Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Arundhati Roy Award for Idiotarian of the Year 2004-2005

No tribals were displaced in the making of this trophy
Inspired by Charles Johnson and his band of Merry Men, I have decided to institute an award here at Ceteris Paribus, for outstanding accomplishments as an Indian Idiotarian. I had originally decided to give the award to India's No.1 Idiotarian, Arundhati Roy, for this tirade (h/t Gaurav). However, it occured to me that this would be unfair on other contenders, Mrs. Roy might well dominate the awards for years to come.So I decided to name the award after her, enshrining her name in that great Valhalla of Idiotarians.

But enough explanations. Without further ado, (Drumrolls) I would like to announce that the award goes to....

'Me lose brain? Ha ha ha! Why I laugh?'
Shah Rukh Khan! (/Drumrolls)

It was a tough decision, but his recent comments (h/t Amit) on the Cigarrette Ban in Movies tipped the scales for him. In a recent interview given to Rediff, he said:
Actually, the more liberal a society becomes, the more stringent the laws are bound to be. In the US, you can buy a gun off the shelf, and then someone starts shooting down kids in a school. So they need strict laws to make guns accessible to people. With air travel being so easy now -- you can book tickets by e-mail -- airport security is tougher. In a banana republic, nothing is allowed. In our society, everything is allowed. Therefore we need to check the flow of liberal ideas.
What can I say, but quote Amit, who said, "It would take a constipated bull, eating continuously, an entire week to build up reserves of this much you-know-what."

Good Night, Subh Ratri, Shabba Khair.

Posted in Attempts at Humour, Blogging, Links and Plugs.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Is this why Rich Kids are Leftists?

Neo-neocon put up a picture of George W. Bush's childhood home challenging the widely accepted belief that he comes from an incredibly wealthy background. In the comments, Independent George has this to say about rich kids who turn leftist (a la the brothers Kennedy):
There seems to be a notion among the children of the very wealthy that fortune is determined by luck and circumstance rather than effort. It's not an irrational conclusion - if you grow up with privilege utterly alienated from the labors that produced it (damn, I sound like Marx), it's natural to assume that all wealth in the world is attained this way. Once you reach this conclusion, it's perfectly rational - indeed, I would even argue moral - to seek redistribution.
Makes sense.

(Hat Tip: Dean's World)

Posted in Politics and Economics.

Feeling Good about Mispronouncing Words

Ever mispronounced a big word and felt embarrased when corrected? It happens to me more often than I'd wish. Dean Esmay, though, thinks its actually a good sign when someone does that:
Almost invariably, if a person uses a word in a sentence, and she mispronounces it, it means that she has 1) read the word at least once, and probably more than once, 2) correctly teased out the meaning from context, and 3) absorbed it well enough that she can properly use it in a sentence.

Given that the English language has hundreds of thousands of words--which is far more than most languages--should it not be considered a sign of erudition if someone occasionally uses a word and doesn't pronounce it right? Indeed, what else could it possibly mean, except that the person is well-read and is familiar with words she has never heard pronounced aloud?

This must mean I'm erudite. But wait. How do you pronounce that?

Posted in Personal and Miscellaneous.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Its been a Year!

Ceteris Paribus turns one today. Hooray for that, I say. Its been one very interesting year, and I thank you (yes, you, the reader) for, well, reading it. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing for it!

Ceteris Paribus began in the June of 2004 when I decided that if my friend Salil could write a blog (and a pretty good blog at that), then by the Gods, so could I. My previous experiience with the blogosphere was restricted to Ramanand's excellent blogs, is personal blog Clipboard Conversations and his quiz blog Interrobang. Quizzing and blogging are, for me, very interrelated pursuits considering that almost all the friends I have made on the quiz circuit are now also bloggers. I have also been lucky enough to become a member of Interrobang, to which I contribute a bit.

The past one year has seen my blog change its character somewhat, from an account of my experiences with life, the Universe and the MSEB to a more opinionated look at larger issues. That, I assure you, has less to do with my joining the vast right-wing conspiracy to take over the blogosphere than it does to my dicovering the Blockquote button on Blogger. Writing, and especially reading about Politics and Economics has taught me a lot, and again I would like to thank everyone who has read, commented on or plugged this blog and also those very smart bloggers whose articles inspire my own inane thoughts on stuff.

This blog has also recently seen an upsurge in its readership. For this I would especially like to thank all those who've linked to my posts and those who've added me to their blogrolls. Thanks for taking my thoughts to a wider audience, and for setting my statcounter ringing. Its a good feeling, having your stuff read by so many people.

And to round off the thank yous, I thank you again, dear reader, for reading this blog. I could never have kept this thing going without your support. As Apu Nahasapeemapetilon would have said: Thank you, come again!

Posted in Blogging, Links and Plugs.

Monday, June 20, 2005

On Irresponsible Statements

A comment by Irene Khan, head of Amnesty International that Guantanamo Bay was "the Gulag of our time" has provoked a fierce debate over the propriety of her comparison. Here's a perspective on the issue by someone who actually knows what he's talking about.

Hat Tip: Dean's World.

Posted in Politics and Economics.

Entrance for Entrance

Amit Varma points to a story about a Bihari police officer who runs a coaching class for poor students to get into the IITs:

Abhayanand, Bihar's Additional Director-General of Police (special branch), whose name once had the dreaded dacoits of Champaran region scurrying for cover, now chisels raw talents into real competitors.

Super-30, the study group he set up three years ago with the help of Anand Kumar, a Patna University topper, who runs maths tutorials for aspiring engineers and Neeraj Pratap Singh, another self-employed teacher of Chemistry, to coach Bihari boys to crack IIT examinations, has a reason to rejoice.

This year 26 students out of a batchof 30 made it to the IITs, including children of richshaw drivers and brick kiln workers. It is certainly commendable that the good AGP is helping poor kids from depressed backgrounds make it to the best engineering colleges ion the country. But the rub lies in the next paragraph:
Super-30 charges nothing for teaching, accomodation and food it provides to the students admitted after a two-stage test. Two hundred students are selected from 3,000, who appear at the screening test and of these 30 are chosen after another examination. (Emphasis mine)
The coaching class for the IIT entance test has an entrance test as rigourous as that of the IITs! Soon students will need a coaching class to get into this coaching class! It is also a sad commentary on our education system that the only way a student who is not from a priviledged background can make it to a good college is to give a ridiculously difficult test to get a chance to study their behinds off just to clear yet another entrance test. This sucks.

Posted in Education.

Prathamesh Replies

Prathamesh replies to my post on Michael Higgins' post on Socialism and Diversity on his Blog here. I wanted to reply to his reply, but I guess I'll have to wait till after my results, admissions and other college crap for that. Until next week then!

Posted in Blogging, Links and Plugs

A Truly Historic Race

Passion. Suspense. Drama. This ain't some movie I'm talking about. It's the US Grand Prix, which took place yesterday. It was truly a historic race.

Some Background:
The ten F1 teams have between them two tire suppliers, Bridgestone and Michelin. Now Michelin somehow managed to come to Indiannapolis yesterday with tires that disintegrated in the tough conditions on the track, specifically the 13th corner (see an interactive map here), which is I think a part of the Indy track. The problem was known on Friday, and a solution was proposed, whereby the construction of a new chicane would eliminate the corner. However, Ferrari, one of the three teams on Bridgestone tyres vetoed this proposal and insisted that all teams race on an unchanged track. The end result was that only the three Bridgestone teams started the race, with the other fourteen drivers pulling out after the warm-up lap. Since the other two teams were minnows (Jordan and Minardi), Ferrari predictably scored a One-Two with Schumacher and Barrichello finishing first and second. The Jordans of Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan finished third and fourth with the Minardis bringing up the rear.

My Observations:
  • I think more record were set in this race than any other. Least number of drivers starting, all starters finishing, best Minardi performance ever , the works. F1 journalists will be swamped just trying to figure out just how many records were created yesterday.
  • I think this is the first time the winner was able to drink all his Champagne, because neither Schumacher nor Barrichello sprayed theirs. Only Monteiro was happy enough to follow tradition.
  • The post race press conference was amazing. Schumacher looked like he would kill the next person who spoke to him, Barrichello looked like he wanted to kill Schumacher, and Monteiro looked like Christmas had come early. (Read qoutes from the Press Conference here.)
  • This is probably the first time since Cornelius Hopran that F1 have had a track invasion, only this time it was trash that was cluttering up the track. This led to some pretty exciting moments like where Barrichello spectacularly burst a full water bottle with his tires. Schumacher later commented that he could smell the beer on the track from his car.
  • This was the first time I actually sat through the whole post race analysis. It was well worth it, the commentators Chris Goodwin and Steve Slater were having a field day at the expense of the F1 top brass, Ferrari and Michelin. It was fun!
Overall, I think Bernie Ecclestone and his cronies owe F1 fans worldwide (and especially in the US) an apology. They, along with Ferrari are ultimately responsible for this travesty, because all the other participants had their hands tied. Michelin and the Michelin teams could not be expected to risk their drivers lives. The other two Bridgestone teams, it seems were in favour of not running the race (and perhaps refunding the spectators) but were forced to race when they saw Ferrari going on track. Ferrari and the FIA could have okayed the chicane, or could have in the very least cancelled the race and refunded the fans. But they chose to put their narrow intersts before those of F1 itself. They will, I think, pay the price for that.

Posted in Sports.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Where do I sign on?

In their national meet at Haridwar today the Vishwa Hindu Parishad urged Hindus to increase their population to counter "a deep rooted conspiracy to change the country's demographic pattern".

Now here's a campaign everyone can enjoy!

Posted in Politics and Economics, Attempts at Humour.

And what if we win?

Amit Varma points to an article in the Hindustan Times about India fighting to break the US monopoly on control of the Internet. India thinks that control of the Internet resting with a US NGO is unfair and wants to give it to an international body where all countries participate.

But the question is, do we really want our government to have control over the internet in India, given its track record on freedom of speech and expression?

Posted in Politics and Economics.

Tyrrany of Choice?!

Radley Balko is bemused by claims by leftists that Capitalism is bad because we've traded starvation, low life-expectancy and infant mortality for email spam, stress and too much choice in the marketplace. As he says in another article at The Agitator:

Critics of capitalism once predicted that free markets would wreak mass starvation, depletion of resources, pollution, and death.

They're now reduced to bitching about too many flavors of mustard.

We've won the debate.

Malthus is dead. Long live Julian Simon.

(Hat Tip: Cafe Hayek.)

Posted in Politics and Economics.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Is Indian Anti-Defection Law Undemocratic?

Defections and splits in parties have always been a feature of Indian Politics. Every time the National Parliament or state legislatures return a less-than-certain outcome, out come the "suitcases" and allegations of horse trading drown out every other public discourse. In the mad circus that follows, parties spirit their legislators away, hide them, suborn them, and then triumphantly parade them before the world.

In response to this madness, the Fifty-Second Amendment to the Indian Constitution introduced, for the first time, anti-defection measures into Indian Law. As the preface to the Amendment Bill states:
The evil of political defections has been a matter of national concern. If it is not combated, it is likely to undermine the very foundations of our democracy and the principles which sustain it. With this object, an assurance was given in the address by the President to Parliament that the Government intended to introduce in the current session of Parliament an anti-defection Bill. This Bill is meant for outlawing defection and fulfilling the above assurance. (Emphasis mine)
The Amendment introduced provisions to ensure disqualification of a member of a House belonging to a political party if:
(a) If he has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party; or

(b) If he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs or by any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf, without obtaining, in either case, the prior permission of such political party, person or authority and such voting or abstention has not been condoned by such political party, person or authority within fifteen days from the date of such voting or abstention. (Emphasis mine)

(-from the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution)
Now in theory, this would discourage party backbenchers from changing party affiliations at the drop of a hat and thus be good for democracy. In theory. Communism works, in theory. If you look carefully, what these laws do is make the political party essential to the legislative process. This was not the case prior to the Amendment. The only earlier Indian law that recognised political parties was the Elections symbols order of 1968. Our Constitution meant for MPs and MLAs to vote according to their consciences and the will of their constituents, not according to party fiat.

My MP, Shivajirao Patil, belongs to the Shiv Sena. Now in a perfect world, he would be my constituency's representative in Parliament, and that his vote in Parliament would reflect this. However, I cannot expect him to take decisions based on what he thinks best for the constituency or his better judgement. He will vote according to the line his party takes. His vote in Parliament will be decided by his party boss, Bal Thackeray. The votes of other MPs will likewise be decided by their party bosses. And that, in these days of crumbling inner-party democracy, means that decisions are ultimately made by people who are accountable to no one.

In a large country like India, direct democracy is not possible. We must have a representative democracy. But Representative Democracy demands legislators who actually represent their constituents. Indian legislators don't, they represent their parties. This means that a government is responsible to its people only at election time, not all the time as one would hope. Legislation in India cannot be overturned by popular opinion, it is decided solely by Party "High Commands". This is why anti-defection legislation is so popular among parties. And the best thing is, legislators now cannot vote against such laws, because it is against the policy of most parties and would invite anti-defection penalties.

The reality is, anti-defection law in India has seriosly weakend our Democracy. Anger against defections by MPs and MLAs has been used by political parties to appropriate more power at the expense of the people.

Update: Found an article that says essentially the same thing: Read Dissent isn't Defection.

Posted in Politics and Economics.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

¡Ay Caramba!

Owing no doubt to a mix-up of answer papers at the Pune University's Ranade Institute of Foreign Languages, I find that I have passed my Spanish Certificate Course, with a First Class even! All those days of not studying have finally paid off!

Posted in Education.


Rediff has a good article on Baramati, the constituency of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.
Baramati, in Maharashtra's sugarcane belt, has been a star constituency through most of Pawar's six terms in the Maharashtra state assembly and five terms in the Lok Sabha. (....) Over the last 30 years, money was poured into Baramati to make it the showpiece of Pawar's political ascendancy. It was designed to be proof of Pawar's identification with the humble farmer and his problems. Baramati was planned as a model for rural development. The backbone of these development initiatives are the sugar cooperatives, which Pawar has systematically taken over. His brother, Appasaheb Pawar, was managing director of Baramati Sugar Cooperative through which Pawar has wielded much of his political influence. The milk cooperatives, the horticultural cooperatives and the market associations are all controlled by Pawar and his men. He controls the money coming into Baramati, and the access to that money through his hold over the district cooperative banks. (Emphasis Mine.)
Pawar, says the article, has used this control to make Baramati his personal fiefdom. Pawar never campaigns in Baramati, he or his nominee always win. Pawar is never challenged in Baramati. Even his opponents like Gopinath Munde can be heard promising promising the people of Beed to turn Beed into Baramati - if they vote for him.

There is, however, trouble in paradise:
Even the presence of a political heavyweight such as Pawar has only marginally alleviated the harsh conditions of life in this perennially drought-hit land. Only a third of Baramati is irrigated. The other two-thirds, where more than half its population lives and farms, is dry and dependent on rain.

Little has changed for the small-farmer here in the last 15 years. He still cannot afford to plant sugarcane, which requires large amounts of water. He grows wheat, jowar, bajra and seasonal vegetables, which are not profitable.
Pawar's critics claim that while Baramati has become the hub of development, in Daund and Indapur and other tehsils, development has stagnated.
In Daund, which is just a 20 km drive from Baramati, 36 villages have been struggling with drinking water problems. In Indapur, 22 villages have been having reeling under severe water shortage for drinking as well as for irrigation.

Baramati is grid with every switch controlled by Pawar and his family. "When dignitaries such as Manmohan Singh and Lalu Yadav come to Baramati, they are shown Vidya Prathistan, KVK and the developed parts of the city. They go away impressed, but nothing has changed for the poor people who don't plant sugarcane," says a local. (Many sics)
You can read the whole article here.

Posted in Politcis and Economics.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Advani flip-flops again

BJP President LK Advani has withdrawn his resignation as party president today after the party today totally rubbished his stand on MA Jinnah being a secular guy. I'm sorry, I thought this was the stuff that made you resign, not withdraw your resignation. Like I said in this post, Indian politicians have this nasty habit of not staying resigned. With the events that occurred today, LK Advani has cemented his place as the King of such flip-floppers. They have also made him look like an opportunistic coward who couldn't stand up for his actions.

In many ways, the current BJP crisis has been the worst possible thing for the party. The conservative president tries to soften the party's image (in the worst possible way, I might add) and is brought down by hardline Hindutva saffronheads. Then the president does an abrupt annd humiliating about turn after the party repudiates his stand. And who has been the winner in all this? The same hardliners, no doubt. And a smiling Soniaji who's had the spotlight taken off her undemocratic dirty tricks in Bihar and other states.

Well one thing's for sure. They've lost my vote.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

If the Gods had intended Politicians to think....

The US blogosphere is buzzing with recent revelations by the Boston Globe that George W Bush did better than John Kerry at college, and that he might have a better IQ score. Predictably, Democratic supporters who harped on Kerry's intellect vis a vis Bush are being lambasted by their right-wing opponents. But this issue has opened up another debate, how smart do you need to be to rule a country?

The common sense answer to this would be, Higher IQ = Better leadership. But Steve Sailer of VDARE.com shows that this may not always be the case.
(...)Still, this doesn't mean that IQ is not desirable in a President, all else being equal. The problem is that all else is not equal. There are so few people at the far right end of the IQ bell curve that you can't always find amongst them all the other Presidential talents you need.

In contrast, the rare individuals who make it to the White House from the fat part of the bell curve are far more gifted overall than is typical for their IQ. It's the same as with height in basketball. If you are 7'6" tall, NBA teams will throw money at you no matter how dorky you might be. But if you are only 6'0", the competition is so fierce that you need to be as quick as Allen Iverson.

The article also contains a lot of other fascinating facts, like the "intellectual" John F Kennedy scored 119 in an IQ test he took. The "boorish" Richard M Nixon, by contrast, is said to have an IQ of 143.

You can read this truly fascinating article here. Unfortunately, it deals only with US Presidents and Presidential candidates. I'm sure such an analysis of Indian politicians would be quite enlightening.

Hat Tip: Half Sigma.

PS: Steve Sailer performed a quantitative analysis of Bush and Kerry's test score before the elections (and the Globe revelations) and found Bush to be marginally smarter than Kerry. Read his I-told-you-so post here.

On Socialism and Diversity

Socialism has been the guiding philosophy of independent India. With the 42nd Amendment, Indira Gandhi introduced the word in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Yet the fruits of socialism in India so far are at best debateable. In short, socialism has not worked. The question is, why? Michael Higgins thinks he knows why:
Socialism can be modeled by a simple game: the commons game. In the commons game there are n (n greater than 1) participants. For every dollar that the participant puts into the common pot, the society can buy a public good worth 2/n to everyone. Obviously, if everyone puts in the same amount, everyone gets a good that is worth double what he or she paid for it, which is a really good deal. But the free rider will think: if everyone else puts in their money and I don’t I get the benefits for nothing. Obviously the free rider is a stinker, but these people do exist, and they more likely to exist among groups that feel that they have been abused in the past.

This is the important point: people who don’t trust others in society will act less cooperatively and make socialism unworkable. They will shirk their responsibility to work hard, pay lots of taxes, and avoid taking too much from the public pot. They won’t feel so bad about their anti-social behavior because they don't care so much about these other people. They will feel that the money in the public money-pot is going to those others and they would prefer that the money would stay within their own family.
India's problem, then is its diversity. There are simply thousands of religious, ethnic, linguistic and caste groupings in India. How can you be expected to cooperate economically with another group when you refuse (for example) to use the same water source as them? The sheer diversity means that people usually think of their own communities first, and others later. This, however is not a sentiment restricted to India, however, its universal:
I believe that we humans have an instinct for cooperating with the “tribe”. The commons game came up all the time in our prehistoric past and humans did not have capitalism to help overcome the free rider problem. Think about warfare. People in the tribe had to put their own interest aside for the common good or the tribe might lose to another tribe. But this feeling of cooperation did not extend to other tribes for obvious reasons: the other tribe might be your enemy, either today or tomorrow. Instinctively, we will feel bad if we are uncooperative with our own tribe but less concerned about other tribes.
The conclusion drawn from this theory is that socialism works best in countries that are almost completely homogenous. The Scandinavian countries for example have created seemingly successful welfare states that work. However, a diverse, heterogenous country like India or the US is best off following a free market laissez faire system where everyone's best interests are served by each individual following his personal interest. An Invisible Hand, if you will.

The whole article (which you can read here) is well explained and logical, and no, you don't need a PhD to understand it. The strange thing is, a couple of months back a Sinhalese friend of mine, who happens to be a communist, told me something similar. The best thing for India, he said, is to adopt a free market economy. It will be a boon for small businessmen, traders and farmers: in short, for the backbone of the economy. Socialism won't work here as well as (he believes) it will in Sri Lanka.

It's got to be true if even the commies believe it!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Another Star Wars Observation

While watching Star Wars (A New Hope) the other day, I realised something that resolves one of the more trivial problems in the Episode III - Episode IV transition. Reading a comment on the Coyote's Star Wars review by Alina Adams, I realised someone had beaten me to this observation, but what the heck, I'll post it anyway.

In the movie, it is mentioned that Luke Skywalker applied to the (presumably Imperial) Academy.

Now imagine you are Darth Vader. You are sitting in your office on Corcusant, when a minor flunkey brings you a file "you might find interesting".

Application to Imperial Academy
Name: Luke Skywalker.
Planet of origin: Tatooine.
Parents/guardians: Owen and Beru Lars.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Selling your Soul for Brownie Points

Lal Kishen Advani resigned his post as President of the Bharatiya Janata Party today. His decision, it seems, was prompted by the wave of criticism that followed his recent remarks about Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In a recent visit to Pakistan, Advani said that he admired Jinnah for his his determination and conviction, and for his secular credentials. These remarks generated protests from the hardline Hindu nationalist faction of the BJP, as well as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its allies. Praveen Togadia of the VHP called Advani a traitor, which is supposed to have greatly hurt the ex-BJP President and prompted his resignation.

Well, here's my take: Advani deserves to go. Basically this is why I think Advani's wrong:
  1. For better or worse, there are a lot of people in India who believe in hardline Hindutva as a political philosophy, and LK Advani was their leader. But now, he's gone and sold them out in Pakistan, in front of a smiling General Musharraf. It's like the Pope becoming a member of the Church of Satan.
  2. Leaving aside his alleged nonobservance of Islam, MA Jinnah is to many the quintessential anti-Hindu. He had a strong dislike of Hindus and distrusted them greatly. Add to this his instrumental role in creating a nation defined by its religion, and any claim to secular credentials goes down the toilet.
  3. The BJP and Advani have always railed against so called "pseudo secularists", who, they claim, pander to the minorities for cheap political points. By his statements in Pakistan, Advaniji committed just about the most pseudo secular political act imaginable. He has also proved to be a hippocrite of titanic proportion.
Advani, by his actions, scored a spectacular self goal that seriously damged his and his party's credibility. And worse, no one knows the gains he expected to make from these words. The minorities and the secularists will, as ever, hate and distrust him. The damage he's done, though, is readily apparent. Leaving aside the ethical and moral criticism of hardline Hindutva, this was a pretty mean trick to pull on your supporters. Whatever I may think of P. Togadia, I think he's got this one dead right. Advani is a traitor to his cause. And he's has committed the gravest political sin, he's sold out for nothing.

Rediff published a letter from a "BJP soldier" to Advaniji that reinforced the image of betrayal:
Dear Advaniji,

How can you speak like this? We didn't expect such a melodramatic u-turn from you. We always understood Vajpayeeji [former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee]. He was a moderate. Many a time we didn't agree with his liberal views, but since he loved us and he loved our party, we ignored his statements.

I am your solider. You were my senapati (commander). You have betrayed your soldiers. (...) I want to say again and again that crores of Hindus have been hurt by your remarks.

(...)I am your party's soldier. I want peace with Pakistan. But I want to stick to my identity of a Hindu. I want to be proud of being a Hindu. How can the BJP shed its identity of being a party which cares for Hindus?

The BJP may, as it has before, weather this crisis. But I hope LK Advani takes reasponsibilty for his stupidity, and removes himself from politics. Indian politicians, you see, have this annoying habit of not staying resigned.

A belated take on the Cigarette Ban

In a recent directive, the Indian Health Minister, Dr. Ramadoss banned the portrayal of smoking in films and television. From now on, no new Indian film or TV program can show a character smoking a cigarette. And if that were not enough, smoking scenes in movies/shows made before the ban will have to be excised as well.

Now, in the week since this bit of governmental stupidity, bloggers and commentators have had a field day criticising and fisking it. Amit Varma wrote about it. Amir Khan wrote an open letter to the fool Honourable Minister. Gaurav Sabnis wrote an open letter to the Minister and Mr. Khan. Now, discerning readers may have noticed my silence on the issue. This is not, I assure you, because I agree with the directive. Its because I've been unable to think of something suitably clever to say, something that hadn't been said at least a hundred times already.

So, to the point of the article. I was reading a blog post on the issue that agreed (sort of) with the directive. Not agreeing at all with the author, I wrote a comment on the blog, which had an example of how this directive could screw up in unexpected ways. Then, dazzled by my own brilliance, I decided to put it on my own blog.
(...) Banning cigarettes on film is a stupid idea.

The thing is, people smoke. A lot. And if we want movies to have some link with reality, people on film will have to smoke too.

Now lets say The History Channel wants to make a documentary on Fidel Castro and American attempts to kill him. One of the CIA's plots to kill him involved smuggling him an exploding cigar. This stupid idea that failed is a part of modern history. But under the proposed law, it would have to be censored. people in India will never know how desperate the CIA was to kill Castro in the 1960s.
As I see it, the new rules will mean that we can't have footage of Castro smoking. This means we can't have footage of Castro at all. If he visits India and attends, for example, the Republic Day Parade, we won't be able to watch the parade on TV. It will have to be censored.

Of course, there is more to my objection than not being able to see Fidel Castro. What I am trying to say is that smoking is something that real people do, and it is a part of their lives. Banning its depiction will make films and TV that much different from reality.

Put that up your pipe, Dr Ramadoss, and smoke it.

Shaggy Dog Story

I was reading an article in the educational supplement of the Slimes Times of India about medical studies in Russia when I remembered something I'd heard at a party a while back.

I was in a group of people talking about studying abroad when the topic turned to doing medicine in Russia. A guy who was not really involved in the conversation looked up from his glass and said, "Russian doctors? They probably tie a bottle of brandy round your neck and send you off running in the snow."

You had to be there, of course.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Book Tag

Well, I've been tagged. Michael Higgins got me. Now I will have to think. Damn!

Total Number of Books I own: It is a testament to how bored I am by my vacations that I actually went and counted. So far, I have been able to count (or remember having lent someone) 110 books. The number looks small, but these are only books that I myself have bought or won or been presented. The total number of books at my place that I have access to (ie that aren't crated up) should be over two thousand.

Last book I bought: Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert.

Last book I read: Well, I was thumbing through Yes, Prime Minister yesterday, but I don't suppose that counts. It would have to be The October Horse by Colleen McCullough then.

Five Four books that mean a lot to me: Hmm, more thinking. Well, some of you might find this selection too "normal", but this is my list, so sod off.
  • The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: This book really does mean a lot to me. What I really love about it is that every time you read it, you find something new you hadn't encountered before. I will admit that I only read the book after seeing the movie, but it has now sparked an interest in all kinds of Ring-lore.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: by Douglas Adams: Another of the usual suspects, I'm afraid. I first read it to see what all the fuss was about, because I'd heard so much about it, and boy, am I glad I did. The book influenced me like it did people everywhere, and now I understand references to stuff like the Babel Fish, and 42. And its a great help in quizzes too.
  • Picture This by Joseph Heller: A really crazy book that combines historical fiction with humour, it was the subject of my very first book review. The book is insanely funny and informative at the same time, especially if you like history as I do.
  • The Observer's Books of Aircraft '67 & '87 editions by William Green: I know these two books practically by heart from all the times I read them when I was in school. I have included them as a single entry here, because they are quite similar, and as a single unit they are a compendium of most Cold War era aircraft.
Tag five people and have them do this on their blogs:
Salil - Completed
Kunal T
The Paranoid Android - Completed
Shreevardhini - Completed
Jody - Completed


After three months of interacting with the closest earthly approximation of Vogons, after threatening everyone fronm the guy at our exchange to the GM of BSNL and after paying tonnes of money to the aforementioned BSNL, we finally have it! We have, Broadband! Mwahahahaha!!