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, March 31, 2006

Some hope for freedom

If two consenting adults engage in a relationship that harms no one else, does anyone have a right to stop them? Clearly not, I hope you'll agree: even if they are of the same sex. I am delighted by the decision of a court in Halol, thus, to allow a lesbian couple to live together after they had earlier been forcibly separated. It's an important precedent, though I am slightly disturbed by this line of the report:
Police officers said they could not even invoke Section 377 of IPC which punishes “intercourse against the order of nature” as it required penetration.
That section of the law really ought to be thrown out. I have no issues against penetration as long as it's voluntary, and "the order of nature," which is the construct of men, can just go where the sun don't shine. Voluntarily, of course.
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Departure, by Nikhileswar Baruah

If you happen to be in Mumbai anytime soon, do check out this remarkable exhibition. The actual paintings themselves are huge, and far more impressive than these pictures suggest.
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India Uncut Nugget 24

Once upon a time, on a nudist beach, I saw a man sitting, naked, delightedly engrossed in an issue of Playboy.

Just like that man, on the inside, not on the outside, is where the good reader ought to be while reading.
Amos Oz, in his excellent collection of essays, "The Story Begins: Essays on Literature".

Of course, there is a danger in being too much on the inside, and too little on the outside. I think it's one that most writers probably face. What are its consequences? Let's not go there. Get the Playboy.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
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Look ma, no clothes

Well, well, well. The moral police hits out at Mid Day. Mid Day responds boldly. And the High Court, well, I don't understand what the hell they're saying here, and why would lawyers be so well-paid if I did?

I am always suspicious of people who claim to speak on behalf of "society," as if society is a homogenous group of people speaking in one voice, like a church choir singing:
All things bright and bea-oo-tiful
Body parts great and small
All things wild and wuh-uhn-derful
Instantly cover them all
And suchlike. What, boss? Speak for yourself and leave my Mid Day mate be. Kutrey chi!
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Thursday, March 30, 2006

So who are you, Amit?

I'll be darned if I can come up with a simple answer to that question. There's no point saying that I'm male, or an Indian, or a libertarian, because all of those are true but far less than the truth. I am, and I'm sure you are too, a mish-mish of influences and identities and beliefs, and that mish-mash keeps transforming itself every moment that we live through. How to put one word to it?

Yet we tend to do to identity what we do to the world in general. In trying to make sense of the complexity around us -- and it is necessary to do that, or we'd just die of bafflement and confused inactivity -- we simplify. Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence deals partly with this, as the excellent excerpt quoted by Jai Arjun Singh here illustrates. Jai's own thoughts are quite as illuminating, and I enjoyed this post of his as much as I did his post on Sachin Tendulkar a couple of days ago, on why he (Jai) is not patriotic. Non-patriotism is a quality I share with him -- for if I cannot fathom what India is, how can I love it? And why should I?
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Dobbsy Dobbsy Doo

Benn Steil coins a neologism in the Financial Times:
Dobbsism is a form of primal consciousness, exemplified by crusading American television anchor Lou Dobbs, through which people impute what they observe to intention. It is the consciousness behind belief in intelligent design, according to which biological life must have been designed by a creator, given its complexity. It is likewise behind the belief that a complex social construct like a "national economy" must be deliberately designed by enlightened policymakers, lest joblessness, poverty and mass bankruptcy result from the neglect.
Well, whatever Steil calls it, this tendency is fairly common in us, for spontaneous order is an unintuitive concept to grasp, as are things that are "the product of human action but not of human design." (Update: also read this.) Too many of us have too much faith, still, in central planning and government intervention, thus making the same mistake that a Russian official, struggling to understand market economics, once made when he asked Paul Seabright: "who is in charge of the supply of bread to London?" (Quoted in this excellent article, and in "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford.) Quite.

(The FT link is a subscriber link, I quoted it off the print edition.)
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Well, I guess I'm not a man...

... if the headline of this article is anything to go by.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
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Boredom alerts and suchlike

The New Scientist reports:
A device that can pick up on people's emotions is being developed to help people with autism relate to those around them. It will alert its autistic user if the person they are talking to starts showing signs of getting bored or annoyed.
I think that it isn’t just autistic people who could use this, but two other kinds of people: men, for figuring out women’s mysterious moods; and women, for figuring out when a man needs his space and should just be left alone.

“That covers everyone, I think,” said the blogger, generalising madly.

(Link via email from Quizman.)
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India Uncut Nugget 23

In our country, democracy is a bit like cricket: it's a spectator sport.
Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, on a show on NDTV 24x7 last evening.

While I believe that democracy is the only system of government we should have -- in fact, the only moral system -- I'm uncomfortable when I hear it offered as a justification for all kinds of things. Everything that a government does is not ok just because a majority of people voted for it, and what is popular is not necessarily right. Consider Gujarat; consider Germany 1933; consider Hamas.

That is why, important as democracy is, it is as important to have protections for minority rights and individual freedoms build into the constitution, so that no matter what the majority want, no matter what the government of the day is like, the relatively powerless have some basic protection. Naturally, this has to go land in hand with a strong and efficient legal system.

And do we have this in India? Heh.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Even more adventures of Ponty Manesar

The series that I started here and continued here gets a second wind as reader Eldo Scaria writes in with some Ponty Manesar adventures he's brought to life. This is outrageously funny stuff, and I'm outraged that someone else thought of these. Heh. Here's Ponty Manesar, brought to you, this time, by Eldo Scaria:
The third Test at Mumbai gets over and India has posted a fourth-innings score of a hundred runs leading to a massive England victory. Duncan Fletcher decides to have a one-on-one with his team after the match to ensure that the winning habit is retained. The tack he chooses to take: “Let us learn from the losing side and ensure we do not make the same mistakes they did.”

The first person he calls is Ponty. “So Ponty,” he starts, “can you tell me what is the one lesson you have learnt from the Indians in this match?”

Ponty ponders for some time, scratching his patka, his beard, his ear and finally answers: “Teamwork, sir.”

Fletcher is a little confused, that was not one of the answers he thought was relevant to the situation. “Why do you say so?” he asks.

Ponty’s reply: “Well sir, all our players keep trying to score centuries on their own. The whole Indian team has got together and hit one century.”

* * *

Shaun Udal is overwhelmed by getting Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket in the last Test, and decides to go on an all-night drinking binge, after which he tries catching a Mumbai cab back to the hotel at 2am and is promptly run over and killed. Ponty decides that it is his duty to give an obituary and promptly lands up at the Times of India office the next day.

“How much for an obituary?” he asks the person at the reception.

“Fifty rupees per word sir,” is the reply.

“That’s not much." Ponty thinks. He writes on a piece of paper and passes it over to the receptionist. “Ok, please print this in tomorrow's edition." On the paper are two words - “Udal dead.”

The receptionist is taken aback. “I’m sorry, sir,” he says, “this won’t do – we have a five-word minimum limit, I mean, the message has to be at least five words long.”

So Ponty thinks for a while, edits the message and passes it back. It now reads “Udal dead. Kit for sale.”

* * *

Fletcher believes that to do well in India, one must not just understand the cricketing aspect, but also the social, economic and political situation there. One day he decides to take a class for the team. “Do you know” he says, “that every time I take a breath, a girl child dies here?”

Ponty is quite perplexed at this. He turns to Liam Plunkett and asks: “Why can’t he just use mouthwash?”

* * *

Though Ponty has lived all his life in the UK, on his visit to Mohali he is overwhelmed by patriotic fervor and decides to buy an Indian flag. He goes to a shop adjoining the team hotel and asks for a flag.

The shopkeeper shows him a range of flags of different sizes.

Ponty thinks for a while, shakes his head and says, “Can I see some colour options please?”
Three cheers for Eldo, and, uh, Ponty!
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The private drama of Antonio Machado

Chandrahas Choudhury takes us into the world of Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet whose life was a bit like "a placid unrippled pool," and we all know how deceptive that can be. Check out a poem of his that Chandrahas reproduces: "The Eyes." Remarkable!
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And the award for upcoming musical talent goes to...

... Himesh Reshammiya's nose.

J Ramanand has more. Heh.
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Santa and Shanti go on a hot date

Shanti: [Coyly] I think I'm in the mood for some chocolate pastry. Maybe some Black Forest. [Flutters eyelash, breeze comes.]

Santa: No, bad idea. Instead, I recommend you chew on some ginger.

Shanti: Ginger? No way! [Pauses, decides to try again, says coquettishly] Can I have some ice cream please?

Santa: No, bad idea. Instead, I recommend you have some soy.

Shanti: [Hopefully] Some mousse? Tiramisu? Caramel custard?

Santa: No, bad idea. Instead, I recommend you sip on some olive oil.

Shanti: [Loses her temper, crushes a wineglass in her petite right fist] But I so want my dessert? Why, why, why are you doing this?

Santa: Because I want to go to bed with you? Coming.

Shanti: No, bad idea. [Rises from chair, lifts it, bangs it down on Santa's head, and stalks out. Santa wakes up three hours later in hospital, and decides to sue Rediff for giving him all the wrong ideas with this article.]

Moral of the story: Just give the ladies what they want. Or suffer!
amit varma, 4:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Celebrity blackmail

Lata Mangeshkar threatens to leave Mumbai for good.

This is so very irrelevant to the larger issue. I'm sure reasonable arguments can be made both for and against the proposed Peddar Road Flyover, but emotional blackmail has no role in public discourse.

Yeah, I know, so no one told Gandhi that. My fault or what? There weren't blogs back then.

(And neither was I, coming to think of it.)
amit varma, 3:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Statutory warning: Politics is injurious to health

No, really.
amit varma, 3:40 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

They're back

I didn't even know they were gone!
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Monday, March 27, 2006

The age of batting

A discussion's just begun on Wicket to Wicket on how the balance between bat and ball has shifted in cricket, whether we should be doing anything about it, and if so, what can be done. My introduction post is here, and Bob Woolmer takes first strike here. Tomorrow: Gideon Haigh.

Also, the Pioneer asked me to do a piece for this Sunday on whether Greg Chappell should go or stay. Debraj Mookerjee asserted that he should go, and I was asked to argue otherwise. Here's Debraj's piece, and here's mine.
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On child labour

Gautam Bastian, in a lucid post, corrects the misconceptions that Katherine Weber had demonstrated here. It's sad how the conclusions one comes to on a particular issue are often determined by a worldview one has already developed, regardless of whether or not the facts fit.
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Saturday, March 25, 2006

A threat to superfluous wisdom

One of my favourite living writers on economics is Thomas Sowell, whose "Basic Economics" I highly recommend as an accessible primer on the subject. In a piece on him in the Wall Street Journal, Jason L Riley writes:
Free-market economics, a legacy of the classical school, is thought of as an old conservative doctrine. But Mr. Sowell explains that it was in fact one of the most revolutionary concepts to emerge in the history of ideas. Moreover, "the thinking of the classical economist was not only a radical break from landmark intellectual figures like Plato and Machiavelli but also from mainstream thinking to this day." The notion of a self-equilibrating system--the market economy--meant a reduced role for intellectuals and politicians, he says. "And even today many still haven't accepted that their superior wisdom might be superfluous, if not damaging."
Superbly put. Do read Riley's full piece, and check out Sowell's books if you have the time.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, check out this essay by Amartya Sen in which he says that democracy isn't a Western concept as it is often made out to be. Perhaps. So?

Update (March 29): NS Ramnath writes in:
Here's why i think it's important.

Sen quotes [Samuel] Huntington, but not this passage from "Clash of Civilisations":
Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the seperation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures.
I have heard some people use this to argue that free markets might work in some cultures, but not in others. An example: A review of [Hernando] de Soto's "The Mystery of Capital" (which argues capitalism fails in some places because of absence of property rights) says:
The world today lacks a consensus on how to create economic growth because the proven way -- capitalism, even modified by the welfare state -- is a peculiar creation of Western culture. It is an approach that, if not inherently alien to other cultures, is at least unfamiliar and unnatural.
More here.
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Graduates can do no harm?

How can one ascribe any credence to the defence of a man whose bail application contains junk like this.
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Whose wi-fi is it anyway?

A prediction: stuff like this won't be an issue in the West and in cities of the Non-West 15 years from now, and free WiFi will be ubiquitous.
amit varma, 2:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Libel applies to bloggers as well

Here's an example that real world laws do apply to cyberspace and can be enforced, with a blogger losing a defamation case. Issues of jurisdiction in cases like these still remain to be solved, but no doubt ways to work those matters out will evolve in the years to come.

I feel as strongly for freedom of speech as I do for all individual freedoms. But for those freedoms to mean anything, they have be accompanied by the caveat that they can't infringe on the freedoms of others, or cause material harm to others. I don't think that there is anything for bloggers to be worried about by such cases: the truth is an absolute defence in cases of libel, and as long as you have that on your side, keep on blogging freely.
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Friday, March 24, 2006

Lessons From Headlines 1

Don't kiss in public if your visa has expired.
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Watching Sachin

Lata Mangeshkar recently told Sachin Tendulkar at a public function:
I am a big fan of yours. I don't know much about cricket. But when you bat I stay glued to the the TV screen. I forget to take bath and have my meal.
And then, as he blushed, she added:
These days, of course, I don't stay hungry for long. Muhahaha.
Ok, ok, I made that second bit up. I'm a huge fan of Tendulkar, by the way. Especially his plays. Muhahaha.
amit varma, 3:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 22

We tend to think people are driven by purposeful choices. We think big things drive big behaviors: if people don’t go to school, we think they don’t like school. Instead, most behaviors are driven by the moment. They aren’t purposeful, thought-out choices. That’s an illusion we have about others. Policymakers think that if they get the abstractions right, that will drive behavior in the desired direction. But the world happens in real time. We can talk abstractions of risk and return, but when the person is physically checking off the box on that investment form, all the things going on at that moment will disproportionately influence the decision they make. That’s the temptation element—in real time, the moment can be very tempting. The main thing is to define what is in your mind at the moment of choice. Suppose a company wants to sell more soap. Traditional economists would advise things like making a soap that people like more, or charging less for a bar of soap. A behavioral economist might suggest convincing supermarkets to display your soap at eye level—people will see your brand first and grab it.
Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist, quoted in "The Marketplace of Perceptions," a superb essay on behavioral economics by Craig Lambert.

(Link via email from Rohit Gupta.)

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kleptocracy at the top

Do read this superb essay by Tim Harford, "Why Poor Countries Are Poor," which holds as true, in many ways, for India as it does about Cameroon, the country he is writing about.

(Link via email from Ravikiran.)
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Dog help us

UMN News reports:
From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.
Well, boo hoo.

And speaking of minorities, here's a fine quote on the subject that I quite subscribe to.

(UMN News link via email from Patrix.)
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All hail the Cafe Viennoise

I'd written about it once before, and it's become a regular in my life since. In fact, there are few routines more joyous than kababs and other meaty food at Noor Mohammadi on Mohammad Ali Road, followed by Cafe Viennoise at Hotel Marine Plaza on Marine Drive. An espresso with whipped cream and chocolate flakes (ask for extra), it acts as a desert for the first third of its immensely pleasure-inducing life, before the strong coffee below the chocolate flakes and the cream takes over, and over, and over. Sleep doesn't come easy, but conversation is good.

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India, 1947. Iraq, 2006

In a remarkable piece in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan writes:
I have been reading "Freedom at Midnight," the popular classic of 30 years ago that recounted the coming of democracy to India. The authors, journalists Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, capture the end of the Raj with sweep and drama, and manage to make even the dividing of India and Pakistan--I mean the literal drawing of the lines between the two countries, by a British civil servant--riveting. But the sobering lesson of this history, the big thing you bring away, is this: They didn't know.

Mountbatten and Nehru and Jinnah were brilliant men who'd not only experienced a great deal; they'd done a great deal, and yet they did not know that the Subcontinent--which each in his own way, and sometimes it was an odd way, loved--would explode in violence, that bloodlust would rule as soon as the Union Jack was lowered.


Everyone in a position of authority seems to have been blinded, in part, by the Mission.

The tough, preternaturally self-confident Mountbatten had been sent by London to oversee independence, and he was bloody well going to do it. He was Mountbatten of Burma after all, and he'd first toured India with his cousin David, the future Edward VIII. Imperialism was over, Mountbatten was given his charge: get Britain out with grace and dignity, part as friends, preserve the special ties between London and Delhi. For Mountbatten, speed was everything. He thought the sectarian violence that had begun to crop up as independence neared would be quelled by the transfer of power and partition.

For Nehru, the mission was to secure a free and democratic India. Only then would he realize his personal destiny, to become its first prime minister and impose upon its masses the Fabian socialism that had so impressed him when, as a young Indian outsider at Cambridge, he was dazzled by London's salons. (Those salons damaged him more than any British prison ever did.)

Jinnah sought to create the world's biggest Muslim nation, with him as head. On the day of independence, Pakistan was littered not by little flags but by pictures of one man: him. He ate bacon with his eggs, liked whiskey at night, and seems never to have had a personal religious impulse he could not squelch. But he too had a destiny, and if the Subcontinent had to be rent for him to achieve it, then so be it.

So they were all driven by their mission. And by personal ambition, which tends to narrow one's focus, or rather train one's focus on oneself, and away from more important things.

And there was something else.

The leaders of the day did not know that terrible violence was coming because of what I think is a classic and structural problem of leadership: It distances. Each of these men was to varying degrees detached from facts on the ground. They were by virtue of their position and accomplishments an elite. They no longer knew what was beating within the hearts of those who lived quite literally on the ground.


This is a problem with government and governing bodies--with the White House, Downing Street, with State Department specialists, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and West Point, too. It is not so much a matter of fault as it is structural. The minute you rise to govern you become another step removed from the lives of those you govern. Which means you become removed from reality.

This is what I've been thinking about as I've considered the obvious fact that those in positions of authority in Washington were taken aback by and not prepared for the strength and durability of the insurgency in Iraq. Obviously India in 1947 is not Iraq in 2006. But there is a lesson both have in common.
Read the full piece. Food for thought in the end, where Noonan says that Mountbatten could have prevented partition. In hindsight, of course, it's easy to say how. In hindsight, everything is easy, all pain is avoidable. But caught in the middle of that tumultous thing called life, we so often make the wrong choices.

Self-deception comes easily to all of us, as it no doubt did to Mountbatten and Nehru and Jinnah and Bush, partly because it's probably been programmed into us by natural selection, because it's a quality necessary to survive. How, after all, could we live in hope if we accepted the truth about ourselves and the world around us?

T-Shirt motto of the day: "There is nothing to live for, but I'll pretend otherwise."
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Should one be relieved or worried?

Bizarro headline of the day: "Adultery is not restricted to BPOs only, say experts."
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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Santa, Banta and the sleaze committee

Banta Singh and Santa Singh are sitting in a room watching video tapes of music videos. Suddenly, in the middle of a song, Banta reaches for the remote and pauses the action.

Santa: What happened, Banta, why have you paused the action?

Banta: I can see Rakhi Sawant's hip?

Santa: [Looks around frantically] Where, where, where's the hip?

Banta: On TV, dumbass. See that hip. Where's the zoom button.

Santa: Zoom.

Banta: Ah, here it is, I am zooming in now. [Zooms in to Rakhi Sawant's hip.]

Santa: Zoom, zoom, zoom.

Banta: Now, where is my measuring tape? Ah, here it is. [Takes out measuring tape from his pajamas, where he had kept it.]

Santa: Zoom zoom. Jhoom jhoom. Zoom jhoom.

Banta: Now let me measure. [Goes to TV screen and starts measuring Rakhi Sawant's hip.]

Santa: Zoom zoom. Get out of the way, what are you doing? I am very lonely.

Banta: I am measuring her hip. If more than two inches of it are visible, I shall make every TV channel that shows this video apologise. Yes, yes, all the rich multinational TV channels will apologise to me. Yes, yes.

Santa: But why should they apologise to you?

Banta: Ha ha. Because I am part of the sleaze determination committee set up to monitor violations of the Programme Code prescribed under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Haven't you read this?

Santa: No. And I can't read hyperlinks in spoken dialogue. Blog it or something. And can you move away from the screen please? I'm lonely.

Banta: Ha ha ha. They must apologise. Ha ha.
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Not a divine being, but a physicist hacker

God, that is. Here's Jim Holt writing in Slate about Andrei Linde's theory about the birth of the universe. Go examine a proton now.

(Link via email from Gautam Bastian.)
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Self-made genius

Chandrahas Choudhury writes about Yashodhara Dalmia's "Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life" over here. Sher-Gil's advice to film-makers, which Chandrahas quotes, is particularly noteworthy.
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An English pub on Marine Drive

From the picture below, you'd never guess that this was good old Marine Drive in Mumbai, would you?

This is actually Geoffrey's, the pub at Hotel Marine Plaza on Marine Drive. The picture was taken on the evening of March 18, the first day of the Test between India and England. After the game, many of the English fans rushed to Geoffrey's and chilled out there, watching soccer on TV.

I'd seen signs of this during the game itself. At one point, bored by proceedings, the Barmy Army raised their arms and chanted "Geoffrey's, Geoffrey's, we want Geoffrey's."

(Ok, maybe I made that up.)

And while we're at the ground, below is a view of the lower tier of the press box at the Wankhede Stadium.

It is when you feel nostalgic about press boxes that you know you need to quit cricket reporting. A long break from cricket matches has begun. Such joy.

(Click on pics to enlarge.)
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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Legal notice

This is quite the best mail I've ever received from a reader, one that is actually far more fun than the post it refers to, so I reproduce it in full:
This is with reference to your blog post here, "The value of an MBA."

See, I'm trying to get into a decent B-school to do an MBA (or equivalent), and by linking to an article that seeks to undermine the value of this degree, you have caused untold anguish, by confusing prospective Masters of Biz Admin, and casting doubts in their minds.

This is, of course, resolved by said prospective students simply making up their minds.

But this will not do.

By implying that M for Mandbuddhi, B for Buddhu, and A for Aede, your blog post is totally insensitive towards all three categories of people: those contemplating doing such a course, those in the course of doing the course, and those who have run their course.

I demand immediate removal of aforesaid post, a 'sticky' apology tagged to every future blog post for at least the next three months, and Rs. 46 crore in damages. If you fail to implement these measures, I'm afraid I will have no choice but to slap you with civil and criminal cases.

Greedily yours,

Shrikant N.
Such delight. Shrikant blogs here and here, by and by.
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968 more years?

According to this report, a gentleman named Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, "believes [that] the first person to live to 1,000 has already been born and told the meeting that periodic repairs to the body using stem cells, gene therapy and other techniques could eventually stop the aging process entirely."

Well, I guarantee you that's not going to be me. Sometimes 968 more days seems all too much for me. [Furiously calculates.] So if I'm still blogging on October 15 2008, well, that'll be something.

My t-shirt motto of the day: "Life is hard. Why prolong it?"
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Life in the desert

Brian Whitaker writes in Comment Is Free:
[T]he story of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar - unhappily married and yearning for each other but prevented by society from fulfilling their love - has particular resonance in the Middle East today.

Western audiences who see the film can view it as a portrayal of gay life in the bad old days of the 50s and 60s. For Arabs, on the other hand, it's a portrayal of the reality now.
Read the full post.

There's this old saw that we can tell how civilized a nation is by the way it treats its women. If I may add to that, I'd say that we should also look at how it treats people of alternate sexuality.

In India, disgracefully, homosexuality is illegal and is likely to remain so, if the home ministry has its way.

(Comment Is Free link via Instapundit.)
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Navroze Mubarak

To all my Parsi readers, Navroze Mubarak.

For more on the significance of the day, do read these excellent posts from Parsi Khabar: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
amit varma, 6:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

An age-old problem

Islamic organisations in Albania have objected to a bust of Mother Teresa that the culture ministry wants to erect at the entrance of a Northern town. They have said that the bust is a "provocation."

Yes, that's long been an allegation made about women's busts. What to say now?
amit varma, 4:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


I know suicide is illegal in India, but it's one crime for which you only get punished if you actually fail at it. A 55-year-old gentleman, however, wants to take the legal route, and has petitioned the Supreme Court asking it to allow him to die. PTI reports:
Attar Singh, a resident of Ellenabad town of the district through a petition on February 13 told the Chief Justice of the apex Court that he has been getting "trouble, miseries and economic problems" for long.

He claims that the police on December 21, 1995 not only humiliated and insulted him, his wife and his children but also pulled his beard and moustaches in public when he along with his family was holding a peaceful demonstration against the "injustice committed by MDS University, Ajmer".
Heh. Given how long court cases in India drag on for, Mr Singh is almost certain to die of natural causes before the supreme court comes to a decision. In the meantime, I think the court should simply forbid him to shave so that the evidence is not destroyed. That'll serve him right for adding extra gunk to an already overloaded legal system.
amit varma, 4:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A new revenue stream for criminals

No, not crime. Acting.

(Link via email from Balaji Muralikrishnan.)
amit varma, 3:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 20, 2006

Daddy, baby and webcam

Ah, the wonders of technology. The Guardian reports:
An exasperated father has discovered to his cost that cyberspace is not the ideal arena for family feuds. Two weeks ago Steve Williams became so fed up with his daughter's messy bedroom that he built a website featuring pictures of his slothful offspring's lair in an attempt to shame her into action.

But the public humiliation proved a short-lived victory. While it did spur his daughter, Claire, into tidying up her room, it also whet her appetite for revenge. With the help of her father's friends, the 20-year-old business student has now set up a rival website that displays photos of him in a variety of compromising situations.
Such fun. Thanks goodness there are no webcams in my house. Wouldn't want all the world to see my collection of cows, would I?
amit varma, 7:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Whose salary is it anyway?

A couple of IIM-B grads have requested that the high salaries some students get after placements be kept secret, as their families have been harassed after their details were made public. Now, there are conflicting interests here: the institution would naturally want to publicise these salaries, as a metric of the value of the education they impart; but the students are entirely right in feeling that it violates their privacy.

The solution: the institute should be able to reveal the highest and average salaries its students received, but without names of either the students or the companies concerned. That should serve both purposes.
amit varma, 12:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On banking services

I just went over to the Indian Express homepage, and there's a banner there advertising the Citibank Rupee Checking Account for NRIs. It offers three things to customers:

1. FREE money transfers
2. No minimumbalance [sic] and
3. FREE 'Rang De Basanti' DVD

Nah, I'm not being critical here, Citibank can do whatever it wants to attract customers. I'm just intrigued that there might be people whose choice of bank might be influenced by a DVD of Rang De Basanti. Such decision-making.
amit varma, 11:55 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Patently absurd

Michael Crichton writes in the New York Times:
[T]he human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?"


Companies have patented their method of hiring, and real estate agents have patented the way they sell houses. Lawyers now advise athletes to patent their sports moves, and screenwriters to patent their movie plots. (My screenplay for "Jurassic Park" was cited as a good candidate.)

Where does all this lead?
Quite. I'm all for trademarks and copyrights and patents as a means of protecting intellectual property and incentivising creativity, but granting patents at such broad levels of abstraction, especially for "[b]asic truths of nature," as Crichton puts it, is absurd. Patently absurd.

And no, no one owns a patent on bad puns.
amit varma, 11:44 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A for Asinine, M for Moronic, I for Imbecile, T for Tatti

I wouldn't have minded had they messed with my name.
amit varma, 2:17 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A bag of meat with a 'not-tampered-with' seal

It's a pity what some men look forward to when they get married.

And it's quite as bad that some women are reconciled to this.
amit varma, 5:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The last minority

In an article on Atheists in Star Telegram, Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje writes:
But what, exactly, do atheists believe in, if not in God?

In a nutshell, atheists believe in reason alone, in those things that can be arrived at through intellect and the scientific method. Concrete evidence for God, they argue, simply doesn't exist. They don't cotton to leaps of faith or anything that involves a supernatural being reaching into human lives. They believe you can live a happy, respectable life based on human ethics that were derived not from God handing down a tablet but from a code of rules that emerged naturally through an evolutionary process in which humans learned how to live together successfully.
Yes, that sums it up well. Atheism is not an act of faith, as some non-atheists like to say, but an absence of faith. There is as little evidence of God's existence as there is of the Invisible Pink Unicorn's existence, and as little reason to believe in either.

An atheist libertarian, of course, will not contest your right to believe in whatever you want -- as long as you don't impose that belief on others. Fair enough, no?

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 3:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Video games...

... can actually be good for you.
amit varma, 3:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Unleashing millions of creative people

I'm often criticised for being a strong supporter of free markets, and Don Boudreaux defends that position in Cafe Hayek:
I admit that my proposed solution for many public-policy problems is to say "Let the market handle it." But this response is neither naive nor lazy. It's realistic. It reflects my understanding that almost any problem you name -- rebuilding the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast, providing excellent education for children, reducing traffic congestion on highways -- is most likely to be dealt with efficiently, fairly and effectively by the market rather than by government.

Saying "Let the market handle it" is to reject a one-size-fits-all, centralized rule of experts. It is to endorse an unfathomably complex arrangement for dealing with the issue at hand. Recommending the market over government intervention is to recognize that neither he who recommends the market nor anyone else possesses sufficient information and knowledge to determine, or even to foresee, what particular methods are best for dealing with the problem.

To recommend the market, in fact, is to recommend letting millions of creative people, each with different perspectives and different bits of knowledge and insights, each voluntarily contribute his own ideas and efforts toward dealing with the problem. It is to recommend not a single solution but, instead, a decentralized process that calls forth many competing experiments and, then, discovers the solutions that work best under the circumstances.
'Markets' have been caricatured by their opponents as being spaces where evil corporations exploit hapless workers and take consumers for a ride. Quite the contrary. Free markets with a proper rule of law -- a prerequisite for markets to function well -- empower consumers, and it is you and me and millions like us who, with our choices, run the world. When governments distort markets, getting in the way of our exercising our choices freely, or limiting the options and opportunities that would otherwise be available to us, they do us a disservice.

(Link via email from Naveen Mandava.)
amit varma, 9:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, March 17, 2006

Potatoness beats humpacity

When TV's around, libido's going to have to wait.
amit varma, 8:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The cooperative gene

Richard Dawkins muses on the impact of that classic first book of his, "The Selfish Gene." And on whether it should have had a different, more idiot-proof title.
amit varma, 4:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On poetry, online

Many people put their "creative writing" online. Much of it is shudderworthy, and especially the poems. Prose takes time to reveal badness, and readers often get bored and move on before then. But with a poem, you generally know by the second line how truly and irredeemably awful the poet is, if indeed that's what the poet is. Poetry leaves you with no hiding place.

So it's rather rare when one comes across a poem on a blog that is as accomplished as this. Yes, yes, the template is intrusive and gets in the way, but the poem is quite excellent. Such serendepity.
amit varma, 3:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The life of Pi

Well, here's one man who'd better not forget anniversaries and suchlike.

(Link via Arzan.)
amit varma, 2:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The value of an MBA

In a story titled "Is The MBA Overrated?," BusinessWeek says:
[An MBA] only gets you so far. In fact, for those seeking a job at the very top of the corporate hierarchy, it's not even a requirement. BusinessWeek research has found that fewer than one out of three executives who reach those lofty heights do so with the help of an MBA. And if you think a sheepskin from a top school is a necessity, think again. Only half of the executives with MBAs went to the top 10 schools in the 2004 BusinessWeek ranking.
It's an interesting survey, but the methodology means that it is essentially an evaluation of the value of an MBA from two decades ago. This is what they did:
BusinessWeek examined the five highest-paid executives at each of the S&P 100 companies in 2004, the most recent year for which data are available. We then tracked their educational credentials, obtaining information on 441. Finally, we calculated the pay for all 500 executives and combined that data with statistics about each school's alumni base as well as company performance for 2002-04.
Considering that those top five executives would have got their MBAs -- or not -- a couple of decades ago or so, the results are necessarily outdated from a perspective of what the degree is worth today. Far more useful, but perhaps logistically very difficult to pull off, would be a survey of career paths from lower to middle to top management over the years. Even then, I'm not sure what the results would mean. As the BusinessWeek story goes on to say:
At the very top of the B-school pyramid, a self-fulfilling prophecy appears to be at work. High rankings bring in scores of applicants, allowing the best programs the luxury of being highly selective. Stanford, for example, rejects nearly 9 out of every 10 applicants. The result: a concentrated pool of talented students who would likely succeed under any circumstances, including skipping B-school altogether. Says Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford and longtime critic of B-schools: "If you are good enough to get in, you obviously have enough talent and abilities to do well, regardless."
So if you've got the mojo, you'll rock regardless of whether you got an MBA along the way. It might help, of course, but I'm not sure one can quantify by how much.
amit varma, 2:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Please let it not come to this

Image courtesy: The Wall Street Journal.
amit varma, 2:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Social sanction for hooliganism

I'm not a big fan of mass revelry or festivals: shit like this inevitably happens.

And it's not just in India.
amit varma, 1:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, March 16, 2006

So would you like an IQ enhancement pill?

Brian Mandel writes in Business Week:
Steroids build muscles and physical endurance. Politicians and journalists generally do not rely on muscles and physical endurance to do their jobs. That makes it much easier for the politicos and pundits to be horrified at steroids.

But would we be quite so horrified, I wonder, if we were talking about "smart pills" or memory pills instead of steroids? Suppose that a pharmaceutical company was selling a pill that would improve your memory by 30% or your IQ by 30%, with the same sort of side effects as steroids. Would you be willing to take them for 3 or 5 critical years in your career? What if you knew that everyone else was taking them? What if you knew that the Chinese or the French were taking them?
Hmm. And, more pertinently, what if they had no side effects? Would you still be against them for reasons of fairness? What if they couldn't be detected?

I'd written about similar issues, by and by, in a 23 Yards post on gene doping. That was before I learnt to write non-terribly, and that post/essay is monstrously unwieldy, and shame on me for that.

Of course, I didn't pop those pills of mine in those days.
amit varma, 4:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

I had no option but to write this post

Nevertheless, here's an interesting take on free will.
amit varma, 2:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A major economic miscomprehension

In a conversation in the New Yorker between comic writers, David Owen says about the aftermath of 9/11:
It wasn’t the first thought I had that day but it was pretty near the top: Oh God, I wonder what World Trade Center stuff is going for on eBay? I went and looked. People were getting bids of hundreds of dollars on World Trade Center trinkets and posters that showed the World Trade Center still standing. It was a major economic miscomprehension, which is: it wasn’t World Trade Center souvenirs that had become scarce; it was the World Trade Center itself that had been made scarce. We can always get more little things to sell on the street. EBay shut it down, but I thought that was sort of affirming for America—that, first, we’re morons, and, second, everybody’s out to make a buck. Immediately, it was as if we were back to normal.
Having said that, there's nothing wrong with either being a moron or being out to make a buck. I'm good at the first and lousy at the second, but maybe one day I can turn that around.
amit varma, 8:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Made for each other

Now here's a touching love story.
amit varma, 7:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Another take on the free press in Pakistan

I'd written earlier about how Blogspot blogs were supposedly blocked in Pakistan, and about how the press there isn't as free as we think. Well, B Muralidhar Reddy, my friend in Islamabad and the Hindu's correspondent there, wrote to me to say that the news about the Blogspot ban was not true, and that he was able to access my blog. And Murtaza Razvi, whom I'd met in Lahore, wrote to recently:
I see some of your Pakistani 'friends' are telling you rubbish. I read your blog nearly everyday in Lahore, [as does] my wife in Karachi. It's not blocked. By the way, the vernacular Urdu press is as critical of government policies as the English press -- of course, depending on which paper you might be reading. Pakistan's second and third largest national Urdu dailies Nawa-i-Waqt and Express are very critical and perhaps, hence, popular with the anti-Musharraf lobby. Sindhi papers Kawish and Ibrat, however, take the cake in the vernacular category.
Murtaza is the resident editor of Dawn in Lahore, and a fearless critic of Musharraf himself, so his words carry weight. There you have it.

Update: KO, who runs an interesting blog here, writes in from Karachi:
I can testify that for the last 20 days, Blogspot, along with hundreds of thousands of other sites ARE blocked in Pakistan.

Since some ISP's use satellite links, and it is up to the ISP to implement the ban, some users have access to these sites.

However, in Karachi all the major internet service providers have banned all blogspot sites.

See [Caps and emphasis in original.]
amit varma, 2:03 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Brokeback immigration

China Daily reports:
Two men kissing in a park and a topless woman bather are featured in a film that will be shown to would-be immigrants to the Netherlands.

The reactions of applicants including Muslims will be examined to see whether they are able to accept the country's liberal attitudes.
I'm intrigued by the question of how the reactions of the applicants, who will obviously be prepared for this once they hear about it, will be measured. Maybe we should outsource the services of Somnath Chatterjee for this task.

(Link via email from Cupid MadMan, whose restaurant has become a venue for lonely hearts getting together. Such happiness.)
amit varma, 1:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The value of competition

I just flew back to Mumbai from Delhi today, and the thought struck me that flying from here to Delhi and back cost me less than just one of those journeys would have cost a couple of years back. Doesn't that rock?

And wouldn't you love to see more of that in other sectors?
amit varma, 12:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The other terrorism

Rediff reports:
Naxalites have stormed a passenger train between Kummandi and Hedegada in Jharkhand and have gained complete control of the train, taking all passengers hostage.

"We are unable to establish any contact with the train crew. Guards of a goods train that crossed the said train have also said that there was no signal from the passenger train. Usually when two trains pass each other, the respective guards flash a signal to indicate all is fine. It looks like the Naxals have snatched the walkie-talkies of the guards," said Central Railway Public Information Officer A K Chandra.
I shudder to think what must be going on inside that train. And I also shudder to think that so much talk of terrorism in this country centres around the Islamic terrorists from Kashmir and across the border, as we gloss over all the other sources of terrorism in our country, the Maoists and Naxalites who are exposing, consistently and brutally, what a lawless and toothless state we have become. I hope this particular crisis is resolved soon, but painkillers don't cure cancer, and much more needs to be done.
amit varma, 4:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Visions of parliament

Ever been in a movie hall when some jerklike gentleman's cellphone went off? Well, it happens in rather more important places as well. IANS reports:
A cell phone ring during business hours in the Lok Sabha on Monday irked Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who then launched an unsuccessful search for its owner.

As the phone rang, Chatterjee asked whose phone it was and directed the owner to hand it over to the marshals. Although the marshals were walking up and down, no MP was seen handing over a phone to them.
This is immense fun. An image of Chatterjee lurking the aisles looking for the phone comes to mind. Every once in a while he lunges at an MP, examines his dhoti or veshti or lungi as the case may be, and sighs and resumes his search. (In the process he wakes the MP up, which is a pity.) If he sees an MP shaking his legs under the table, he assumes it's because his phone is on vibrator mode, and ducks under the table to get a grip on things. And now and then, in the middle of his search, the phone rings, but he can't make out where the noise is coming from. All the MPs look at him and smile. Laloo Prasad Yadav's cow is also there, chomping grass from a bucket. But the phone is not located.

And, needless to say, the ringtone is Kajra Re. It plays in Chatterjee's mind, long after the session is over, long after he has quit politics and retired to Kolkata, long after the untimely demise of Laloo's cow because of competition from low-cost airlines. Kajra re, kajra re, tere kaare kaare naina.
amit varma, 3:39 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Salaries and advances

Much fuss is being made about the rather high salaries some IIM grads have been offered, and I find the drift of it a bit disturbing. There's so much envy and suppressed resentment in the media over this. Questions are being asked on TV shows about whether these chaps are "worth so much money" and so on. It reminds me of the attention lavished on writers who get big advances, and the questions that are then raised about whether they're "worth it," and how it is unfair that they get such fortunes while so many writers starve in attics or Prithvi Theatre or wherever it's cool to hang out these days.

Such questions are misplaced. What is the worth of a good or a service? Whatever a buyer is willing to pay for it. The publishers who pay big advances for a writer's book are doing so because, from a commercial point of view, they see value in it. They do it with their own money, not taxpayers' funds or something. If they've made a mistake, their bottomline will suffer for it. Similarly, the companies forking up these large amounts for these IIM grads clearly see value in the men and women they're hiring, who've worked hard to hone their skills. Good for them.

I, meanwhile, have no idea where my next meal will come from. That's because I'll be having it in a train, and I have no idea at which station they load the pantry. But that's neither here nor there, so tra la.
amit varma, 3:10 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 13, 2006

The future is digital

Of cinema, that is. Richard Corliss writes:
It has often been noted that if Henry Ford were to come back today, he would wonder why no one had come up with a better idea than the internal combustion engine. A similar thought may occur to any visitor to a movie shoot. Dozens, maybe hundreds of technicians adjust the lights, apply the makeup and dress the set, much the way it was done almost 100 years ago. And as in D.W. Griffith's day, the film still runs through a camera, then is processed, reproduced many times and sent to theaters.

The addiction to doing things that way baffles [George] Lucas. "Do you still use a typewriter?" he asks a TIME movie critic. "Do you go to a library and consult books for most of your research? Is your story set in type, letter by letter? No. Your business takes advantage of technological advances. Why shouldn't my business?"
Romantics, of course, will rave about the 'texture' and 'depth' of celluloid, but digital technology, as Corliss's excellent article explains, now outdoes film in all those aspects. Even with still photography, we saw this curve of adoption where professionals resisted digital cameras, but as they got better and produced equivalent results with far greater ease of use, adopted them. Cinema, with people like Lucas, Michael Mann and Steven Soderbergh acting as early adopters, will no doubt move through that same loop.

And you know what this will do? Just as technology has made it far simpler for you and me to create our own music and publish our own writings and photographs and podcasts, it will drastically reduce the entry barrier to film-making. There will be a revolution in independent film-making, and it will be accompanied by new and radical ways of distributing the work we create. We live in an exciting age.
amit varma, 6:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A radio station for prostitutes

I'm not sure why Reuters has classified this news report as being fit for its Oddly Enough section. If bankers got a radio station of their own, I don't think Reuters would find it quite so odd.
amit varma, 4:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The evolution of human relations

In a fascinating post, "Wise Children," David Friedman writes:
That maternity is a fact, paternity a conjecture, is a feature of human reproduction that has shaped the mating institutions of many, perhaps most, human societies. Men want to know which children are theirs, and the only way to do so with at least reasonable confidence was for a man to have exclusive sexual access to a woman.

That is no longer true.


From a technical standpoint, it is now possible to combine any mating pattern from strict monogamy to complete promiscuity with assured paternity. How many of those options actually go into common use will depend, among other things, on how much of our sexual behavior is hardwired and at what level.

If, for example, male sexual jealousy is itself hardwired by evolution—as a mechanism to make sure that men don't waste their scarce resources supporting other men's children—nothing much can be expected to change. Men will still have a strong preference for sleeping with, and having children by, women who are their exclusive mates, and the likely result is something close to conventional monogamy. If, on the other hand, evolution has simultaneously provided men with a desire for assured paternity and a taste for promiscuity—both of which make sense from an evolutionary point of view—we may end up with a form of group marriage, or some less structured alternative, becoming common.
Well, I think that jealousy is hardwired, and the possibility of assured paternity won't change that any more than contraception changed the mating instinct. Having said that, "less structured alternative[s]" to monogamy have evolved naturally in some communities, such as the Brogpas of Ladakh. But they're changing "because of modern education," and I see serial monogamy becoming more and more common across the world.

It's interesting, this conflict between human instincts, as they have evolved, and modern technology, which is making many of the original reasons for these instincts redundant. How do we reconcile these strains on our behaviour, then: what our animal selves dictate and what our rational selves reason? Maybe this is the great clash of our times?
amit varma, 4:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The driving force of our prosperity

In a superb post titled "The New Yorker and the Beatles," Don Boudreaux writes:
[C]reative human insights are the driving force of our prosperity. By allowing xenophobia and protectionist rent-seekers to restrict the number of people who contribute their ideas to the market process, we inevitably reduce -- and perhaps even reverse -- the rate of economic growth. Our prosperity will be lower and lower than it would otherwise be.

And this lower rate of economic growth and the correspondingly lower standard of living might well never be revealed by the data.
Quite. And just as this should fuel our outrage over how protectionist rhetoric has become more voluble in recent times in the West, it should also made it look hard at our own policies. Any company that wants to do business in India, no matter where it's from, should be allowed to, as long as it doesn't violate the laws of the land. No exceptions.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
amit varma, 2:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The next wave of outsourcing

Kamal Nath reveals all to MadMan.
amit varma, 12:08 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ah, the Wanderers!

For 2348 one-day internationals no one does it. Then, in one explosive day, two sides make more than 400 runs in a one-day match. Some game that was.

Two comments: one, I'm surprised it didn't happen earlier, because the one-day game has been changing rapidly over the last few years to favour the batsmen. Two, I predict that now that the possibility of 400 has burst open, more sides will get it. India and Pakistan will get there within their next 50 ODIs. There, I did it, opened myself up to egg on my face.

I won't comment on whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's an inevitable thing. More in a longer piece coming up sometime, including the reasons for this shift, and why it is irreversible.
amit varma, 11:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Funny books

These should make you laugh.

Why're you so morose today anyway? C'mon, cheer up. Smile now. Smile. Show me some teeth, you're beginning to depress me now. Smile! Shall I tickle you then?

I think I'll just break your arm.
amit varma, 5:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Fighting disease...

... is rather harder than squashing Netscape. But Bill Gates is doing a pretty good job of it, as this story in the Financial Times, "The casual-trousered philanthropists," highlights.

This will sound completely batty now, but here's a prediction: 100 years from now, Gates will be remembered more for his philanthropy than for Microsoft.

If I turn out to be wrong, sue me.
amit varma, 5:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Kumble-report builder

Anil Kumble has just taken his 500th wicket, and newspapers from across the world have asked me to build a software engine that will construct reports on Kumble automatically: all bylines will be affixed after the reports are generated.

Here's a list of key words and phrases I'm planning to use to construct the report:

Bespectacled, engineer, mild-mannered, soft-spoken, unlike Warne and Muralitharan, metronomic line-and-length, hardly turns the ball, flipper, loyal soldier, matchwinner.

Don't believe me? See the reports tomorrow!

Cross-posted on 23 Yards.
amit varma, 1:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Look, a mirror

If you haven't yet seen it, I recommend you check out "The Prostitutes of La Merced," a photoessay by Maya Goded. Strong stuff.
amit varma, 12:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The loneliness of the long-distance undertrial

Abu Salem wants company. Abu Salem gets company.

Who Monica?
amit varma, 11:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dilli mein raat baarish hui hai

You can almost smell the rain when you read this lovely post.
amit varma, 4:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sadness or hunger

Which do you think was felt more by the dog in this story?

Somehow, that highway feels familiar, and so does the car, though I've never been to Canada.
amit varma, 3:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

David, brew me a beer

The Economist review of Glenn Reynolds's "An Army of Davids" begins thus:
Journalism is like making beer. Or so Glenn Reynolds says in his engaging new book. Without formal training and using cheap equipment, almost anyone can do it. The quality may be variable, but the best home-brews are tastier than the stuff you see advertised during the Super Bowl. This is because big brewers, particularly in America, have long aimed to reach the largest market by pushing bland brands that offend no one. The rise of home-brewing, however, has forced them to create “micro-brews” that actually taste of something. In the same way, argues Mr Reynolds, bloggers—individuals who publish their thoughts on the internet—have shaken up the mainstream media (or MSM, in blogger parlance).
Reynolds, of course, writes, quite my favourite blog on American politics, and a model for India Uncut as far as filter blogging goes. I can't wait for the book to be released here.
amit varma, 1:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Filters and censorship

A few months ago Jai had written a post about a few blogs -- including India Uncut -- being blocked by the filtering software his office used. Well, it turns out it's a global problem now, as Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing points out in this op-ed in the New York Times. Worrying, this kind of inadvertent censorship.

(NYT link via Vimalanand Prabhu.)
amit varma, 11:44 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A writer and a journalist

I was chatting with Scyld Berry, the British cricket writer, in the press box at Mohali, and at one point we decided to call our friend, Chandrahas. We tried one number, then another, no luck. We dialled madly for five minutes, but couldn't get through. Then Scyld asked:

"Does Chandrahas want to be a writer or a journalist?"

"A writer," I replied.

"That explains it," said Scyld. "A writer always keeps his phone switched off. A journalist always keeps it on."
amit varma, 11:36 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The economics of Crash

An economist writing about a film? That must suck, no?

No! Here's Bryan Caplan, a rock star among American economists, on Crash.

(Also read: my earlier non-eco post on the film.)
amit varma, 3:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Don't talk to me. Don't speak to me. Stay with me"

Jonathan Rauch quotes this line from "Waiting for Godot" to sum up what introverts are like in an excellent interview about introversion -- and himself -- in the Atlantic. But before you read that, do read this brilliant short essay by him, on introverts, from 2003. Worth reading, especially if you're one, like I suppose I am.

Now please shush.

(Link via Marginal Revolution.)
amit varma, 2:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When you're hungry...

... the signpost that says "Punjab Cricket Association" seems to say "Punjab Chicken Association."

I'm well-fed now, I'm glad to report, watching young Piyush Chawla bowl in Mohali against England. Ten years later we will either remember this day vividly, or forget the man entirely. Which will it be, I wonder.
amit varma, 12:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

ET rain

This is strange.

And so, one is told, are some beards. What makes a beard strange, I wonder.
amit varma, 11:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Here comes the saviour

Best quote ever (today):
The Minister of Information and Broadcasting shall not sit with his eyes shut if the honour of the Indian woman is compromised.
So says Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, as quoted in this story, about Maxim allegedly morphing a picture of, hold your breath, Brinda Karat.

Instantly I'm rushing to the stands -- not.

Update: I'm not taking the morphing lightly, by and by, but I feel that's a matter for the legal system, not for any minister of blah-blah-blah -- for if you give him discretion that can be used in an ad-hoc manner, it will be. That's how moral policing grows.
amit varma, 10:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

One for the road

This story about "sleep-driving" rather reminds me of that fine song, "Tonight Is The Night I fell Asleep At The Wheel" from Maroon by Barenaked Ladies.

On a tangent, do you think it could be said that since we drop all our defences when we sleep, we are the closest we can be to our real selves? If so, what a pity we are asleep when it happens.
amit varma, 6:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Polarising filter

It's a pity that LK Advani's response to the blasts in Varanasi is exactly what the terrorists behind the blasts would want it to be. Isn't it?
amit varma, 6:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The turban, and freedom

AP reports:
France’s highest administrative body ruled on Monday that Sikhs must remove their turbans for drivers license photos, calling it a question of public security and not a restriction on freedom of religion.
Now, this is a rather tricky issue. I'm not in favour of state diktats on how people should dress and suchlike, because that is a matter of personal choice. For example, I'm against the French ban on wearing headscarves in schools. To me, being secular is not banishing religion from sight, but keeping it restricted to the personal sphere and making sure it cannot be imposed on others. So if someone wants to wear a headscarf or a turban, fair enough, their choice, they harm no one by doing so.

But at the same time, I don't think religion gives you a license to break the laws of the land you live in. That is why I'm quite in favour of Sikhs not being allowed to carry kirpans into aeroplanes, and I think most Sikhs would agree with me. The only issue then is if this law makes sense. Does it really threaten public security if a Sikh is photographed in his driver's license the way he looks in real life? I don't think it does. What motivates the ruling then?

Tricky, isn't it?

(AP link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 1:31 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Of many violations

This post is my contribution to the Blank Noise Project, which I support and applaud.

It feels strange to write this post, part of the Blank Noise Project Blogathon to protest eve-teasing and harrassment, for one simple reason: I'm a man. Till recently, I didn't quite understand the extent to which women are violated every day in India, in so many different ways, and that there are no exceptions to this -- you step outside the house, you're a body. I'm not sure I can understand what it must be to be treated like meat. Never happened to me.

When I walk with female companions in crowded places in Mumbai, like railway stations, I often walk directly in front of them, to clear the way, or behind them, to make sure they don't get felt up. So many of my female friends, when I ask, tell me stuff they've gone through that seems shocking to me, but is everyday to them. A touch here, a grope there, push, squeeze, hold, pinch, being reduced to tits and ass. Bloody hell, I'm lucky to be a man; and a part of me says I should be ashamed to feel that way.

When a woman is violated, of course, it is not just in a physical sense: looking does it too. You live in an Indian city? Notice the men when a pretty woman walks by in a public place sometime, see where their eyes are. Nice breasts, no? Such an ass. See how she walks, thumak thumak ke. Ah, how you'd like to...

I suppose women are used to the male gaze, and I can't imagine how. But everytime a man talks disparagingly about letches, he's being hypocritical, to some extent or the other. After all, we all 'check out' women fairly often. If we're male, we have the gaze. Maybe we've just learnt to make it less obvious. One man's checking out is another man's letching. Where do you cross the line?

Well, where you certainly do cross the line is when the look becomes the touch. Why are Indian men in Indian cities so free with their hands? Well, because by a lack of adequate condemnation and punishment, there is a sort of social sanction for it. Now, while men probably can't imagine what women go through in crowded buses and trains, they can put a stop to it. Instead of turning a blind eye to what is happening around us -- minding our own business, avoiding trouble -- we can raise our voice, and even our hands, if we spot someone violating a woman's space. Every time one of us does this, shames a molester in a public space, we change that public space just a little bit, and make it harder for the next guy to go overboard. And even if we don't know the woman we're helping out, we're making things a little bit easier for the women we do know and care about.

So that's my own resolution, and my plea to the men out there. What can I say to the women that so many other women haven't blogged about eloquently already? There's nothing new to say, but I'll just say this: it's not your fault and you shouldn't have to put up with it, so don't. Be like Hemangini famously was in the train to Chennai. Be strong.

Not like us male schmucks.
amit varma, 12:13 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bring Dumbledore back to life

A poll finds that people like happy endings and dislike unhappy ones. Duh!
amit varma, 1:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Defending our freedom

Timothy Garton Ash writes on "the creeping tyranny of the group veto":
Here the animal rights campaign has something in common with the extremist reaction to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, as seen in the attacks on Danish embassies. In both cases, a particular group says: "We feel so strongly about this that we are going to do everything we can to stop it. We recognise no moral limits. The end justifies the means. Continue on this path and you must fear for your life."


If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom.
I quite agree with Garton Ash when he writes later that "Inch by inch, paragraph by paragraph, we are becoming less free." Read the full piece.

How much do we care about individual freedom in India anyway? Time and again, we see the "tyranny of the group veto," as in the attacks against Khushboo for her comments on pre-marital sex or in the denial of the right of bar-girls to pursue their chosen livelihood in Maharashtra, and in so many other things in so many other ways, some of which this blog has written about. And each time those freedoms are threatened, I think to myself that it's just a small, vocal minority that feels this way, and they don't speak for most of us. But noise often translates into action, sometimes through intimidation, and sometimes I think the silent majority is too darned silent. No?

(Garton Ash link via Instapundit.)
amit varma, 12:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Free press? What free press?

Friends of mine have been writing to me from Pakistan about how they can't read India Uncut there: all Blogspot blogs have been blocked by the Pakistan government. This exposes, yet again, the myth that there is freedom of expression and a free press in Pakistan.

When I'd first landed in Pakistan in January, I was surprised that the newspapers there had far more anti-Musharraf editorial articles and op-eds than even Indian newspapers did. It fitted in perfectly with what I'd been told about Musharraf's government being relatively liberal, and the press being free. But all that was just on the surface.

The truth, as I discovered over my trip through the country, is that only the English press, which is read by just the elite, has any degree of freedom. The vernacular press, which is far more influential in political terms, has no freedom whatsoever. Dissenting journalists have been known to disappear overnight, while foreign observers read the op-eds in English papers and laud the freedom of the press.

And even in the English papers, as I'd written earlier, the freedom is restricted to the opinion pages. Investigative stories about the government are explicitly discouraged, as a friend in one of the leading dailies there emphasised when she revealed to me that the staffers where she worked recently got a memo asking them to steer away from any news that might embarrass the government.

In the other words, from more Mukhtar Mais. If you hear about more such cases, it will be from the foreign press, not the local media. And the people of Pakistan may well be the last to read about it.

Update: In a mail a couple of days back, Danial Ahmed pointed me to a forum on the subject in Urdu, and asked me to "write about it and ask other Indian bloggers to do the same." Well, I've written about it, and I hope other bloggers take this issue up. This ban must be terribly stifling for the Pakistani bloggers who use blogspot, and for the readers who are deprived of such a variety of perspectives. If you have strong feelings on the subject, do blog about it. Every drop helps make the ocean, and suchlike.

Update (March 15): Murtaza Razvi, the resident editor of Dawn in Lahore, disagrees with this post. I've quoted his mail to me here.
amit varma, 11:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 05, 2006

One reason I'm a huge fan of cows

They shit.

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30.
amit varma, 6:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Part of the problem

Anit Mukherjee writes in the New York Times:
During his trip to South Asia, President Bush has done his best to whistle past the diplomatic graveyard of Kashmir, issuing only bland encouragements to the leaders of India and Pakistan to resolve the status of the disputed territory. That's a shame, because instead of ignoring Kashmir, Mr. Bush and his administration should be studying it as a case study in dealing with an insurgency.

"I joined the insurgents only because of you," the young Kashmiri man told me, sobbing, "because of the way you humiliated me, they way you tormented me. To regain my honor, I picked up the gun." It was one of my more shocking encounters during my two and a half years of counterinsurgency duties as an Indian Army officer in Kashmir. Shocking, because it was the antithesis of everything I had worked toward. The self-awareness that inevitably dawns on all soldiers in a combat zone came upon me: I was not a part of the solution; I was the problem, or at least part of the problem.
Mukherjee emphasises, correctly, that "an insurgency can never be militarily defeated. It can only be managed until a political solution is found."

But where will this political solution come from? On one side of Kashmir there's Pakistan, where the political space is dominated by the military, which has vested interests in keeping the Kashmir conflict alive. On the other side is India, where nationalistic rhetoric is routinely whipped up over Kashmir, and any government will be afraid to make bold concessions because of the possible political cost. For a solution to the Kashmir issue to emerge, the political space of both countries has to be transformed, which is not something that the main players on either side will want. But, in the long run, economics might just change politics. That's my hope.
amit varma, 6:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The fourth quarter of the fourth innings

I'm delighted that the fears I expressed here, regarding India's poor record batting in the fourth innings of Test matches, didn't come true. Rahul Dravid, as he has so often done, played a crucial innings to take India to safety. Given what happened after he got out, though, it's interesting to note that both sides would probably have had a better chance of victory had Dravid been dismissed a few overs earlier. That said, I'm glad he batted as long as he did.

Wouldn't life be boring without Ifs and Buts?
amit varma, 6:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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