for everyone. Great move.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 1:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Busting H-1B myths

The Wall Street Journal speaks out against a cap on H-1B visas, and in favour of letting market forces decide. It writes:
Contrary to the assertions of many opponents of immigration, from Capitol Hill to CNN, the size of our foreign workforce is mainly determined by supply and demand, not Benedict Arnold CEOs or a corporate quest for "cheap" labor. As the nearby table shows, since the H-1B quota was first enacted in 1992 there have been several years amid a soft economy in which it hasn't been filled. When U.S. companies can find domestic workers to fill jobs, they prefer to hire them.

And let's not forget that these immigrant professionals create jobs, as the founders of Intel, Google, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Computer Associates, Yahoo and numerous other successful ventures can attest. The Public Policy Institute of California did a survey of immigrants to Silicon Valley in 2002 and found that 52% of "foreign-born scientists and engineers have been involved in founding or running a start-up company either full-time or part-time."

Moreover, the notion that Indian software writers are being hired by Microsoft at bargain-basement costs and driving down the wages of Americans is also refuted by the evidence. A Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta study conducted in 2003 found no negative impact on U.S. wages. Government fees and related expenses for hiring foreign nationals can exceed $6,000, and additional fees accrue if and when the H-1B status is renewed after three years. The law also requires companies to pay visa holders prevailing wages and benefits, and it forbids hiring them to replace striking Americans.

A central irony here is that opponents of lifting the H-1B cap also tend to be the biggest critics of outsourcing, which is fueled by the arbitrary cap.
I am, of course, in favour of completely free movement of goods and labour across the world. But that is an ideal, and politics comes in the way of any ideal being achieved.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 1:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Chewing gum? Maybe

But porn? No way. Not in Singapore .
amit varma, 2:05 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

An extra special exhibit

In response to this post, Arzan Sam Wadia points me to this piece of news:
The August Bank holiday welcomes an extra special exhibit to London Zoo as a flock of Homo sapiens gather on the world famous Bear Mountain.

Presented to the public with only fig leaves to protect their modesty, the humans will become an important feature of zoo life as they are cared for by our experienced keepers and kept entertained through various forms of enrichment.

The four day event aims to demonstrate the basic nature of man as an animal and examine the impact that Homo sapiens have on the rest of the animal kingdom.
Nice. I like the pics with the article; the participants seem to be having a good time, presumably because they know that their captivity is contrived, and they'll soon be free again. But if that was to change...
amit varma, 1:52 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wanna win a million dollars?

Just prove that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. More details here.

(Link via Reuben Abraham.)
amit varma, 1:41 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Representative of the people

Laugh or cry?
amit varma, 1:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cheese cake without cheese

Why do so many analogies about beautiful women revolve around food?
amit varma, 1:29 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


The Pioneer has a headline that says: "Contumacious headline upsets Speaker." The story is about Somnath Chatterjee, the speaker of the Lok Sabha, getting upset at a headline that read "Mind Your Job, Speaker tells Judiciary." He felt it wasn't accurate.

The headline that I object to, though, is that of that story reporting the objectionable headline -- what kind of a word is "Contumacious?"

Update: Badri Seshadri writes in to point out that the Pioneer probably learnt this word from the speaker himself, and decided to use it in a piece involving him. This report is probably the source:
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Thursday turned down a privilege notice against The Pioneer newspaper for allegedly publishing an article casting aspersions on the Chair saying it was "beneath the dignity of this great institution to take further note of the motivated imputations in the impugned article."

While closing "this chapter," he added the caveat that "in future, reckless and contumacious conduct indulged in, by whosoever [it] may be, will be dealt with in the appropriate manner so as to preserve and enhance the dignity of the highest public forum in our country."
Cheez, who teaches them to speak like this?
amit varma, 1:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Animals at the zoo

Mid Day reports:
The animals in the city zoo, (Veermata Jijabai Bhonsale Garden), at Byculla, are being harassed by insensitive visitors.

The visitors pick stones from heaps of rubble and raw material left behind by the BMC contractor repairing the zoo roads, and pelt them at the animals.
So here's a really tough question: what's going through the minds of those fellows when they pick up rubble and throw it at caged animals? And could there, but for the grace of (a non-existant) God, go we?
amit varma, 11:55 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who Karat?

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee once again asserts his independence from the manic Leftism of his party boss Prakash Karat, while Manmohan Singh says, "Every chief minister should learn from Buddhadeb’s role model." What about you, Mr Singh?
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A hypocrite by any other name...

Mid Day reports:
Raj Thackeray, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s nephew got director Deepak Balraj Vij to change the name of his forthcoming movie Bombay Godfather to Mumbai Godfather.

Said Raj, “You should love the city you live in. If you are in Mumbai, address it by its original name!” Bal Thackeray, incidentally, was instrumental in changing the name of Bombay to Mumbai.
But, um, shouldn't the same rule apply to the Thackerays, who were originally Thakres?
amit varma, 11:27 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Flat, round, whatever, dude

In an old article I just came across, Kaushik Basu writes:
There is a story of a prospective school teacher who was asked during an interview by the principal of a conservative religious school, "Is the earth flat or round?"

The hapless teacher looked around at the faces of the interviewers for hints and, not finding any, settled for: "I can teach it flat or round."

The trouble with a lot of our economic policy advisers is that they are like the school teacher.

They try to gauge what answers will make them popular with their political bosses and then give them the advice they seek.

This may be good for the advancement of their career but is not good for economics or for the country in question.
Indeed. The rest of Basu's piece is about India's stupid labour laws, which, along with the license raj, have stopped India from becoming a manufacturing superpower. How long will we continue to keep ourselves poor in the name of good intentions?

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 11:06 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

55 million unsatisfied Americans

You can't keep a good Onion down.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 11:02 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The lactating man

Olinda DoNorte discovers a hidden side of Karishma Kapoor's husband.
amit varma, 10:48 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The sage for the new age of reason

Herman Kahn once described himself as "one of the ten most famous obscure Americans." He was a lot more than that. James Pinkerton evaluates the man in an essay in Tech Central Station, "Laughing All the Way to the Brink". Excellent stuff.
amit varma, 11:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Vigilante justice in Vijaywada

The Times of India reports from Vijaywada:
A widely respected principal of a private school spent Tuesday evening at a police station stripped down to his underclothes after he was arrested for allegedly taking nude pictures of a girl student and storing them in his personal computer.
The report describes how he summoned the girl to the school one evening, and asked her brother, who accompanied her, to wait downstairs while he took her to his office. Then:
The girl stated that Srinivasa Rao showed her his new digital camera and asked her if she would like her pictures taken. She smiled shyly and he clicked some pictures of her in her uniform.

Then suddenly he asked her to undress. She obliged uncertainly. He photographed her nude and went on to load the cartridge on his PC.
After the girl complained, the principal, Srinivasa Rao, was "made to stand in the lock-up in his underpants as a form of vigilante punishment."

Well, I've been to Vijaywada once, on the only occasion that I qualified to play in India's national junior chess championship, many years ago, and it was so unbearably hot -- there are tales of crows falling down dead because of the heat there -- that I was tempted to play in my underpants (play chess while in my underpants, I mean), and in a stray moment even imagined all the players, including the handful of girls, doing the same as crows fell around us. Um, sorry, off topic...

Anyway, I'm not sure that the punishment meted out to Mr Rao is quite commensurate with the crime. Just a few hours of humiliation (and ventilation) for him -- these old geezers are shameless bast*rds anyway -- but potentially rather more traumatic for her. I'll be curious to see what transpires later in this case.
amit varma, 10:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

That's right, blame it on the bags

So has the Maharashtra government figured out the many complex causes behind how ill-prepared Mumbai was for the July 26 Cloudburst? Yes. It's the bags that did 'em. Mid Day quotes Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister, as saying:
Mumbai alone suffered losses of around Rs 4,000 crore, including damage to property, in the recent floods due to choking of drains because of plastic bags, which also had its effect on public health.
The Maharashtra government has decided to ban plastic bags, which I have no complaints with. But I worry that the authorities will carry out a few such minor measures, and will absolve themselves of all other responsibility -- until the next disaster.

Cross-posted on Cloudburst Mumbai.
amit varma, 10:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rain and stormy weather

BBC reports:
Torrential rains have caused havoc across central and eastern Europe, killing up to 34 people.

Worst affected is Romania where at least seven elderly people were killed overnight - bringing the deaths to 25.

At least 11 people are reported dead or missing in Switzerland, Austria and Germany where emergency services are struggling to restore basic services
Meanwhile oil prices are expected to rise above US$66 a barrel because of "a gathering Caribbean storm [that] could knock out crude supplies to the world's biggest consumer." All this as the seductively named Storm Katrina heads towards Florida.
amit varma, 9:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hey, that's our money

It is perhaps no coincidence that the most popular Desi blog, Sepia Mutiny, also has the most interesting comments, which often take the discussion significantly forward instead of being just a forum for rants and back-scratching. Here's an excellent comment I came across on a Sepia Mutiny post by Vinod, by someone named GC, which explains succintly why low taxes are good for us:
[S]uppose you paid $1000 in taxes, and got a line item bill of exactly what that was spent on. Say $100 on defense, $50 on poverty, $500 on politician's salaries, and so on.

Here's the thing: you aren't choosing how that money is spent. Some of the things on that list are things -- like food or health care -- that you could have chosen to buy for yourself. For many of those goods, you would get a better price and a better product than the one the government got you... because you know your situation, your tastes, and your needs.

In other words, if you got that tax bill, many people would compare it with the bills they voluntarily incur. And they would find that it was an inefficient use of resources... and if possible, they'd opt out of paying those taxes.

That's really the key point. There's a box on the tax form that you can fill in to send more $ to the government. At any time you have the choice of giving up any amount of your income to the government to spend as they see fit, hopefully on your behalf.

Most people don't fill in that box, because most people know that they will allocate that money more efficiently for their own benefit than some distant third party.
That isn't an argument for no taxes. (There are other arguments for that, though none that I think apply to India yet.) But it is an argument for the government getting out of all areas in which the private sector can enter, because the private sector will invariably be more efficient, and the taxpayers' money will invariably be wasted. Remember, everything the government does is paid for by you and me. We have a right to demand that they spend it carefully, and they spend it well.
amit varma, 9:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

New Age con-man

PZ Myers fisks "moonbat anti-evolutionist" Deepak Chopra. Well done.

(Link via email from Aadisht Khanna.)

Update: MadMan writes in:
That hypocrite preaches that people should move away from materialism la dee da and he owns a 2.5-million-dollar home in La Jolla and drives a green Jaguar. Bah!

I'm sure the Skeptic's Dictionary has something on him.


Why, yes!
MadMan also sends two other links on Chopra: 1 and 2.
amit varma, 9:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A closed space

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes:
There is half a truth to the maxim that when a position reflects consensus, it is probably a good reason to oppose it. But, more seriously, the kind of consensus we have suggests that the political space, for all the noise it generates, is relatively closed, ideologically. We often worry about various groups, defined by some criteria of ethnicity, being under-represented in Parliament: minorities, women and so forth. But we should worry more about lack of ideological variation in Parliament. It is amazing that a liberal democracy, with a liberalising economy, has no parliamentarians with a genuine liberal sensibility: a healthy scepticism about the scope of state activity, a reluctance to reproduce invidious group distinctions, a presumption in favour of the people against the paternalism of the state, and a genuine regard for individuality, speaking the truth as one sees it.

There is something close to an iron law of Indian politics. If government proposes spending on any programme, the only political criticism is that it is not spending more. The usual way a distinction between Left and Right is carved is as follows. The Left wants the government to spend more money, the Right opposes this in all matters — except in defence. In our case, the distinction is between who gets to come up with a spending proposal first and who gets to endorse. Or, if someone even so much as suggests that it might be time to think of a paradigm of justice beyond reservations, they are unlikely to find significant political space.
The immaturity of our political space is a result of the ignorance of the voters: as the cliche goes, we get the leaders we deserve. How long will it be before we start voting in a smarter, more committed class of legislators?

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy.
amit varma, 9:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Nothing to fear

The Telegraph reports:
This is one cry of reform from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that is not going to please party chief Prakash Karat and the so-called hardliners in the CPM.

The Bengal chief minister would like “100 per cent privatisation” in the building of new ports and airports in India. His party is a known opponent of New Delhi’s attempts to privatise airports and hand them over to even domestic entrepreneurs. But Bhattacharjee struck a dramatically different note today.
The last line of the article will also make smoke come out of Prakash Karat's ears:
He [Bhattacharjee] assured investors that they had nothing to fear from his government just because it was called the Left Front government.
Heh. Well, power does bring some sort of responsibility, and Bhattacharjee, being responsible for the well-being of his state, can't ignore the right course of action beyond a point, even it it does go against his party's objectives. At the centre, though, the Left is not part of the government, and is merely supporting it from outside. This gives them power without responsibility, the most dangerous political combination possible.
amit varma, 9:08 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The empowerment of escapism

That's not my phrase, it's Shah Rukh Khan's. He coins it in an article in today's Indian Express that contains some truly bizarre writing. Consider this:
You’ve got to know that for any regular guy from Ulhasnagar, getting good products at affordable prices is an index of the country being self-sufficient and empowered. The ideology of India has always been to create its own. Maybe we make cheaper versions of cars or mixies but we never look outside.


Things are wonderful in India. The economic structure is rising, technological advancements are making headlines and the social consciousness is also pretty encouraging. We’ve made progress in all spheres. Be it malls in Gurgaon, irrigation in Punjab or computer advancement in Hyderabad: greatness is happening every day. We’re unaware of it but we’re definitely not worse than what we were 50 years ago.

Disinvestment and the removal of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) show that all this is an educated process. And we aren’t just following any monkey business. [...]

Personally, I’ve a problem with the power of information. I’m not an authority on it but I think somewhere down the line, information has been a huge downside. We can access information anytime but we don’t know what to do with it. So, information creates bottlenecks. We create a flyover to Nehru Place but forget to connect it to Surya Hotel.
Phew. I can't believe a newspaper -- any newspaper -- could publish such junk. Unless it was planning to run a story headlined "Bollywood star turns out to have brain of seven-year-old", and decided on a demonstration instead of a report.

Er, oops, I apologise to any seven-year-old who might be reading this and is offended.
amit varma, 8:39 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Unsafe blogs

Newspapers should stop using unnecessary (and ugly) abbreviations. This headline threw me when I first saw it: "Unsafe bldgs".

Turned out it's buildings, not blogs.
amit varma, 8:35 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The solution to $60 oil...

... is $60 oil, explains Jay Hancock in a lucid essay in the Baltimore Sun. He writes:
Bloody shame about those high oil and gas prices.

They're causing billions of dollars to be invested in petroleum production, which will increase supply. They're discouraging unnecessary driving, encouraging use of public transit and fuel-efficient cars and cueing industry to cut fuel costs, which will decrease demand.

And they're triggering billions more to be invested in new technologies such as solar power and hybrid engines, which will offer alternatives.

I hate to say it, but if this keeps up we might avoid a 1970s-style energy crisis, with its shortages, gas lines, severe recession and petroleum prices a third higher than they are now, adjusted for inflation. We might even set the stage for a new era of low oil prices, like we had in the 1980s and 1990s, or at least new stability.
After listing out the various positive consequences of the current high prices, he concludes:
Maybe higher prices are part of an invisible hand creating economic order, as described by Adam Smith. Maybe $60 oil is beaming signals across the economy that will boost supply, cut demand and eventually lower prices, as described by Friedrich Hayek. Maybe we didn't need the energy bill Congress just passed.
It's a fine piece, read the full thing.

(Link via Cafe Hayek.)

Update: Reader Shrikanth Shankar points me (via A VC)to a post on the same subject by Steven Levitt of "Freakonomics" fame. Levitt points out a fundamental truth:
What most of these doomsday scenarios have gotten wrong is the fundamental idea of economics: people respond to incentives. If the price of a good goes up, people demand less of it, the companies that make it figure out how to make more of it, and everyone tries to figure out how to produce substitutes for it. Add to that the march of technological innovation (like the green revolution, birth control, etc.). The end result: markets figure out how to deal with problems of supply and demand.
In fact, the very worst thing one can do when the price of oil goes up is to artifically bring it down with price controls. That is what the Indian Express correctly argues against in this editorial. They also look at one possible unexpected consequence of it: our oil PSUs going into the red, and our thus being able to privatise them, as the demand of the Left that we do not sell off profit-making PSUs would then no longer apply. Clever, I suppose.
amit varma, 1:02 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

We studied under a glowworm's ass

Krishna Moorthy goes over some common parental boasts.
amit varma, 6:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Balloons to play with

Sagnik Nandy chances upon a universal human truth.
amit varma, 6:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Literary v non-literary

Nilanjana S Roy writes in Business Standard:
Mainstream literary prize lists reveal a deep paranoia, a grand defence of the literary novel versus whatever oozing horror might try to slide through the gates.

Margaret Atwood would make the cut for a Booker shortlist with mediocre science fiction allied to tremendous literary skill, but Nancy Kress (Beggars in Spain), a brilliant writer who can ask classic SFs question with as much literary style as the most dessicated critic might desire—no, she’s out.

The ambitious, sprawling, cluttered epics of Don DeLillo or Salman Rushdie or Peter Carey qualify; but the far more ambitious epics of Neil Gaiman or Stephen King stay outside the gates.
It's a fine piece, read the full thing.
amit varma, 5:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Peacocks are dying...

... so that we can have a good time in bed.

(The first para in the linked piece is monstrous. Don't they teach their journalists how to write?)
amit varma, 4:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 14

It's just endless what you can learn from a single work of art. You can fill up the crevices of your life, the cracks of your life, the places where the mortar comes out and falls away--you can fill it up with the love of art.
Vincent Price, quoted in a nice article in the Wall Street Journal, "Price Was Right" by Terry Teachout.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A deadly new security breach

They take away your nailcutters, confiscate the scissor you cut your nosehair with, but they happily allow you into their airplanes with a weapon far deadlier than these. Gaurav Sabnis has more.
amit varma, 3:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Dear Palestinian Bomber

ABC News reports:
Officials at JP Morgan Chase have apologized and promised to improve their screening policies, after a credit card solicitation letter sent to a 54-year-old naturalized American citizen came addressed to "Palestinian Bomber."

The form letter for a Visa Platinum card arrived earlier this month at the home of Sami Habbas, a grocery store manager from Corona, Calif. The words "Palestinian Bomber" appear above his address and the salutation reads, "Dear Palestinian Bomber." The document included the signature of Carter Franke, chief marketing officer for Chase Card Services.
Mr Habbas, naturally irate, called up customer service to complain, and they said to him: "Yes, Mr. Palestinian Bomber, how can we help you?"

I'm waiting for the day I get letters that begin, "Dear Indian libertarian..."

(Link via MadMan's LinksMatic.)
amit varma, 1:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Six eggs a year

A common canard of the Left:
Rural India is in acute distress, which is bound to turn to turmoil if its crisis is not addressed. It is not too late. There is a strong case for a universal employment guarantee and a universal Public Distribution System.
This is from the strap of a recent op-ed article by Utsa Patnaik in the Hindu. Well, Aadisht Khanna finds fault with some of her assertions, and takes her on. First, he summarises the points she is making:
All right, so what is actually going on? Basically, Professor Patnaik has made the following assertions:
* Rural India is facing an employment crisis
* This is because of the economic policies pursued in the past fifteen years.
* The proof of this is that people are eating much less grain.
* The assertion that people are eating less grain is borne out by data from the National Sample Survey, which measures consumption and expenditure across India.
Okay. Let's take this up.
Aadisht goes through the data, some of which he lists, and finds that Patnaik's conclusions are drawn from selective data, and are, thus, simplistic. He writes:
There is a decline in rice and wheat consumption, and also in the consumption of dal... But at the same time, the consumption of other stuff has risen- milk, vegetables of all sorts, meat of all sorts (though fish has shown the most dramatic rise), and most notably eggs- the consumption of those has doubled.

And this suggests something that you would expect a Professor of Economics to know- the consumption pattern looks suspiciously like that of Giffen goods.

Normal goods are the ones which you buy more of when you have more money. Giffen goods, on the other hand, are goods which you buy less of when you have less money- because you now cut down on your consumption of that good, and use the savings to buy more of something else.

What's the classical example of Giffen goods used in economics textbooks? That when your income rises, you buy less bread and more meat- exactly what we see happening in rural India from 1988 to 2000.
He examines if the averages are skewed by the rich getting markedly richer, but finds, in other NSS reports, that "the consumption of people in the
amit varma, 1:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

More lives than a cat

Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, has been sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences. Ten, you ask? Wasn't one enough? No, explains Daniel Engber in Slate.
amit varma, 12:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, August 22, 2005

Lonely coffee

"Exile comes in as many flavours today as cappuccino," says Pico Iyer in this fine piece in the Financial Times, in which he tries to book tickets to a U2 concert in Los Angeles from Dharamsala. He fails, and begins to wonder "what globalism really means."

(Link via Zoo Station.)
amit varma, 6:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

iPodding literature

Tyler Cowen points to a Washington Post story about how Amazon is signing up with authors and retailing their short stories for 49 cents per download. These are works, mind you, written exclusively for retail in an electronic format. Authors who have signed up for these include bestselling writers like Danielle Steele and Robin Cook, as well as the likes of Pico Iyer and Daniel Wallace.

I think this is an outstanding step in retailing books. Short stories hardly have a market these days, and short-story compilations don't sell much. By enabling readers to buy a story at a time at this fairly low price, Amazon is going to incentivise readers who might otherwise have been wary of spending US$ 10 for a compilation. It's great for established writers as well, who might well be downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, making them good money without having to go through a traditional publishing cycle.

Less well-known writers, of course, still need traditional publishers to market their works and turn their names into brands, even if it has become easier to self-publish. Perhaps Amazon should figure out a way to give any writer a way to create works that they can retail through an Amazon storefront, leaving the marketing of the book to the author. Let the means of (profitable) publishing reach the hands of the authors, and let them figure out how to attract people to their storefronts. The long tail of publishing will then get a lot longer.

Update: I wrote to Chris Anderson of The Long Tail for his views on this, and he wrote back:
I'd say that this actually would have no effect on the Long Tail at all. Self-publishing and electronic publishing has been available to all for a while (see and all the services provide an ISBN number, which allows any writer to be available on Amazon. So nothing new there. And the authors Amazon picked are all Head writers, ie, those who have no trouble getting published.

I think the low pricing is quite interesting, however. It should certainly grow the market for short stories.
amit varma, 8:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Carpet blog

When you can't carpet bomb, carpet blog. Hollywood studios are discovering the value of blogs in promoting their films.
amit varma, 8:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Kitne Guevara the?

Che, Sarkar.
amit varma, 7:54 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, August 21, 2005

An empowering media

There is some self-congratulation here, but nevertheless, there is also an interesting point. Shekhar Gupta writes in the Indian Express:
In February 1983, then as this newspaper’s correspondent in the North-East, I broke the story of the massacre of 3,500 people in the village of Nellie in Assam. On a visit to Delhi subsequently, I was taken by my editors then to meet Ramnathji. "You young fellow, you are doing a good job," said the old man, always parsimonious with praise. And then he added, "I liked that language in of your story...taking a walk across is an act of courage. Must have been tough looking at so many dead and injured?"

Looking back 22 years, yes, it was an act of courage. As it was to drive to Guwahati airport, in a blood-stained white shirt, to hand over the roll of film from my Minolta to a Delhi-bound Indian Airlines pilot and then finding a telex machine in a strike-hit telegraph office to file the story at a time when STD was a luxury and fax not yet invented.

But even today, nobody has been called to account. That massacre, entirely of poor Muslims, has gone un-investigated. Nobody remembers it, nobody complains that everybody got away. Today, if such a thing were to happen again, God Forbid, there is sufficient institutional and political awakening in India to ensure there will not be such an easy forget, if not forgive as this paper’s coverage of the 2002 Gujarat killings (for which it got the International Press Institute award) has shown.

The difference between 1983 and 2005 is, that then information like a Nellie massacre merely shocked you. Today, it empowers you to demand redressal, better governance, better quality of life.
Well, yes, the media may well have kept issues like Gujarat alive. But the guilty have still not been punished. What will it take for that to change?
amit varma, 4:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

If you love biryani...

... eat this!
amit varma, 2:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Presidential sunglasses

Mid Day presents a a vox pop on Kool Kalam's latest accessory.
amit varma, 1:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Motives and consequences

Arnold Kling (of EconLog) explains Type C and Type M arguments:
[S]uppose I were to say, "We should abolish the minimum wage. That would increase employment and enable more people to climb out of poverty."

There are two types of arguments you might make in response. I call these Type C and Type M.

A hypothetical example of a Type C argument would be, "Well, Arnold, studies actually show that the minimum wage does not cost jobs. If you read the work of Krueger and Card, you would see that the minimum wage probably reduces poverty."

A hypothetical example of a Type M argument would be, "People who want to get rid of the minimum wage are just trying to help the corporate plutocrats."


Do you see any differences between those two types of arguments?

I see differences, and to me they are important. Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.

In this example, the type C argument says that the consequences of eliminating the minimum wage would not be those that I expect and desire. We can have a constructive discussion of the Type C argument -- I can cite theory and evidence that contradicts Krueger and Card -- and eventually one of us could change his mind, based on the facts.

Type M arguments deny the legitimacy of one's opponents to even state their case. Type M arguments do not give rise to constructive discussion. They are almost impossible to test empirically. [Emphasis in the original.]
This is in the course of an open letter to Paul Krugman in which Kling points out, correctly, that Krugman favours Type M arguments over Type C. It is a pity, in fact, how so much of our public discourse, from both sides of the spectrum, focusses on Type M arguments. They lead nowhere and polarise us further.

(Link via Prashant Kothari in the comments of this post.)
amit varma, 1:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Dog and the Blog

[One day a Dog and a Blog meet on the road.]

Dog: Hey, you look interesting, I'm like, woof! All words and all, erudite and all. What are you?

Blog: I'm a Blog, dude. You look nice too. Hey, cool tail. What are you?

Dog: I'm a Dog. I'm Man's Best Friend. Woof!

Blog: Hey, wait a minute, not possible, I'm Man's Best Friend.

Dog: He he, woof! I'm Man's Best Friend, and I can prove it. I've been referred to that way for centuries now. So there.

Blog: I rather doubt it. I don't remember linking to any such thing. And what I don't link to, doesn't exist. So there.

Dog: Growl! Listen, don't mess with me, I'm Man's Best Friend, and I'll bite you if you disagree.

Blog: Rubbish. Concede right away that I'm Man's Best Friend, or I'll post about you, with your kennel address, and you'll get flamed.

Dog: Woof!

Blog: Link!

[Suddenly, footsteps are heard. Man appears, a gorgeous blonde on his arm.]

Dog and Blog: Hello, man. How are you today? Please please tell us who's your best friend. In other words, 'Man's Best Friend'.

Dog: Yeah, say it's me, woof!

Blog: Me, me, me! Link to me!

Man: Heh. You guys, I tell ya. You want to know who's Man's Best Friend? Meet Blonde.

Blonde: Hi guys. Such a sweet Dog! Such a clever Blog! Come to mommy.

[Dog and Blog rush into her capacious arms and cuddle up close to her ample bosom. Man smiles.]
amit varma, 11:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On armchair arguments

Sumeet Kulkarni writes:
Whenever I speak of free markets, empowerment and liberalization to be the best solution to India's poverty problems, I am almost always told that it is easy for me make armchair arguments. Have I ever experienced life in a village, the hunger, the desperation? How can someone who has been an urbanite all his life ever know what is good for the rural poor? There are some basic flaws in this argument. The first one, I think it is somewhat presumptuous to merely go by my present attire and speech and lifestyle, and make conclusions about my economic history, especially for people who have known me for a few minutes, maybe a few months, or at the most a couple of years. The more important flaw in the argument is that these very people suggest that some wise, know-all bureaucrat and regulator who has exactly as much or less knowledge or experience of hunger or poverty or the rural struggle for survival should sit in Delhi, and decide on which district gets how much of the centrally planned monetary allocation for that year to spend on "his" subjects. The whole argument reeks of hypocrisy. In my armchair "solutions", at least I don't presume that I am more intelligent than the poor farmer. I don't underestimate his ingenuity to use his empowered mind to alleviate himself from his impoverished state.
Quite. Read his full post, "Freedom from Bleeding Hearts". (Link via email from Gaurav Sabnis.)

And if I may add to that, I'd say that the very worst way to counter an argument is by questioning the credentials of the person making it. What does it matter whether an argument comes from a village or an armchair in a posh elite household, or even from a cow? Any argument must be examined on its own merits. Those who focus on the person instead of the argument are implicitly acknowledging their own inability to engage in a constructive discussion.

Also read this.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy.
amit varma, 11:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

I recommend: