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.

Friday, September 30, 2005

How to view art

Tyler Cowen tells us "How to walk through a museum." Good stuff.

Don't ask an artist for advice on economics, though. I don't think it works the other way around.
amit varma, 11:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Red shirts are immoral

The Hindu reports:
Anna University's dress code for students bans T-shirts and jeans. But an engineering college at Thorapakkam near Chennai `improved' upon it and, on Wednesday, pulled up a first-year student for donning a dark-coloured shirt.

Avinash Nahar of MNM Jain Engineering College, who wore a red shirt and black trousers to college, was "detained" for questioning by five faculty members and the Principal.


The college authorities said it was the third time Avinash was "caught breaking the code," which says boys should wear only light-coloured shirts and dark trousers, must shave and keep their hair short.
Yeah, I can just imagine how the principal of that college gets his kicks. In the dead of night, when all of Chennai is asleep, he puts on a red shirt and sneaks out to the terrace of his building. There, with a gentle breeze blowing against a torso that feels so nice in that RED shirt, he feels himself, and laughs madly. The shrill sound of his laughter travels through the streets of Chennai to the house where young Avinash tosses uncertainly in his sleep, dreaming of graduation day.
amit varma, 4:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rise, rise, facilitate me!

If you weren't there at The World Toilet Summit this year, you missed the "unveiling of Belfast's first public UriLift toilet, a stainless steel urinal that rises hydraulically out of the ground at night to facilitate male revelers."

Such fun would have come.
amit varma, 12:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hey, you know what this stick reminds me of?

Reuters reports:
Two female gorillas have been photographed using sticks as tools to get through swampy areas, the first time the apes have been seen doing so in the wild, researchers reported on Thursday.

"This is a truly astounding discovery," said Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.
Seminal stuff. My next update will come when the gorillas start blogging.
amit varma, 12:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mellowing with age

The Times of India reports:
The HIV virus that causes AIDS, the fatal disease of the immune system, is becoming less aggressive, researchers have said in a landmark new study, amid surging speculation about the implications for the global fight against a pandemic that has killed an estimated 30 million people worldwide.


In layman's terms, explained Keith Alcorn, Senior Editor of National AIDS Manual, the UK's best scientific reference on HIV, that means "the virus is weakening and may be in 50 or a 100 years, it will adapt to living with its human host but cause less disease".
Yes, that's the capitalist way I love: just co-opt the damn thing! No, comrades?
amit varma, 11:54 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

From Comintern to Momintern

Check out Ashok Malik's essay about the Soviet Union's role in "grandfathering jihad."
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Public relations?

Mid Day reports:
After depriving bar girls of their livelihood, the government has taken its moral policing to the international level. The ministry of overseas Indian affairs has called for an urgent inquiry into the exodus of bar girls to the Gulf, to ‘protect the country’s image’.
That's right. First you take away their jobs, even though there is nothing wrong about the manner in which they earn their livelihood. Then you stop them from going elsewhere to look for work. That does a lot of good for the "country’s image," doesn't it?
amit varma, 11:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A Darwinian exhibit

The tekdis of Pune.

Read Gaurav Sabnis's fine account here, which I wish I'd written, having frequented tekdis quite often in the years that I was in college in Pune. In addition to the one behind ILS Law College, I'd also recommend the one behind Fergusson College, where I got up to a fair bit of mischief in my time. I'll be in Pune from tomorrow for three days, and perhaps I'll visit a tekdi or two myself. Or maybe not. One is old, and one has belly, and there are bookshops. Sigh.
amit varma, 11:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The right car and the wrong car

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's wife, Meera, is stopped on her way to work during the nationwide strike yesterday. She gets out of her car and is told she cannot go to work. Her reply:
I am on my way to office, I want to work today, I don’t think you have any right to stop those willing to work on a strike day.
The Leftist thugs then surround her car and begin "to thump on all sides." Then they find out who she is and let her go, with the leader of the mob confessing later that they had "stopped the wrong car." Read the full story here.

And note that the rest of us would not have got away with it. Our rights, routinely, are held hostage by both the Communist Left and the religious Right, as the state looks on approvingly. Can you hear the thumping?
amit varma, 11:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Curious about God?

Check out The Official God FAQ.

(Link via email from Yazad.)
amit varma, 11:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Minoo Masani and the Swatantra Party

Regular readers of my blog will know that every once in a while I bemoan the absence of a classical liberal/libertarian/secular-right party in India (these terms aren't interchangable, I know, but similar), such as the Swatantra Party of C Rajagopalachari and Minoo Masani. Well, Chandrahas Choudhury has an excellent essay on Masani's book, "Congress Misrule and the Swatantra Alternative," up on The Middle Stage, which takes us through how the issues Masani wrote about in the book still concern us today -- mainly, the oppressive power of the state and the denial of individual liberty.

Hash -- as Chandrahas's friends call him -- called me up yesterday to tell me about the book, and in the course of our conversation he remarked that Masani's pro-free-market thoughts ought to have more takers in these post-'liberalisation' times, and there ought to be space for a modern-day version of the Swatantra Party. I'm not so sure of that. In the 1950s and 60s, identity politics was not quite as entrenched as today, and though the Congress Party always won elections handily, they did so as India's party of independence, Mahatma Gandhi's party. There was still a space to debate ideas -- or the Swatantra Party would not, for a brief while, have been India's second-largest party in parliament.

Today, politics throughout the country, especially in the heartland, is fought on the basis of identity, mostly caste. Ideas don't matter -- and even when they do, classical liberal ideas are deeply unintuitive. For example, if prices rise beyond what a poor man can afford, it is natural for him to believe that it is in his interest for price controls to be imposed, and for goods to be cheap enough for him to afford. When he sees the inequality in society, and rich men living in large houses with many cars, it is natural for him to believe that redistribution is just and will solve these inequalities. It is natural for him to welcome a move to give him free rice, and if he is a farmer, free electricity. It is hard to explain to him, in layman's terms, that none of these are solutions to his problems, that, in fact, they make things worse for him in the long run.

Most people are poor, of course, and ill-educated. The easy way out for politicians is to steer clear of economics, which they may not understand anyway, and stick to the things that win them votes. And thus the political space in India is defined by populism and identity politics. If a modern Swatantra Party was to emerge, who would take them seriously?

Previous musings on this subject: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 3:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shekhar Suman and the inferior detergent powder

amit varma, 3:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Authority, not responsibility

Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal:
The day before hurricane Rita hit Texas, last Friday, I saw on TV something that disturbed me. It was not the usual scene of crashing waves and hardy reporters being blown sideways by wind gusts. It was a fat Texas guy swimming in the waves off Galveston. He'd apparently decided the high surf was a good thing to jump into, so he went for a prehurricane swim. Two cops saw him, waded into the surf and arrested him. When I saw it the guy was standing there in orange trunks being astonished as the cops put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

I thought: Oh no, this is isn't good. This is authority, not responsibility. [Emphasis in the original.]
I rather like that last phrase, as it sums up the essence of government -- the way it is in real life, not in textbooks. So what can take us from authority to responsibility? Accountability. We need to find simpler, quicker, more direct ways of making governments accountable to us. (After all, that's our money they're using.) Diffused political responsibility and tenure for civil servants does not serve that purpose.
amit varma, 1:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Does the earth go round the sun?

Don't smirk, a lot of people got this wrong. There are plenty of problems with science education in India, as this report indicates.
amit varma, 1:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Leibniz enchanted Bertrand Russell

So Tusar N Mohapatra informs us in his post, "Gratitude," which lists out many intellectual debts. Readers who like worse verse might find Tusar's blog interesting.
amit varma, 1:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No kissing in Chennai please

The moral police lashes out in Chennai. It all started when a regional newspaper published pictures of some people kissing in a party, alongside an article that was a tirade against "obscenities [that] are happening on daily basis [sic] in the five star hotels." Then the cops swung into action and arrested a couple of employees of the hotel where the party was held and, in the Hindu's words, "warned hotel managements that their permit would be terminated if they violated licence conditions by organising obscene dance programmes on their premises."

Chenthil has more here and here, and Kaps and Wicked Angel also weigh in. Also, here's the original Tamil article, with pictures, that began the uproar.

You see anything wrong in those pictures? I don't.

This is one more episode in the ongoing saga of illiberal backlashes that India is facing today. Will all this take us backwards, or will we stride on regardless? I'm optimistic, but also worried. There's much more at stake here than the right to snog.

Update (September 29): Reader K Balakumar writes in:
[T]his [moral policing] has been the norm in the state for the last two decades or so. And that has been mainly because of the Dravidian parties that have ridden rough shod over every institution in the state.

The Dravidians parties of all the hues (DMK, AIADMK, MDMK) have always used cunning demagoguery and have used words like 'Tamil culture' and 'Tamil pride' to garner votes. While [the] Shiv Sena has rightly been criticised for practising such rabid parochialism elsewhere, these parties have just got away with murder for the simple reason both the Congress and the BJP have found them useful at the Centre (all these TN parties have been part of the coalition governments of all hues at the Centre).

Now PMK, another local party that is part of the Union government, has also joined this brigade. This is proving to be the most illiberal of all.


My personal grouse is against the media. While it assails Shiv Sena's [behaviour] at every turn, it doesn't use the same vehemence when it comes to DMK, PMK and the like. We all get to know when the vandals of SS strike. But the PMK has been going blackening boards with English words. Does anybody know these things outside Tamil Nadu? Does anybody really bother to ask how these Tamil parties have managed to find themselves in whichever dispensation is at the Centre?
Good questions. Also, Bruno Mascarenhas writes in quoting a Tamil proverb:
One who is jaundiced sees everything yellow.
amit varma, 11:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The sea, again

IANS reports that an expert on tsunamis has predicted that Gujarat and Mumbai might be hit by a tsunami later this year. The article doesn't have enough details on the basis for these predictions, but regardless of the scientific validity of such a forecast, it makes sense to be prepared.

Arun Bapat, the "seismologist consultant of the Gujarat state disaster management authority," has been quoted as saying that Gujarat and Maharashtra are "working along with the southern states to set up a tsunami warning system on the western coastline," which includes "us[ing] mobile phones to send 3,000 SMSs to 9,000 people in three seconds at night to alert them of the impending disaster" and "three to four-meter-high mangrove plantations to prevent damage in the event of a tsunami."

Poor fisherfolk who live by the sea are often the worst affected, and they wouldn't have mobile phones, but I assume that's just one of the many ways of warning people that is being planned. I'm certain the planning looks great on paper. Hopefully we'll never need to find out how good or bad the implementation is.
amit varma, 11:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 16

Too often a false contrast is made between the impersonal marketplace and the compassionate policies of various government programs. But both systems face the same scarcity of resources and both systems make choices within the contraints of that scarcity. The difference is that one system involves each individual making choices for himself or herself, while the other system involves a smaller number of people making choices for millions of others.
Thomas Sowell in "Basic Economics."

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 4:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Getting a bride in North Gujarat...

... could involve the barter of women. Or child sacrifice.
amit varma, 4:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Dogging over blogging

According to this report, more people in Britain have heard of dogging than blogging.

Er, woof?

(News link via email from Vikram Goyal.)
amit varma, 4:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Kill humans. Save tigers

That's the policy of the Maoists of Madhya Pradesh.

If you're a tiger I don't suppose you'd mind much. But what are you doing reading a blog? Eat a dog or something.
amit varma, 4:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Announcing PublicGyan

A couple of posts back, I'd mentioned prediction markets and James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds". Well, inspired by the book, and by the success of prediction markets such as the University of Iowa’s Electronic Markets, Nitin Pai, one of the Indian bloggers I respect most, has started a site called PublicGyan. I've been privileged to be one of the early testers, and I like what I've seen so far. Read more about it in Nitin's own words here. And watch that space.

Update (September 28): I should have mentioned that the man behind the technology that runs PublicGyan is a friend of Nitin's called Srijith, and he deserves much of the credit for getting the site up and running so well.
amit varma, 11:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Killing the ads

"I Killed TOI Ads and Pop-ups," announces Arzan Sam Wadia.

Hmm. Badly designed and user-unfriendly though the Times of India site is, I've never had a problem with ads and pop-ups there. But I guess you have to start somewhere, and I hope that Arzan will now turn his attention to other newspapers, making the irritating pop-ups the Indian Express assails us with disappear, getting the Asian Age accessible on Mozilla Firefox and making sure that Mumbai Mirror links don't die after a couple of days. Rock on Arzan, we're watching.
amit varma, 10:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You shouldn't be allowed to drive at 18

18 months, that is.
amit varma, 6:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

China v India

It's like Mike Tyson at his peak versus Keshto Mukherjee. That's more or less the gist of Shankar Acharya's comment piece here. Check it out, especially, the table.

Anything you'd like to add or argue with? Comments are enabled on The Indian Economy Blog, where I've cross-posted this.
amit varma, 6:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Don't ban books

Ban the readers "whose sentiments, religious or otherwise, are so excessively sensitive that they might be hurt by a book that they can always exercise the choice not to buy, or read, or even discuss," writes Nilanjana S Roy in Business Standard.

Write on.
amit varma, 5:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bookies and match-fixing

No, not cricket, but riots.

My solution is the same. People should be allowed to legally bet on anything they want. If you don't allow them to, they'll do it anyway, and the underworld will be the enabler. More chances of hera-pheri there.

Also, by legalising betting one can actually also enable prediction markets, which have many practical and theoretical benefits. For more on that subject, check out a fine book called "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki.
amit varma, 1:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Are you a panda?

If you are, would you like to keep your sex life private?

Really? Ha. The Chinese government is spying on your sexual activities, and they're using satellites and GPS and so on. Don't worry, though, it's for your own good. In fact, they want you to get some action. Go, waddle off now, procreate or something.

(Link via email from Ani.)
amit varma, 1:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Disempowering women

The Times of India reports that "[the] Haryana government has sent notices to Gurgaon-based call centres asking them not to allow women employees on night shifts."

Do I even need to comment on this depressing, regressive move? One of the biggest indicators of a society's progress is the empowerment of women, and although women are still treated as a sub-species in most of the country (and all of rural India), at least in this one sector they are on par with men. According to the ToI report women constitute 40 percent of the workforce in Gurgaon-based call centres -- and, I would imagine, the numbers are similar through the BPO industry in India. Do some people feel threatened by this?

Well, back to the chulha. Shame on all of us. We elect the government, and we allow it to be oppress its citizens like this, with the money we pay as taxes. Maybe we should be more demanding?

There's a cost to industry here as well. But the cost to society is greater.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.

Update (September 29): The Economic Times reports that the government action was not against the entire BPO industry in Gurgaon, but only against two companies, because they omitted to comply with some needless bureaucratic regulation.

Or maybe they didn't grease the right palms?
amit varma, 12:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, September 26, 2005

The leaking takeaway curry container...

... is no longer a problem.
amit varma, 8:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Paheli goes to the Oscars

These guys have decided on this.
amit varma, 8:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Slow and steady on the stock market

Devangshu Dutta writes in DNA:
In the Melbourne Test of 1907-08, the English last wicket pair of Sydney Barnes and Arthur Fielder needed to get 39 runs,while the Aussies, of course, needed one wicket. Most tailenders would have tried to hit the runs off and probably got out. After a mid-pitch conference, these two decided to 'get singles'. They held their nerves and inched to a one-wicket win, batting through an excruciating hour.

Although less spectacular, slow and steady methods can be even more effective than big hitting. Investors need to remember this at a moment when the Sensex is gaining more than 500 points a week and then losing 260-odd points in a single session.

Here’s some perspective. The market lost about 4% last week -- that’s a tiny correction compared with that in March-April 2005, when the market dropped over 13%. But a huge single-session drop makes much more of a psychological impact just as a sixer is more memorable than six consecutive singles in an innings.
Dutta predicts that in the next few weeks, "[b]ears will wander from sector to sector selling and, as they lose interest in a given counter or a given sector, covering and moving on, value investors will get in." Read the full piece.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 6:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A sunset or an old shoe

How amazing!

Check out this superb essay, "Principles of a story," by Raymond Carver -- and who better to tell us about the short story?
amit varma, 5:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Two Indias

Indiatimes reports that "the Indian woman has finally grown up," and is "calling the sexual shots."

Meanwhile, the actress Kushboo apologises for saying that it is okay for women to have premarital sex, after her effigy is burnt in Salem.
amit varma, 5:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Lovely doggie


(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 11:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The value of a life

One rupee.

(Link via email from Sanjeev Naik.)
amit varma, 11:31 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A blank cheque

That's what IAS officers are, according to a professor in Patna quoted in this story about how civil servants still command the highest dowries in India.

And you know whose money is in that bank, don't you? Yours and mine.
amit varma, 12:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A part of the solution?

Sudheendra Kulkarni writes in the Indian Express:
We have grown used to the Two-India imagery being presented, traditionally, in rich vs. poor, city vs. village, capitalist class vs. working class and India vs. Bharat terms. In my view, the real contrast, and the only one that is useful in any transformative agenda, is between the new problem-solving India versus the old India groaning under problems due to vested interests of various stripes.

Most of these corruption-breeding vested interests reside in our governments and political parties. Exceptions apart, they are neither able, nor even are they trying, to enthuse the people and tap their limitless energy in problem-solving. Which is why, from businessmen to school establishments to charitable organisations, just about everybody who is driven by the zeal to aim higher feels that they would do better — and India would do better — if governments and political parties stopped being a part of the problem and started being a part of the solution.
Well put. Kulkarni will now be a regular columnist for the Indian Express, and we'll be looking forward to seeing him get into specifics.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 12:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A double benefit or a double whammy

Mary Meeker speaks about the online space in China.

Of course, Meeker has seen both the benefits and the whammies in her career. So which is this?
amit varma, 11:46 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Go and pump some blood

Today is World Heart Day.

I can imagine this conversation:
Heart: All you kids, wish me, today is World Heart Day.
Kidney: We wish you would shut up, heart. Heart Day, Heart Day, Heart Day. Big deal. You're a loser.
Heart: Hey, give me respect dude, or I'll stop pumping blood to you.
Kidney: Well, then I'll stop doing what I do and you'll stop pumping at all.
[Unmentionable male organ]: Did anyone mention pumping?
Right Leg: Sit down, will ya, [unmentionable male organ]?
Left Leg: When are they going to have a World Left Leg Day?
Appendix: Nobody loves me. Bye.
Liver: Gosh, all of you think the world of yourselves, don't you?
Brain: No. [Pause.] I do.
Yeah, well, whatever. Don't forget to wish your heart today.
amit varma, 11:29 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Khan v Khan v Khan

Harneet Singh examines the box office. Shah Rukh comes first, followed by Salman. Aamir comes third.

amit varma, 11:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, September 23, 2005

A little birdie told me...

... that she's happy about this. Well done, New York.
amit varma, 7:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Divinely funny

I'm cracking up. Paul Rudnick rocks.
amit varma, 7:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The classic womanizer and the classic enabler

Louis Menand, one of my favourite modern non-fiction writers, has an excellent piece in the New Yorker on Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and the nature of their relationships. Fascinating stuff. I've never admired those two as writers or thinkers, and they don't seem the best of people to have known either.
amit varma, 6:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The rains have come to suburban Dahisar

And you're invited.
amit varma, 6:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hey, I like suds

"I don’t agree soaps are the domain of women alone," says Shah Rukh Khan in the course of an interview in the Times of India.

He's right. Men bathe sometimes.
amit varma, 12:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Markets move, ok?

That excellent columnist, Ila Patnaik, writes in the Indian Express:
The drama in the stock market has highlighted how India is still an immature market economy. It is the job of the stock market to fluctuate, to move in response to expectations. But in the media and in official circles in India, this induces disproportionate hysteria.

To become a mature market economy, the government has to stop trying to manage prices. When prices fall, as they did on 17 May 2004, we do not need the government to "prop up the market" or to look for manipulators. And when prices rise, we do not need a coordinated assault on the market. The government must respect the process of speculative price discovery, and accept the valuations that come out of it.
Amen. Read the full thing.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 12:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Karnataka v Tamil Nadu

It's the Ghee War.
amit varma, 12:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Meter down

India Uncut wishes the twin girls born inside a Mumbai taxi yesterday the very best of luck.
amit varma, 12:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Art and commerce...

... come together for Indian art.

This is great news, and all the artists who are reaping the benefits of this bull market in Indian art deserve it. The auction mechanism works beautifully in revealing the true market value of a painting, and I'm puzzled as to why it isn't used much more at the primary stage of selling art. Artists would benefit more from their work, then, instead of dealers.

There's surely an opportunity here.
amit varma, 12:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A fetal position

It used to happen that after I killed, the soul of the man I kill will come and sit on my chest. But then a Muslim gangster taught me to sleep in a fetal position with my back to the door, so the soul doesn’t have access to my chest so I can sleep peacefully.
So said a Mumbai gangster, as quoted by Suketu Mehta, of "Maximum City" fame, in the course of an excellent interview by Carl Bromley in Columbia Journalism Review. I won't quote any more excerpts from it because all of it is worth reading. Among other things, Mehta speaks about Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the Shiv Sena and, erm, Naomi Campbell.
amit varma, 11:40 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Understanding economics

Russell Roberts (of Cafe Hayek) and William Polley discuss the importance of economic literacy in the Wall Street Journal. It's an excellent discussion, read it if you have the time.
amit varma, 4:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Soft toys. A Barbie doll

Mumait Khan, the item girl, tells Sonia Faleiro:
If Bollywood doesn’t work out, I will go to the United States to study. If I can’t do that I will work as a waitress there. My only wish was to have all the things I was deprived of as a child. Soft toys. A Barbie doll. I have that now. I can move on.
Read the full thing.
amit varma, 4:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Communicating on the internet

A friend in CCS informs me that Cosmos, a wing of the Comet Media Foundation, is having a workshop on how to communicate on the internet, using blogs among other tools, on October 8. In case you wish to be a part of it, call the Comet Media office on 23821893 or 23869052, or email soniaATcometmediaDOTorg.
amit varma, 4:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

As with jobs, so with stocks

Gautam Chikermane has an excellent cautionary tale in the Indian Express, the point of which is this: you should exercise the same caution while buying a stock as you would while accepting a job somewhere.

That's precisely why I have no sympathy for schmucks who lose money after a mad bull run ends. If they invested because they had studied the fundamentals of a company and believed in it, they wouldn't go and get themselves into trouble. But they rush blindly into speculative frenzies, driven both by greed and self-deception, and have the audacity to blame the system when they lose big. What would the "market manipulators" manipulate if there weren't doofuses around wearing notional t-shirts that say: "Bakra"?

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 11:41 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tarannum will be free soon

No, it's not a judge saying that. It's her thumbprint.

(Link via email from Matt K.)
amit varma, 11:39 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blog? What's that?

Jai Arjun Singh knows, but somehow just can't explain it to his grandmother. Lovely post. Also check out the poem by Wislawa Szymborska quoted in comments by Falstaff.
amit varma, 11:02 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Democracy in action...

... is better than democracy in principle, writes Raj Karamchedu in the Indian Express. Raj also has a blog, by the way.
amit varma, 11:01 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The libertarian in the New York Times

There's a nice interview of John Tierney, the New York Times columnist, by Julian Sanchez of Reason magazine up here.
amit varma, 6:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Looking for moo?

Ravages informs me that there is a search engine devoted to cows.

amit varma, 5:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Feminism gone overboard

Wendy Shalit has an account here.
amit varma, 4:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Global warming...

... on Mars.
amit varma, 1:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

100,000 homeless people

In Andhra Pradesh, after "a severe storm in the Bay of Bengal," reports Reuters. There's also been a resultant power breakdown in over 100 towns and 1300 villages.

And a continent away, there's Rita.
amit varma, 1:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A lifetime gone

The Times of India reports from Jabalpur:
It was a hot catch. A teenaged girl fighting on the frontline of the Naxalite campaign. But soon, police found the tribal girl couldn’t talk. So what did they do? Well, a constable raped her and then the police left her in a Nari Niketan and forgot all about her. That was 13 years ago.

This week, Madhya Pradesh police finally admitted they were wrong about the dumb girl who’s called Pappe by other Niketan inmates. So finally she’s free.
amit varma, 1:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

James and Bond

Raj Thackeray's dogs, as this report tells us.
amit varma, 1:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A new beginning for the BJP?

"Crisis," writes Sudheendra Kulkarni in the Indian Express, "is a terrible thing to waste." And the one that the BJP is in may just help them burst free of the RSS's shackles towards a broader vision. Kulkarni writes:
For an organisation that claims to be committed to nation-building and has many admirable qualities (never mind the attempts by the communists and other Hindu-baiters to demonise it), the RSS has scarcely introspected publicly on why its influence in India’s political, intellectual and public life remains so limited — and rapidly shrinking. The RSS may or may not do such soul-searching. But if the BJP too shuns soul-searching, if it doesn’t pay heed to the hometruths spoken by [LK] Advani, its own space and influence in Indian politics will definitely shrink. If it does, the present crisis could mark a new beginning for the BJP and for non-Congress politics in India.
I agree. If the BJP doesn't redefine itself, it's scope will inevitably diminish. But that change will have to come from within. Who will catalyse it?

Previous posts on the subject: 1 and 2.
amit varma, 1:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Going to a five-star hotel?

Don't take an auto.
amit varma, 1:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Don't be greedy

99 cents is just fine, Steve Jobs tells record companies.

(Link via email from Nanda Kishore.)
amit varma, 11:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No more credit cards

Soon you'll be able to pay through your mobile phone. That's already possible in a few countries, and it's coming to India as well.

This doesn't mean, of course, that you won't get 83 calls a day from various credit card companies offering you accounts and "free loans."
amit varma, 7:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Free speech

For those who came in late, the Economist reminds us that "[t]he acquisition by eBay of Skype is a helpful reminder to the world's trillion-dollar telecoms industry that all phone calls will eventually be free."

Before that, though, there'll be some frenetic attempts at getting protectionist measures passed by telecom companies -- especially in countries where the government owns one.
amit varma, 3:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A cynic and an optimist

In a post on EconLog titled "The Cynical Optimist," Bryan Caplan tells us how it is possible to be both a cynic and an optimist:
I think of cynicism as the view that the average quality of human beings and the world is a lot lower than it could and ought to be. Professors should be passionate about answering the Big Questions of their fields, but most of them are boring careerists. Movies and tv ought to be creative and thoughtful, but most of it is derivative claptrap. And so on.

So how can I think this and remain an optimist? Because optimism, as I practice it anyway, is an attitude and a strategy, not a description of the world. As an optimist, I try not to dwell on boring careerists and derivative claptrap. Instead, I seek out the exceptions to the rule and appreciate what I find. Just because the average is low doesn't mean that you can't personally consume high quality. And even when the quality I consume is far from ideal, I try to mentally change the subject to another dimension where I have blessings to count. [Emphasis in the original.]
In other words, your view of the world could be cynical and your approach towards it could be optimistic. No contradiction there.

Also read: Robin Hanson's essay, "The Cynic's Conundrum." (Link via EconLog.)
amit varma, 3:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"I am here for murder"

Rahul Bhatia gets the best introduction line ever.
amit varma, 2:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bill Clinton bought handicrafts

amit varma, 2:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Follow the leader

"What China thinks today Bengal thinks tomorrow," Ashis Chakrabarti writes in an op-ed in the Telegraph.

But that's only the Bengal government. The CPI(M) just doesn't learn.
amit varma, 1:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rationing the bad words

Daily Mail reports:
A secondary school is to allow pupils to swear at teachers - as long as they don't do so more than five times in a lesson. A running tally of how many times the f-word has been used will be kept on the board. If a class goes over the limit, they will be 'spoken' to at the end of the lesson.
Nice. If students are smart, they will use restraint as a tool. They'll refrain from using the f-word for the first 58 minutes of a one-hour class, as the teacher gets more and more nervous about what's coming. And then...

(Link via email from Abhishek Mehrotra.)

Update: Vimalanand Prabhu sends me a link to this fine article in the New York Times on the subject of cursing -- "an amalgam of raw, spontaneous feeling and targeted, gimlet-eyed cunning." Good stuff.
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, September 19, 2005

What free markets can do

25 years ago it was a fishing village. Today more people live here than in New York city, and it "rivals Hong Kong as a mecca of capitalism." Welcome to Shenzhen.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 9:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

So many books, so little time

I know the feeling.
amit varma, 9:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A virtuous economic cycle

Rajat Gupta, speaking to the UN general assembly on September 14, said:
[E]conomic growth, and our ambitions for the eradication of poverty, depend upon the energy and drive of business and commerce. In fact, I cannot envision an effective development strategy that is absent of -- or uninformed by -- the private sector. Yet when we examine where development has succeeded, in every case business has been the engine of development.

Because business kick-starts a virtuous economic cycle, new enterprises are formed, new jobs are created, new skills are gained, and incomes begin to rise. Soon, growth and productivity follow, spurring more innovation and efficiency, and bringing the products and services that people want and need. In parallel, people gain opportunity, empowerment and dignity.
Read the full piece here (pdf file). Good stuff.

(Link via email from Arun Simha.)

Cross-posted at The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 9:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The war against nuance

In a superb piece by Trevor Butterworth, Louis Menand is quoted as saying:
There’s an animus against the semicolon because it adds nuance. It makes the reader think that the relationship between two independent clauses is more complex.
Read the full piece, about the semicolon.

My personal take: it's a powerful tool for writers who know how to use it, but it makes language clumsy in the hands of an amateur. I was given to overusing it during a phase when I read a lot of Milan Kundera, but there's nothing a little Hemingway won't cure. I use it sparingly now, at times when I feel that nothing else will do. That happens sometimes.

(Link via email from Rahul.)
amit varma, 12:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

From bandits to terrorists

Veerapan's territory has been taken over by naxalites. Less moustache, more terror.
amit varma, 12:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Odds and ends

Mid Day is in rocking form today. Just consider these headlines, from their homepage:

Sex quacks con many in Kurla
Mentally-challenged man helps traffic cops
Lion King will now roar Chhava Chhava
Man runs over traffic cop's feet
Pandu ban gaya gentleman
5,000 copies of Reader's Digest stolen
Man signs divorce papers at gunpoint

Such fun.
amit varma, 12:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Our prism is a mirror

In an outstanding article, Timothy Garton Ash writes:
What we call Islam is a mirror in which we see ourselves. Tell me your Islam and I will tell you who you are.
He lays out six different ways in which people look at Islam, and talks about the kinds of people who hold those views. I am in agreement with aspects of the first three, but the sixth way, articulated beautifully, seems to me most troubling and true. Read the full piece.

You can also have a look at some of Garton Ash's books here.

(Link via email from Ganesh Nayak.)
amit varma, 12:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Transforming a neighbourhood...

... can start with one toilet in one slum, writes Sudheendra Kulkarni in the Indian Express, in a superb feature that shows how to avoid the tragedy of the commons.
amit varma, 6:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not centrestage when it mattered

In a continuation of the essays here, here and here, Mukul Kesavan relates how, as India approached independence, "[t]he end game of empire, the final act, was played out with the Congress either muttering in the wings or gagged in the green room."
amit varma, 5:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


One more use for your mobile phone.
amit varma, 4:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Compassion tourism

The Sunday Times reports:
Wealthy Americans are paying more than £3,000 to go on controversial package tours to India that mix shopping and sightseeing with handing out food and medicines to the poor.

The tours, organised by Alexander Souri, who has worked on special effects for Hollywood films, take groups of up to 15 people on horseback through the western desert state of Rajasthan, stopping off at villages along the way.
One of the "compassion tourists," as I'd term them, is quoted as saying:
To hold a sick child in your arms, give her the medicine she needs and then ride into the desert on a beautiful horse under a starry sky to have a fabulous dinner in a fairytale fort is an extraordinary experience.
Yes, makes you feel all noble and nice, doesn't it?
amit varma, 4:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Governments for sale

And the media too. A sensational new book, "The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World," alleges that the KGB had infiltrated Indira Gandhi's government, and routinely made payments to her ministers, her party and to newspapers that supported her. Ashok Malik's report in the Indian Express has some juicy quotes from the book, including this one about Indira Gandhi:
As well as keeping her under continuous surveillance, the Second Chief Directorate also surrounded her with handsome, attentive male admirers.
There's much more juicy stuff in the article itself, and while you're at it, also check out similar reports in the Telegraph and the Times of India. The Telegraph article, in fact, quotes the publishers as saying:
In 1972, the KGB claimed to have planted over 3,500 articles in Indian newspapers.
Heh, big deal. Given the current policies of the ToI, you can buy all the articles you want, and get receipts for them as well.
amit varma, 4:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Another twist in the BJP tale

LK Advani has announced that he will step down as BJP president at the end of this year. According to an Indian Express report, Advani "also attacked the Sangh leadership that the perception that it was controlling the saffron party was neither good for either the party or the Sangh itself [sic]."

It isn't the end, of course. Advani will almost certainly try to install his own man in the job, and try to keep himself relevant until the next elections, hoping that the rivalry between his potential successors makes the party turn to him again. But little by little, with these petty squabbles and infighting, his party is killing itself. It's almost like Indian cricket.
amit varma, 3:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thoda sa adjust kar lijiye

Vivek Agnihotri, who's directed the film Chocolate, tells the Times of India:
I don’t believe in showing steamy scenes to sensationalize a film. Even if I use a kissing scene I’ll not do it conventionally, because my sensibilities are different. There’s a scene in the film where Sushma Reddy is adjusting her breasts to accentuate her cleavage before entering a party. Then there’s a scene where she takes off her shirt in front of Anil Kapoor. That to me is more sensational than showing a lip-to-lip kiss on-screen.
Hmm. Well, here're some recent reviews and news pieces aboiut the film: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. That last link is especially funny, as it reports how the censor board got upset because the word "tequila" featured in one of the songs. Heh.
amit varma, 3:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The little details

Responding to two of my pieces in the AWSJ ("The myth of India's liberalization" and "Good intentions, bad ideas"), Karthik Narasimhan sends me an email which is worth quoting in full, so, with his permission, here goes:
My wife and I are in Malaysia now on a short term assignment for our company, and every time we step out of our house in Penang, we feel the amazing effects of a liberal economic policy. This small, densely populated island off the coast of Malaysia (Penang) is a big electronics manufacturing base (thanks to a Free Trade Zone, and a port that was formerly duty free) and it is easy to see what this has done to the local economy.

There is a booming free-spending middle class, and almost no poverty. Everyone who wants to work seems to be able to find a job, and they are doing well enough to import labor from Indonesia for low-paying jobs. There are signs of development everywhere - new roads, new bridges, new high-rises. And from what I've heard, Penang reflects what is going on around the rest of the country.

Not to say Malaysia doesn't have its problems, but economically, they seem to have found the secret to growth. We see all this, and naturally, the next thing we think is, "When will this happen to India?"

We are doing it backwards, it seems - Malaysia had manufacturing move over here first, and that brought in a support engineering force which slowly grew into a full fledged "high-tech economy." We got some "low-tech" engineering activities first, and are hoping for the trickle down from this to help our economy in other areas.

I know the Government's hands are tied by the Left when it comes to big initiatives on liberalization, but I wish the FM would do some under-the-radar type things that would make doing business in India easy. Privatizing a PSU may not be easy (given the political circumstances) but maybe it would be more effective to say, eliminate the need for a couple of licenses or provide a few tax incentives. Everyone seems so focused on doing b-i-g, visible things - but frequently it is the little details that matter more.
That last paragraph especially struck me. We keep speaking about the political compulsions from the Left that prevent Manmohan Singh's government from pushing major reforms through, but there are so many "under-the-radar type things," as Karthik puts it, that it could do to increase economic and personal freedom in this country. Is it doing anything of the sort? Does it even feel the need for it? What is its vision, precisely, besides being in power?

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 3:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Too much plainspeak?

I'd praised Rahul Gandhi's candidness in an earlier post, but the fellow is already backtracking. Tehelka has effectively been made to apologise for publishing their interview with Gandhi, saying:
This seems to be a clear case of misunderstanding. Mr Gandhi thought he was having a casual chat whereas our reporter took it to be a proper interview.
Hmm. So he did say all that then, it seems, only it wasn't on the record. From the readers' point of view, same difference.
amit varma, 2:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Communion with the world of a character

Chandrahas Choudhury reviews Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's "A Strange Attachment and Other Stories."

Update: Well, Chandrahas certainly can't complain too much about his Sunday. Check out his fine review of Leila Aboulela's "Minaret" in the San Francisco Chronicle. I was especially struck by the line:
"Minaret" attends carefully to the dwindle and ebb of religion in a secularized world, one that treats religion like a lifestyle choice when -- we are invited to consider -- it may be more like a necessity.
amit varma, 2:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Want better infrastructure?

Hire more Kannadigas, Karnataka's chief minister tells the IT majors.

This kind of populist reservation-in-the-private-sector-for-localites gives companies a disincentive to invest further in the state. But it is typical for politicians to think only of short-term gain. As Harsha Bhogle writes in the context of cricket:
Too many people in our cricket protect their turf and give away the larger piece of land. The big picture to them is uncomfortable, the narrow constituency is the more critical.
Quite. India needs statesmen with vision just as much as Indian cricket does -- and any that emerge will do so despite a system that does nothing to nurture them.

(The first link via MadMan's LinksMatic.)
amit varma, 12:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Where's the chain?

There's discontent in the gravy train.

And we, the taxpayers, pay for the fuel.
amit varma, 12:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You did it for gold

Now do it for cars, Ila Patnaik tells P Chidambaram.
amit varma, 12:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Two intellectuals

Ramachandra Guha writes about André Béteille and Amartya Sen.
amit varma, 12:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

MadMan's knivelihood

MadMan is amused that the tools of his trade may be banned in the UK. So what is a chef to do when an alligator he is marinating suddenly turns out to be a live one and attacks him?
amit varma, 11:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, September 16, 2005

Pappu ban gaya gentleman

DNA, whose website I finally discovered today, reports:
A dance programme, which turned out to be virtually a cabaret, was held in the capital's high security Tihar central jail for Rashtriya Janata Dal's controversial MP, Pappu Yadav, who is in the prison on charges of murder.

Violating jail rules and flouting Supreme Court orders, Yadav is in fact enjoying a luxurious stay in Tihar central jail, with the active connivance of jail staff. [...] This was not the first instance, nor the only "comfort" Yadav enjoys in prison. He is also reported to have a cooler fitted in the room, a TV, a mobile phone, enjoys food of his choice, and is allowed to meet guests regularly in the superintendent's office.
Right. But where's his blog?
amit varma, 11:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Vegetable knives and chilli powder

That's what it took to punish a serial rapist in Nagpur, reports the Guardian. Read the full story, it'll shake you up.

(Link via email from Shivam.)
amit varma, 11:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hong Kong, not Harvard

Bryan Caplan tells us where the lessons lie.
amit varma, 3:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Plainspeak from Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi says about Bihar and Uttar Pradesh:
You can travel right across these two states but you won’t find a trace of governance here. There is no functioning government in UP and Bihar; and so there is no governance. There is a total collapse of the administrative system… Nothing happens here.
That's from a Tehelka interview, which is behind a subscription wall, so I got the quotes from a Telegraph report of the interview. In it, Gandhi also says that he could have been prime minister at 25 if he wanted to be, but chose to bide his time and gain some experience.

I don't quite know what to make of the man, one who is likely to be India's prime minister one day because of the dynastic set-up of our largest party. From what one sees of him in the mass media, he seems plainspoken and honest. How far he can move away from the legacy of his elders will determine the role he plays in transforming India. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, created much of the licence raj that continues to cripple India. And his mother, Sonia, is a driving force behind the Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, which is a Wastage Guarantee Scheme more than anything else. How much of an independent thinker is he? Will he stay true to the misguided policies of his family and his party, or will he be true to the welfare of his country? These are the questions to which we eagerly await answers.
amit varma, 3:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No more punctuation, please

James Pinkerton writes in Tech Central Station:
[G]uaranteeing the survival and revival of species isn't just a matter of ecological guilt-alleviation, or even of economic opportunity-seizing. The ultimate issue is the survival of everything that inhabits this pale blue dot of a planet. The same scientists who say that an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago now say that there have been dozens of big hits over the eons -- that asteroid strikes put the "punk'd" in punctuated equilibrium. And one of these days, a Really Big Rock will come along and end everything. Or, alternatively, maybe we'll be fried by the sun -- assuming that we don't get fried by each other first. [Links in the original.]
Read the full piece, "Ultimate environmentalism." Controversial, I suppose, but interesting nonetheless.
amit varma, 3:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bring on the future

Glenn Reynolds, also known as Instapundit, writes in Tech Central Station:
[A]s we look at the pace of change, we tend to take change that has already happened for granted. But any of these stories would have been science-fictional not long ago. And they're still a big deal now, they're just a big deal that people often miss. Much as we get "velocitized" in a speeding car, so we've become accustomed to a rapid pace of technological change. Except that this change isn't just fast, but continually accelerating.
Read the rest of his piece, as well as this fascinating interview he carried out with Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology."
amit varma, 2:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ulta chor...

Bangaru Laxman demands LK Advani's resignation.
amit varma, 1:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

To the highest bidder

Sonia Faleiro, in an exceptional piece of journalism, writes about two bargirls driven to their death by circumstances. An excerpt:
Pinky’s life and death epitomises the tragic irony of the bargirl’s life. While the girls’ beauty, song and dance is what brings in the patrons, the girls remain mere pawns, manipulated and disrespected by the bar owner, physically and emotionally abused by husbands or lovers. Since the ban, two factors reinforce the vulnerability of these impoverished women whose glitzy surroundings belie their bleak lives. They will go to the highest bidder, because money must be made. And they will stand by whoever represents their needs, however little their own say may be.
Isn't that true of more than just bargirls?

Read the full thing.
amit varma, 1:40 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A treadmill for an elephant

Maggie needs company. Maggie gets exercise.

Well, it could be worse.
amit varma, 12:05 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Wealth empowers

Such a revelation.

(Link via email from Rahul, who got it via his Apple Mac screensaver. Scoundrel!)
amit varma, 1:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Art and storytelling

Some of you may know that my beloved wife, Jasmine, earns her living as an art curator. Well, she's put together an exhibition titled "In Short" that begins today at the Hacienda gallery in Mumbai and continues until the end of this month. The premise of the show is fascinating: she asked 25 artists to come up with a series of small-format works inspired by literature. Works by Ernest Hemingway, Italo Calvino, Haruki Murakami, Somerset Maugham and Arundhati Roy, among others, inspired the work that emerged. You can check out some of it here.

If you are in Mumbai, drop in and check it out, it's good stuff. To get to Hacienda, go to Kala Ghoda, walk past Rhythm House, and take the first left after the Noodle Bar.
amit varma, 1:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Khushi and Shakti miss Pappu and Pappi

So they go on hunger strike.

Yes, I know, it sounds funny and all, but the story made me rather sad. I could have been a hippo.
amit varma, 1:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Roe v Wade

Here's a new way of looking at it!

(Link via email from Ganesh Nayak.)
amit varma, 12:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

It figures

"India trails behind not just in human development but in doing business," writes the Indian Express. "And there’s a link."
amit varma, 12:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When you gotta go...

... you gotta take permission.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 12:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blog Mela delayed

I'm afraid the Blog Mela I'd announced here is going to be delayed. I simply don't have the time I need right now to do it justice, as it takes me a few hours at a stretch to put it together. So I'll put it up on Saturday, September 17. Sorry for the delay, and thank you for your patience.

Previous Blog Melas hosted by me: 1, 2 and 3.
amit varma, 12:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wikipedia? Looks good on powerpoint

MadMan points me to a post on Mobile Pundit in which we are informed that Indiatimes is planning to start an Indian version of the Wikipedia. Huh. When the internet and the wikipedia effectively tear down geographical boundaries, I wonder how Indiatimes plans to erect them again.

Perhaps they haven't yet figured out how wikis function, and are dreaming of selling wiki space the same way they sell editorial space. Or maybe such plans look good on powerpoint presentations, even if the executives involved don't quite understand what they're talking about. I can't wait to see what they try.
amit varma, 11:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Good intentions, bad ideas

A version of this piece was first published in the Asian Wall Street Journal (subscription link).

The road to hell is paved with good intentions—and nobody knows that better than India’s poor. There can be no better intention than removing poverty but, for more than half a century, a well-intentioned and bloated state has only perpetuated it with misguided policies and regulations. And New Delhi still hasn’t learned from these mistakes. The Indian government is soon to embark on perhaps the grandest waste of taxpayers’ money yet: the Rural Employment Guarantee Bill.

The REGB, recently passed in parliament with unanimous support across political parties, is supposed to provide 100 days of work in a year to every rural household across the country that wants it. This is expected to cost Rs. 40,000 crore (around US$ 9.1 billion), which amounts to 1.3% of GDP. And by some estimates, costs may reach four times that figure. The bill is in line with the rhetoric of the Congress-led coalition government, which came into power last year disdaining the liberalization policies of the preceding BJP government, and promising to introduce “reforms with a human face.”

The problem is that there is no evidence that the Indian Government is capable of properly implementing any social welfare plan. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi remarked in 1987 that only 15% of the money spent by the government actually reached its rightful recipient. The rest was wastage. Similar distribution schemes--such as the Public Distribution System and the 1976 Employment Guarantee Scheme in the state of Maharashtra--fell victim to inefficiency and corruption, and have all failed to achieve their stated objectives.

These failures have much to do with the the vast Indian bureaucracy, which is designed in such a way that inefficiency is inevitable, and corruption likely. Bimal Jalan, a former governor of India’s central bank, put it succinctly recently when he pointed out that “the most important problem in governance and administration of projects or schemes launched with great hopes is the involvement of a large number of agencies and ministries in decision-making and implementation. It is also common experience that these multiple agencies do not work in unison to resolve any administrative issue.”

Whatever money does make it through all the confused bureaucracy is prone to being siphoned away at the end of the line, where local distribution is meant to take place. The recently passed Right to Information Act, a welcome move that is supposed to increase transparency by forcing the government to make its paperwork available to anyone who wants to see it, can only be of limited help. Most of the country does not even know about it, or would not dare to use it against an oppressive local government.

The REGB will also have economic consequences. Labor markets could be distorted at local levels if the wages paid by the scheme are more than the local rate decided by the market. If the government runs short of funds and makes drafts on private savings held by banks, interest rates could go up. Then there’s the obvious fact that the money spent on this scheme could certainly be put to better use somewhere else. New Delhi could use it to build much-needed infrastructure like roads, ports and power installations, enabling greater participation in the economy and generating more sustainable employment.

The key to generating employment lies in less government intervention, not more. The government needs to reform India’s archaic labor laws, whose inflexibility hampers industrial growth as well as employment. In a variety of repressive ways, firms are not allowed to enter into free contracting, and cannot manage their workforces according to market conditions. In theory, labor laws are supposed to protect workers from being fired, but in practice such laws discourage industrial units from being set up, and hamper entrepreneurship and industrial expansion. The effect is that employment is far lower than it would have been in a free market.

India also needs to shut down its “License Raj,”--the oppressive web of regulations that acts as a massive disincentive to entrepreneurs and businessmen. It is no coincidence that India ranks 118th on the Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom Index, and 127th on the UNDP Human Development Index. Economic freedom and development go hand in hand, and India could have done as well in manufacturing as it has in services had its entrepreneurs been given the freedom to set up businesses without having to apply for myriad licenses, bribe numerous officials, and sometimes spend years in the process. Increased entrepreneurship and industrial growth would have been far more effective than the REGB in generating long-lasting employment.

India’s 58 years since independence have been ones of lost opportunity, with a waste of human capital and millions of lives lost to needless poverty. Successive Indian governments have made all the right noises about reducing poverty, and then followed all the wrong policies. Sadly, the REGB looks like more of the same.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog. Some other recent pieces of mine in the AWSJ: 1 and 2.
amit varma, 11:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A problem of plenty?

Daniel Ben-Ami tells us "[w]hy people hate fat Americans."
amit varma, 6:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hogs spread light

Really, they do. Unless they're constipated.
amit varma, 6:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hurricane Katrina: a case study

Jack Welch takes us through it.
amit varma, 5:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A stray compliment

How little it takes to make us happy.
amit varma, 5:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Worried about match-fixing?

Legalise betting. My story on Cricinfo...
amit varma, 5:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Microsoft Vista—P*rn Edition

John Dvorak suggests that Microsoft go all the way.

(Link via email from Vibhu.)
amit varma, 11:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Christopher Hitchens finds perfect contentment

Such fun.
amit varma, 12:13 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Action and Reaction 4

Punjab police sportsmen go missing in US.

PM leaves for New York.

(More A&R: 1, 2 and 3.)
amit varma, 11:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Why India is not a manufacturing superpower

Click here, and see where we figure on this list.

(Link via email from Michael Higgins, who got it via Marginal Revolution. For some of my thoughts on this subject, click here.)
amit varma, 6:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A hotbed of crime

Mumbai's airport. If you escape the baggage handlers, there's the unions. If the trolley mafia doesn't fleece you, the taxi drivers will mug you. Heck, you could just put TV cameras all over the place and get a reality crime show.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai Police website reminds us of their logo: "With you, for you, always." Yeah, right.

Update (Sep 14): Vikram Goyal emails me to say that I forgot the customs guys. How could I?
amit varma, 4:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not the Istanbul kind of Turkey

This is cold.
amit varma, 4:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Why is a blog better than a woman?

Because you can disable comments.

(Courtesy a collaboration with the noble Sid Vaidyanathan.)
amit varma, 4:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Catching rats

AP reports:
New Delhi's government has a rat catching department that hasn't caught a single rodent in more than a decade, a newspaper reported Monday.

There are 97 rat catchers on the municipal payroll, all working for the Rat Surveillance Department, a decades-old agency that last saw a lot of action back in 1994, when a plague outbreak killed 56 people in areas of northwest India near the capital, The Hindustan Times newspaper reported.
Well, now you know where your taxes go: into paying the salaries of rat catchers who don't catch rats. They should just shut down that damn department, and outsource the function. Or leave it to the free market.

(AP link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 3:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The flip side of being a rock star

Everyone knows when you're not at home.
amit varma, 3:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

In the heart of the capital city...

... this happens.

Why do we talk about Bihar and UP in derogatory terms then?
amit varma, 11:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mumbai's problems

Dengue and malaria are expected to inflict Mumbai soon, civic authorities say.

The BMC already does.
amit varma, 11:31 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, September 12, 2005

India, the USA and Iran

Nitin Pai, by far the best foreign-policy analyst among Indian bloggers, gets it just right.
amit varma, 9:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The importance of anger

Having a cool head is sometimes important, writes Lee Harris in Tech Central Station. But it's rage that changes the world.
amit varma, 8:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Be still, Mr White

You can unveil a dress. But can you undress a whale?
amit varma, 6:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Perpetuating poverty

In a superb post, Primary Red of Secular-Right India writes:
[W]elfare states create dependency, not wealth. They sustain poverty, not eliminate it. In effect, they pay people to remain poor.


When the Great Society debate was raging in the 60s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (an early neo-conservative and later Ambassador to India) pointed out the difference between a poverty of means and a poverty of spirit.

People can find themselves in poverty for reasons beyond their control, but as long as their spirit is not broken, they get up each morning and go out there to work harder than they did yesterday. They may be poor, but their poverty is resolvable.

Then, there are people with a poverty of spirit. They are dependent on the state for survival, and when the state fails (as it frequently does), they are left marooned. Such poverty is not resolvable.

The key is to make sure that we don't end up with poverty of the spirit. In India, many millions are poor, but they work just as hard as all of us slightly more privileged. They are heroes who build India's wealth every day with their sweat -- it must be India's objective to resolve their structural poverty.

Instead, what India has been doing since independence, alas, is creating a dependency society -- with poverty of the spirit -- where all manner of reservations and subsidies and artificial jobs guarantees ensure a perpetuation of poverty for many.
Dead right. It is a pity that so many people go by intent and ignore outcome when they support the concept of a welfare state. When will we learn?

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 6:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Darkness falls

Um, no, actually lights fall.
amit varma, 5:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Try cheese.
amit varma, 5:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On the wall

How many writers get to unveil portraits of themselves by award-winning artists? What fun.

(Picture courtesy the Guardian.)
amit varma, 5:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The most dangerous sport

No, not BASE-jumping, extreme ironing, skydiving or buildering.

It's horse riding.
amit varma, 4:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Scarcity of Bengali food in Kolkata

Responding to this post, Nanda Kishore writes in:
Your longing for Bong restaurants also reminded me of an interesting aspect of Kolkata, where I'm officially based. I'm from Orissa with Telugu antecedents, and it puzzled me no end as to why there no restaurants serving Bengali cuisine in Kolkata. Especially conspicuous by absence are places where you can go to for moderately priced lunch, like those in the south, for example - or anywhere else, for that matter. The only ones where you can sit down and have good Bengali food are expensive restaurants like Charnock City or those at the Peerless Inn, Taj Bengal or other luxury hotels. Me and my roommates wondered about this and I asked my Bengali friends about it, and they couldn't really explain it either, but they didn't think it was an issue. So you have what we used to call 'jhups', where you don't exactly have five-star conditions, or you have Charnock City (who do serve excellent food) - nothing in between. In contrast, there are plenty of places serving affordable Chinese or Punjabi.

Any insights into this?
Could it be because most people in Kolkata have Bengali food anyway at home, and want something different when they go out? I wouldn't know. Anyone?
amit varma, 3:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Trim that visiting card

Walter Mossberg approves of the nano.
amit varma, 3:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Intelligent design in economics

I'd linked a few days ago to an excellent post by Don Boudreaux in which he made an analogy between biology and economics, equating natural selection with free markets, and creationism with central planning. Well, another excellent economics blogger, Arnold Kling, makes a similar analogy in a piece in Tech Central Station, accusing Brad DeLong of Intelligent Design, which he defines thus:
An Intelligent Designer can create policies, programs, and organizations through legislative fiat and top-down administration that operate effectively in a centralized manner. Government agencies and bureaucracies are like highly-tuned cars, needing only good navigators and drivers to race them to their goals.
Naturally, whether in the biological sphere or in the economy, Intelligent Design is rubbish. Read Kling's piece for more -- or just look around you.
amit varma, 3:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

An unholy act

The Indian Express reports:
An Israeli couple who got married in Pushkar on Wednesday and had planned an Indian honeymoon could spend three months in jail instead after falling foul of the priests who conducted their marriage according to Hindu rituals. Their offence: a post-nuptial kiss on the ghats of the Pushkar Lake.

Priests conducting Orprez Allen and Selev Kermit’s marriage blew their fuse when they kissed right in front of them after the ceremony.

“It spoiled the prayers. The wedding became a farce because of this unholy act,” SN Garg, secretary of the Association of Pushkar Pandits, said.
Hmm. I wonder what Mrs Garg has to say such about such unholy acts.
amit varma, 1:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Veneration rights

If God existed, I wonder what she'd think of this.
amit varma, 1:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, September 11, 2005

You mean, like Procol Harum?

"I'm sure Punekars would agree that the last 12 months have probably been the worst in terms of civic life in recent memory," writes J Ramanand. He takes a look at some of Pune's problems over the last year and concludes:
Frankly, Pune's just been exposed as a bit of an upstart, a one-hit wonder whose feted climate has been crippled by the pollution, whose roads have dissolved into gravel at the first downpour and never had any width to begin with to handle the explosion, and whose civic fathers are from one of those mawkish TV serials where all they can do is abandon their responsibilities.
Hmm. I went to college in Pune, and still enjoy my increasingly infrequent trips there, but I guess that's just because compared to Mumbai it's still a charming, chilled-out small town. Everything is relative.
amit varma, 12:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Look ma, floating rose petals

The Independent reports:
To the dismay of Bollywood starlets and former Miss Indias, one of the most coveted female roles in India has been snapped up by a man. Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood's biggest male leads, is to appear in a role usually seen as the prize for one of India's most beautiful women.

A heartthrob for hundreds of millions of Indian women, Khan, who usually plays more macho roles, is to appear sitting in a bath surrounded by floating rose petals as the new Indian "face" of Lux beauty soap.
Well, well, what to say now. I just hope he doesn't appear next in one of these.

(Independent link via email from Ravikiran.)
amit varma, 12:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Kolkata's Subway...

... runs out of sandwiches. Who can deny that Kolkatans love their food?

I'm in the mood for some malai chingri, though. Damn, no Bong restaurants anywhere near here.
amit varma, 12:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The great Indian fixation

Shaking bottoms.
amit varma, 12:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Starlet, gangster, glamour, murder

How can Madhur Bhandarkar resist making a film on Preeti Jain? All the ingredients are there for a good potboiler, and a morality tale, and so on.
amit varma, 7:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Worse than Sania

So India's the next superpower, eh? TN Ninan gives us a reality check:
The inescapable fact is that even today India accounts for only 2 per cent of the world’s GDP, less than 1 per cent of world trade, less than 1 per cent of global investment flows and an even smaller share of global technology breakthroughs — with 16 per cent of the world’s people.

While it is good to be optimistic and to be conscious about the country’s latent potential, and indeed to capitalise on recent positive trends, it would be dangerous to get into the mindset that says we have already arrived.

The distance to be covered between today’s reality and tomorrow’s potential was emphasised in bold relief this last week, with the release of UNDP’s latest Human Development Report. At a rank of 127, India is still among the laggards. And despite the front-ranking rate of 7 per cent economic growth, we are making precious little progress in education, health care, sanitation and other elements of social infrastructure.

Most other international rankings also show India in a poor light, whether it is the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness report, or Transparency International’s corruption perception index. In none of them do we match Sania Mirza’s global rank of 42, and she to her credit is likely to move up the numbers ladder faster than the country.
To point all these out is treated as non-patriotic is some circles, but to not do so would be to ensure, in Ninan's words, that "we ignore the hard work that has to be done today, and the tough decisions that have to be taken." Good things have happened in the last decade-and-a-half, but, as I'd written here, a lot still remains to be done. Until every citizen of India has economic and personal freedom, we should focus on building the road ahead, and not on celebrating the footpath behind.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 5:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Come one, come all...

... for the next Indian Blog Mela. I'll be hosting it, so do nominate a post from your blog, or from one you like, that you feel is worthy. The guidelines:

1. All posts between September 8 and September 14 are eligible, including on those two days.
2. All posts should be made by Indians or should focus on India.
3. Deadline is by the end of September 14, US time. My blog mela will be posted on September 15.
4. Please nominate just one post per blog, although for a group blog you can nominate one per contributor, for a maximum of 219 contributors. (An improvement on last time, you will note.)

Previous Blog Melas hosted by me: 1, 2 and 3.
amit varma, 3:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Kim Jong Il's application

amit varma, 1:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Watch that manhole cover

If you live in Mumbai and there happens to be a manhole cover that is close to your heart, guard it zealously. The Times of India informs us that manhole covers are "[t]he most stolen object in Mumbai."

Apparently, 1500 of them are stolen every year, amounting to a loss of Rs 75 lakh (apprx. US$ 171,000) for the taxpayer. It seems a syndicate is behind these thefts. ToI elaborates:
Their modus operandi is the same. They always strike early in the morning before day-break. They arrive in a small lorry and are gone with the cover in less than five minutes.
Manhole covers are the softest targets possible, of course. With so much crime to control, why would an overworked and underpaid police force bother to try and stop manhole-cover thefts in the early hours of the morning? Meanwhile, our money continues to go down the manhole.
amit varma, 12:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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