Friday, November 02, 2007

Goodbye Hingis and good......

And now to resume programming, an insidious commentary on Martina Hingis' departure from professional tennis following allegations of cocaine drug (ab)use. [link]

Now, lets dissect this denial of sorts and try to detect a pattern in all denials of this nature -

"Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam champion and former Wimbledon winner, denied using cocaine."
Of course, who wouldn't? I don't get it, do I have to pretend to be surprised or what? Tom, Dick, Harry and his left ball wouldn't be surprised, why should I be?

"I find this accusation so horrendous, so monstrous that I've decided to confront it head on by talking to the press," she said.

Yes, a very logical strategy - after being accused meet the allegations head on by talking to the press. Not that talking to the press doesn't help,, but how does that count as confronting the allegations head on? Maybe my brains aren't fried enough to get it.

Her voice broke as she fought back tears in reading the statement. At the end, she took no questions and left the news conference. Oh! you poor poor girl!! my heart goes out for her, doesn't yours?

Hingis said the positive test, which could lead to a doping suspension of up to two years, led to her retirement because she doesn't want to spend years fighting the case.
Wow! this kind of logic could rid the world of poverty and disease!! After burdening the cogs of her addled brain she came up with this? hmmmm...... how does one confront allegations head on? apparently, its to meet the press and quit not only trying to fight the allegations but also your profession!! Flawless eh?

"They say that cocaine increases self-confidence and creates a type of euphoria," she said in a statement. "I don't know. I only know that if I were to try to hit the ball while in any state of euphoria, it simply wouldn't work. I would think that it would be impossible for anyone to maintain the coordination required to play top class tennis while under the influence of drugs. And I know one other thing — I would personally be terrified of taking drugs."
This is the clincher! List the effects of drug abuse and speculate on it in a manner indicating that you don't have the first clue as to what that they mean - as though it lived in a realm well outside your sphere of comprehension. And then, get on firm ground (good psychological ploy mind you) on what you can talk as - a tennis player. Start to discredit some (most people will not notice that some aspects are left unaddressed) of these ill effects and say with authority that any tennis player will not be able to cope with tennis if playing under the influence. She says that while feeling euphoric one cannot be that coordinated and perform at peak efficieny to play professional tennis - now, while this sounds definitely plausible she has left out the 'self confidence' effect of drug use. Even if our rationality tells us that this feeling of self confidence is only faux, for the sake of argument can I not argue that while feeling euphoric might not be the best for your ATP rankings, doesn't self confidence count for anything while playing? Aren't self confident players better at the game than doubting thomases who might be a shade better in terms of playing ability?

The swiss miss, keeping up the image of an innocent school girl, seems to be talking of recreational drugs (the ones that don't help athletes but are the forte of party animals). Come on Martina, don't pretend you've never heard of performance enhancing drugs - the ones that do a lot more for your performance and ranking than just giving you an ego boost.

Hingis said she later underwent a privately arranged hair test which came back negative for cocaine. The official backup "B" sample test on her Wimbledon urine sample, however, tested positive for the drug.
Again, like the first paragraph who would be surprised at this "independent" verification. Definitely not Tom, Dick, Harry and his left ball!! To aid in constructing a pattern - this constitutes an attempt to create 'reasonable doubt' against the official position, a sort of scientific vindication to her (as yet) moral arguments.

Hingis said she hired an attorney who found "various inconsistencies" with the urine sample taken during Wimbledon.
Now, the pattern is getting so banal that even Harry's right ball wouldn't be surprised! Of course, the attorney found something. Its his job to find 'inconsistencies' isn't it? Why would you pay him money if he looked at it and said "Sorry, you are doomed. The case is air tight in their favor".

"He is also convinced that the doping officials mishandled the process and would not be able to prove that the urine that was tested for cocaine actually came from me," she said.
I don't know what else to say about self serving lawyers who are 'convinced' about 'various inconsistencies' in the process. From a viewpoint of gleaning a pattern, an attempt to further strengthen the 'reasonable doubt' argument.

Hingis said it could take years to fight her case. "I have no desire to spend the next several years of my life reduced to fighting against the doping officials," she said. "The fact is that it is more and more difficult for me, physically, to keep playing at the top of the game.And frankly, accusations such as these don't exactly provide me with motivation to even make another attempt to do so."
Perhaps a kernel of truth there?

WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said the tour had not received any official information about a positive test and "as a result we are not in a position to comment on the matter. However, it is important to remember that in the area of anti-doping, all players are presumed innocent until proven otherwise," Scott said.
This is bizarre!! WTA hasn't received any confirmation of a failed dope test and our precious school girl quits in a huff and tries to discredit Wimbledon and the redressal process? Her approach to this allegation puzzles me a great deal especially when the WTA hasn't received anything official yet. All I see is her guilt (relatively speaking) plastered all over her loosely pieced together arguments and moral rhetoric.

Now, if you've been following the pattern of her arguments -
Firstly, moral shock and outrage at the allegations. Next, remind everyone of her moral credibility and then speculate about the 'what if' aspect. Get some 'independent' voice to cast aspersions on the other side and create grounds for reasonable doubt in the minds of the readers/fans/general members of the audience. Quit well in advance citing flaws in the system that make it look like she has already been handicapped even without anything taking flight. A quit while you are ahead strategy except make it look like the decision to quit was forced on you because of the faulty system. Its not me, its the system!

This pattern reminds me of oft adopted approaches to allegations by disgraced public figures. Et tu Brutus?

I miss you..........

and really wish I could talk to you more often.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

When it rains it pours

My protracted absence on this blog, an oft repeated occurrence, this time was a consequence of a refreshing information diet - a blog/internet free diet to be exact. At the expense of my new found ignorance and stupidity, I suddenly found so much time to invest in delightful activities - concerts, drama, dance performances and yoga. In no particular order, let me introduce you to each one of them -

Concerts: Dream Theater, Ozzy Osbourne, Nile, Cthonic, Daath, Slayer, Marilyn Manson and Immortal.
Drama: Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
Dance: Riverdance
Yoga: Yogamala

I'll share my thoughts on each one of them.

Though Dream Theater have sort of been pushed to the edge of my current likes, I always jump at a chance to see the live as they are such great musicians. As always, they did not disappoint - they churned out 2 hours of perfectly executed music. In the four times I've seen them, I've always been a little put off with the vocalist but this I was totally surprised by his tight performance. They mostly played songs off their latest album but it was a great concert on the whole.

Coming to the prince of darkness, Ozzy Osbourne - I realized that I've never seen Ozzy perform his solo career songs (I think the first Ozzfest I attended back in 2002, he performed from his catalog as a solo artist but I have no real recollection of the performance). I've always seen him perform with Black Sabbath. That coupled with Ozzfest being free this year, I decided to go in the last minute. I was totally blown away with the tour de force that was his performance that night - yes his voice is mostly off key, it cracks every now and then but his incredible exuberance and the crowd pleaser that he is, he blew away everyone in the audience. Of course having such a splendid band - Zakk Wylde and Bob Blasko - makes not having your heart leap in joy a very hard thing to do. It took me back to my engineering days when Ozzy was a major part of my music collection. All the lyrics that I used to marvel at while singing along with Ozzy came back to me in a rush and singing it aloud with the rest of the crowd was a real treat!

Nile - what can I say about one of my favorite death metal bands. They absolutely blew me away. Of course, joined by totally crazy headbangers and standing in the first row made it a no brainer. I've seen Nile about 4 times and each and every time, I am so impressed by the intensity of their performances. Though they have added more orchestration in their music, the quality and intensity have stayed right up at the top. The venue was a small rock club and I was able to meet everyone in the band. Its the umpteenth time that I wished I had a camera. A last thought - if you want to watch just one death metal band in your life, make it Nile.

Cthonic is a band that reminds me early Cradle of Filth and they hail from Taiwan, an atypical country of origin for a black metal band. Their music has elements of Taiwanese culture and it makes it so appealing. I highly recommend listening to the two LPs they have out. The lead vocalist is an asian version of Danni Filth, I kid you not. I really enjoyed their performance. Top shelf black metal - there is something appealing about buzz saw guitars over a base blastbeat drum pattern tempered with searing vocals and embellished with folk instruments such as the violin.

Daath - supported Nile on their outing - they are a death thrash metal band from Atlanta. Though they have some elements of melodic death metal - some synths and industrial rhythms, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Slayer - thrash metal at its absolute best! razor riffs blasting away at break neck pace, headbanging and mayhem everywhere you look - this was an awesome concert, Slayer slays!

Marilyn Manson - though I am not totally into his music, I like quite a few songs and not to mention his style and his showmanship! I quite liked his performance.

Immortal - what can I say that hasn't already been said by more capable individuals - this concert ranks very high in my list of all time favorites. Blistering black metal tempered with very rhythmic heavy metal patterns brought the entire crowd to a frenzy! We even met with the band later, took some photographs and had them sign a poster.

Moving on the Shakespeare's play - A midsummer's night dream - this was part of a series called "Shakespeare in the park" where a professional theater company stages a production of Shakespeare's plays in the park. This event was the quintessential picnic - sitting the shade of lovely broad trees drinking wine with cheese and crackers. The production was a contemporary adaptation and was staged with a lot of pomp. My only grouse was that it was a long to hold everyone's attention in an outdoor setting.

Riverdance - I attended a performance that I've been wanting to attend ever since I saw a telecast of the show 6 years ago on Star World in India. Riverdance - <--begin clichéd adjectives--> an awe inspiring, mellifluously refreshing, foot tapping ensemble <--end clichéd adjectives--> that fuses elements from Celtic-Irish tap dancing, Russian ballet, flamenco and urban street dancing. Diverse as they might seem, their adaptations to a unifying musical score of Celtic music with instruments such as the violin and other traditional instruments. Check out youtube to get an idea of what a show this is. I highly recommend this as a tonic for a soul that is weighed down by the banality of life.

One of the best things I've done is to join yoga in the iyengar tradition. For the last two months, I've been religiously at it and the benefits on my sense of physical and mental well being have been phenomenal. I feel wonderfully light and supple - my back and spine do not seem like they are a gnarled tree trunk, my body itself does not feel like that of a whale (on land mind you). The instructor is part of a lineage of disciples of the original iyengar tradition that spends decades in the tutelage of BKS Iyengar himself along with his son. My mind always goes back to school days where yoga was forced on us and I can't recall anyone who gave a damn about it and here I am harping about how great it makes me feel.

Well, enough about me now. I trust you had a great time as well. Do tell me about it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

wtf comment of the day!

IndiaUncut reports a comment worthy of a vicious wtf!!

"Through this arduous struggle and till his last breath, Comrade Shibdas Ghosh resolutely fought against all shades of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois social democratic and modern revisionist ideology while he carried on at the same time a tireless inner-party struggle for elevation of the proletarian ethical, moral and cultural standard of the cadres and leaders as against the vile influence of vulgar bourgeois individualism." [Source]

I am not sure what all that verbose embellishment means but I do know crap when I see it and this is a prime example of a putrid pile of feces. Amidst all the blah blah, the sentence ends with something like Comrade X fought against individualism and that too bourgeois individualism (?). Being an ardent fan of individualism, I find this claim repulsive and fit for ridicule.

Follow the "source" link and you are presented with more commie crap - "The SUCI vows to uphold the banner of socialist revolution and proletarian internationalism with every drop of blood of its leaders and cadres.". Adorning such sentiments are the photos of its stalwarts - Lenin, Stalin and chairman Mao. After I saw these photos, I couldn't read anymore as my tolerance limit had been breached.

All the best to you brave ones out there.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Philosophy Of Progress

"Progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things." - Robert A. Heinlein

"Progress is made by men who have a healthy disrespect for established structures and processes and are looking for a way out" - Emperor Frost

The wise Emperor hastens to add that only those men who understand, value and cherish the rules are the ones who know which ones to break - paradoxical as that might sound, it is but an indication of the zen of the emperor.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Killing The Messenger

I rue the state of Indian women.

All the punditry on India's exploding economic growth is superfluous and in my opinion, a great myth until the day society is truly free. All of India's social indicators languish at abysmal depths - education, health, emancipation of women to mention a few. Without education, the citizenry cannot shake off the feudal grip that politicians have over society (this is a huge problem in itself), women continue to be oppressed with the patriarchal slant of society reinforcing the over lordship of male apes (this constitutes another major impediment). It also has been the forte of Indian society to shoot the messenger who runs into town with the torch of liberation. The darkness just doesn't let go.

What else can you say about this -

A woman is continually harassed for dowry with increasing intensity by her husband and his parents. It peaks when she gives birth to a daughter. At this point, unable to bear the mental anguish (physical (?)) she leaves home and decides to rear her daughter as a single mother. She continues to protest her victimization and in one incident walks semi nude to the police commissioner's office via a busy road. I am assuming that none of her previous efforts have raised such a dust storm. And what exactly do the mindless jackasses who are part of this society do? take up her cause? think again. This is India and we are proud of our tradition of shooting the messenger - we character assassinate this woman and push the real issue of dowry and torture into the background (is it even an issue?) and debate the credibility and character of the victim. How many times hasn't the suspicion for rape fallen on the victim?

IBN has a [report], please make sure you read the comments. They illuminate the intellect of the cretins that infest Indian society. I shall reproduce a couple of them - I nominate these characters for the Indian edition of Hostel.

"Posted By Monit -

Despite being so many biased laws for females, she has resorted to such indecent ways."

"Posted By Ash

A girl with such daring could do anything, absolutely anything. So much so that she can threaten husband and in-laws."

Education will set free people's minds from the shackles of superstition and (I hope) break down traditional power structures that are designed to suppress different sections of society (women as a class, the poor and backward as a class etc).

That is my fervent prayer and I hope to see some of it in my lifetime.

Edit: Churmuri has another [report]

Edit 2: Both the pictures are disturbing - I am referring to the street trash that you can see in the photo on churmuri . They seem amused and are following her around to get maximum mileage out of it akin to the tamasha that attracts crowds on every street.

The Gulmohar

William Wordsworth had his daffodils to think of in his mind's eye -
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
I grew up in Jayanagar in a Bangalore where the emotional equivalent of Wordsworth's daffodil was the Gulmohar - every street and avenue was lined with these trees, including parts of the Lal Bagh garden that I used to frequent. So, it came as a very rude shock to me when I could not remember the Gulmohar in bloom even though I've spent many years climbing many a tree and playing a kind of kiddie game with their buds. I was sure they were yellow and in my "inward eye" "flashed" images of avenues of yellow Gulmohars. I was pleased as punch to have remembered those halcyon days of yore. All until I looked up Google for images of the Gulmohar and to my bitter disappointment I found them to be a deep red. I was so convinced that they were yellow (if you prefer Freudian symbology - my ego tried to protect my id by actually conjuring up images that would satisfy/placate the id's drive) that when they turned out to be not so, the distance between my home, my past, my memories and the present seems like an uncrossable and unfathomable chasm - a schism that makes me unsure of where I am going because I've forgotten where I came from.

The flowers are but the tip of the iceberg - there have been many such instances.

I am depressed.

And if you are too, then allow me to "flash upon that inward eye" images of the Gulmohar.



Gulmohar-Royal Poinciana(Delonix)


P.S: The same goes for a hundred other flowers like jasmine, marigold etc etc. Images of Gandhi Bazaar and 4th block jayanagar flash!!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The King Of Good Times


On the historic occasion of the 150th anniversary that most Indians celebrate every night with tears in their eyes, and few historians remember—the setting up of United Breweries in 1857


After an international beer conference in London, all the world’s top brewery bosses decide to go out for a beer together.

The chairman of Budweiser says, “I’d like the most refreshing beer in the world, ‘The King of Beers’: give me a Budweiser.”

The bartender takes a bottle from the shelf and opens it for him.

The Chairman of Guinness says, “I’d like the only beer in the world worth really, truly waiting for: give me a Guinness.” The bartender serves him.

The Chairman of Carlsberg says, ” I would like the world’s best beer, drunk in more countries than any other: give me a Carlsberg.” He gets one.

Vijay Mallya sits down, looks around and says, “just give me a Coke.”

The bartender looks at him, shrugs, and serves him.

The other brewery bosses laugh loudly and say, “Hey Vijay, how come you aren’t drinking a Kingfisher?”

“Listen,” says Mallya, “If you guys aren’t drinking beer, neither will I.”

Like Upendra so eloquently said "Cool drink yaake?"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Price Theory

Cafe Hayek's, one of my favorite economic blogs, Russ Roberts has another fantastic piece on how prices of commodities come to be. He explains supply and demand in a 'naked economics' fashion and also has a more rigorous approach for the interested reader. If you don't already have Cafe Hayek in your reader, I urge you to subscribe.

Hungry Planet

TIME has a wonderful photo essay titled "What the world eats". [hat tip: The India Uncut Blog] The type of food preferred, the quantity and the cost incurred by families from around the world are quite contrasting that its moving. What is really interesting is to see how much of their diet is culturally local and how much do they owe to globalization.

Photos and text are courtesy of TIME Magazine.

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Favorite foods: fish, pasta with ragu, hot dogs, frozen fish sticks

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat

There is nothing like a tragedy to put things in perspective is there?

Nation States

Sidane in a comment in response to this post has raised an important point of nation states and how it impedes progress.
In response to this comment, I submit that the notion of a nation state creates a false sense of identity when the nation is culturally heterogenous like in the case of India. In such a case, national pride even when rigorously taught can easily be dampened or forgotten as regional pride and clannish behaviour takes precedence. Isn't this the case with India too? Actually, I think its a feature of all countries with a heterogenous cultural fabric. It is this proclivity to regionalism (states, county, village, tribe) and its attendant suspiscion and insecurity that impedes progress as it impedes cooperation, trade and exchange of ideas. This also causes one clan, tribe, region to progress at the expense of another thus contributing to unequal distribution of the fruits of progress. In countries where the cultural fabric is homogenous (most european countries), national pride is highly integrated into their identity as a people and hence comes across more strongly. The lack of petty regionalism sets up societies in which all equality is a basic tenet and all its people have equal access to opportunites (socialist states try to ensure equality of outcome and thus fail). Such societies do not hold back progress and the distribution of the returns of progress are also likely to be on equitable terms.

Destination: Boston

I apologize yet again for the break in blogging though this one was prompted not by boredom but by a change of coordinates.

For the past two years, home and work has been in one of two small towns in central PA - State College and Bellefonte, now work takes me and home to the metro west area of greater Boston. I was in this area a couple of weeks ago to fix up the various things that are an integral part of mundane life in America and to my chagrin I found myself in a typical strip mall town except that this strip mall extended for about 15 miles along just one long car packed road. This made me think of all the wonderful things that I was leaving behind - the beautiful, serene valley in the Appalachian in which State College is situated, its narrow mountain roads that wind in and out of forests that inspire me to test the traction control on my car every single time, the numerous lakes and creeks along which many a mile I have hiked. But a significant bump in the work department calls for such sacrifices don't they? That is what I have been telling myself.

The experiences - you can even go so far as to call them a culture shock - I've had in Boston have so far left a lot to be desired. Businesses with narrow operating margins fighting to get your business - a delight to the libertarian in me - fight dirty (obviously) and try to entice the customer using questionable tactics. In short, they try to con unsuspecting people into becoming unwilling customers. They are not in the game for building a loyal customer base - if you are a realtor even one transaction (a one year lease) keeps afloat your margins. Also, since real estate is in high demand, its really a realtor market. Time for some anecdotes - a guy with an apartment overlooking a reservoir had an advertisement that touted "stunning views of the reservoir". While taking a look at it, I could not see any water body at all. I only saw trees and made it a point to ask him about it. With a straight face he replied that in the winter the trees lost their leaves and then (voila!!) I would have been presented with "stunning views of the reservoir". Needless to say, I thanked him (yes, these social norms do seem to get in the way) for his time, walked out and thanked myself that for having remembered that particular detail. I realized that this schmuck knew that "stunning views of the reservoir" will catch people's attention and will get him calls. Once actually in the apartment, most people are more interested in the condition of the apartment, the kind of neighbors, amenities etc. Not to mention the realtor's salesmanship usually guides the talk away from troubling questions and increases the odds in his favor. I faced this on more than occasion and even walked out on a deal at the last second. I faced truck loads of inconvenience but at least I had my dignity - there is nothing more humiliating in the world than being stupid and being aware of it.

Massachusetts is a blue state and its stalwart social democrat politicians in the name of helping its people (sounds a lot like the govt. of India doesn't it?) have created socialist infrastructure with all its attendant regulatory structures. Auto insurance - their terms, their rates - is so heavily regulated that there is absolutely no competition amongst themselves and one is no better than the other. The overhead of complying with all this regulation drives out all but the big players. Companies like Geico, Progressive etc have all been driven out just because regulatory overheads hurt their bottom line so much so that it does not make any business sense to continue their operations. So, there isn't any real choice for customers - one company is as bad as the other. Since there is no competition amongst the companies, there is no incentive for them to innovate and provide greater benefits at lower costs to customers. The regulatory compliance costs are all passed onto the customer in the end. So, who is hurt? The customer obviously. But that is not what the intention was it? There is another downside to all this - the damping effect - all customers get fleeced to pretty much the same degree as the differences in their driving skills as reflected by their driving records (the assumption here being that their record is a direct indication of their skill) is not reflected in their premiums. This causes them to drive with a certain flair that motorists from other states find very shocking. I am sure everyone has heard of the infamous bostonian driver. The streets are less safe on account of rash drivers who probably were not rash drivers to begin with but turned into one in response to the incentives. Not in line with the intentions of the government eh? What do they say about the best of intentions? - the road to hell is paved with them. Consider for a second that all this regulation disappears outright. What do you think will happen? Driving loosely on the edge is so ingrained in the local populace that if and when they are subjected to standards of rates and terms that everyone else in the country are subjected to, the premiums they will pay will in all probability not be any different from their current ones. So, there is no incentive to improve their driving and become more safe on the roads. I do concede that a part of the population will take the opportunity to drive safer and (hopefully) pay lesser premiums but to most it has already become a way of life and its too much effort to change. A most unfortunate outcome wouldn't you say?

A feature of socialist thinking and planning is that it sets up, through unintended consequences, many a vicious circle. This was reinforced in the way my relocation from State College was planned and executed. Most self respecting companies have relocation packages that work in one of two ways - they either have a cash out policy meaning that they give the new employee a budget to work with and let the employee worry and fret about who to call, how to plan, how to schedule etc etc - to moving families, the effort and work involved can be quite daunting. To be fair to the company, giving full control to the moving employee without a budget provides an incentive to be prodigal. The alternative is to let the company select your mover, schedule your move out, add or modify your moving options with the mover, set up direct billing (service providers directly bill the company for services provided without the customers ever seeing a bill) with hotels, car rentals etc etc. Though on the surface the latter option seems like one that offers peace of mind and one that might make a move less stressful, it is often not the case and the acute reader most likely can already see why. This option sets up a dependency on the contact at the company. Since the finances come directly from the company, all service providers will provide a standard one size fits all service (obviously as defined by someone at the company). Customizable services are highly desirable as the circumstances of each moving family are very different (it is not unreasonable to assume that). The cost of customizing these services is high and involves repeated calls to the company's representative even for the most mundane things - the company turns into a great micro manager even though that was not the intention. Also, since at any given time during the hiring season a great many families are planning their move, the stress on the representative greatly increases as he/she plans out and coordinates the most minute details according to each moving family's preferences. They obviously have little time and patience to deal with each case. This has the obvious consequence that the turn around time for communicating with the representative and receiving confirmations greatly increases causing the cost of changing ones preference or even adapting to changing circumstances extremely difficult. Since the frequency reduces, the bandwidth of each missive has to increase making the workload that much higher. This has the unintended consequence (don't you all just love these by now?) that the whole move just does not proceed to the employee's exact preferences, they tend to compromise and just go with whatever the representative can do for them (which on account of them being so busy, surely is not something that the moving family really cares for). So, in the end the move does not turn out to be this worry free, comfortable move that was the intention before instituting such a relocation scheme. Why so you still ask? Because the people actually moving do not have any freedom in choosing and budgeting their options.

There must be some common ground between a cash out with its attendant work load and stress and direct billed socialist structure with its attendant stress and frustration. How about providing a list of vendors who are all set up to talk to the customers directly thus making customization easy. Direct billing can also be set up with budgetary constraints set sufficiently large so as not to cause most people to shoot over and reducing the exercise to what it was earlier. If the customer's prefered vendor is not amongst the list, then you provide a cash out and let the customer worry about budgeting his move options. I know the idea of one person at the company charged with making up a list of vendors and a list of budgeted services is socialist in itself but I am sure it can be beneficial as long as the customer has all choices and ultimate decision capability.

I am sure there are many ways of fleshing out a middle ground. Interested readers can leave suggestions, flaws etc etc in the comments. Its late, I am tired and need to hit the sack.

Regular programming will commence.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

1857 Sepoy Mutiny

State sponsored celebrations of the "First war of Independence" are already in full swing with general cheer passing around in good measure by all ministers. A celebration of such pomposity is out of sync with the spirit of remembrance which is the pertinent sentiment in my opinion. Celebrating it as though it were a festive occasion with politicians stirring up nationalistic fervor for a little mileage is distasteful. Echoing the same sentiment but with a different approach - that the event in question is too violent to celebrate - is historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his column titled "Kill the white man". Peter Foster, a British journalist residing in Delhi, was in Meerut - the birthplace of the rebellion/war - and his impressions are in his column "Textbook Nationalism". Before you get the idea that this post is being dismissive and condescending of Indians and their sense of national pride, read it and be drawn down a different path - that of the pathetic state of the education system. Check out other articles on his blog - there some pretty good ones in the archives.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Blues All Around My Head

I've been taking a well deserved break from listening to metal, have been on a literal 18 hour blues trip over the last month or so. From haunting Louisiana swamp blues to the devilish Mississippi delta blues to the searing Chicago blues all the way to the Texas country blues, the blues has taken a hold of my soul. Even modern rock/guitar driven blues has so much feel to it that it makes my soul sing. Blues is not new to me but as with all other genres of music, I periodically go out of touch with it, catch up with later and treasure all my new re-discoveries. This time around I have devoted more time to the acoustic blues that are home to the Mississippi delta and have discovered sheer joy in the wail of the harmonica. Of course, the Chicago blues are never far behind when it comes to the harmonica and I've enjoyed many a Chicago master too.

So, here is a short blues primer that I found somewhere on the net (can't remember where though). If you are familiar with songs from Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee (just to name a few), the following primer will bring a smile of recognition -

1. Most Blues begin, "Woke up this morning..."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes...sort of: "Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, And she weighs 500 pounds."

4. The Blues is not about choice. You're stuck in a ditch, you're stuck in a ditch - ain't no way out.

5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train, blues NEVER go on the northbound train. Jet aircraft and state-sponsored motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues in any place that don't get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't the blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg cause you were skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg 'cause an alligator be chomping on it is.

9. You can't have no Blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10.Good places for the Blues: a. highway b. jailhouse Bad places for the Blues: a. Nordstrom b. gallery openings c. Ivy League institutions d. golf courses

11.No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be an old person, and you slept in it for the last 6 months.

12.Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if: a. you're older than dirt b. you're blind c. you shot a man in Memphis Not if: a. you have all your teeth b. you were once blind but can see c. the man in Memphis lived d. you have a 401K or trust fund now

13.Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the blues. Sonny Liston could. Ugly white people also got leg up on the blues.

14.If you ask for water and your darlin' give you gasoline, it's the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are: a. muddy water b. nasty black coffee

The following are NOT Blues beverages: a. Perrier b. Chardonnay c. Snapple d. Slim Fast

15.If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

16.Some Blues names for women: a. Sadie b. Big Mama c. Bessie d. Fat River Dumpling

17.Some Blues names for men: a. Joe b. Willie c. Little Willie d. Big Willie

18.Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

19."Make your own Blues Name" Starter Kit: a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.) b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi, etc.) c. last name of a President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.) For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Pegleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")

20.I don't care how tragic your life: if you own even one computer, you cannot sing the blues. If you are reading this on a computer - maybe you cannot sing the Blues - but you sure can listen to it…

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American History X

I just finished watching "American History X" and I really liked the movie and the sentiments and thoughts it raises. For those of you who have not watched this movie, Ed Norton plays a skin head who in the process of doing time in prison for a racially motivated crime, sees the error of his ways and tries to keep his younger brother clean.

Some quick cons - the movie's screenplay is way too rushed and this hurry to cover so much ground in so little time leaves many rather crucial areas with little or no attention or time. Though the characters are well defined, their development seems jumpy and choppy for the same reason. The lack of character development forces you to take for granted Ed Norton's hate for blacks and for his white supremacist tendencies while a sense of how this came about would have set the nuances of what comes later in the movie in better light. Yes, we are presented with factual account of two such incidents and are left to ourselves to make the connections, if there is one. Norton's character comes across as being high intelligent and one who makes compelling arguments about immigrants and their impact on the crime rate in a manner that would make Lou Dobbs proud. I am not sure if this was intentional on the part of the directors but he never meets an adversary who counters his arguments with sound logic eschewing a centrist or even slightly liberal position. The reasons for this might be many and might also be intended to explain Norton's long association with far right supremacists. The film is emotional and suggests that hate is just extra baggage - it wears you down and brings none of the change that you hoped for. It also depicts how hate divides society on racial lines simply because of how society is structured to think about race and how this hate in combination with racial leanings result in horrific hate crimes with violence being a constant theme. In the end, people commit crimes because of who they are as persons - their personal character traits, their circumstances and their psychological makeup and not because they belong to a particular race or class of people. Though this membership has some affect, however little, on how that person thinks and behaves (hence, racial stereo typing), it is hardly reflective of the common characteristics of the entire race of people.

Another interesting aspect of the movie is its abuse of Nazi symbols to keep up an undercurrent of white supremacy. I do not know if this a peculiarity of the movie or if this is a characteristic of white power groups, but Hitler's shadow is all over this movie. I am not sure if white power groups realize that Hitler's race theories were not solely about white power. In fact, how many of his victims were black, brown or yellow specifically because they were black, brown or yellow? After being assuaged with various posters, memorabilia and music throughout the movie I was left to ponder on whether Hitler was really understood or was just being used as a seed for racially stereotyping white supremacists.

All in all, a powerfully emotional movie. Please do watch if you get a chance.

P.S - did I forget to mention that the kid from the Terminator 2 movie plays Ed Norton's brother?

Update: I was intrigued by the adoption of Hitler as the poster child for white power when he hardly stood for it, though in his plans non-whites shared the same fate as other groups that he targeted. Well given that he did not particularly target non-white races, I find it astonishing that eastern Europe particularly Poland and the Slavic states are hotbeds for neo-nazism. These were the people who were one of the most severely oppressed by Hitler and now they adopt him as their savior and have somehow converted his ideology to that of white supremacy. What gives?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Things That Move

After a really long break, I think I am ready to do some blogging. I think I will open with something sublime - Barcelona's Lionel Messi's (Argentina) goal that bears an uncanny resemblance to Maradona's goal against England in the 1986 world cup.

I think Maradona's goal, featured here, was a couple of minutes after his legendary 'Hand of God' goal, anybody wants to confirm?

If that got your blood pumping, here is something that will move you to the other end of the spectrum - the Pulitzer prize for feature photography was recently awarded to Renée C. Byer for her photo essay on the last few days of a 10 year old with terminal blood cancer.
[Link]Life ephemeral.