Thursday, November 30, 2006

Desecration Aftermath

Two trains have been burnt in Maharashtra by Dalits protesting the vandalisation of an Ambedkar statue. Protestors also burnt 77 buses and damaged private vehicles. "We will do anything to defend our Babasaheb," claimed a protestor. "We are trying to be as peaceful as possible," added another. (source: NDTV)
Dear protesters,
I understand that you aspire to be an angry mob, and like all reputable angry mobs from good families, you can't be too bothered about rational logic. But surely, you ought to put a little more thought into your acts of vandalism.

To start off with, how does randomly burning trains and buses vindicate the desecration of a statue? If someone desecrates a statue of your leader, you must retaliate by desecrating statues of their leaders (or better still, desecrating their leaders), not by burning trains and buses. Statistically speaking, the rich, upper caste types you are protesting against are far more likely to be traveling by air, while the oppressed class, such as yourself, gets to travel in trains and buses. By burning these means of transport, you are causing a greater disservice to yourself and your brethren. Know who your audience is, as any successful manager will tell you. Next time, try and burn airplanes and luxury cars instead.

Secondly, while it is commendable that you are prepared to do anything to defend your leader, I would like to point to the fact that your leader is, to put it bluntly, quite dead. Realistically, you have as much chance of protecting Babasaheb as protecting an ichthyosaur (keen readers of this blog might point out that there are several degrees of deadness between Babasaheb and an ichthyosaur, but I shall safely ignore that for the sake of the current argument). I must therefore urge you not to aim for the impossible, and channel your mob fury towards more practical protestations, like moral decrepitude or the new Slayer album.

Lastly, if you do decide to have a go at it, give it your best shot. There's no point in burning just a couple of trains and stopping there because you are trying to be as peaceful as possible. It is just this sort of half-hearted attitude that inculcates self-defeatism. Many a riot has been reduced to a mere protest because someone decided they should be as peaceful as possible. This sort of misguided pacificism must not be tolerated. Every time you march in protest, try to convert it to a full-fledged riot. And every time you riot, strive for an uprising. You can only succeed by aiming high. But please, and I cannot stress this enough, please choose your battles wisely.

Mohammad Yousuf's Incredible Feat

Last weekend, I partook in a heated discussion about who the best batsman in the world is, based on current form. Most people, rather predictably, supported Ricky Ponting or Brian Lara. I however cast my vote for Mohammad Yousuf (formerly Yousuf Youhana). To vindicate my stance (and clearly for no other reason), Yousuf has gone ahead and broken Vivian Richard's 30-year old record for most runs scored in a calendar year. In the process, he has also scored more centuries than anyone else in a given year.

Despite the fact that he plays in a veritable age of batsmen, and that pitches in Pakistan have been getting increasingly deader by the season[1], Yousuf's feat must be hailed for what it is - a phenomenal streak of consistently good batting. Moreover, by scoring 1788 runs at an astounding average of 99.33, he has indisputably proven the importance of facial hair in cricket. I have no doubt that Bradman would have been a far more prolific batsman had he had a beard to match Yousuf's. Or Rikki Clarke for that matter.

Impressive though it might be, I don't think Yousuf's record is going to last as long as its predecessor. Why, this year itself Ponting's got 1058 runs in six tests, with three more to play in December. While it is unlikely that he'll overtake Yousuf, he has a realistic chance to equal the record of nine centuries in the year. For England's sake, and for the sake of bearded men worldwide, let's hope he doesn't get there.

[1] Yes, there are degrees of deadness. A dodo, for instance is deader than an auk.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Greatest Albums of All Time

My friend Puneet informs me that Time magazine has released a list of the all-time top 100 albums, and it doesn't include a single Pink Floyd album. Needless to say he was appalled. I wanted to be appalled as well, but frankly, I didn't really care. What with a new list being published every second week telling us about the greatest songs of all time, the greatest bands, the greatest rap videos featuring Pharrell Williams... you get the idea.

What I want to know is who defines the criteria for this 'greatness'. Seriously, any bunch of half-wit, self-proclaimed experts can sit on their collective butt and come up with a list of 'great' albums. I could perhaps understand if they based their opinion on tangible evidence, like number of albums sold, but there is no way you can convince me that The College Dropout is a better album than Thick as a Brick just because some snot-faced expert thought so.

In fact, even with all the hard facts and figures in the world, you wouldn't be able to convince me. For music, like most art, is intangible. What may be the truest symphony for one could be utter noise for someone else. To quantify art is futile, quite simply because everyone has their own set of aesthetics; their own notion of greatness. That's how it should be. And that is exactly what makes lists like this completely meaningless.

Just to drive in an already overdriven point, I shall now publish my very own list of the greatest albums of all time. To paraphrase Adam Savage, I shall reject their reality and substitute my own. And since I have neither the patience, nor the inclination to rate a hundred albums, I shall restrict this most exalted list to five. So, here it is. In all it's glory. The five greatest albums that were ever released:

1. Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd
2. Painkiller, Judas Priest
3. Piece of Mind, Iron Maiden
4. Rust in Peace, Megadeth
5. In Rock, Deep Purple

So there.

Friday, November 10, 2006

No More Endless Shrimp

Had been to Jaleo's in downtown DC last weekend. As is my wont I ordered shrimp tapas and the seafood paella. Needless to say, I pigged out. I did feel a tinge of remorse at so flagrantly abusing the ocean's resources, but I stuffed myself with the lobster regardless. Surely, there are plenty of fish in the sea, to use the old expression literally.

A couple of days later, I read this report that claimed there might be no more fish in the oceans by the middle of the century. Seafood stocks have been in decline for the better part of two decades now, but apparently the situation is far more serious than anyone had imagined.

Those who know me well know how much I like my shrimp. But in light of this report, I have decided to give up, or at any rate drastically cut down on, consumption of seafood. Also, I am switching to freshwater shrimp, in particular those bred in inland fish farms.

It'll take more than a few individuals changing their dietary habits to save the oceans though. There must be a concerted effort by the governments and industry to come up with a more sustainable model for fishing. Given the lack of accordance among countries and the strong fisheries lobby, I don't see this happening any time soon.

What can be done, however, is to develop a more environment-friendly means for fishing itself. Most commercial trawlers are rather indiscriminate when fishing in the deep. They just sweep the ocean with their massive nets catching just about everything that floats. Not all fish that are caught are fit for consumption though. Close to 50% of the catch is discarded and thrown back in the ocean[1]. This is a clearly terrible waste, and better, more eco-friendly techniques for fishing need to be put in place if we are to preserve the fragile ecosystem that is the world's oceans.

[1] Commercial trawlers are, in fact, the biggest threats to shark populations worldwide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Good News, Everyone

I got back home from work last night to find a note in my apartment. "GOOD NEWS!", it said, in big bold capital letters. "Our Maintenance Technicians were in your home today to conduct our routine Preventive Maintenance Inspection. Thank you for allowing us to serve you! Signed, The Maintenance Department."

I must confess, I was a bit stumped. I would have understood it if during inspection they had accidently stumbled upon a lump of gold behind the refrigerator. Or perhaps found the brown sock that's been conspicuously missing since September. But how does performing routine preventive maintenance constitute good news? Honestly, I didn't get it.

But I let it pass. I deemed it best not to dwell upon such imponderables, and get on with my life. Or the remainder of the evening in this case. I fixed myself dinner, watched the telly for a bit, and after a while decided to turn in for the night. Ergo, I got up from the couch, turned off the light, and walked through the hallway, dragging the door shut behind me. Only somehow, I missed.

"That's odd", I considered. "I've never missed the door before." Still, I didn't put too much thought into it, and tried again. To my surprise, I missed again. Perplexed, I flicked on the light switch to unravel the mystery. Lo and behold! The door had plain vanished. Where there used to be a fully functional door in the hallway now remained just a couple of hinges. Like the ugly stump of a once magnificent tree.

Then it struck me. "A-ha!" I thought to myself. This must be the good news that they were trying to warn me about. And by routine preventive maintenance, they must have meant uprooting the door in the hall. Surely, they must have reckoned that the door posed a safety hazard. What if I accidently walked into the door and bumped my head? Or worse still, my nose? No, but they took care of it. They had prevented any future injury by removing the offending door itself from the hallway. Yes, it all made perfect sense now. There remained, however, just one problem.

I still don't get it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Drugs, Booze and Shoaib Akhtar's sex life

There's always a crisis in Pakistani cricket. If it's not resigning captains and retiring players, it's staging walk-offs and bringing games into disrepute. The current doping controversy, however is scandalous even by Pakistani standards.

I do realize that Akhtar and Asif were in the wrong, and deserve to be reprimanded for their acts. What I do not understand, however, is why Akhtar was handed a more severe ban than Asif, for what was essentially the same offense. Both were found guilty on the charge of drug abuse, and had pretty much the same amount of nandrolene in their respective samples. Still, while Asif was handed a one year ban, Akhtar was banned for two years. Perplexed, I turned to Intikhab Alam for an explanation.
Intikhab rubbished speculations that the panel was unfairly harsher on Akhtar than Asif. "If people read our statement they will understand," Intikhab asserted. "He [Shoaib] drinks alcohol, has an active sex life and he's been part of anti-doping awareness programmes. Shoaib has been around for the last ten years and the written statement that his spokesman gave about him taking dietary supplements and not consulting a doctor, shows he was negligent."

On Asif he said: "We decided to ban him for a year because his English is not that good, he comes from a remote village where he would not have been educated on the dangers of drugs in sport and so he doesn't understand."
Whoa! Hold on a minute. Let me read that again.

I used to pride myself on my understanding of rational logic, but Mr. Alam here has completely shattered my illusion. Either that, or his reasoning is utterly specious. Now, I'm sure Mr. Alam is an honorable man, but having just attended a week-long law course, I feel compelled to challenge his argument. Let me try and address each of his allegations:

1. Shoaib drinks alcohol, and has an active sex life: And what's more, he's been noted to ride an imported bike and sing Bollywood songs on occasions. Oh, the horror! Seriously, I fail to see how Akhtar's sex life has any relevance to the doping issue. Irrevocably irrelevant (I love alliterations).

2. Shoaib's been part of anti-doping awareness programmes: For that matter, so has Mohammad Asif. Ergo, fails to explain the harsher ban on Akhtar.

The anti-doping awareness program in this case, in fact, is little more than a pamphlet that was handed out to players at the start of the tournament. Most players confessed that they had little time or inclination to study such pamphlets. In any case, it had no mention of any dietary supplements.

3. Shoaib has been around for the last ten years and was negligent: How does being more experienced qualify Akhtar as being more guilty? This is his first offense, just as Asif. Simply being around for 10 years does not automatically make him more aware of the fact that certain dietary supplements contain nandrolene. Especially if you take into account that it is the first time the aforementioned dietary supplement has been deemed to contain a banned substance.

4. Asif's English is not that good, he comes from a remote village so he doesn't understand: Ignorance does not prove innocence. Such an argument would never hold water in any court of law. Anywhere. And if it did, Akhtar could plead ignorance as well. For he surely did not know that the protein supplement he was taking was illegal. His ability to understand English, or any particular language, is immaterial.

Personally, I think Akhtar's been dealt a particularly raw deal. The whole matter reeks of the recent (disturbing) trend of the Islamization of Pakistani cricket. Akhtar's not particularly pious, drinks alcohol and leads a western lifestyle (to quote the PCB). Therefore, he must be dealt with strictly. Asif on the other hand, is a good muslim, and offers prayers five times a day along with the rest of the team, and thus warrants leniency.

If I were Shoaib Akhtar, I'd be filing a lawsuit against Intikhab Alam and the PCB.

[Inthikab Alam quote courtesy Cricinfo]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Orissa and Saltwater Crocodiles

The world's largest saltwater crocodile, measuring a whopping 23 feet, has been found in the Bhitarkanika sanctuary on the Orissa coast in India. Before reading about this, I didn't even know there were saltwater crocs in Orissa. And I had almost surely never heard of Bhitarkanika.

Salties, of course, are big business in Australia. They attract hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tourists every year to that country. Several documentaries have been made to celebrate these wonderful creatures. One of the more famous ones being SuperCroc, a two-hour special by Steve Irwin, wherein he set out to capture the largest saltwater croc in Australia, and managed to catch a 17-foot monster (17 feet, tch! We don't even bother to tag those in Bhitarkanika, S C Mohanty would say).

The point I'm trying to make here is (you just knew there was a point lurking around somewhere, didn't you) that Orissa should make use of its salties to promote tourism. When you house some of the largest and rarest reptiles in the world, you don't just sit on them. You make some noise. Advertise. Publicize. Boast about it. Invite NGC to make a documentary. That sort of thing. Orissa has one of the poorest economies in India, but is incredibly rich in natural resources. They should try and use the latter to improve the former. Ministry of Tourism, please take note. Oh, and please do something about that lousy website, too.