Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Security vs. Privacy...among other things...

I just came across this excellent article on the security-privacy relationship in an increasingly insecure world. Bruce Schneier sums up all the post-September 11 drama in two words: security and privacy. Which would you choose? About 90% of my readers would probably say security. After all, what exactly do you do with privacy if you are not alive to enjoy it. This issue has been consistently and constantly debated and analysed by experts around the world in the years after the September 11 attacks. But, what Schneier says is interesting. He says that the dichotomy is, in itself false. He argues, rather effectively, that the question is one of freedom and control rather than of security and privacy. I agree. After all, my identity and freedom are at stake. I should be the one who decides what to reveal and what to hide. That freedom is increasingly being taken away from individuals in the name of security.

There is increasing awareness of security threats, and attempts to plug the holes in an extremely ineffective security system. Take the airports for instance. No Indian airport allows passengers to carry on more that one piece of cabin baggage, including laptop computer. That forces the poor passenger to make the difficult choice of checking in either the precious computer, or valuable documents in the carry-on bag. In short, the unsuspecting passenger has no choice. While such ridiculous rules may be justified by lack of cabin space, they make no sense when they are intended to make travel more secure. What exactly can I do with an extra file of college certificates? Blow up the aircraft? Give me a break. Equally dumb is the no-liquids rule. Even a bottle of water, or baby food is subjected to thorough checks. If I were a terrorist, I would not carry an obvious explosive on board. I would find better, and more ingenuous ways of making my plan work.

And then, there are biometric identifiers. While I would not object to giving my fingerprint to the passport office so they can issue biometric passports, I would have a serious problem with other identification methods like DNA analysis. With a tissue from the inside of my cheek, the government can get information that is entirely personal, like the state of my health and my susceptibility to heart attacks. Even if there is no danger of my DNA sample being exploited without my consent, biometric identifiers are, by no means, foolproof. I am reminded, rather forcefully, of the opening pages of the Dan Brown novel, "Angels and Demons", where a man is discovered lying dead on the ground, with his eye ripped off to be used in an iris scanner. Scary thought, that. In short, I cannot help but agree with Schneier's contention that a false dichotomy is created intentionally, to override any major concerns of privacy invasion. After all, most people would choose security over privacy.

On an unrelated note, I recently read on the India Uncut blog that a certain Mr. Prakash Kumar Thakur from Bhopal specialises in prosecuting people for showing disrespect to the national flag. On reading the related Indian Express article, I was convinced that the man is simply desperate for some media attention. I think Amit Varma is being too generous by calling such people Mera Bhaarat Mahaan patriots. I am quite convinced that such actions have nothing to do with patriotism. They are simply a rather desperate attempt to stand up and be counted. Our revered Mr. Thakur has done nothing worth commending. Nor does he seem capable of doing much. No wonder he specialises in prosecuting people (ever wondered why the victims are always celebrities?) for "disrespecting" the national flag/anthem/song/bird/dog poop...

And finally, Harbhajan Singh has finally been let off the hook for racial abuse. While the verdict is welcome, the BCCI has behaved rather like a petulant child in the issue. I did say earlier that the Indian team must come back home if the Aussies cannot stop being so arrogant. To their credit, they have behaved themselves, losing touch with their cricketing talent in the process. While the BCCI was right to threaten cancellation of the tour if Harbhajan was not given a second hearing, they had no business demanding a favourable verdict. As I said in my earlier post, the Proctor decision was miscarriage of justice. After all, Proctor had no evidence whatsoever against Harbhajan Singh and relied entirely on the testimonies of three Australian players. That said, the demand of the BCCI to drop all charges against Harbhajan is unfair too. If Proctor was wrong to indict without evidence, the Appeals Commissioner would be wrong to let him off the hook despite (possible, new) evidence. When the judge wanted to hear the stump mikes, the BCCI reacted childishly, by refusing to accept any new evidence that might exist. There are limits to the BCCI's blackmail. I vigorously defended India's right to throw its weight around and get things done. But that should not result in the BCCI deciding the outcome of a misbehaviour hearing. That would put the entire game in jeopardy, and any country with money would then be able to decide the outcome of a hearing through blackmail. And that is injurious, both to India's reputation as a cricketing nation, and to the governance of the game.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Of stock market crashes and cricket matches...

Hey! That rhymed. I swear I wasn't trying to make it rhyme. Anyway, on to today's rants. Yes, they are rants. First, the cricket match. Of course I am talking of the one we won. It was absolutely fantastic to see the famed Aussie batting line-up collapse like a pack of cards. And I, for one, was absolutely delighted to see Mr. Ponting and his men finally taste defeat. Notwithstanding their arrogance, I am tired of seeing the Aussies win all the time. For a sport to be interesting, there must be an element of uncertainty. If the result of the match is known before it ever happens, there is no point in watching the match. What better weekend could I have asked for after the Australian media called India cry babies for whining about the umpiring at Sydney because they could not take a defeat? Take it guys! We can play cricket too.

But while we are on the topic, I came across this article on the Sydney Morning Herald, albeit a few weeks too late. It is extremely irritating to see an Australian whine about having been stripped of the right to veto a decision at the ICC. Don't you get it guys? Veto power of any kind, in any forum, is fundamentally unequal and unjust. And yes, by any forum, I mean the UN Security Council too. After all, why should the fate of the world be determined by the whim of a select few? So, stop cribbing about how an Indian deprived you guys of your birth right to a veto. The attitude sucks. Here is an excellent blog post on the issue. Greatbong has analysed and argued much better than I could ever hope to.

That said, on the the stock market now. It crashed yesterday. And today. And, it will probably continue to fall tomorrow. I still haven't understood the cause of the original crash. Dad said it was a technical snag. Whatever the reason, it triggered off a massive fall in the prices of shares and the markets fell by about five percent today. What I don't understand is this. Why do people choose to sell as soon as there is a problem, and without analysing the underlying cause. As far as I can see, the Indian economy is doing reasonably well. There is nothing seriously wrong with it. The stock markets have been bullish for almost 3 months now. Why then, do people feel the need to dump as many shares as possible on a bad day? After all, India's is not an export-driven market. It has a huge domestic market to fall back on. If I had shares, I would probably adopt a wait-and-watch policy. The market are sure to rally. They are sure to recover on a few days, weeks, or months. I will probably still be able to cut my losses then. By selling when the markets crash, people only tend to maximise their losses. Correct me if I am wrong here, but my common sense tells me watch the markets closely before selling anything.

And finally, something unrelated to either the markets or cricket. Here is a recipe for Bisibelebath. I have never eaten bisibelebath with ginger-garlic paste in it. Every dish does not have to contain garlic, ginger and fennel seeds. It's possible to cook without any of it, you know? For a better, and more authentic recipe of the dish, check out my food blog (link in side bar). And for goodness' sake, check atleast 3 sites before deciding to make anything learnt from the net. Not all internet recipes are authentic, and even fewer taste original.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Udupi fiasco

If you took a look at the sports section of Google News India today, you would see that the change of guard at the Sri Krishna Temple at Udupi figured prominently. You are probably wondering what the Krishna temple has to do with sports. Nothing. Google classified the news wrongly. But, they have unintentionally demonstrated that the ongoing drama has nothing to do with either religion or dharma. Ok. Let me explain. The Sri Krishna Temple at Udupi, near Mangalore in Karnataka is run by 8 maths or religious institutions, each headed by a seer. Every two years, the control of the Temple shifts from one math to another. This year, controversy erupted over the transfer of control to the Puttige Math, whose seer, Sugunendra Teertha has allegedly violated the Dharmashastra by travelling abroad.

The seer of the Pejavar Math threatened to undertake a three-day fast against the ascension of Sugunendra Teertha because diluting the laws laid down by the sacred texts will result in an apocalypse. One news item in The Mangalorean states that "scholars" are against the ascension of Sugunendran Teertha as the Dharmashastras were "against" foreign travel. This hullabaloo reminds me of the times when a person was excommunicated because of foreign travel.

We pride ourselves on our ability to adjust and adapt to new cultures. We wax eloquent about how a major portion of NASA's top scientists are of Indian origin. We spare no effort to get our children into the best colleges in the US of A. But, when it comes to religion, we proclaim that foreign travel is against the gospel and oppose the ascension of a seer to a religious position. This attitude reeks of hypocrisy and political gimmickry. Nobody objects when the Pejavar Math Seer undertakes travel all over India. Nobody questions his eligibility to be called a seer when he revels in creature comfort at the houses of political leaders all over the country. Has anyone ever asked why a religious leader finds it necessary to speak out against the Sethusamudram Project by saying that anyone who questions the existence of Rama is an ignorant idiot? Nor has anyone found it unfitting that a seer associate with the worst of religious fanatics (read the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) whose primary occupation is to incite communal hatred and distrust. All because the man is a religious leader? I am sorry to be so harsh. But that man has neither the religious nor the moral right to criticise someone for going abroad. I doubt his criticism has anything to do with religion. Either he is infinitely jealous of the seer due to his own inability to travel abroad, or he is simply after the power and prosperity traditionally associated with running the Sri Krishna Temple at Udupi. Either way, I am personally losing the little respect had for these fake seers and priests.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The ones we love...

Many of you must have seen the new ad campaign launched by Canara Bank. "We change for the ones we love", goes the tag line. It touches a cord, and gives meaning to the image makeover that the bank is hoping to publicise. But, I read a rather interesting, but slightly misguided commentary on the Youth Curry blog by Rashmi Bansal. She admits that the campaign is far more successful and meaningful than the recent SBI campaign (which I don't really remember). But, goes on to claim that making to many adjustments and changes leads to a loss of one's identity.
"We change little by little but it all adds up. You make a million small changes or 'adjustments' as they say and poof! Your own identity gets completely lost."
Now, that is making a mountain out of a molehill. As one commentator points out, "I love XYZ, but I will not change for him/her" is too hard-line a stance and such a attitude will hardly make for a harmonious relationship. At the same time, one cannot sacrifice everything for the ones we love. But, honestly, I don't see what's wrong in making the effort to understand golf, or cricket or football so that you can enter your loved one's world for at least some time. That does not mean you go golfing ever day. But, it surely would not hurt to try. There is a reason people fall in love. They see something in the other that draws them in and binds them in a relationship. It may be his obsessive love for sport, his ability to make you feel great or quite simply his honesty in relationships. Whatever it is, it is worth preserving.

Ms. Bansal is quite objective for the major portion of her post. But, she begins to falter when she
says that it's mostly the women who make more compromises. Here I am, championing the underdog's case, once again, simply because nobody seems to see the other side. Many men make compromises, adjustments or whatever else you choose to call it for the women they love. A mother learning Punjabi to welcome her new daughter-in-law, or a father trying to share his daughter's love for music is hardly exaggerated. We are all human, and we try to make the people in our lives as happy as we can. If that means making some changes, trying to understand and appreciate the other, or do things we would not normally do, so be it.

That said, Ms. Bansal hits the nail on the head with her concluding words,
"You gotta spend time together but also give each other some space! And this applies to all you boyfriend-girlfriend types as well."
Trust me, it's much simpler to go book-shopping or clothes-shopping alone, that with a reluctant and grumpy boyfriend in tow. If he doesn't like it, leave him alone. He would rather spend the afternoon lazing around on the couch watching cricket that following you around in Health&Glow or Landmark, doing something he absolutely detests. It is up to us, as individuals, to draw the line between making compromises and changing voluntarily. Problems arise only when those lines get blurred.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Cricket...or not? - Part II

The Harbhajan-racism-poor umpiring-cricket tour affair is getting curiouser and curiouser. The latest are accusations by columnists and former cricketers that the BCCI is holding world cricket to ransom by threatening to pull out of the tour. From Glenn McGrath to Clive Lloyd to illustrious presspersons at the Australian newspaper, everyone is condemning the ICC's decision to sack Steve Bucknor as umpire for the third test at Perth beginning on the 16th of January. To add insult to the injury, the Australian claims that Symonds tried to work out his differences with Harbhajan Singh after the match but that Harbhajan was unresponsive. In short, everything that has happened since then, including poor umpiring, calling Dhoni and Kumble bastards and the judgement against Harbhajan are the making of the Indian team. They alone are responsible for the current state of affairs. The Australians play hard and "fair" after all.

What irks me is the allegation that the ICC has bowed to pressure from the BCCI and acted is a rather invertebrate manner. I have only one question to ask of all these people. Why should the Indian board be apologetic about throwing its weight around and getting its work done? Is that not what Australia and England had been doing for decades? From politics to trade and commerce to sport, the rich and the powerful have always dictated policies. So, why should cricket be any different? If it is acceptable that the EU and the US throw their weight around and manage to retain subsidies on agriculture at the WTO, much against the wishes of at least 120 other countries, why should the BCCI not do the same in the world of cricket? After all, everyone plays for money. Would any of these cricketers, be they Indian, Australian or Kenyan play for honour alone? Would cricket be the same without Indian money or multinational sponsors? Why then, are we pretending to care about the supposed neutrality of the ICC and its alleged capitulation to pressure from India? You are free to think what you want. I call it hypocrisy.

Now, back to the racism issue. India has complained against Brad Hogg for allegedly calling Kumble and Dhoni bastards. Which brings us to a rather interesting question, as posed by Robert Craddock. Would you be more offended if someone called you a monkey, than if they called you a bastard? Hmm... Interesting question that... Even more interesting are the responses the question has evoked. One reader takes the pains to explain that calling a person a bastard is a serious insult because Indians attach great importance to parentage and being illegitimate is a stigma. To this, another reader (presumably Australian) says,

"Well this suggests there is a serious problem in Indian society where people born without married parents are some how considered less of a person than someone born with married parents. This probably breaches the universal declaration of human rights, and parts of the Geneva convention (which incidentally was in part written by an Australian)."

According to this explanation, I should be free to call any Australian (or Brit/Frenchman/Canadian et. al.) a bastard because many people in the west have children outside of wedlock. So, our cricketers are free to call Ricky Ponting as Mr. Bastard Ponting. Bastard is not offensive after all. And as another person comments,
"I’ve had a quick look at the code & I’m struggling to see how “bastard” qualifies as a contravention."
So, here's my message to the Men in Blue. According to our friends in Australia, bastard is not an insult. Guys, you are free to call anyone, including Mike Proctor and Steve Bucknor a bastard. They, after all, do not share the same value system as us and what is insulting to us is normal to them. But, you may not, under any circumstances, call any of them, of any colour or hue, a monkey, donkey, dog or cat. That would be construed as a racist remark and the team will be banned from playing. On second thoughts, maybe you should call them donkeys or something. At least then, you won't have to tolerate a bunch of arrogant toerags for the whole of next month.

Monday, January 07, 2008

This is not cricket at all...

The altercation between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh and the subsequent three-match ban handed out to Harbhajan by the ICC has left a bad taste. What's worse? That the Australian cricket team, as alleged by many bloggers, journalists and cricket enthusiasts, played with not 11 but 13 players, including the two umpires. Let's get this straight. Andrew Symonds is not the only black player in the world. In fact, the entire West Indian team, most of the Kenyan team and some members of the South African team are dark-skinned. Why is it that nobody has ever lodged complaints against any player for racial abuse ever before? This could imply one of two things: 1) Symonds is so ashamed of his skin colour that he makes it a point to talk about it at every available opportunity, or 2) that he is hyper-sensitive and any remark made to him or about him is taken as a racist remark. Either way, what has been done to Harbhajan is grossly unjust. If Harbhajan must be pulled up for un-gentlemanly behaviour on the field, so must Symonds, and the rest of the Australian team. After all, dishing out bad language and name-calling is a standard practice with them. So, how is it fair that while Harbhajan faces a three-match ban, Symonds gets away scot-free inspite of insulting, not just Harbhajan but also his mother and sister?

Practically every newspaper has published what Harbhajan said to Symonds (allegedly called him a monkey), while no paper has published what Symonds said to provoke this kind of (certainly unacceptable) behaviour by Harbhajan. Apparently, Symonds remarks to Harbhajan were unprintable and entirely objectionable. Coming to the racism part, while calling someone a monkey is definitely not acceptable on a cricket field, it does not amount to racism. Are the Australian cricketers descendants of dinosaurs, unlike the rest of humanity? What of Ponting and Symonds, and the rest of the Australian team whose full-time occupation is to mount psychological pressure on the opponents by taunting and name-calling? Is that acceptable behaviour on a cricket ground? If what Bhajji did was wrong, what Symonds and Ponting did was wrong too. On the field, the umpires practically took Ponting at his word while judging Ganguly and Dravid out. Clarke clearly grounded the ball but Ganguly was given out anyway. Dravid's bat was behind his body and well out of the way, but he was adjudged caught behind anyway. Is this cricket? To me, it most certainly is not. What is happening in Australia, both on the field and off it, is just plain dirty. There are no two ways of putting it.

As if all this is not enough, the Sydney Morning Herald published a column on 5th January, claiming that the Indian Cricket Team is a personal fiefdom of Brahmins and that other castes are deliberately kept out because they are not "upper-caste." I have just one question to ask of Andrew Stevenson. Who the f*** are you to be judgemental of India and its society? Thankfully, Salil Tripathi is around to set the record right, giving information and arguments I would never have been capable of giving. I shall, however, try my best. Stevenson calls India a caste-conscious and heirarchy-ridden society. He claims that within the Indian cricket team, players form groups based on what caste they come from. Tell me something. Does anyone bother to ask for the caste of the person who works with us. Does anyone know to what caste our drivers, maids, vegetable vendors, colleagues, or even neighbours and friends belong? Left to ourselves, we would forget caste and just do our work. As I have said before, the only domain in which caste still plays a major role is marriage. So, as long as Sachin Tendulkar is not planning to marry off his daughter to his teammate's son, how does caste matter?

What irks me most is that Stevenson occupies the moral high ground while analysing the impact of caste on Indian cricket. Judging from the way the Aussies behaved, both on field and off it, over the paste 3 days, they have no business being judgemental about India and its society. We, as Indians, have not forgotten how Dr. Mohammed Haneef was thrown into jail on a mere suspicion and kept inside for ages. When he finally managed to get bail, the then Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, revoked his visa, labelled him an illegal immigrant and sent him back to prison. Only a change of government has permitted Dr. Haneef to get his visa reinstated. Should we slam Australia for being racist then? During my many conversations with Nita, I have heard horror stories of racial and ethnic discrimination in Australia. Should I then write an article in an Indian newspaper saying that Australia is the most racist country in the world after apartheid-era South Africa? So, Mr. Stevenson, listen to this. Get off your moral high ground and set your own house in order before criticising us. And judge our cricket team by its results and not by its caste composition. And while you are at it, let the team play cricket. Your gamesmanship and slander have no place in what was once a gentleman's game.