Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Matter of Honours

Recently, the School of Technology at Oxford Brookes University decided to honour journalist and Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson with an honorary degree. He is to be honoured in recognition of his "contribution to learning and society and as an exemplarry role model for the University's students". On the face of it, the move is quite justified. Clarkson is a well known and respected motoring journalist, an automotive and engineering enthusiast, and one of BBC's better TV presenters.

But Clarkson's inclusion in the list of degree recipients has provoked protests from University staff, the Oxford Green party and other Environmentalists groups. His crime? He is "anti-environmentalist".

George Roberts, director of e-learning at the University is one of the dissenters. The University, according to Roberts is committed to "ensuring the understanding and care of people and stewardship of environmental and public resources". But Clarkson is clearly unsuitable because, "anti-environmentalism is part of Clarkson's persona".

There is also criticism of specific actions of Clarkson. In an edition of Top Gear, Clarkson allegedly tore up literature from the environmental pressure group Transport 2000. This has led to the group also criticising the honour.
Transport 2000, a pressure group committed to safer driving and reducing the environmental effects of transport, also criticised Clarkson. Steve Hounsham, a spokesman for the group, said: "It seems incredible that Jeremy Clarkson should be awarded an honorary degree; that's like giving rottweilers the Cuddly Pet of the Year Award.''
Green politicians are also using the journalist as target practice:
Craig Simmons, leader of the Green group on Oxford City Council said, "Awarding Clarkson an honourary degree devalues Brookes, Oxford and the Planet".
Now in all this criticism and protest, not one good reason has been put forward for the denial of Clarkson's honour. Do the protesters deny that Clarkson is a respected motoring journalist? No. Is he not an engineering enthusiast then? Well, no, he is. Has he not promoted "high standards in engineering production"? He has.

The only reason the environmental lobby has given for their protest is that Clarkson is anti-environmentalist. Not anti-environment. He does not advocate burning of rainforests or hunting of endangered species. Not agreeing with Transport 2000 on Transport policy doesn't necessarily mean Clarkson drives cars just to ruin the environment. He just has a different view, that's all.

In effect, the Environmentalists' protest is a way of punishing Clarkson for not agreeing with them. This is their way of saying that you either agree with them, or you're an enemy of the environment, a pariah. This is Clarkson's only crime. Let us hope that saner heads prevail at Oxford Brookes and that Clarkson is allowed his (perhaps) well deserved honour.

In which I shamelessly plug my own articles

Okay, I wrote these three articles for other blogs this past week, and no one seems to have read them (the first two at least). So I have decided to use the (comparitively) humungous 72-hits-a-day popularity of this blog to publicise them.

On A Cruel Waste of Forests:
On Interrobang (the Quiz blog):
  • I use my skills as a (budding) Economist to the full in this article about fairness in quizzes. (Economic skills = Putting in a line of "Criticism" at the end of every paragraph.)

Blogroll Expansion #X+2

Aditya Pethe: The KoBra MESCOE Quizzer with an unhealthy fascination with Friends and spinoffs thereof. Also shows an unnatural diisrespect for beards.

Ashutosh Jogalekar: Blogs about stuff that is (occaisionally) Mundane and (mostly) Revealing.

Shreevardhini Parchure
: Rookie blogger from ILS.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I couldn't resist

Although I had decided not to review Revenge of the Sith, I saw the movie again today and I can't help but make some observations: (SPOILER WARNING)
  1. When Anakin Skywalker kills Dooku/Tyrannus, the good count is remarkably silent on his master, Palpatine/Sidious selling him out. Palpatine eggs Anakin on to kill Dooku, but Dooku is silent. If I were in Dooku's place, I would be screaming blue murder, or at least rat Palpatine out to Anakin.
  2. R2-D2 is packed with more gadgets than Inspector Gadget. At last count, he had two jets, a rotating thingy that allows him to control lifts, a winch, a gun thingy, an oil squirter thingy and a welding iron, and that's just the prequels.
  3. The Clone Troopers have abandoned their earlier distinctive armour by ROTS, and now closely resemble Imperial Stormtroopers.
  4. For a species who can pilot starships with relative ease and who display other signs of technological prowess, the Wookies are remarkably attached to primitive weapons such as crossbows and clubs.
  5. In the opera, Palpatine refers to "Clone Intelligence". Them clones must have a really tough time in the spying business. After all, how hard can it be to recognise one of them?
  6. The opera which Palpatine and Anakin attend is about as entertaining as watching fish in a fishbowl. Wait a minute, it looks like fish in a fishbowl.
  7. Altough Padme is carrying twins, everyone labours under the assumption that there is only one child. As arguably three of the greatest Jedi ever, would it be too much to expect Obi-wan, Anakin and Yoda to detect two force sensitive children? And what, no sonograms?
  8. When you are hiding the child of a dangerous enemy, taking him to the place of your enemies' birth, in the house of the enemies' relatives, does not seem like a particularly brilliant plan to me.
  9. It is surprising how many of the staunchest supporters of "democracy" are royalty, like Queen Amidala or Princess Leia.
  10. The people of Naboo seem to have a fetish for putting young (inexperienced) females on their throne. They also seem to change these Queens at alarmingly frequent intervals. And if she's elected, why call her "Queen"?

Telling Lies?

The facts:
On the 24th of May, the Times of India published an article about a clandestine meeting between CPI(M) chief Prakash Karat.
One of Nepal's top Maoist leaders, Baburam Bhattarai, is being quietly chaperoned around here by Indian intelligence agencies, which recently organised a meeting between him and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. (...) The meeting took place in the Capital last week just when King Gyanendra of Nepal was hitting out at India for its continued indulgence of Maoists, who have been declared terrorists. Although the meeting was facilitated by intelligence agencies, Karat and Bhattarai have a common link - they share their alma mater, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Karat then denied this meeting, as the Hindu reported.

New Delhi, May 26. (PTI): CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat today described as "untrue" a media report saying that he had met Maoist leader from Nepal Babburam Bhattarai here.

The report that "I have met a Maoist leader from Nepal in a meeting arranged by the Indian security agencies is untrue," Karat said in a statement here.

"No such meeting was held," he said.

Enter Amit Varma.Using his keen mind, he realised that either the CPI(M) boss or the ToI were lying (talk about a win win situation!).
One of them is lying. And I'd love for the truth to be out, and for the liar, whoever it is, to be held accountable. I hope the matter does not fizzle out here, and that there is an aftermath.
Enter our second keen mind, Michael Higgins. In a letter to Amit Varma, he wrote:
This is the key phrase (in the Hindu article): "in a meeting arranged by the Indian security agencies". Why did he have to add this phrase? [Probably] because he did meet with the Maoist leader but the meeting was arranged by someone else, not the Indian security agencies. The ToI got that part wrong. Karat is using this mistake to, in effect, deny any meeting.

Politicians are like lawyers, they are very sly with words.
Then the Times of India wised up to the situation (or did they just read India Uncut?) and published this article on the 27th.
The hush-hush meeting was reported by TOI on Wednesday. There was no reaction that day. On Thursday, however, in a terse three-line release, Karat said, "The report in the TOI that I have met a Maoist leader from Nepal in a meeting arranged by the Indian security agencies is untrue. No such meeting was held." (...) Interestingly, it was Karat himself who had confirmed the meeting to TOI. A careful reading of his statement would also indicate that he is only denying the role of intelligence agencies in arranging the meeting, not the event itself. (...) This was exactly in line with the stand that Bhattarai took. According to agency reports from Kathmandu, the Maoist leader has denied that Indian agencies organised the meeting but didn't deny the meeting itself. While they seem to be acting in concert, sources affirmed that the agencies, indeed, brokered the meeting. (...) Their disclaimers now are easy to understand. There is an Interpol red corner notice against Bhattarai and he is expected to be arrested and turned in by Indian security agencies.
A vindicated Varma had this to say:
Now, here's what I find revealing: both Karat and Bhattarai did not deny the meeting itself; but they wanted people to believe that they did. Now, if they really didn't meet, then the ToI's riposte should lead to an umambiguous denial of the meeting from at least Karat, leaving no scope for confusion. If that is not forthcoming, then it will be safe to surmise that the meeting did take place. And it will also mean that Karat did not have the honesty and integrity to accept that he met Bhattarai, and to say, "So what? I can meet whoever I want." Courage of conviction, anyone?
Wow! A victory for blogging and a salp in the face of the commies! Good work, guys!

Read Amit's first, second and third posts on the issue. Michael Higgins' account of the incident here.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Featured Post of the Week

In which Anand misses the point of libertarianism completely.
An excerpt (on why the word "libertarian" is so popular).
It all started one dark, stormy night, when Kunal S read an economics blog & decided to bring this word into our world. He orchestrated a campaign to spread this epidemic among the more famous bloggers that I read, & now, it's on every billboard & street corner in India (Although pleased, I rerally can't take all the credit for the explosion of libertarian thought in the blogsphere).

Well, why doesn't Mr. Paranoid (himself) stop this nonsense & tell us what it means, already, you might ask? Well, all the hype is unfortunately a letdown. The word is self-explanatory. As per the dictionary it is:

  1. One who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state.
  2. One who believes in free will.

Disappointing, isn't it? Well, I can foresee that after Webster nominates it as the "word of the year", it might get worse. I can see the day, when the democratic countries decide that if the communists have "comrade", we should have "libertarian". We would have every person on the street wishing you "Hello, fellow libertarian. What's up?". I cringe at the very thought.


For a much more serious post on libertarianism in the blogsphere, try this.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Mr. Lecter's new diet

(WARNING: Some readers may find this article disturbing.).)
Have you ever watched Soylent Green, and gone, "Hmmmm....People!"? Ever felt like just eating your tribal enemies? Earlier, pesky anti-cannibalism laws would have prevented you from indulging this (disturbing) side of your nature. But worry not, a solution is here, HuFu!
What does Hufu TM taste like? Does it taste like human flesh?
HufuTM is designed to resemble, as humanly possible, the taste and texture of human flesh. If you've never had human flesh before, think of the taste and texture of beef, except a little sweeter in taste and a little softer in texture. Contrary to popular belief, people do not taste like pork or chicken.

Who actually buys HufuTM?
HufuTM was originally conceived of as a product for students of anthropology hungry for the experience of cannibalism (?!) but deterred by the legal and logistical obstacles. However, our preliminary market research revealed the existence of a larger segment of the public that was interested in the availability of a legal and healthy human flesh substitute.

Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution

To see what other bloggers think of HuFu, read PolySciFi, Chocolate and Gold Coins.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Hand that held the Saber

The Sith order started on Korriban thousands of years before a long time ago. They set about a program of communion with the Dark Side, evil deeds and Galactic conquest.They fought with their hereditary enemies, the Jedi, and their powers waxed and waned as the millenia ground on. Somewhere along the way they acquired a fetish for hand-cutting.

Consider the facts. Darth Tyranus (Count Dooku) cuts off Anakin Skywalker's hand on Geonosis. Skywalker in retaliation cuts off both of Dooku's hands on his flagship.He then cut off Mace Windu's hands at Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious's office in the Galactic Senate. As Darth Vader he had his other hand cut off by Obi-wan Kenobi. And finally, he cut off his son Luke's hand in Bespin's Cloud city.

Now why, why would the Sith concentrate so hard on the cutting of hands. Advances in medical sciences seem to make the use of bionic hands as easy as buying a lollipop. In fact, were I a Sith Lord/Jedi Knight, I would go for the lightsaber handle rather than the hand, for replacement hands are two-a-penny, while good lightsabers are hard to find. But will the Dark Jedi listen to reason? No, they continue with their manicidal spree. So, the problem remains for us to worry about, and Dark Lords of the Sith to agonise over.


Blogroll Expansion #X+1

Anish Bhat: SCOE Quizzer, harried engineer and apparently animal lover.

Mihir Shah: The soon to be out of SCOE Quizzer finds a platform for his views on Weapons Systems of War.

PolySciFi: Four guys blog on Economics, Politics and Sci Fi (I love that combination!)

Sacre Bleu!

When you think of "French Bashing" the image that comes to mind is that of a right wing conservative American angry with the French over the Iraq war. "Cheese eating surrender monkeys", "Freedom Fries" and all that. The popular perception these days is that only Red Americans dislike the French, such upstanding global citizens are they.

However a study conducted by two Frenchmen reveals that other Europeans hate the French just the same. When asked what they thought of the French (not why they hated the French, mind), the researchers found that
Britons described them as "chauvinists, stubborn, nannied and humourless". However, the French may be more shocked by the views of other nations.

For the Germans, the French are "pretentious, offhand and frivolous". The Dutch describe them as "agitated, talkative and shallow." The Spanish see them as "cold, distant, vain and impolite" and the Portuguese as "preaching". In Italy they comes across as "snobs, arrogant, flesh-loving, righteous and self-obsessed" and the Greeks find them "not very with it, egocentric bons vivants".

Interestingly, the Swedes consider them "disobedient, immoral, disorganised, neo-colonialist and dirty".


They are crazy drivers, strangers to customer service, obsessed by sex and food and devoid of a sense of humour.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hat tip Polyscifi.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Obligatory Star Wars Review Post

As the Coyote says, "If you ever doubt that most bloggers are geeks at heart, just look at all the Star Wars coverage in blogs this week." Well, being pretty much of a geek myself, I went and saw the movie (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) today, and liked it a bit. But I shall refrain from reviewing it here, and just link a lot of other reviews:

The Coyote writes a very (IMHO) balanced review that I agree with a lot. I had a few more points of discord in mind though. (Includes some Spoilers)

Tony Scott thinks that ROTS was better than Episode IV in his review here.

Professor Bainbridge
worries that Episode III is actually a "Hollywood-liberal" conspiracy to discredit George W Bush that betrays the Star Wars story arc.

The guys at Polyscifi feel the above reviewer is reading a little bit too much in the movie.

(Update: 23rd May 2005)
Anish notices many peculiar thing in the movie.

Anthony Lane writes a very critical review here. Among other things, he describes Grievous as a "Slaying mantis" and Vader as a "Hockey Goalkeeper from Hell" (wait, wasn't that Jason X?).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Why do so many Libertarians Blog?

I am a libertarian.Many of the people on my personal blogroll are libertarian. All the sites on my Economic/Political blogroll are libertarian. The sites on their blogrolls are libertarian. All this adds up to a lot of libertarian blogs. So the question is, why? The Coyote takes a stab at it:

However, a major part of the problem is that libertarianism resists organization. Libertarianism tends to be a big tent that attracts everything from anarcho-capitalists to Cheech-and-chong-esque hempfest organizers to Larry-Flint style pornographers. (....) Libertarians revel in differences and being different. Almost by definition, none of us have the same message, or even believe that we all should have the same message. Many of us are suspicious of top-down organization in and of itself. Blogging is therefore tailor made for us – many diverse bottom-up messages rather than one official top-down one. (....) The Internet today is perhaps the single most libertarian institution on the planet. It is utterly without heirarchy, being essentially just one layer deep and a billion URL's wide. Even those who try to impose order, such as Google, do so with no mandate beyond their utility to individual users.

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kingdom of Political Correctness

I took the unusual (for me) decision to watch Kingdom of Heaven on the second day itself because I thought, that given its seemingly controversial nature, the movie might be banned soon. In fact, conservative Christian and Muslim groups were already up in arms about it, with Director Ridley Scott recieving death threats. Also I figured any move that gets so much flak from both sides must be historically accurate. But I was wrong.

The truth is that Kingdom of Heaven is as offensive to religious sensibilities as Amar Akbar Anthony. Scott goes to great lengths to show that Christians and Mulims should learn to live together and all that jazz. On both the Crusader and Muslim sides, you see leaders who basically just want to get along, but are pressurised by fanatical zealots who only want a lot of Holy War on their records when they meet their makers. I have no problem with that depiction, I just wish they'd stop sermonizing all the time. And as if that wasn't enough social message for one film, they've added a social justice aspect, with the lead character being an ex-blacksmith who rises to an indeterminate high position in Jerusalem. Ugh!

That said, it wasn't all that bad. Scott played around with history a bit, but not as much as Gladiator. Although the lead character Balian of Ibelin is a regular Goody Two Shoes, Orlando Bloom looks the least gay I have ever seen him, and that must be commended. The supporting cast is amazing, with Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons at their best. I just wish they had been given a bit more airtime, though. Edward Norton as the King of Jerusalem is great, too, especially if you consider that his face remains hidden throughout. Ghassan Massoud as Saladin is also good.. The villains (read fanatics), however are in a word, stupid. The sets are quite good, with a truly amazing recreation of Old Jerusalem. The costumes, too are great, though I don't know how accurate they are.

Now the true reason I wanted to see the movie was the battle scenes, and I must say, Mr. Scott has delivered. Though the only real battle of any consequence is the Siege of Jerusalem, it was brilliant. In fact, I would go out to say that it compares with the Seiges of Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The scenes of the vast Muslim and Crusader armies are spectacularly done, and respect is due for that. All in all, I'd say that the battle is what finally redeems the movie.

Back to the controvery issue, the movie's been out two days, and already Christians, Muslim and Jews are refighting two thousand years worth of conflict here. The acrimony that has been generated here has nothing to do with the movie, its just "My religion is better than yours." Inspite of this, I think the call for banning the movie in India will come very soon, and I recommnd those of you interested in watching the movie do so very soon.