Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Inquizzition 2005

Me and some friends of mine in college are organising an open quiz on Saturday, the 24th of September. Here are the details:
  • Open Trivia Quiz (Not restricted to college teams).
  • Two member teams.
  • Cross-college and cross-institutional teams allowed.
  • Venue: Fergusson College Amphitheater.
  • Date: Saturday, 24th September 2005.
  • Time: Registrations from 11:30 am. Elims begin 12:30 pm, Finals begin 2:30 pm.
  • Big prizes for the winners. Really big, I kid you not.
  • Prizes for all Finalists.
  • Audience Prizes.
  • Contact: Kunal [kunalns(at)gmail(dot)com], Puranjay [puranjay(underscore)p(at)rediffmail(dot)com].
So if you are in Pune on the 24th between 11:30am and around six, do drop in. ¡Hasta luego!

Posted in Quizzing, College Fests and other Crap.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ever wondered what Rhetorical Brilliance is?

Then read this article on GWB and Hurricane Katrina.

(Hat Tip: Samizdata).

Posted in Blogging, Links and Plugs.

Them Dense Indians

Tom Lantos is an angry man. He is so angry, in fact, that he lashed out at Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and called him "dense" (a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, for different reasons). The reason? India's foreign policy with Iran vis-a-vis its nuclear program is not "in sync" with US policy. The good Congressman said:
"It was incomprehensible to me that people as sophisticated and knowledgeable as our Indian counterparts should not be aware of how significant their position, vis-a-vis Iran is to this Congress, and, I hope this hearing will make them aware at least tangentially that this may be destroying far more significant relationships than they are having with Tehran unless they become sensitive to our view on that subject."
The Americans want India to vote in the IAEA Board to refer the matter of Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council (h/t Nitin Pai), who will then decide what to do in terms of sanctions or worse. India, like China, France and Russia, is reluctant to do so, given its relationship with Iran. Consequently, the Yanks are furious.

Those dense idiots at the Indian Ministry for External Affairs! Don't they see they're ruining the Indo-US bonhommie by consorting with a reprehensible dictatorship? I mean, sure, they've got their own foreign policy concerns, but c'mon, you should feel for your friends when they might have nuclear tipped missiles pointed at them, right? And what about the nuclear proliferation? Will someone please think about the nuclear proliferation? Should you throw away such an incredibly fruitful relationship because of your narrow, short term goals? Hell no! Wake, up, you dense idiots!

Nitin Pai, however, has a solution to the problem:
India is a member of the IAEA board. Unlike China, Russia and the United States, it is not a member of the UN Security Council. By that token, the burden of actually imposing sanctions on Iran will lie on China, Russia and France. India should let them have the privilege of defending a nuclear bad boy at the United Nations. The permanent five, including the United States, are not keen to admit India as one among them. So why should India allow them to escape the responsibility that comes with their position?
Ha! Why indeed?

Posted in Politics and Economics.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Some perspective on the Sania Mirza fatwa

On Wednesday, the NDTV news channel interviewed an obscure Islamic scholar, who reportedly issued a fatwa against Sania Mirza's dress sense. BBC reports:

Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui, a leading cleric of the Muslim organisation the Sunni Ulema Board, said: "The dress she wears on the tennis courts not only doesn't cover large parts of her body but leaves nothing to the imagination."

Mr Siddiqui said Islam did not allow women to wear skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops in public.

"She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence on these young women, which we want to prevent," he said.

Now this is a pronouncement that is guaranteed to piss off a very large section of the Indian public. Coming after the controversial Imrana case and intense public scrutiny of fatwas, this seems to be yet another instance of the Islamic clergy running wild.

But perhaps all is not what it seems. Google searches for both Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui and the Sunni Ulema Board yielded nothing meaningful. It seems to me that the guy is a lightweight. But the Indian news agencies make no mention of this, they do not even mention his name or organisation, just that he is a "religious scholar from Kolkata". Since fatawa are only binding on the muftis who issue them and their followers (see the Wikipedia article on fatwas), it may not even apply to Sania Mirza. What, then, is the big deal? The scholar in question is obscure, the judgement not binding on Miss Mirza, and since no one has indicated that Mr. Siddiqui is a mufti, the whole thing may not even be a bonfide fatwa. Why is this such a big news story?

The answer, I think, is ratings. As Saeed Naqvi wrote in Indian Exprees, "...
newsdesks have been alerted to the idea that stories of fatwas embarrassing to the Muslims has a growing audience." Fatwas are big stories, and a about Sania Mirza would be a very big story indeed. Fatwas, as the Wikipedia article informs us, are a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist on a specific issue. Most fatwas are clarification of religious terms or advice on how to be a better Muslim in response to specific queries (see the Darul Uloom Deoband's archive of fatwas).You can make a Muslim cleric issue a controversial fatwa by asking him a leading questioin the same way you can make the Pope say something controversial by asking him his views on, say, homosexuality. If Mr Siddiqui rang up NDTV and told them Sania should be banned, then that would be bad. But if he was asked if he thought whether Sania's clothing was un-Islamic and a bad influence, I don't see how a conservative, religious man could have said otherwise. Replace "Islam" with "Indian culture" and I could show you several Hindu men who would say the same. Since I don't have the transcript of the NDTV interview, I can't say for sure, but it seems to me like this whole thing was something of a setup.

To be sure, many sections of the Muslim clergy have some pretty extreme views on Life, the Universe and Everything. Anyone who says that a woman raped by her father-in-law is no longer married to her husband, is in my view, a pretty disgusting individual. But this does not justify tricking someone into making a controversial statement to increase your ratings (if that is indeed what happened). However, I think that some good may still come from this incident. I predict that either the mainstream Muslim clergy will condemn this fatwa, or will take flak for not having done so. But please, let's get some perspective on this.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Mid-Day reports:
The 20th year of Independence Rock which was to be held yesterday and today, was cancelled when Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy decided “rock music” couldn’t be allowed at the Gateway of India.

In an impromptu press conference, Farhad Wadia, the organizer , showed the media permission letters he had obtained from: The state government, BMC, fire brigade, PWD, Archaeological Survey of India, local police, traffic police, and the entertainment tax officials.

However, joint commissioner of police, Arun Patnaik said, “Although they secured a no-objection certificate from all the authorities, finally the police has to allow permission for the event. Wadia should have come to us earlier on. It is wrong to say we denied him permission at the last moment.”
Farhad Wadia, in an open letter to rock fans, writes:
This too me reeks of a simple prejudice that Rock listened to by Middle Class Non-Affluent College Kids is Sound Pollution & Jazz Rock Or Fusion patronized by the Page 3 Crowd was Sweet & Appropriate Music …. Once again a Government Official who has been invested with these Absolute powers by the Government has let his personal taste in music / perception of Rock Music influence his decision. (H/t for both links: Amit Varma).
This is an absolute outrage. Who the hell died and made AN bloody Roy king? And the bugger has the nerve to say that the concert was cancelled due to fears of "sound pollution". This after his political masters have abased themselves repeatedly in front of the Supreme Court to extend the loudspeaker deadline for Ganpati mandals, loudspeakers that play earsplittingly loud trance and remix music all night long.

As I see it, the police made three basic objections, all of which I find baseless. First: The police said that the noise will damage a historical monument. However, Farhad Wadia had obtained a No Objection Certificate from the Archaeological Survey of India. Does AN Roy think he knows the sound tolerances of the Gateway better than the chaps whose job it is to maintain it? Second: The police also maintained that I-Rock could not be allowed because "it is a private event." However, in the past six months, the police has okayed four events at the same venue, two of which were the Mumbai Mirror Launch and Bal Thakeray's Book launch. Now it seems to me that both the Times of India and Bal Thackeray are equally private. Perhaps they are more equal than Farhad Wadia. Third: The police claim that I-Rock is not an appropriate event to hold at the Gateway. But, last time I checked, the police was there for law-enforcement, not for nebulous-extra-legal-propriety-concerns enforcement. They ought to look that up.

There are, of course, larger issues here. There has of late been a rising trend of paternalistic we-know-what's-best-for-you regulation enforced by various state and local governments. Politicians like Dharam Singh and RR Patil have come to regard enforcement of their interpretations of "Indian culture" as a higher calling than mere administration, which is ostensibly what they were elected for. The people appointed to preserve and protect our Constitution don't give two shits for the rights to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in it. Two-bit babus and cops feel that they have the right to force their prejudices and narrow-minded views on the people they are supposed to serve.

This is unacceptable. We must not allow this incremental erosion of our fundamental rights to continue unabated. Today they try and control what you listen to, tomorrow they will try to control what you wear, who you can marry (the Bombay Univ VC and N. Modi have already tried these two), and ultimately, what you think. Please spread the word about this, and join the protest. This shit stops here.

Posted in Rants and Raves.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

This is Embarassing...

Marginal Revolution linked to a study by two economists from Georgia State University. They posed the following problem to some 200 Economists (many with PhDs):

You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative activity. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer. Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton? (a) $0, (b) $10, (c) $40, or (d) $50.

I am profoundly ashamed to say I got this wrong. The shame! The only good thing is, 78% of the Economists also got it wrong, so I'm in some pretty good company. I too would have got it, you see, but for the deficient instruction I have received from the Pune University.

The answer to the problem is in the Marginal Revolution post.

Posted in Politics and Economics, Education.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Country of the Month: Estonia

Last month, I wrote a post on Fun Finland Facts. Apart from being a lot of fun to write, it also increased my readership a bit. Being, as I am, a hog for readership, I have decided to start a regular feature on this blog called Country of the Month. The inaugural country of the month is Estonia.

Fun Estonia facts:
  • Estonians won their independance from th USSR in an event popularly known as the "Singing Revolution". Incredibly, they defeated one of the world's most repressive goverments by actually singing national songs as rock musicians played in the background. As the movement progressed, upto 3,00,000 people(about one-fourth of their population) were turning up to sing every day. They kept this up for an incredible four years, until the Soviets eventally gave up and left.
  • Estonia is a member of the Coalition of the Willing, and has contributed fifty-five troops to the War in Iraq. Since 2004, two of them have been killed by improvised explosive devices.
  • After the Soviet "Red Terror" in 1940-41 in which over 60,000 Estonians (5% of the population) were killed and a further 10,000 were deported to Siberia, many Estonians joined the German Army. (The Soviets weren't the only ones to carry out mass murders: upto 8,000 Estonian Jews and Communists were killed by Nazi Einsatzgruppen) The 20th Division of the Waffen SS was composed of Estonian volunteers. Today, Estonian veterans who fought witht the German Army are regarded as freedom fighters and are eligible for greater benefits than Estonians who fought for the Soviets. Memorials to such soldiers who fought in the Waffen-SS are the subject of great controversy today.
  • After the second Soviet conquest in 1944, many of the aforementioned veterans started a guerilla war against the Red Army and KGB units in Estonia in groups known as the Forest Brothers (the neighbouring republics of Latvia and Lithuania also had very active Forest Brother units). These guerillas managed to keep fighting the Soviets with little western aid until 1978.
  • The Estonian Government is Constitutionally required to balance its budget. Now I don't know how prevalent that is around the world, but to me it seems wack.
  • Estonia was one of the first countries in the world to implement a flat-tax policy, with a uniform tax rate of 26% (since reduced to 24%). Mart Laar, the Prime Minister responsible for this policy, claims he introduced it because he was ignorant of economics. He says that he had read only one Economics book (Milton Friedman's Free to Choose), and after reading it, he was conviced that flat tax was a globally accepted idea (it actually became one only after Estonia's successful experiment). He went ahead with this scheme despite the warnings of Estonian economists who said it would be impossible. He says, "They said it was as impossible as walking on water. We did it: we just walked on the water because we did not know that it was impossible.” Of course, this story is too good to be true, and so probably isn't. (Hat tip: Samizdata)
  • Estonian is one of the world's most difficult languages to learn for English-speakers. It's fourteen cases may not seem much to linguists, but as someone who wasted three years struggling with the four cases in the German language, I'm apalled.
  • Estonians are champion wife-carriers, and have come to dominate the World Wife Carrying Championships. The current Wife Carrying world record belongs to Margo Uusorg and Egle Soll, who are both Estonians.
If you think there is a fun Estonia fact I have missed, write a comment to this post. Next month I promise I will mopve out of North-East Europe. Until then, Head aega!

Posted in Country of the Month.