January 31, 2006

How the Other Half Lives.

How the Other Half Lives is a very good new group weblog which promises to go into depths of Indian society and understand the meaning of the changes in the world with regard to actual life of Indian poor - the other half that never makes an appearance in the fancy news channels that we watch, or the fancy newspapers that we read. So this blog is something worth keeping an eager eye on.

One of their first posts was on Gandhi. A very nice one and it produced a very good discussion too.


Desicritics is a place where hundreds of bloggers share their articles and comments on wide-ranging issues, mostly dealing with South Asia. It is a great opportunity to share one's views with thousands of others. One can always write in his blog, but at Desicritics, one can instantly find a very wide audience. More than thousand people visit the site everyday. And of course, it is a wonderful place to find different view points and learn new things. In the five days of its existence there are already many interesting posts and discussions.

Two of my posts have appeared there: on global warming and on terrorism.

Desicritics is a great place to keep in pace with the various issues effecting all of us.

January 30, 2006

The Myth of Shoaib Akhtar's Menace to India.

Shoaib Akhtar played seven tests against India (including the current one in Karachi). He got 8 wickets on the first one in Calcutta, including two stunning dismissals of Dravid and Tendulkar. And that was how the myth began. But he was never a major threat to India, contrary to what the myth suggests. He got only 8 wickets more in the five completed tests after that first one in Calcutta. Even in the current test match, when Indians struggled against the moving ball, he could get only two wickets.

January 29, 2006

Global Warming.

Today both New York Times and Washington Post carried front page stories about some troubling developments on global warming. Troubling, because firstly, there is increasing scientific evidence on the human element in the phenomenon of global warming, and secondly, we have yet another instance of callous US (by far, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases) behavior on this issue.

While Washington Post reported prominently on the current thinking among scientists on global warming, New York Times had a detailed story on how political appointees at NASA tried to restrict a respected expert on global warming James E. Hansen, director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, from expressing his findings in public.

The essence of the Post story is:

There are three things that scientists describe as worrisome and potentially imminent, although there is some disagreement on the timing. They are:

1. widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; and,
2. dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and,
3. within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

They go on to cite detailed sources for these conclusions.

The Times story is a chilling reminder of the lengths to which the current US administration will go to subdue public consciousness on global warming. James Hansen is a top NASA climate scientist who has been speaking about the perils of global warming for a long time now. But he says that in the last couple of years there is increasing pressure on him to tone down his language. This pressure reached unsavory proportions last December.
The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

In December, he also released data showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century.

After these actions, political appointees at NASA decided to do something. He was warned of "dire consequences" if such statements continued. In typical methodology of such political machinations, all the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.

There is near unanimity in the scientific community about the dangers global warming and the desperate need for us to at least cut down on global CO2 emissions. It is common sense that the country which is most responsible for that emission take the lead in this effort. It is not merely a question of decency. Americans have lived a particular life style for more than hundred years and experienced all the benefits associated with it. Now when the time has come to start taking responsibility for that, they start demanding that developing nations should assume equal responsibility. At the end of the day, Chinese or Indians have just started enjoying the benefits of this (irresponsible) life style, after many decades of nature-friendly life style. while Americans have been doing it for at least a hundred years. It is a pity that, in stead of responsible leadership from the biggest culprit, we get only increasingly loud assertions that the American way of life is not negotiable.

Sensational First Session.

The third test match began in a starkly different way, with a Pathan hat-trick in the first over. This is only the second hat-trick in test cricket by an Indian bowler after Harbhajan took his hat-trick against Australia in Calcutta. In spite of this tumble of wickets, the wicket was hardly unplayable. Indians bowled quite competently, but Pakistanis played irresponsible and lazy shots as well.

Pakistan ended the session at 101/6, a much improved score than 39/6. It is impossible not to think back to Calcutta seven years ago, when the match started in much the same way. In that game Pakistan went on to win from 28/6. That match was made memorable for the stunning dismissals of Dravid and Tendulkar in consecutive balls by Shoaib Akthar. Such inept batting display by India again seems unlikely. But let me not get ahead of myself. India have to first get Pakistan out soon.

January 28, 2006

Ranji Trophy Final.

Uttar Pradesh and Bengal will compete for the Ranji Trophy in the final, beginning tonight in Lucknow. Uttar Pradesh upset Mumbai in the semi-final in Mumbai and Bengal played it safe by batting on and on to secure a first innings lead in the other semi-final. Uttar Pradesh may have a slight edge with three consecutive wins coming in to the final and also playing at home. But it should be an interesting match with both teams mostly well balanced.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan made it to the final of the Plate Group, thereby ensuring their promotion to the Elite Group next season. And Saurashtra are set to make the final too with their massive lead against Madhya Pradesh in the other semi-final.

All to Play for in Karachi.

The final test between India and Pakistan starts tonight in Karachi. With the prospect of a more balanced pitch, there may be realistic hopes of a good and decisive cricket match. This is also the ground on which Sachin Tendulkar made his international debut 16 years ago and he is playing for the first time here after that.

This series has largely been inconsequential so far. Indians responded very well in both tests to huge totals by Pakistan and indeed, showed more batting acumen than Pakistanis. That acumen will come in very handy on this pitch. Pakistan will also fancy their chances with their supposed advantage in the fast bowling department and their unbeaten record against India in Karachi. In an interesting tie up Sourav Ganguly's inclusion is linked to Inzamam's chances of passing a fitness test.

Certainly, a very promising match to look forward to. As Rahul Dravid very diplomatically opined,
[the pitch] is different to the ones we played in the last couple of Tests, but I feel that while it might help the bowlers a bit more and it might have a little bit in it early on, it will then pan out into a good batting pitch. Hopefully, we will have a result here, and it will go the way of the team that plays the better cricket for five days.


A few days ago I wrote about Google's decision to censor some of its search results in China in accordance with the government's policy there. I realize now that my views, in failing to present a comprehensive picture, smacked of hypocrisy. This exchange of thoughts with Chetan helped me in this realization.

This is where I now stand on this issue: As a principle, I do not support what Google did. This is what I conveyed in the last post and I stand by it. What I want to clarify now is that everyone is involved in this matter and it is hypocritical to pinpoint someone for blame. This involvement is possible in million different ways, for instance buying anything made in China. Whether one considers doing business with Chinese authorities evil or not, all of us are in it together. That is a consequence of the globalized economy of today.

January 26, 2006

Politics of Terrorism.

If there is one thing that defines the political order in the twenty-first century, it must be the concern with terrorism. If we are to believe the political leaders of the non-rogue countries, terrorism is the most substantial threat facing the civilization. And all the countries very conveniently fall into blocks consisting of good and evil countries. As Bush would say, you are either with us (good) or against us (evil).

This whole hullabaloo about terrorism is an instructive illustration of how a particular strand of thought, quite independently of reality, can assert itself and prevail in popular consciousness. I use the word hullabaloo, because I think that is what it is. However, let me clarify emphatically that terrorism is, indeed, a threat and must be dealt with effectively. The deviation from reality that I am lamenting is in the generally supposed extent and potency of that threat.

Many people and indeed governments had always despised the West in general, and the US in particular. That has been very common, but there is no evidence to suppose that they have acted on that hostility in any significant manner. All the acts of terrorism came from isolated groups of people who were sometimes helped by repressive governments. But it must be noted that they never had mass support, in the sense of actually helping them carry out acts of terrorism. It may be argued that there was mass approval, but it is improper to suggest that there was mass support. One would think that all the aggrieved parties (mostly the West) with their military might can easily deal with these groups and no sane person will have legitimate complaints about that.

But what we are seeing is completely different. There is a systematic attempt by the US to ascribe this threat of terrorism to what it deems as evil regimes. There is absolutely no evidence to support that view, except in the case of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The popular consciousness is so concretely set in this way that it is rare to see rigorous analyses of how this particular situation came about or what its nature is. It has almost become an axiom to believe what is believed today. While that may very well be true, I am just arguing for more critical thinking. If contemporary terrorism is treated as in isolated event in the present, without any relation to the history of last few decades, then it will never be totally defeated.

What is troubling about today's world is the blind certainty that some people/countries are good and others are bad. But the truth is that throughout history, good was always what the powerful said it was. Right now, the United States says Iran is an evil regime and hence it is. For all practical purposes, that is the case. When Hamas bombs an Israeli shopping mall, we all call it terrorism. When Al-Qaeda attacks London subways we all call that terrorism. And they are. But when the US invades Iraq and thousands of Iraqis die (30,000 according to this, more than 100,000 according to this) in the resultant mess, we simply think that it is an act of self-defense. When the CIA air-bombs a Pakistani village (to kill a terrorist), we think that it is just war on terrorism.

I am not saying that these acts of the US are equally reprehensible. They may be, they may not be. All I am saying is that the analysis can not end simply by a statement that because the US did, it is OK by definition. I am afraid that is how most people think about this issue.

January 25, 2006

Another Dull Draw.

India and Pakistan go into the third test in Karachi from 29th January with the series tied at 0-0. We just had another cricket match which really served no purpose at all, except enabling many batsmen to better their career statistics.

The figures tell their own story - 1701 runs for 28 wickets, five of them when Pakistan were just throwing their bats around. And at the end of two Tests, the four bowlers most expected to have an impact on the series - Shoaib Akhtar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Danish Kaneria - had combined figures of 10 for 1181, with Kumble, who has gone at 4.65 per over while conceding 446 runs, accounting for six of them. This hasn't been a contest, it's been akin to a boxing bout where one man fights blindfolded and handcuffed. [Link]
Some more mind-boggling stats can be found here. One sane thing to be found in this test is RP Singh getting the Man of the Match award. That was a good choice, resisting the temptation to give it to one of the many batsmen who scored lot of runs.

One hopes for a better pitch in Karachi and that we will have some meaningful cricket.

Et Tu, Google?

A few days ago I wrote about how Microsoft collaborated with Chinese authorities. Now Google, a company with the motto, Do No Evil, joins them: it agreed to censor some of its services in accordance with the wishes of Chinese authorities.

They present an unconvincing rationale:
While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.

This is clearly nonsense. Not providing any information is million times more honorable and correct than providing only selected information. And this selection will be made by Chinese authorities in obvious disregard for any legitimate concern on the part of Chinese people. Now Google will assist them in this repressive endeavor.

I think it is very clear that Google did not want to lose the highly rewarding Chinese market at any cost, and hence this.

A more rounded opinion of mine on this is here.

January 24, 2006

Alarming Beginnings to Cricket's New World Order.

The new administration of BCCI has taken definite and uncompromising steps to forever change the diminishing old order in cricket world. The transformation in itself is welcome and can potentially have healthy consequences, but the nature of its arrival and the evident motives of powers that be are deeply alarming.

After England and Australia dominated the administration of world cricket for far too long, in the last decade or so there have been many changes, as Asian countries began to have more bargaining power. A major factor in this has, of course, been India, due mainly to its financial clout. But the recent announcements from BCCI ensured that in stead of a gradual progression to the new order, we will have a somewhat abrupt and swift change of guard.

Though I am tempted to cautiously welcome this, on second thoughts I am very alarmed. It makes immense sense that India should play lot more against Pakistan and Australia. But, this end could have been attained more elegantly by working with ICC. If ICC can only raise feeble protestations to India's blatantly divisive maneuvers, I am pretty sure that India could have achieved its goals by asserting its power staying inside ICC. If the goals are legitimate, that is.

On the other hand, much of the recent drama has to do, not with genuine welfare of world cricket or even Indian cricket, but with attempts to reap the maximum possible financial benefits from the lucrative Indian Cricket Inc. With ICC at helm, naturally, this maximization is not possible. This is the real nature of what we are seeing. And to the extent that this motive coincides with general well-being of cricket, it will lead to healthy results. But in the long run and in real terms, cricket will be the loser, and winners will be a handful of executives controlling the show. This is just a replacement of one type of colonialism with another.

January 23, 2006

Half Full Or Half Empty?

This was a nice back and forth between Dean Jones and Waqar Younis in the commentary box.

The discussion was about whether one should continue playing his natural game even in a critical situation when the team is under lot of pressure.

Dhoni is batting, and he just hit a breathtaking pull shot for a big six against Shoaib Akthar.

Waqar: [Dhoni] is a very good player when he is attacking; but the situation now demands that he play carefully.

Dean Jones: You know what, Waqar, if you think of getting out you will get out nine times out of ten; so just play your natural game; if there is a short ball and you can hit it, then just hit it!

Waqar: You know, Deano (!), the problem is if you get out, you will have to go back to the dressing room and let me tell you, you do not want to go to the dressing room now.

Dean Jones: Ah! It is always half empty with you ... fast bowlers (?!), I like to think of it as half full.

And then, as if to interrupt this captivating discussion, Sachin Tendulkar got out.

Magnificent Dhoni.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni played a truly memorable innings yesterday which, while not yet saving the day for the Indians, certainly made them breathe easy. It was memorable for its ferocity, discipline, and most importantly for its brilliance in a time of intense pressure. He came in at 258/4 when Yuvraj just got out and India was in a real spot of bother, with Tendulkar being the only specialist batsman and still needing 131 runs to avoid follow-on. And soon Sachin got out (a strange dismissal, more here), leaving India gaping at 281/5. It was a critical moment and Pakistan could so easily have run away with the match at that moment. Another quick wicket or two and they will be into the long tail of Indians. But kudos to Dhoni and Pathan for a record-breaking partnership:
The unbeaten 160-run partnership between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan is the highest for the sixth-wicket by India against Pakistan, beating the previous highest of 143 between Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin at Calcutta in 1986-87. [Link]

India is not yet safe and they have still lot of work to do. But now a draw seems a very much achievable goal.

One should not forget the crucial 197-run partnership between Laxman and Dravid in the morning. They negotiated the whole of pre-lunch session without any problems and Indians were sitting pretty at lunch. Dravid was rock solid as usual and Laxman was at his elegant best. Both put on a display of test batsmenship at its patient best. Laxman was a touch unlucky to miss out on his 10th test hundred.

Then Pakistan made a powerful comeback. India lost four wickets for 45 runs in 11 overs. Then it was up to Dhoni and Pathan to steady the ship, which they did admirably. Let us not forget the important contribution of Pathan to that partnership. He is playing on a very responsible 49.

Interestingly, the partnership between Laxman and Dravid of 197 runs came in 64 overs at a run rate of 3.07, while the unbeaten partnership of 160 between Dhoni and Pathan came in 34.3 overs at a run rate of 4.64.

January 22, 2006

Tricky Situation for India.

India are in a tricky situation in this test. Though as I wrote last time the pitch is largely batsmen friendly, there is a tiny bit of help for the bowlers and Indians appear as if they are needing to work hard. They are playing quite competently, but there is just a hint of vulnerability. In the last test Sehwag was the key to the appearance of invincibility and dominance. After Sehwag got out yesterday, Dravid and Laxman did a commendable job, but there was always something for the bowlers. After almost total annihilation of bowlers by batsmen in this series so far, bowlers did a decent job for the first time. Not so much in terms of wickets, but definitely in terms of run rate: India ended the day at 110/1 in 37 overs, a run rate of 2.97, a far cry from what seemed to be the norm for this series. There is still no occasion for alarm; but Indians are chasing such a large score that they need to avoid any kind of collapses.

Yesterday, Pakistan continued their domination with simply beautiful batting displays from Afridi and Inzamam. I thought Zahir Khan was the best bowler for us, though he was a bit unlucky. He bowled with spirit and invariably managed to extract something from the unresponsive pitch. RP Singh was a welcome sight as he bowled with discipline and was rewarded with four wickets on his debut. But for the 7 wickets by these two, both last minute inclusions, India would have in front of them a much more daunting task, not that it is any less daunting now.

January 21, 2006

Way Too Defensive.

The second test in Faisalabad started much like the first, with Pakistan ending the first day at 379/4. Indian bowlers (five of them this time) had another dismal day in the office.

I do not understand what is the point of preparing pitches like this - favoring the batsmen to an utterly ridiculous degree. Unless a team is exceptionally weak in batting or commits dreadful blunders there is not a likelihood of any real interest in the match, much less of a result. It is undeniable that Pakistan management had a role in determining the nature of the pitch and it does not speak well of their self-confidence or desire for a result. They seem to be content with the prospect of a drawn series and the resulting gain of two points in the official ICC test ratings. Or they are afraid of going into the third test behind in the series. The inclusion of Abdul Razaq, an allrounder, over Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, a specialist bowler (with their already considerable batting strength) also indicates their inexplicably defensive frame of mind.

Ranji Trophy.

I am following the Ranji Trophy this year seriously after many years. After they changed the format, this is the first time I am paying decent attention.

This year's semi-finals are taking place right now: Mumbai vs UP and Baroda vs Bengal. And at the end of two days, it is advantage UP and Bengal. Which is unexpected because Mumbai and Baroda totally dominated their groups during the group phase.

Uttar Pradesh, which has traditionally been a mediocre team (they never won the Ranji Trophy, though they were in the final twice, in 77-78 and 97-98, losing to Karnataka both times), is enjoying a very spirited and successful season. The key factors in that are the experience of Mohd Kaif (who is the captain) and the good form of Suresh Raina. Mumbai, of course, dominated the Ranji Trophy like no other team in any sport probably dominated its national league - they won 36 times and lost in the finals 4 times. In the 26 seasons between 1951 and 1976 they won 22. The second most successful teams are Karnataka and Delhi, with 6 wins each! Considering all this, one has to really admire UP for doing so well against Mumbai (they are also playing in Mumbai). Having taken the first innings lead, they only need to avoid defeat to play their third Ranji Trophy final.

Bengal (11 appearances in the finals, with 2 victories) and Baroda (8,5) had similar success so far, though Baroda won more trophies and have been more successful in recent seasons.

At the other end, Railways (who are, ironically, the defending champions) and Services will be relegated to the Plate Group, while Orissa, Saurashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will battle it out to be promoted to the Elite Group (the semi-finals of the Plate Group will take place 25-29 Jan).

January 19, 2006

Bright and Sunny...

This is an interesting picture. There seems to be some excitement about what is going on. Laxman and Dhoni are very animated with Kumble and Tendulkar being mildly interested. Dravid and Zahir Khan seem as if they could not care less.

Wonder what is actually going on. Clearly, Dhoni is eagerly waiting for the ball, presumably to run someone (not in the picture) out. Tendulkar is probably just a fielder coming near the stumps in his excitement. Others in the picture are not involved in the game, as they are outside the fence. There is also an interesting shot of a bat completely in the air.

Crucially, it is bright and sunny in Faisalabad, which is good news after the threat of rain.

January 18, 2006

What Kind of Elitist Are You?

This is a nice quiz. It is supposed to find out what kind of an elitist you are. This is what it had to say about me:

You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every book ever published. You are a fountain of endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and never fail to impress at a party.What people love: You can answer almost any question people ask, and have thus been nicknamed Jeeves.What people hate: You constantly correct their grammar and insult their paperbacks.

This is more or less the case (except for the impressing at parties bit), so I suppose it gives tolerably accurate descriptions. I came across this in this nice weblog.

January 17, 2006

First Test.

As expected, the match ended in a draw. The only interest on the final day was the possibility that Sehwag and Dravid would break the world record for the opening partnership. Unfortunately they fell short by three runs. Shewag ended on 254 (247 balls). This is the highest test score at better than a run-a-ball. India will justifiably feel that they won the psychological dual in this match (not that it will make much of a difference). For one thing, our batting was much more authoritative and dominating (Pakistan scored 679/7 at a run rate of 4.7 and India scored 410/1 at a run rate of 5.3). Also, India was batting after Pakistan and hence were much more liable to be psychologically subdued. Anyhow, the focus now shifts to Faisalabad (where it appears that rain may again play the spoilsport).

January 16, 2006

Communism Vs Capitalism.

The following nice formulation came up in a discussion with a cousin.

In any introduction to economics, we are told that there are scarce or limited resources and unlimited wants or needs. Here, of course, we are using the word needs in the most general form. Food, clothing, and housing are needs, but so are millions of others. Health care is a need. A luxury car is a need. A plastic surgery is a need. Producing great works of art is a need. Understanding the nature of the universe is a need. Taking care of one's family for the next ten generations is a need. So on and so forth.

Now how to use the limited resources to fulfil the maximum number of needs is the question.

Communism: Communism intends to uniformize the needs of human beings to a certain common minimum and demands that all the resources be owned by the society as a whole. It then prescribes ways to fulfil those common needs using the common resources. The essential flaw in this is that it does not take into account an individual's right of defining his own needs. However fair the definition of the common minimum need, it is conceivable that there is an individual who has a legitimate need which he can not fulfil in a communist society. Here I use the word legitimate to mean that it is achievable (if given enough resources). Further, the demand that all resources must be owned by the society implies that every individual must be owned by the society (since the labor is the most fundamental resource). This is not desirable.

Capitalism: (as in the ultimate free market system or the laissez-faire capitalism) Capitalism intends to completely individualize the needs of human beings and demands that all the resources be owned by individuals. It then prescribes that in a market of voluntarily interacting human beings, every one will try to fulfil his/her needs. The essential flaw in this is that it does not take into account the case of those individuals whose only resource is their labor and their basic needs. Here I use the word basic to mean those needs that are essential for a decent survival. It is possible in a capitalist society that all the resources will fall into the hands of increasingly smaller set of people and others will have to sell their labor to this small set of people to survive. The word voluntary will then become meaningless as there will be no choice. Further, an individual simply by taking control of a large share of the resources, obtains a carte blanche to fulfil all and any need that he might fancy. A minimal system of law may not be enough to contain the damage such a power might work.

Thus, I believe that either of the above systems, in its ideological extremity, is unworkable and unfair. The solution is to aim for a balance of the two. And this balance might come at a point closer to Capitalism (as in the US) or to Communism (as in most of Europe).

January 15, 2006

Lahore Pitch.

The following is illuminating:

When Michael Holding, West Indian legend and a man who was a cut above the fast bowlers on display in this Test, was asked whether he would have fancied a bowl on this Gaddafi Stadium pitch, he grinned. "I'd have pulled a muscle and walked off," he said with a chuckle. From a man who once bowled the West Indies to an epic victory at the Oval with a stress fracture in his foot, such words couldn't be taken seriously, but you could see where he was coming from.
In spite of the much publicized intention of Pakistanis before the series of preparing pitches favorable to the fast bowlers, we have here a ridiculously batting friendly pitch. This is a nice post in this regard.

Indians have started really well after some unbelievable batting by Pakistan. Sehwag, in particular, was amazing. It is a bit unfortunate that most of the third day was rained out. Hopefully there will be no more disturbances and Indians will put forth a proper reply. Unless Indians commit some serious blunders a decision in this match seems unlikely.

January 13, 2006

First Day.

It was an unmitigated disaster for Indians. Pakistan surely started in a great style doing to India what India did to them on the first day of the test series almost two years ago. I hope that, unlike in that test, Indian batsmen will respond well and save the match.

For, I doubt if we can win this match now. It is possible and we did it just two seasons ago against Australia in Adelaide. That was made possible by another magical Dravid-Laxman partnership (303 runs) and special bowling performances by Kumble (6 wickets) and Agarkar (8 wickets). Such things do not happen everyday, but can happen any day. Let us wait and see.

I will refrain from a general tirade against Indian bowling, though it is tempting to do so. Admittedly, Indian bowling is weak and such days are to be expected. But to write them off completely on the basis of such a day would be unfair. Getting only one wicket (the other was a runout) does not speak much of the bowling, but one should note that not getting a wicket for a long time, say a session, makes it increasingly harder to get a wicket as the day proceeds. Once they did not get a wicket for a long time yesterday, they were down psychologically and physically plus Younis and Yousuf were very well set. Better things can be hoped for on the second day.

Finally a word on Ganguly's inclusion. My belief is that it was a wrong decision and a case of putting an individual's interests above those of the team.

January 12, 2006

Watching the India-Pakistan Series.

These days watching cricket in the US has become lot easier and there are a number of options. I found this one quite cheap and of reasonable quality. The whole series (tests and one-days) costs $60. Use the event name: indpak. If you want to watch only the first test ($15), use the event name: lahore.

India in Pakistan.

India and Pakistan begin their third series in two years today with the first test in Lahore. After two interesting series (the first in Pakistan in 2004 and the second in India in 2005) this one promises to be a great series once again. India having won one of them and drawn the other, will like to continue their non-losing streak. Pakistan, on the other hand, will definitely be seeking out a revenge for their home defeat in 2004.

In a way, this series promises much more excitement than the last two. The last two were highlighted as much for their political implications as for their cricketing interest and Pakistan team was off-color in both of them, though they performed credibly in the series in India coming back in both ODIs and Tests. In this series though every one talks only about cricket and politics has, correctly, disappeared from the considerations. Moreover, Pakistan is looking very good this time and both teams are lot more evenly matched.

It will be the first big challenge for the new Indian team management, particularly the new coach and the new captain. This transformation of guard in the team has been very rough and caused lot of unpleasantness for all concerned. But I believe these changes happened for the good and the Indian team has a great opportunity to become a real force in world cricket with this set up. And this series will be very important in that process. Dravid and Chappel give the impression of attempting to bring much needed method and professionalism to this team and one hopes that their efforts will have a long term positive impact on the team.

As for this particular series, apart from the natural importance attached to India-Pakistan series, there is much for both teams to play for. India will try to firm their second place in the official test rankings and Pakistan will attempt to improve their current fourth position, though only a 3-0 victory will better their position (to third). It will be a significant series for them and a good test for the newly found spirit in the team, after their convincing victory against England.

There will be many individuals to watch out for. For Pakistan, there is the rejuvenated Shoaib Akthar and the majestic Inzamam. For India Dravid holds the key and Tendulkar in form can be decisive. One hopes that Sehwag can break his jinx of 40s and regain some of the form he showed in the last Pakistan tour. Ganguly will present a difficult problem for the Indian management, but I think he should be left out of the team. It is very unfortunate but that hard decision has to be made with an eye on the future.

Personally, this series excites me as no other in recent times. I am really looking forward to it and hope to watch most of it. Naturally I will be rooting majorly for India and will be devastated if India does not do well. Still I sincerely wish that we will have great cricket played by both teams (with India winning in the end).

January 10, 2006

Economic Freedom.

The Index of Economic Freedom published by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation runs along expected lines (at the top at least). This index is supposed to measure the economic freedom among the countries of the world. And according to them,

Economic freedom is defined as the absence of government coercion or constraint on the production, distribution, or consumption of goods and services beyond the extent necessary for citizens to protect and maintain liberty itself. In other words, people are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in the ways they feel are most productive.

More on their methodology here.

I do not question the accuracy of their study. It probably is true that Hong Kong and Singapore are the freest countries according to their parameters. And I take their definition of economic freedom as the correct representation of the economic structure of a truly free market society. My point is that Hong Kong and Singapore, while doing better than any other countries, DO NOT, on the whole, meet the true criterion of economic freedom and that it is a fallacy to use the example of these countries to argue for the efficacy of laissez-faire. To large extent the economy of Singapore (and to a lesser extent that of Hong Kong) has numerous instances of government coercion or constraint, as Heritage Foundation likes to put it.

Some of these cases are as follows.

  • In Singapore the government controls virtually all the major industries.
  • In both countries the governments own most of the land (particularly in Singapore) and provide cheap housing to people. 83% of population of Singapore and 40% of Hong Kong's live in such housing.
  • In Singapore the Central Provident Fund, administered by the government is a compulsory service which takes about 33% of the wages.
  • In Hong Kong the government implements many labor regulations and there is an active debate on the issue of minimum wages.

This article has more details. More on Singapore's economy (with emphasis on the government's role in it) can be read here.

Whether these actions by the governments are correct or not (in other words, whether these actions contributed to the general health of these economies or held them back) is debatable. But it is clear that these economies do not represent truly free market economies.

January 9, 2006

Legal and Illegal.

This is an example of how corporations (even extremely accomplished ones) retain their markets (and thereby secure their profits) at any cost whatever. What Microsoft did in China to appease the Chinese government so as to not lose the highly rewarding market there might be morally repulsive to you and me, and indeed to most decent people. But keep in mind that what Microsoft did was legal. I am pretty sure Microsoft mentions somewhere that they reserve the right to remove any blog for any reason whatever and this is a justifiable precaution too. Hence Microsoft did not commit a crime, in the legal sense of the word. Which is all that matters. And apart from a few weak shouts here and there nothing will result, and things will go back to normalcy in no time.

Having said that let me briefly discuss my view of the larger meaning of all this.

I can see some people saying the following: this appalling action of Microsoft was necessitated by an unnecessary intrusion of the government (into the freedom of a blogger to say what he wants) and things will be fine if only governments stop bothering. This is certainly a valid point, but it looks at the issue in a very narrow perspective. From a wider perspective, this is fundamentally not a case of government intrusion resulting in undesirable results, but of businesses doing anything, withing their legal bounds, to maximize their profits. Within their legal bounds - this is very important. It is easy to deal with something that is illegal withing the most basic framework of governance. Another important thing here: if profit-making is the highest moral purpose of a business (as is propounded by Libertarian intellectuals in the mold of Ayn Rand) then what Microsoft has done is not just legal - it is a commendable act. On the other hand, to prevent things like this (and numerous other things that corporations resort to) you need to increase the extent to which a government can act.

I do not want to get into the question of why should governments be given the right to define what is fair and decent. That is not my purpose at all. My purpose is only to indicate how profit-making is the sole goal of businesses and how that induces (in fact, obliges) them to act in ways that jar on some basic human tendencies.

January 3, 2006

Minimum Wage Increase - An Analysis of Effects.

In the last post I talked about why increasing the minimum wage should be seriously contemplated. Let us see now what the results will be of such an increase.

The potential positive and negative effects of an increase in the minimum wage are explained nicely here. The most important arguments against an increase can be stated as follows:

1. Reduction in the employment opportunities for the unskilled or low-skilled workers (because many business will lay off these people in favor of workers with higher skills).
2. The harmful effects on the economy as a whole (curbing growth by increasing the cost of the labor).
And assuming the validity of these two disadvantages,
3. it is not really worthwhile risking these deleterious consequences because most people working for minimum wages are not the primary or solitary income earners in their families. In other words, most people are not completely dependent only on their own income.

Let us consider each of these separately.

1. This is, by far, the most important argument against an increase in the minimum wage. But it has been a very controversial issue with contradictory conclusions from various studies by professional economists. On the face of it, though, it seems reasonable to suppose that there will be a drop in employment as a result of an increase of the minimum wage. There are a number of reasons why this reasonable assumption might be misleading.

One reason is that there is evidence to believe that the minimum wages are less than what they could be. As the above mentioned Wikipedia article says, the minimum wage fell about 29% in real terms between 1979 and 2003. In other words, it is viable to increase the pay for the workers within the market requirements. Thus it possible that an increase in the minimum wages would not result in a significant drop in employment.

There have been a number of studies on this subject. It seems a majority of them conclude that the employment indeed drops. But there have been notable exceptions to this analysis. These are explained here. Given this general uncertainty and a lack of consensus among experts, it is reasonable to assume that reduction in employment due to an increase in the minimum wage is not a foregone conclusion.

2. Workers earning minimum wage are unskilled or low-skilled and they mostly work in service industry (74.6%, as is shown by this table). Further, they constitute a very small percentage of the total work force( 2.7%, see this). It is unreasonable, then, to suppose that any event confining only to this tiny part is likely to effect the overall health of the economy.

Apart from that, I shall fall back on my basic moral requirement: any person working full time in a job should get the bare minimum that is necessary for a decent existence. If that comes at the cost of impeding the growth of economy, so be it. We have to work on means to ensure the growth of economy after we meet our more important goals. Growth of the economy is not a virtue in itself, and certainly not at the cost of someone working very hard and still failing to live decently.

3. It is often said that most people working for minimum wages are not the primary or single income earners in their families or that most of them are young and live with parents. There might be some justification to the former, but the later is not correct. According to this data, the percentage of workers earning the minimum wage and who are 25 years or older is 78.1%.

Further, a large number of people working for minimum wage are working in those jobs full time: according to this, the percentage of minimum wage earners who work more than 35 hours a week is 71.1% and the percentage of those working more than 40 hours a week is 64.3%.

Poverty threshold for a family of four is around $17,600 (in 2000). More on this here and here . A person working 40 hours a week throughout the year makes (at the federal rate of $5.15) $10712. If both the parents are working, that would make the family's income $21424. While this is above the poverty line, it is almost impossible for both parents to work everyday, particularly when the children are young. In most cases, one of them might not be able to work at all. (I am not considering here the possibility of various welfare schemes which might make a significant difference.This is important and one needs to study that aspect also).

I must conclude that there is ample justification for an increase in the minimum wage. As I mentioned earlier, this is partly a result of ideology. Still, I believe that there is enough empirical evidence to justify it.

Minimum Wage Increase - A Moral Argument.

On January 1st the 360,000 workers in New York who are paid the minimum wage saw an increase of 25 cents in their hourly pay to $6.75, which is higher than the federal minimum wage of $5.15. There is a similar trend in a number of states to increase it beyond the federal level. There is much debate on the merits of raising the minimum wage (for instance, here) and there will always be. I will express my own views on the subject here.

The first question is whether it is moral for the government to intrude into a private businesses and demand a minimum level of pay. It is very important to answer this question before we go into an analysis of the consequences of such a raise. If one answers this question in the negative, there is no logical need for him (or her) to further pursue this subject. In this sense, I believe that it is intellectual hypocrisy on the part of the libertarians to argue against a raise in the minimum wage, because of what they believe are the harmful effects of such a raise. It is their proposition that government intrusion into economic activity is immoral in the first place, and pernicious in the second place. Presumably they can prove this proposition (though I never saw a proof, which does not prove that there is none). Then the immorality and perniciousness of this particular case of government intrusion follow as obvious corollaries.

On the other hand, if one answers the above question in the positive, as I will, then it becomes very important to go into an analysis. First, why do I think the answer is Yes? I am aware that, at some level, this becomes an issue of ideology. However, here is my attempt at a logical argument.

1. There are some issues in a business which are not the concern only of the people directly involved in that business and in these issues, the society (through government) has a say. For instance, the environmental consequences of a business. It is not hard, for many people, to see how a business can not be left COMPLETELY alone on this. The society, on the whole, has a say because the environment is used by everyone and no one can use it wrongly. Similarly, I believe that the society has reason to want that people working in destitution for the bare minimum get enough to lead their lives. I am not saying that "a guy mopping the floors should be able to afford a home, boat, daily latte, and cosmetic dental care", but he should get enough to be able to pay his bills regularly and not lose his sleep over how he can pay the rent next month.

For Noemi Rodriguez, 21, and her 2-year-old daughter, the minimum wage is a simple matter of going hungry. Ms. Rodriguez, a single mother who lives with her mother, makes $8 an hour as the chief photo technician at a Duane Reade in East Harlem. Six months ago, she said, "I earned the minimum wage when I started here, and I was still going hungry," she said. "It's not enough to pay utilities, buy food and take care of my baby."

My point is that one should be paid a decent wage, even if it is more than what is determined by the market. Of course, who will pay it? We will go into this later, but for now let me just say: I find it very hard to believe that paying a decent level of minimum wage is such a burden on the structure of market economy that, if implemented, it will have harmful effects.

2. Another important argument is that is perfectly conceivable that people are NOT being paid the level of wages determined by the market. The rationale put forward in such a scenario by the proponents of zero government intrusion is, of course, that it is a free choice exercised by employees to work in a business and they can leave if their demands are not met. Whatever the general logic and substance of such a rationale, it is particularly ineffective and insensitive in the case of people working for low wages. The very situation of their lives and the nature of their work makes it almost impossible for them to negotiate a better pay or to leave the jobs if necessary. They will typically hold on to any jobs they have for the simple reason that even a week without job can be devastating for them. That leaves them no time for pursuing alternative means of income or improving their general marketability. Any society claiming to be civilized needs to argue the case of such people through the systems it developed. One important way to do that is a raise in the minimum wage.

Thus it seems to me that there are good reasons to contemplate an increase in the minimum wage. Of course, one needs to study its effects more deeply before coming to any conclusion. I will write another post soon on an analysis of the effects of raising the minimum wage.

January 1, 2006

Beware of Porn.

There is a school of thought that holds that internet is for porn and there might well be some merit to that. Whatever position you take on this important issue, my sincere advice, based on heart burning personal experience, to you is to be extremely cautious in using the substantial power of internet for your pornographic needs.

I am, of course, talking about the all-pervading threat of virus, particularly the spyware. When it strikes, which it might any time, it can bring the whole world crashing down around you. Suddenly all the stories you heard about the destructive powers of viruses on the personal computers, and which you always regarded with detached amusement, will seem painfully real. After that it could be a slow, long and arduous road back to normalcy, if indeed there is a road back to normalcy.

My advice to you, then, is to stay away from porn altogether, if you possibly can. I know, you are home alone on Friday night sitting in front of your computer trying to resist the temptation and feeling that if there is any justice in the world, you deserve to... But, believe me, it is not worth it. Remember, it takes only a second for the disaster to strike.

If in spite of all this you must, then frequent only standard websites; seek expert guidance on which are safe. The class rears it ugly head even in the sordid world of internet pornography. Most importantly - I can not stress this enough - never use the Internet Explorer; Mozilla Firefox is a much safer choice.

If all my protestations fall on deaf ears and you find yourself in the soup, Spyware Doctor, is a good software.

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