March 31, 2006

India's 14th Consecutive Winning Chase.

India beat England quite easily in the end in the second one-dayer in Faridabad. However, it was by no means easy when we slipped to 92/5 after being 61/0. We were home thanks to a great partnership of Dhoni and Raina. Raina has been an exciting prospect for some time now and a number of people (including Greg Chappell) conjectured his eventual greatness. This innings will be remembered for his transformation from useful 30s to much higher feats.

This is India's 14th successive winning chase, equalling the record of West Indies in the mid-1980s. This is remarkable. It is almost possible to believe that there is something inevitable about India's chases now. We were crusing at 61/0. Then we collapse to 92/5 with all our established batsmen gone. Still 135 runs to win. England were the obvious favorites to win then. But what do we see? We see a great partnership and see India win without much trouble. And this is not happening for the first time. In Pakistan same thing happened in a couple of matches. Yes, India's successful chasing streak defies belief. I am reminded of this scene from Matrix.

Cypher turns the betrayer and pulls the plugs of Apoc and Switch. He is about to do the same to Neo.

If he is the One, then in the next few seconds there has to be some kind of miracle to stop me. Because if he dies like the others that means Morpheus was wrong. How can he be the One if he's dead?

Then, sure enough, the miracle happens (Tank kills him).

OK, may be I am over-reacting. I realize that India will eventually fail to chase. Still this is something great. And if we do it once again, we will have achieved something no one else did.

March 29, 2006

Immigration Issues.

This is a very nice article by Thomas Sowell on the real issues that are hidden behind the mainstream debate on immigration policy.

Most of the arguments for not enforcing our immigration laws are exercises in frivolous rhetoric and slippery sophistry, rather than serious arguments that will stand up under scrutiny.

How often have we heard that illegal immigrants “take jobs that Americans will not do”? What is missing in this argument is what is crucial in any economic argument: price.

Americans will not take many jobs at their current pay levels — and those pay levels will not rise so long as poverty-stricken immigrants are willing to take those jobs.

If Mexican journalists were flooding into the United States and taking jobs as reporters and editors at half the pay being earned by American reporters and editors, maybe people in the media would understand why the argument about “taking jobs that Americans don't want” is such nonsense.

Another variation on the same theme is that we “need” the millions of illegal aliens already in the United States. “Need” is another word that blithely ignores prices.

If jet planes were on sale for a thousand dollars each, I would probably “need” a couple of them — an extra one to fly when the first one needed repair or maintenance. But since these planes cost millions of dollars, I don't even “need” one.

There is no fixed amount of “need,” independently of prices, whether with planes or workers.

None of the rhetoric and sophistry that we hear about immigration deals with the plain and ugly reality: Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor.

Sweeping Woes of England.

It is universally held that England lost the Delhi one-dayer because of their injudicious use of the sweep shot.

First Lahore, then Mohali, now Delhi. The list of subcontinental cities to have staged an official inquiry into English crimes against the sweep grew yesterday. And once again there was no need to call for Lord Hutton.

Four batsmen perished trying to hit India's spinners across the line while a fifth, Geraint Jones, was undone after aiming to sweep and then changing his mind at roughly the same time as the ball was acquainting itself with his off-stump.[Link]

You can see those shots here.

March 28, 2006

India Lobbies Hard.

Lost in the euphoria over the signing of the nuclear deal between India and the US was the small matter of US Congress requiring to approve the deal. India is going all out trying to achieve that end according to Time magazine.

India isn't relying on diplomacy to win the U.S. Congress's backing for the controversial nuclear cooperation pact announced by George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi two weeks ago. It's playing the Washington game like the locals do--with lobbyists. Long before Bush's visit, India lined up two lobbying firms to sell the deal. The Indian embassy signed a $700,000 contract last fall with Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, an outfit led by Robert Blackwill, Bush's ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003. The embassy is also paying $600,000 to Venable, a firm that boasts former Democratic Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana as its point man.

The embassy won't say exactly what the lobbyists are doing, and Blackwill and Bayh won't give details about their work. But according to their Foreign Agents Registration Act reports, which must be filed with the U.S. Justice Department, the lobbyists had been buttonholing senior Bush Administration officials since last autumn to pitch the deal. They also arranged meetings for Indian diplomats with key figures on Capitol Hill, such as House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde and Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bayh told TIME, "We may be able to open some doors and begin an educational process."

Arms-control groups and some former Bush aides who oppose the deal warn that India might use U.S. nuclear technology intended for its civilian nuclear facilities to expand its weapons program. John Wolf, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation from 2001 to 2004, complains, "We were outnegotiated." Bush aides say they weren't, insisting that controls will be in place to prevent diversions to the arms program. But they--and India's lobbyists--still have to win approval from a leery Congress. A senior House Republican aide says that after being blindsided by Bush's last foreign deal--the now aborted Dubai takeover of operations at six U.S. ports--lawmakers will begin the India hearings "with eyes wide open."

$1300,000. That is about 5.85 crore Indian Rupees.

It is a joke on the concepts of democracy and people's power when deals are approved or disapproved via such methods. Perhaps lobbying is an essential part of a democracy. But I find it very distasteful that such insane amounts of money are spent on what should essentially be a simple process of trying to convince someone of your point. It requires persuasive arguments and conclusive evidence. But why it requires such huge sums of money is beyond me.

March 27, 2006

Differences Between Theory and Practice.

Increasingly I am of the opinion that the state (or any representative mechanisms of the overall societies) is utterly incompetent, and hence should not be mandated, to deal with economic issues. In principle, and as expressed in this.

However, I am disturbed by the sweeping ramifications that this opinion entails. This disturbance arises out of the painful, and obvious, ways in which many of the smooth hypotheses fail to hold in reality. It is true that systems should emerge out of a multitude of voluntary interactions and local decisions. Such systems are the most effective, and any interference in that process by a central authority will not only fail to achieve its intended objective, but will cause untold harm. I find all this very reasonable.

But oftentimes, in these voluntary interactions one side is so destitute that its volition hardly makes a difference. This enables the other side to play dirty. I am not talking here of businesses breaking the law, say by making it hard for their employees to find jobs elsewhere, or by blocking unionization attempts. Widespread as these acts undoubtedly are, they are only legal problems and in theory governments can deal with them. But is that all? Does all the foulness coming out of a capitalist system comprise of simple law-breaking? Is there no systemic exploitation?

I am not sure. There are two attitudes. You can either root for a completely free play of market forces and scoff at any interference with even (or particularly!) the noblest of intentions, or you dare to think that it is possible to moderate the growth so as to make it more equitable. While I am compelled by the logic of the former, I can not, in good faith, rule out any role for the later.

March 24, 2006

23 March - Down the Years.

23 March 2002, Saturday: Those were the days I was living in Chennai. I wake up early in the morning. My room mate was still sleeping. I make a sudden decision to go to Mahabalipuram. People always talked a lot about it, and I thought I will see myself. I catch a bus in Thiruvanmiyur and go there. Spent the whole day there, and had a pretty good time. Enjoyed all the old temples, sculptures. It was also my only experience of seeing people actually doing some sculpturing.

23 March 2003, Sunday: I make a quick trip home (from Chennai) to catch the world cup final with family. All of us are very excited with India's great run after a poor start and were very hopeful of becoming the world champions. Of course, Man proposes, God disposes.

23 March 2004, Tuesday: The scene shifts to Boston. Day starts with a false alarm for fire and we run out (without shoes, jacket) and spend 30 minutes in the bitterly cold morning. Eventually make it to safety of inside. In the evening we go to Udipi Bhavan in Framingham.

23 March 2005, Wednesday: Again in Boston. In the afternoon leave for New York in a China Town bus. It was a snowy day in New York. Spend lot of time in a Starbucks and then make our way to Strand Bookstore. That was am amazing bookstore and can keep you engaged for hours. Late that night we go to New Jersey. That brings the number of states we passed that day to four (including Connecticut).

23 March 2006, Thursday: In Columbia, Missouri. I Spend the day in a very routine manner. Teach in the afternoon for an hour. From the evening till late into night I work. The said work consists of reading, thinking, and writing. In short, research.

It is natural to wonder at this point: why 23 March? Because it is the birthday of yours truly. I am 25 now!

March 23, 2006

Terror in India.

This is an informative article by Praveen Swami on the methodology of terrorism in India carried out by Pakistan-based organizations. It is obviously very well-researched and sheds light on many details which I never came across. It is chilling to read how planned these people and how insidious their machinations are. We also read how actively Indian police and intelligence forces are attempting to tackle this problem.

It is natural to feel that's all there is to it. Some crazy people are trying to do some bad things and we are trying to deal with them and stop them. But I think this is much more than a glorified law and order problem. And there needs to be a comprehensive approach to solving it, including a realistic political initiative.

I do not have any solutions, and nor do I claim to have a thorough grasp of the situation. But I do know that when many Indians are easily recruited by these lunatic monsters, and used as tools in their murderous campaign against India, the issue can no longer be explained away by simple and convenient notions of crazy religiosity and misplaced loyalties.

Succinct, Yet Profound.

The statesman who should attempt to direct people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

--Adam Smith.

March 22, 2006

India - England Test Series.

India lost the Mumbai test pretty comprehensively. England are elated and it is India's turn to do the soul-searching. Again.

Before the series began, England were the decided underdog. So even this squared series is a victory for them. But that is not all of the story.

Much as my irrational self deplores the fact India could not continue the 21-year winless streak of England in India, I sincerely believe that England richly deserved this result. If anything, I believe they deserved to win the series. They played out of their skins.

Having said that, let me now come to India's performance. From the start it was India's series to not win. I have no intention to take anything away from the English team. However, I believe that India lost the trick, and with a modestly better overall performance they would have won the series 2-0.

Out of the 14 days of the series (one day in Mohali was rained out completely) India completely dominated only two days (last two days in Mohali). England either dominated (or at least had an upper hand in) the remaining 12 days. Still the result is 1-1. And with another good day for India the result could have been 1-0.

Of course, not many test results have a good correlation with how many days were dominated by the winners. But this series is different. The fact that England dominated most of the series and only ended up with a 1-1 result shows how much better the Indian team was on the paper. On their two good days India were so good that they won that test match.

It is in this sense that I contend that India lost this series. Our failure becomes particularly stark when we consider the fact that our bowlers did very well given the conditions. Only the last two days in Mohali provided any real assistance to spinners and we made use of that assistance fully. In the rest of the series pitches were very well balanced and bowlers did quite well under the circumstances.

This brings me to the real reason for our failure: batsmen. The top five run-getters for us in the series are:

Dravid: 309 in 6 innings at 61.8
Jaffer: 250 - 6 - 41.6
Kumble: 128 - 4 - 32.0
Pathan: 121 - 5 - 24.2
Dhoni: 106 - 4 - 21.20

This tells a huge story. Two among the top five are specialist bowlers and one is the wicket keeper. Sehwag (95-6-19.0), Sachin (83-5-20.75) and Yuvraj (64-3-21.3) were big letdowns. Team management must be feeling pretty silly after dropping Kaif (91-1-91) after he saved the match for us in Nagpur.

A slightly better performance from Sehwag, Sachin and Yuvraj, say 250 more runs from the 14 innings that they played, would have made a huge difference. I am not saying much here. A mere 17.86 more runs per innings from them would have made all the difference in the world. Don't tell me that England bowled really well. Kumble and Pathan could bat alright.

Another thing. Our decision to play five bowlers, however well-intentioned, did not work. Not because our top order did not deliver. Because the fifth bowler was never really essential. In the second test Chawla hardly played any role. In the third test wickets were more or less uniformly distributed among all the bowlers (Kumble, Sreesanth and Harbhjan - 5, Patel - 3, Pathan - 1). Only Pathan did not get many wickets, but there was never any question of dropping him. It would have been hard to drop Patel, Sreesanth, or Harbhajan, but playing all of them was too much of a luxury for us. Anyway, this criticism is made with the benefit of hindsight.

So I must go back to my preliminary assessment and repeat: our batsmen failed us.

March 17, 2006

A Sane Voice.

Barkha Dutt writes in this great article on NDTV.

If the Varanasi blasts were a consequence of the UPA's "minority appeasement", then how does one explain the shadow of terror that tailed India during the NDA regime? From Kandahar to the Parliament attack?

If the blasts were a result of this government being "soft on terror" then how does one explain that there is no empirical difference in the level of violence today, when compared with last year? And has a shrill BJP forgotten that Atal Behari Vajpayee's lasting legacy is the creation of a peace process with Pakistan and a peace initiative with Kashmiri separatists?...

All generalizations are a gamble, but I would take the risk and say that Middle India (as distinct from both the fundamentalists and the liberals) wants to travel down the Middle Path; the age of shrill rhetoric is over, Indians, are increasingly impatient with extremism of any kind, in any faith, Hindu or Muslim.

March 15, 2006

Poverty is a Disease.

Widespread poverty is a disease. It is not a natural condition of societies.

When you are sick you take some steps to cure it. Likewise, there must be an attempt at a cure for the disease of poverty.

But all of your life is not consumed by attempts to cure a disease. Most often, a disease is but an unfortunate and unexpected interruption to the flow of life, with which you deal with as efficiently and quickly as possible. And move on with your life. Again likewise, a society's whole existence should not be defined by its attempts at alleviating poverty. It should deal with it and cure it. And move on.

So how does one cure the disease of poverty?

Obviously this is a deep question. Or, is it?

It is my contention that the disease of poverty is not hard to cure. (I am not talking here of enabling people to buy flat screen TVs and DVD players, or procure property to take care of their progeny's progeny; I am talking only of the problem of providing basic amenities for a comfortable and fruitful life.)

Why, then, do we see large swaths of the world, or more pertinently for this post, of India, still under the grip of widespread poverty?

Out of 260 million poor people in the country [India], about 200 million poor people are in rural areas. Around 100 districts are under the constant threat of drought & semi-famine like situation every year. Other 90 districts face floods & torrential rains every year. About 25% rural households are landless laborers & bonded labor, and have no income generating assets. About 80 per cent of farmers are small & marginal and have inadequate and poor quality of assets with meager irrigation facilities. Rural artisans do not have access to modern tools/ equipment & marketing. Perpetual & pernicious poverty in rural areas is deeply rooted in large-scale unemployment among rural house- holds during half of the year. Chronic unemployment for a large part of the year is prevalent in hilly, tribal, desert &drought prone areas and the situation is exacerbated when monsoon fails.

According to National Social Watch, 48% people in 13 States of India viz. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh do not get two meals a day. People in 45% rural India do not get work for six months in a year & 20% villages do not have work opportunities for people in any form. [Link]

Why, indeed, are we able to make incredible progress in almost every human realm and still not cure this first human disease?

My answer is: pursuit of a two-tiered approach which can be summarized as follows.

On the ideological/philosophical level: treating this problem as a permanent feature of societies. Or at least, as much more than a mere disease it really is. Making "the fight against poverty" the noblest activity. "Fight against poverty" is commendable, but it is fundamentally a temporary fight.

As a direct consequence of this philosophy, on the political/practical level: centralizing all attempts to cure this disease. Theorizing that it is necessary to institute systems to rein in the pursuit of self-interest. Formulating that eradicating poverty needs sacrifices from citizenry.

Yet, the most successful and efficient steps toward a cure have come from the pursuit of self-interest. Whether in developing the scientific and technological tools that improved lives of billions; or, in developing industries which provided employment to billions of people.

If creating employment is your first and final goal, then the systems developed by you will necessarily be incompetent and corrupt. There will be no accountability, no checks on wastage, no demands of efficiency. Yet, this is what governments do. And this what governments will ever be able to do.

If you have a goal (for instance, making as much money as possible) which requires creating employment and you are allowed to pursue your goal, then meaningful and effective employment will be created. This sort of thing is beginning to happen in India.

Started in late 2000, Project Shakti has extended Hindustan Lever's reach into 80,000 of India's 638,000 villages, on top of about 100,000 served by conventional distribution methods, according to Dalip Sehgal, the company's director of new ventures. The project accounts for nearly 15 percent of rural sales. The women typically earn between $16 and $22 per month, often doubling their household income, and tend to use the extra money to educate their children.

I am not saying that unhindered pursuit of self-interest by businesses will always be good. Nor am I saying that governments have no regulatory powers. An unlimited greed and the resultant unscrupulousness are also just diseases and should not be supposed to be permanent or natural conditions.

Governments should not play doctors who cure or medical researchers who find cures. They should only be nurses who give temporary relief when a disease becomes particularly painful or notorious.

March 14, 2006

Is It Really the Greatest Game Ever?

I wrote yesterday that the Australia - South Africa game was the greatest ODI game ever. There have been many people who doubted that conclusion. Generally the the doubt revolved around the correct point that more runs does not make it better.

For instance, Nandhu asked the following at Desicritics:
Is there any compelling reason why the highest scoring match of all time should all be the greatest ODI of all time? I flinched everytime a tv commentator called this the greatest ODI ever.

I mean, surely, there have been matches as intensely fought as this one. and the higher number of runs by itself doesnt make the drama greater.
also making the bowlers look like dumb fools isnt cricket now, is it?

Here was my answer to him:

According to me, a ODI game is to be assessed by

1. How exciting it was - that is how suspenseful it was, how much down to the wire it went, and so on. In other words, a game's greatness is more if a result is not known till the very end. You know what I am talking about: seat-edge, nail-baiting etc.

2. How closely the two teams competed (and NOT how closely the bat and ball fared). This is obviously tied to the first point above, but some games could go to the end and one team have a small edge throughout.

So games are great depending on these two factors. Mind you, none of these points has to do with the number of runs scored.

Now this game was not less great than any other match I have ever seen or read about. May be some other games were equally great (world cup 99 semi-final, Ind-Pak in Dhaka etc). It is not easy for me to separate these games on the above two factors. In terms of those, all of them are probably equal. However, the number of runs serve as tie-breaker. What makes this game the obvious greatest is the sheer magnitude of the number of runs scored.

Your point about runs being not the only factor is well taken. Of course, I will disagree with any such assessment. For instance, if South Africa lost the game (even scoring 400) I would not call this the greatest game. But the fact that they won against such gigantic odds (and scored more than ten runs per over in the last seven or eight overs) makes this the most exciting game ever.

A comment about bowlers appearing dumb. Frankly, I do not quite understand this point. True, more runs are being scored, but the value or significance of bowlers has NOT gone down. There is still a huge role for quality bowlers. Everyone observed that if McGrath or Pollock was there things would have been different. If only one them played his team would certainly have won. Of course, pitches are not conducive for good bowling, as we generally think of it. That is, people can not bowl maiden overs, or take lot of wickets, or even restrict batsmen to less than six or seven an over. That was the definition of good bowling. But why can't people understand that this definition can change as everything else does. In modern day ODI cricket a good bowler is one whose economy rate is much below the average. I don't believe that there is no scope for bowlers in ODIs. We are just evolving and need to change old notions. Remember that it is a game between the two teams; not between bat and ball.

I agree that batsmen win ODIs, but in this particular match one single quality bowler could have won it for his team (Nathan Bracken almost did it for Aussies).

Finally, I admit the possibility that this trend might bring down the quality of bowlers. But again quality as we have known for decades. May be we will see another notion of quality and everyone will agree that the new notion is much better.

March 13, 2006

Three Gilded Balls.

I was reading random bits from the Fountainhead and this was one of the passages that I read.

Kent Lansing (who tries to get Roark the commission to build the Aquitania) is speaking to Roark.
When facing society, the man most concerned, the man who is to do the most and contribute the most, has the least to say. It's taken for granted that he has no voice and the reasons he could offer are rejected in advance as prejudiced - since no speech is ever considered, but only the speaker. It's so much easier to pass judgement on a man than on an idea. Though how in hell one passes judgement on a man without considering the content of his brain is more than I'll ever understand. However, that's how it's done. You see, reasons require scales to weigh them. And scales are not made of cotton. And cotton is what the human spirit is made of - you know, the stuff that keeps no shape and offers no resistance and can be twisted forward and backward and into a pretzel. You could tell them why they should hire you so very much better than I could. But they won't listen to you and they'll listen to me. Because I'm the middleman. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line - it's a middleman. And the more middlemen, the shorter. Such is the psychology of a pretzel...

...Do you think integrity is the monopoly of the artist? And what, incidentally, do you think integrity is? The ability not to pick a watch out of your neighbor's pocket? No, it's not as easy as that. If that were all, I'd say ninety-five of humanity were honest, upright men. Only, as you can see, they aren't. Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn't borrow or pawn. And yet, if I were asked to choose a symbol for humanity as we know it, I wouldn't choose a cross nor an eagle nor a lion and unicorn. I'd choose three gilded balls. [Emphasis added by me]

A bit of Googling tells me that the three gilded balls are a traditional (native American?) symbol for pawn shops, which represent the free and voluntary trading between human beings.

The Greatest Game Ever.

South Africa defeated Australia in indubitably the greatest ODI match ever played. Make no mistake. This match will remain in memory forever. And we have not yet really grasped its meaning and implication.
The game was cricket anarchy. Rules were ignored, conventional wisdom flown against, high-risks equalled high reward in every situation. Every gamble paid off, every scooped slog fell into space, every shy at the stumps missed. As the pressure and the run rate mounted so did the ferocity of the South African onslaught. Bat first, win the toss and bury the game - that is exactly what the Australians did and although they protested there was no "job-done" mentality, when you've just smashed a world record that's stood for ten years, you don't expect it to get beaten in the next three hours. South Africa has experienced a lawless past - for one glorious afternoon, the country re-visited it. [Link]

Seeing the match would have been a once in a life time experience. I did not watch it, but I can imagine how it would have been for Australia or South Africa fans who did. A close approximation for Pakistan or India fans was the game in Dhaka in 1998 when India successfully chased 314. That was a watershed game in its own right. It was the highest score ever chased at that time and changed the mentality of chasing teams perceptibly. But that game was not so far removed from the general trend of those days in that scoring just above 300 was by no means a miracle.

This game will become legendary for the way it broke with the established norm. To be sure, for a while teams have been optimistic about chasing scores well above 300, and in due course this mark also would have been reached. But extremely abruptly this game forced on all of us an unimaginable standard which may never be met again. Not in the near future anyway.

In the immediate future I can see two things happening. One, teams will be immeasurably more comfortable chasing targets around 350. By the same token, teams will not be unduly certain of defending scores in that range.

Second, this will change the attitude of South Africans against Australia. For many years South Africans carried the unpleasant tag of chokers and they had a particularly horrid time against Aussies ever since that gem of a World Cup Semi-final in 1999 at Edgbaston. Lately they have attempted to reverse the trend by instigating a war of words. This match unequivocally lays to rest all those ghosts of Edgbaston. (A comparable phenomenon would be the sway Pakistan had over India after Miandad's six off last ball against Chetan Sharma and which Indians destroyed with their remarkable win in 2003 World Cup powered by a brilliant 98 from Sachin Tendulkar.)

For the moment though South Africans will simply bask in the glory of this unreal victory. The whole team will celebrate along with its millions of fans, but two men will have the fondest memories having been in the middle at the historic moment. As this article in The Hindu puts it,
it is debatable whether another set of cricketers would get to celebrate anything quite like Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini at the Wanderers...

March 12, 2006

Fleming Caught Off Guard!

Stephen Fleming, New Zealand skipper, is having an interview with Mark Richardson, a player turned commentator, at the end of the fourth day's play in the on going test against West Indies. They talk the usual stuff and Fleming thinks the interview is over. And then he ridiculously goes off against Richardson accusing him of going against his former team mates. Here is Pratyush's article on Desicritics.

Watch the extraordinary video. Look at Richardson's face!

Update: Well, it seems that the whole thing was a joke. Apparently it was for a show hosted by Richardson. It was certainly well acted!

A Growing Debate.

It is easy to imagine a serious internal debate raging in China over the conflict between its official ideology of communism and its embrace of capitalism. This article gives an account of that debate. Zhou Ruijing, a retired newspaper editor, is a participant in that debate on the pro-market side. He is honest.
"A widening gap between rich and poor is not the fault of market reforms," he wrote. "It's the natural result of them, which is neither good nor bad, but quite predictable."

March 11, 2006

A Tidbit from Newly Independent India.

This is nice story in today's Hindu magazine from the early days of independence.

...the Prime Minister wrote a letter about [Suryakant Tripathi] Nirala to the [Sahitya]Akademi's newly appointed Secretary, Krishna Kripalani. Nirala, said Nehru, had "done good work in the past and even now sometimes writes well in his lucid moments." His books were still popular, and widely read and used as textbooks. But, "in his folly or extremity", Nirala had "sold all those books for a song to various publishers getting just 25 or 30 or 50 rupees. The whole copyright was supposed to be sold". Thus "publishers have made large sums of money and continue to make it," while Nirala "gets nothing from it and practically starves".

This, commented Nehru, was "a scandalous case of a publisher exploiting a writer shamelessly." He urged the Akademi to work on an amendment of the copyright law so that Indian writers would be better protected in future. Then he continued: "Meanwhile, Nirala deserves some financial help. It is no good giving the help to him directly because he gives it away to others immediately. In fact, he gives away his clothes, his last shirt and everything." At the moment, it was his fellow poet Mahadevi Varma "and some others in Allahabad of a Literary Association" who "try to look after [Nirala] and give him some money too." The Prime Minister suggested that the Akademi sanction a monthly allowance of a hundred rupees to help Nirala, and that this money be given to Mahadevi Varma to use on his behalf.

On March 16, the Secretary of the Sahitya Akademi wrote back to the Prime Minister. He had spoken to his Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who "has agreed that a sum of Rs.100 a month should be sanctioned for [Nirala] and paid to Srimati Mahadevi Varma."

Two things struck me immediately when I read this. One, there was a great deference those days to the way a system works and as a result the political body was healthy. The Prime Minister had turned to the concerned body for achieving his goal. Neither the urgency of his concern nor an exalted view of his political power permitted him to sidestep the correct methodology. It is sad to reflect on today's sick system, where university vice-chancellors and district collectors (people who have crucial jobs and are expected to be independent) take orders from their political bosses.

Second, Nehru tried to go to the root of the problem. Indeed, he first urged some action on copyright laws which he deemed scandalous. Only then, he suggested financial action to ease the present situation.

This story reaffirms my belief that leaders in the early years of independence were pure at heart. It means there was a correlation between your thoughts on how to make things better in the country and your actions. Fat lot of use that was to our country, I can hear some people say at this point.

As you can see, you can be pure at heart and at the same time have inefficient or incorrect thoughts on how to better things. Which means that the purity of heart does not amount to anything. Well, to some extent that is what happened. On the other hand, I will settle for leaders with a pure heart and wrong ideas any day over leaders with impure hearts,even with correct ideas.

The unfortunate thing for India was that our first Prime Minister though a man of very pure heart had wrong ideas. But the really tragic thing was that the third long-term Prime Minister, daughter of the first, was a woman with a very impure heart and much more wrong ideas. While Nehru pursued certain socialist policies because he genuinely believed they were good for the country, Indira Gandhi initiated much more radical socialistic measures because she correctly assessed that it will enable her to win the power nationally and consequently the battle inside the Congress party.

March 9, 2006

Life's Ambition.

The Boyfriend, parts 1 and 2 are two of the best episodes of Seinfeld. The following hilarious dialogue is from part 2.

George: You know what I would like to do? I would really like to have sex with a tall woman. I mean really tall. Like a like a six five.

: Really?

: What was the tallest woman you ever slept with?

Jerry: I don't know...six three.

George: Wow, god! You see this is all I think about. Sleeping with a giant. It's my life's ambition.

Jerry: So I guess it's fair to say you've set different goals for yourself than say, Thomas Edison, Magellan, these types of people.

George: Magellan? You like Magellan?

Jerry: Oh, yeah, my favourite explorer. Around the world. Come on. Who do you like?

George: I like DeSoto.

Jerry: DeSoto? What did he do?

George: Discovered the Mississippi.

Jerry: Oh, like they wouldn't have found that anyway.

March 8, 2006

India Rising.

I came across this video on ABC News (thanks Lakshmikanth). It does a pretty decent and succinct job of depicting the change that is taking place in India.

Second Test in Mohali.

India is planning to go with five bowlers for the second test in Mohali. That is a positive sign. Firstly, it shows a recognition of the fact that we need more fire power to get 20 England wickets and a willingness to go out of the comfort zone created by 6 specialist batsmen. Secondly, it places lot of faith in the ability of the five top order batsman to deliver. Notwithstanding the potential of Dhoni, Pathan (and Kumble too) it is our top five who need to do the bulk of the scoring. And it is time they did that in a convincing fashion.

Of course, this necessitates the exclusion of Laxman and Kaif. The later's exclusion is particularly painful, but there is really no other option, with the return of Yuvraj. As for bowling, Pathan and Kumble pick themselves. Munaf Patel is also a fairly obvious inclusion given Sreesanth's illness. I personally believe that there should be one more seamer (RP Singh) in stead of both Harbhajan and Chawla playing. The Mohali pitch traditionally had lot of bounce and helped seamers. Moreover, spinners have not delivered recently (spinners got only 4 of the 13 England wickets that fell in Nagpur). The remaining spot will probably go to Harbhajan. But it is not a bad idea to give Chawla a go. Harbhajan's record lately has not been breathtaking (he has only 16 wickets from the last six tests at an average of 50).

Finally, the pitch in Mohali. That it assists seamers is generally believed and there is certainly some truth in that. But that assistance has not resulted in pacy attacks cantering to victories (except in the first game played here between India and West Indies). In fact, batting has been rather rewarding on this pitch. And out of the six tests played here four have been draws.

So one should expect lots of runs for the batsmen and toil for bowlers.

March 7, 2006

What Is Government?

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, is the father of anarchism/libertarian socialism. He, in a moment of absolute genius, penned the following.

To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded; all by creatures that have neither the right, nor wisdom, nor virtue...

To be governed means that at every move, operation, or transaction one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, priced, assessed, patented, licensed, authorized, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected. Government means to be subjected to tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed; all in the name of public utility and the general good.

Then, at the first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, fined, despised, vexed, pursued, hustled, beaten up, garroted, imprisoned, shot, machine-gunned, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap all, ridiculed, mocked, outraged and dishonored. That is government, that is its justice and its morality!

...O human personality! How can it be that you have cowered in such subjection for sixty centuries?"

This is taken from his book General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century.

This Could Only Happen To George...

This is one of my favorite scenes from Seinfeld.

Impending intestinal requirement whose needs are going surpass, by great lengths, anything in the sexual realm...

March 6, 2006

Vintage Sachin!

He was there only for 38 minutes, he scored only 28 runs and he hit only five boundaries.

But in those 38 minutes, in those 28 runs and especially in those five boundaries Sachin Tendulkar showed glimpses of his best.

It was amply clear to everyone that Pathan and Dhoni were best suited to have a go at the impossible target and Sachin's job when he finally arrived was to take singles and give Dhoni the strike. That he was at peace with that job was clear from the first ball he faced. One could see that all his efforts were directed at taking a single.

Then, almost as an afterthought, he scored 25 runs (including five boundaries) in a span of 10 balls. The way he hit those 4's gave me the impression that his best is yet to come. He started with two efficient glances to fine leg boundary against Flintoff. And then he ended a not-so-hot match for Ian Blackwell with a nonchalant paddle reverse sweep very fine to third man boundary, a fierce conventional sweep to square leg boundary and finally a majestic inside out whack over extra cover.

It was an innings lost in the maelstrom of a cheeky fling at an impossible target. But it was an innings that comforted anxious aficionados - all's right with the master!

March 4, 2006


Kiran More, chairman of the selection committee, said that Sourav Ganguly will not be recalled into the Indian team as long as the present selection committee is in office.

"We took a decision that we have to look ahead," he said. "We decided that so much has been said on this issue, that we wanted to send a message across that, `this is what we are looking at, and as far as this committee is concerned, this is what we have decided, that we will not look back at all." More further spelt out that the committee was "definitely looking beyond" Ganguly even if he were to perform well in domestic cricket.

I hope he is made to realize how incredibly pathetic and dumb that is. It is one thing to say that a certain player is not good enough to get into the team at any given moment. But to rule out the possibility of that player ever being good enough to get into the team is unprofessional, short-sighted and in extremely poor taste. It has nothing to do with building the team for the future, or the good of Indian cricket - it only betrays the unsavory backdoor machinations that infest Indian cricket.

March 3, 2006

Indian batting's Achilles Heel.

Mohammad Kaif showed again that he is the man to be depended upon under pressure. He scored his third fifty in test cricket and was unlucky to get out to an unplayable delivery in the dying moments of the game. All three of his 50s have come under intense pressure. He may not be exceptionally talented, but he has exceptional temperament.

Yet again, our top order succumbed to probing pace bowling on a responsive wicket (to be fair, it must be remarked that Dravid got a bad decision).

What happened yesterday is symptomatic of a clearly discernible trend in the last couple of years. Our much feared and talented batting lineup, time and again, fails under pressure.
Perhaps not surprisingly for a line-up where the main men are all on the wrong side of 30, with slowing reflexes, the troughs have been reached in conditions that abet either swing or seam. At Bangalore and Nagpur against Australia, reverse swing and lateral movement combined to affect 217 and 342-run routs. In a rain-aborted Test at Chennai in December, the canny Chaminda Vaas winkled out four for next to nothing while also bowling 11 maidens on the trot. And at Karachi, there were no answers to lateral movement against the impressive Mohammad Asif and a rejuvenated Abdul Razzaq.

That pace and bounce alone do India in is as gross a distortion of the truth as Nixon's Watergate testimony. The ordinary figures of Brett Lee (21 wickets at 31.42) and Shoaib Akhtar (19 wickets at 35.15) reveal as much. The stunning returns of those who could elicit movement off the pitch, subtle or otherwise - Allan Donald (57 wickets at 17.31) and Glenn McGrath (51 wickets at 18.64) tells you all you need to know about the Indian batting's real Achilles Heel. [Link]

March 2, 2006

Travails of Tail!

What do Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz, Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock, Chaminda Vaas, Mohammad Sami, Shoiab Akhtar, Heath Streak and Steve Harmison have in common?

They all have caused much frustration and pain to India over the last few years. No, not through their bowling. But through their batting! By staying at the wicket, generally in company with a top order batsman, and stubbornly resisting the hapless Indian bowlers for long periods of time.

The inability of Indian bowlers to briskly finish up an innings is now legendary. It happened again in Nagpur when England went from 225/6 to 393 adding 168 priceless runs. If I have to pick five things which I, as a die-hard Indian fan, carry with me always, I have to name this. Oh, how many times we lost our cool and degenerated into abuses full of frustration when our bowlers helped their counterparts realize their, hitherto unsuspected, batting prowess!

Sure, defeats after having Pakistan 26/6 (ending at 185) and 39/6 (ending at 245) remain painfully etched in memory. And Moin Khan and Kamran Akmal serve to focus all our frustration on. But those extreme cases do not nearly tell the whole story. What I am talking is based on countless innings.

When Zimbabwe went from 197/6 to 279 and 83/6 to 161 in September, 2005. Or when Sri Lanka went from 131/6 to 247 and 144/6 to 206 in December 2005. Or when Pakistan went from 469/6 to 588, 477/5 to 679/7 dec, 402/5 to 599 in January, 2006. Or when South Africa went from 182/5 to 305, 5/241 to 510 in December 2004. Or when Bangladesh went from 240/6 to 333 in December 2004. Or when Pakistan went from 191/6 to 312, 243/6 to 496 and 446/6 to 570 in March 2005. So on. I can go on and on.

And these numbers only partly reflect the full scope of the frustration and mental agony involved.

Oh, how we will die for a Wasim Akram!

March 1, 2006

Most Effective One-Day Batsmen.

This is an illustrative list. It attempts to find the most effective ODI batsmen. There are naturally two crucial aspects to a ODI batsman, his average and his strike rate. Both numbers contribute equally to the effectiveness of the batsman. So Cricinfo multiplied the average with the strike rate (runs per 100 balls) and divided the result by 100. It is reasonable to expect this to form a fair parameter.

The resulting list (minimum qualification is 50 innings) more or less goes along the expected lines.

Top five are:

Viv Richards: 42.39
Michael Clarke: 40.58
Zaheer Abbas: 40.39
Michael Bevan: 39.73
Sachin Tendulkar: 38.01

Though Michael Clarke (75 matches) and Zaheer Abbas (62 matches) had remarkable records, to be fair, they had a much shorter period of time to maintain those records. Michael Clarke, of course, has the opportunity to maintain this for a longer period.

That leaves the big three. These are the names that come to mind always when we talk about One-Day cricket. Richards had a phenomenal average (47) and strike rate (90.20) and his career lasted over 187 matches. Bevan's impressiveness is mainly coming from his average (53.58), and his strike rate is decent (74.16). One should keep in mind that a major factor in his huge average is the 67 not outs in his 232 matches.

Sachin, though behind the two, easily surpasses them in the overall context. His average of 44.20 and strike rate of 85.98 are unbelievable when you consider the fact that he maintained that over a whopping 362 matches. That is why, for me, he is the best ODI batsman ever.

Bush Visit - Some Thoughts.

Much attention is centered now on the Bush visit to India and the possibility of clinching a nuclear deal, which is expected to somehow make India and the world a better place.

The benefits for the United States—and much of the world—are real. This agreement would bring a rising power into the global tent, making it not an outsider but a stakeholder, and giving it an incentive to help create and shape international norms and rules. For example, India is becoming more worried about a nuclear Iran for this reason, and not because it is being pressured to do so by the United States. When India was being treated like an outlaw, it had no interest in playing the sheriff.

But the agreement would yield far bigger benefits for India. India's nuclear program has grown in total isolation. Now it would get integrated with the world, gaining access to materials, technology, know-how and markets. The agreement would open up new worlds of science and energy.

For the life of me, I can not understand the logic of this argument. It is an example of the arrogant, and incorrect, world view that the salvation must come through the benign actions of the United States and it is important that all well-meaning nations join the US in this historic mission. It is accepted and indeed required that the US play the role of the sheriff. And nations like India which have traditionally been outsiders must join in this process of policing.

It is unfortunate that Indian political leaders are jumping this bandwagon and are willing to go to any lengths to secure the friendship with the US. This is the context in which we must view the recent overtures between the world's two biggest democracies. It is by no means confined to the nuclear deal that is making the headlines. The agreement reached when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the US in July 2005 on a global democracy initiative is another example of this.

This is a very nice article in The Hindu which analyzes this trend.

A much richer, resource-endowed Indian state now believes that its "place in the sun" can only be ensured by promoting an American version of democracy, whose next act Washington wants to perform in Iran.

A rising India is today closing its strategic options by allying closely with the United States. Some years ago, it would have been considered a general insult for the U.S. to say that it would "help" India become a global power. Now, sections of India's strategic elite simply applaud such statements.

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